Bad Faith, Free Speech: Outrage Over Imagined Rights

Several years ago I began pulling away from a friend. It was after the A&E network suspended Phil Robertson, one of the stars of Duck Dynasty, from that show. Robertson had done an interview with GQ where he equated homosexuality to bestiality. After issuing a statement that Robertson’s views did not reflect the opinions of A&E, and reaffirming their support of the LGBT community, they sacked him.

My friend tweeted, “Whatever happened to free speech?”

Two years later this repeated. Walmart banned sales of the Confederate battle flag and anything containing its image. This extended to Dukes of Hazzard memorabilia. Models of the iconic car the General Lee, which has the flag painted across its roof, were removed from shelves.

My friend went on a tear about First Amendment rights.

About That

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

First Amendment of the United States Constitution

Show me where Congress passed a law saying A&E had to kick Phil Robertson off the show. That never happened. Show me where the government rushed in, confiscated all of the copies of CQ featuring the interview, and burned them. It didn’t happen. The interview is still up on GQ’s website; I linked to it earlier in this essay. First Amendment rights have not been violated.

A&E reversed their suspension of Robertson a week later. It was moot anyway, because the new season featuring Robertson was already in the can and the network stated that they would air those episodes. The reason for the suspension was free publicity. A charitable reading of the situation is that it allowed A&E to making it clear they did not support their star’s homophobic opinions.

Similarly, show me where Federal agents stormed Walmart and seized everything with a Confederate battle flag on it. Present to me the order issued by a government agency requiring Walmart to remove said flag. Never happened.

You can buy Dukes of Hazzard memorabilia on Walmart’s website, including models of the General Lee. They’re offered by third-party sellers, not Walmart itself, but a lot of people won’t see the distinction. It should be noted that none of the merch I found showed the Confederate battle flag. All shots of the car were low and from the size, avoiding views of the roof.

Bad Faith, Free Speech, and Manufactured Outrage

The same friend also supported the notion that businesses should be able to refuse service to LGBT people. No bakery should have to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, nor should a photographer be compelled to capture it for posterity. He was also good with the outcome of Burwell v Hobby Lobby, and supported the idea that Chik-Fil-A should be able to donate money to whatever organization they please. The rationale is that they are businesses and should set their own policies.

I’m not going to try to go into how those cases are different from Robertson and Walmart. It would be more productive for me to run head first at a cinder block wall. Getting this out of my system is already wasting valuable time that I could be spending on more important things.

My point, of course, is that A&E is a business. Walmart is a business. They decide what content they provide. Where said content is deemed harmful, it’s gone. When the person providing the content is problematic, they’re out. Period.

Bad Faith, Free Speech and Imagined Rights

Of course this post isn’t about my former friend, or things that transpired many years ago. It’s about Simon & Schuster deciding not to publish Senator Josh Hawley’s book. It’s about Twitter finally enforcing its own terms of service and permanently banning a certain high-profile individual. More to the point, it’s about people claiming that this is a violation of free speech. Hawley was claiming, on Twitter and elsewhere, that Simon & Schuster had violated his First Amendment rights. Seditionists are crying about censorship.

Everyone wants rights. No one wants responsibilities. Unfortunately freedom of speech does not include freedom from consequences. Nor does it entitle you to a platform. It does not provide protections for an individual’s sense of entitlement.

Twitter went so far as to include the two Tweets that instigated that guy’s ban in the explanation of their decision. You can see what he put out into the ether. Hawley’s free to shop his book around to another publisher, to self-publish it, or to release it online for free. There is nothing preventing them from spewing their opinions; they just can’t do so on venues that have chosen not to support their messaging.

Bad Faith, Free Speech, Shut Up

Playing the victim when held accountable is tiring. Arguing that not allowing them to have their way is unfair to the point of violating their rights is tired. Get over it. Learn how to comport yourself in a civil manner, and this won’t happen. Figure out how to get along with other people, and not advocate for stripping people of their rights, and this won’t happen. Educate yourself as to what your actual rights are, and how to exercise them, and this won’t happen.

Stop acting in bad faith, and you won’t have to worry about free speech. Until then, just shut up.

2021: A Preface

When an author writes a preface, they’re seeking to create context. You’ll better understand what you’re about to read, they feel, if you get to peek behind the curtain first. Often they’ll explain what inspired them to write the piece. They’ll take you on the journey of writing it, and the struggles they overcame to get it published. The idea is to help you to appreciate the book more, because you’ve witnessed the story of its creation.

This is my preface for 2021.

In this New Year I’m motivated to be aggressively optimistic. I want to be kinder, both to other people and to myself. My inspiration is to find more joy, and creativity, and wonderful people that keep the world spinning. But I’m willing to be a hard son-of-a-bitch in relation to any obstacles between me and where I want to be. Everything that comes after this needs to be seen in that context.

At the start of 2020 I set SMART goals for myself. Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. By April I had to abandon all of them. Everything in the world went completely off the rails. Like many people I went into a holding pattern, waiting for something to happen. It was impossible to make decisions, because there were too many unknowns. What if I decide to do this, but then that happens? The lowest common denominator, in terms of taking action, became survival.

I’m tired of living in a perpetual state of fear and uncertainty. Waiting for other people to take action or fulfill promises is exhausting. No, I don’t know what the state of things is going to be next year, or next month, or next week. There are still things that I can do now. I can write, and build relationships, and make plans based around the few stable situations that exist and the most likely scenarios for the future. Said plans need to be based on utility and flexibility.

As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.”

I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions, but in these times I can’t believe in SMART goals either. What I have instead are ambition, a sense of direction, and sheer force of will. I know what I want to accomplish in 2021, and all of my efforts will be focused on that. Because I don’t know what lies ahead, I can’t set deadlines. Parameters of individual projects might change. I can do as much as I can each day, on any given day, with the determination to get there eventually.

This is my preface to 2021. This is me, asserting myself as the author of my own life. I may not be able to control events, but I can persevere in spite of them. What I can control are my own actions in response to whatever comes next. This new year could turn out to be even harder than 2020 in a lot of ways, but I refuse to allow it to run over me

2020: An Afterword

Decades from now we’ll still be trying to make sense of 2020. Some will see it as the year when so many things changed. Others will point out, rightfully, that most of the problems we faced had been festering for a while. Many of the solutions were there as well, but got buried or ignored because they either cost money or didn’t fit neatly within some ideology. It’s like a bridge that “suddenly” collapses. One moment it’s there and the next it’s gone, but the erosion, rust, and neglect had been happening for a long time.

I want to say good riddance to bad rubbish. We all do. Calendars are deceptive things, though. An arbitrary change in the date doesn’t clean up the mess that’s been made. There’s still a pandemic tearing across the globe. Who knows how many years it will take for the chaos it’s caused to be untangled. Some things can’t be undone, and we’ll need to learn to live with that bitter truth. People are dead. Socioeconomic issues persist, as they have for decades. The United States is still riddled with fascists. I’m dubious as to whether that last problem can ever be fixed.

This is the true horror of 2020: this year hasn’t been all that special. Terrible, yes. Devastating, with consequences we haven’t even begun to fathom, definitely. But it was just the same crap turned up to 11. It was a convergence of problems that had been there all along, gone so horribly awry that we could no longer ignore them. They were made worse by people who continue to try. You can’t wish away the election results, morons. Nor can you keep pretending COVID-19 is “just the flu”. Put on a fucking mask and join the rest of us in objective reality.

Nothing ever ends. This isn’t fiction. We rarely get a clean starting point, or a definitive ending. We’re born, a bunch of stuff happens, and we die, and that’s as much of a framing sequence as we get. The stuff in the middle, though, is always messier and more complicated than it needs to be. It’s strokes of luck, bad guesses, and stupidity all along the way.

The thing is, knowing that gives us power. Think about it. Even though 2020 sucked to an exceptional level, to some degree things have always been terrible. They always will be. I’m not saying that to downplay the tragedy of it. I’m saying it because our continued existence is proof that we can get through it. What matters is how you navigate through the existential dread.

I released a dozen books this year. I feel like I finally got a handle on what it means to run my own business, and do it successfully. My values became clearer to me, along with some epiphanies on how to best express them. I deepened some friendships along the way. That’s not nothing. Those are achievements worth cherishing and celebrating. 2020 couldn’t take those away from me.

Tomorrow we’re going to do what we’ve been doing every day for the past several months. We’re going to hang on to what we have left. We’re going to move forward as we’re able. Hopefully, the idea of a New Year gives us a little more confidence and a bit more hope. We need something to temper the cold sting of reality, that 2021 is just going to be another collection of days like every other year before it.

What is Simple Living Minimalism?

Simple living minimalism. It’s not a competition. It isn’t part of a passing fad. The point is to live a comfortable, uncomplicated, and sustainable life.

When people hear that I’m a minimalist, they make all manner of assumptions. They think I’m one of those extremists that only want to own 100 things, or whatever arbitrary number was plucked from the air. Or they assume that I’m one of those people that periodically throws everything they own into a great big pile in the middle of the room, throwing out anything that doesn’t “spark joy”. A few guess that it has something to do with me being Buddhist, or Amish, and while that’s closer, it’s not 100% accurate either.

Continue reading “What is Simple Living Minimalism?”