Free speech is the expression of being you, the ability to express your beliefs and aspirations. Now consider what we are being told about being “woke”, a phrase that holds much to be wary of. According to that proposition you apparently are asleep socially and politically, and therefore not really a valid being unless you adhere to what you are told by those that profess to know what existential meaning is; should you deviate from that, you will be canceled; hence the term “cancel culture”.
A critical definition of being “woke” is the act of being very pretentious about how much you care about a social issue. The dictionary definition of pretentious is even more to the point; it is an adjective describing someone attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than they actually possess.
Understanding meaning is essential to knowledge as without understanding there is no knowledge; if that makes sense to you, you are not “woke” and much the better for that. When just being yourself you don’t need a social crutch to help support or limit you, which is the essence of being an individual and capable of independent thought.
The whole point of being an individual is that you’re not just another nothing in some awful collectivist nightmare of non-being; how have we as a society lost that concept? It did not happen overnight, it was a slow but steading erosion of the respect for the individual, a concept called liberty.
Consider the current social stigma free expression may inflame in the polarized world in which we live, especially in this country’s institutions of higher learning where suppression of free expression is so accepted; it seems the more elitist the school, the more prevalent this phenomenon, which then appears to inform the behavior of so many of our other institutions. It is not surprising then to also see a rise in alcohol and drug abuse, depression and suicide among the younger generations. According to the founder of existentialism, Soren Kierkegaard, “The most common form of despair is not being who you are.”
There was a very good reason why the New England states, the birthplace of the American Revolution, insisted on the Bill of Rights being incorporated in to the US Constitution, and the first having to do with various forms of free expression such as religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. Thankfully we have those, especially considering what Alexis de Tocqueville observed about American society during his tour of 1831, specifically that “I know of no country in which, for the most part, independence of thought and true freedom of expression are so diminished as in America. In America, the majority traces a tremendous circle around thought.”
Given the tremendous social upheaval of post McCarthyism America resulting in ever more respect for free expression, it is disturbing to see such a medieval back sliding to the conformity of ideas, and an ostracization of those that don’t comply. Imagine what the “woke” would have to contend with given personalities like Lenny Bruce!
What is it that the “woke” fear about free expression? How can we have a civil discourse in America without that? The definition of civil discourse is engagement in conversation intended to enhance understanding. The most important requirement for civil discourse is respect for the existential right of everyone to express their own individual thoughts on any subject and therefore does not represent a threat to anyone else’s beliefs. By definition, civil discourse avoids physical hostility as it requires consideration for other ideas.
To take the position that silencing someone because what they have to say is objectionable, and therefore represents a threat or violence against you, is to take the position of every dictator throughout history. One of my favorite quotes about liberty in regards to free speech is from George Orwell, who said “If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
The benefits of free speech and the attenuation of civil discourse are philosophically known as a heuristic, a technique that enables someone to discover or learn something for themselves. The benefits to society should be apparent to everyone, especially anyone who claims to be an educated and enlightened person. It will lead to a more objective understanding of ideas divorced from the oppression of feelings that could be harmful to us and others as that may lead to actions detrimental to our wellbeing.
Based on this, psychologically it would be fair to say that being “woke” is actually a contradiction in terms relative to its current meaning as actually that represents a suppression of awareness in regards to others, a lack of empathy, perception of reality and an inability to objectively observe and consider anything outside of yourself; sounds dangerously similar to narcissism.
Politically and sociologically it is corrosive, creating a them-and-us conflict, the very essence of polarization. If you are not only unwilling to listen to another viewpoint, but willing to suppress it, how would you ever be able to understand it and therefore be able to judge its worth or have a meaningful discussion about it?
I’m sure we have all heard of the famous quote attributed to Voltaire regarding free speech that says “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Maybe the “woke” will wake up and catch up on centuries of the Enlightenment.