Monday, July 17, 2017
An article in the Sunday Review section of the July 16 New York Times posed a question which, once upon a more innocent time, would have been considered nonsensical: “When Is Speech Violence?” The response of any person who cares about the clarity of language would properly be “Never,” but Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, asserts in the Times piece that the science is settled: “speech that bullies and torments” is “literally a form of violence.”
It might seem obvious, Barrett begins, that “violence is physically damaging; verbal statements aren’t.” Yes, that should be obvious to anyone except illiberals, who know that whoever controls the language controls minds. So they are hell-bent on weaponizing words to advance their totalitarian agenda.
Actually speech can be violence of a sort. As is silence. Just about anything can be violent, if you're particular about the context. If I am conspicuously silent when a piano is about to fall on your head, and you could easily move out of the way, it's not that much of a departure from ordinary speech to say my silence is violent, if I don't say anything because I relish the prospect of seeing you crushed by a piano. We just draw the line a speech/no speech because it's proved to be the most convenient line to prevent the state from abusing its powers. But the cost of this pragmatic line is that I expose myself to the various stupid or malicious things people say out there in the public or semi-public forum. You don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that the left and especially the philosophical left thinks there's something to be gained by discussing various ways to shut people up who are engaging in what was formerly known as political speech. Of course political speech sometimes hurts feelings. And if you like, that's violence of a sort. Does that mean no one should speak in a way that hurts people's feelings? Hardly. The truth hurts. Worse to be false than hurtful. The left seems to specialize in statements that baffle the right, soothe the left, and are quite false. That should be permitted, but not encouraged, valorized or made exclusively legal.