Here’s a puzzle: what’s wrong with Slavoj Zizek’s argument for censorship?
I like censorship, but what kind of censorship? Not ‘the office, you get imprisoned,’ but censorship which is a measure of cultural standards. What do I mean by this? For example, I wouldn’t like to live in a society where you argue against rape. You know, this reminds me of Ronald Reagan, you remember one of his legendary stories is that once he said when he was accused of tolerating holocaust denial, he said: “No, it’s not true! Whenever, at my dinner table, there are people who deny the holocaust, I strongly oppose them.” Well, the question being, ‘what kind of friends, yes?’ Yes, all the time oppose them!
But my point is that it’s the same with… you know, I like to live in a society where you don’t have to argue why rape is prohibited; why rape shouldn’t be allowed. I would like to live in a society where when somebody, in any way, tolerates rape, it’s simply—how would you put this—disqualifies himself, is perceived as either dangerous or ridiculous. This is what I mean by censorship, that it’s inadmissible, and we shouldn’t be afraid of it. And the sad thing is that in Europe, the standards for what is publicly admissible are falling lower, and lower, and lower. Things at the level of racism and so on, which 20, 30 years ago simply were not possible, are today tolerated and accepted.
The answer is only this: he’s on the wrong side.
Conservatives outnumber liberals in the United States, meaning that cultural norms for censorship (which are always democratic in nature) will be firmly against anything that smacks of Marxism or Communism. In extreme cases, they will oppose even things which seem too intellectual, because to the layman, they appear untrustworthy.
Even if immigration eventually makes democrats outnumber republicans, the essential psychological breakdown will not have changed, because immigrants side with the democrats for personal benefits, not out of ideological loyalty. Hispanic Catholics and Muslim Africans may be fiscally liberal, but are socially conservative. Perhaps more importantly, they are functionally low in verbal intelligence as a group, due to language barriers, and this correlates with supporting political censorship.
What is most ironic about this support for cultural censorship is how conservative it is in its psychology. The leftist mind is open to experience, while the conservative mind is characterized by conscientiousness. Thus censorship–which establishes the stability in a society that Zizek alludes to, in which we do not have to constantly answer for established principles–will always work to the benefit of conservatives, and at the cost of liberals.
Perhaps more accurately, censorship solidifies a paradigm, while free speech opens the paradigm to criticism. Even if this criticism is answered, the energy and effort of answering it is a burden that detracts from the defenders’ ability to focus on other tasks in their society. Rather than focusing on the finer details of, say, property law, within the confines of an established legal paradigm, we have to yet again go over whether or not the very concept of property is legitimate.
Or whether or not rape is okay.
If such challenges are taken remotely seriously, then the entire structure of society rocks back and forth in an ongoing, low-grade earthquake. How high can it be built? How long can it even stand?
The only reason that free speech is plausibly defensible is that it can, sometimes, be used to identify flaws in the structure itself–not to exploit for demolition, but to strengthen the structure. The argument presumes that the harm that can be prevented through this speech is greater than the harm imposed by its existence. It also presumes a kind of socio-cultural coherence which Zizek alludes to. This coherence, Zizek and other leftists attack, as “racism” and “xenophobia,” despite being a necessary condition for the sort of society Zizek desires to live in.
What, then, should be done? Logically, the thing to do would be to establish support for free speech as a cultural metric for censorship: if you oppose free speech, then you are “dangerous or ridiculous.”
Whether or not this itself constitutes a paradox, I leave to the contemplation of the leftists advocating for repressive tolerance 2.0, as “cultural censorship.” Indeed, they would escape the seeming contradiction by advocating against free speech, rather than for it. I think, however, that they know as well as we do how that would turn out for them, were it accepted by everyone at the same time. They have the cities and the universities in their ideological grasp, but that is not nearly enough of a lead to win the censorship war that they are hell-bent on sparking.
For my part, I am this close to throwing up my hands and putting my redactor’s warpaint on. It seems as though protecting the value of free speech may require tightening the restrictions on the speech of those who do not share that value. Whether this is the more slippery slope to step on than allowing the left to maintain the reigns of cultural censorship, I do not know.
It certainly looks like a shallower angle though.