“I will never vote for any public accommodation clause in any Civil Rights bill because I think it’s unconstitutional, I think it tampers with the rights of assembly, the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, and the freedom of property…”

Barry Goldwater, 1964

If antifascists have their way, the “Free Speech Bus” [1] will become the coffin of the “free speech argument” itself.

This repugnant eyesore was meant to cast a shadow [2] over our communities, coyly provoking onlookers with the apologetic-yet-insulting tone that pervades the never-ending debate over what “free speech” should mean. At every opportunity, it has been vandalized and harassed by liberatory agitators, who won’t tolerate the existence such a hateful creation. And yet the larger population will still offer defenses of this callous slogan “it’s just biology.” Alternatively, they rush to the defense of “free speech” itself, wailing that if any one political element isn’t allowed to speak, it will mean the death of democracy.

At its core, the debate over free speech comes down to a fundamental question of praxis, one which splits anarchists from liberals more sharply than any other. The question is this: at what point should the CONCEPT of free speech be subordinated to the material consequences OF SPEECH.

The antifascist answers without hand-wringing or compromise: the idea that speech exists in a vacuum and is therefore divorced from personal or societal responsibility is irredeemably noxious, at once both oblivious and malicious. With a cursory glance at American history, let alone the history of the West as a whole, the weight of words becomes evident, and the act of holding up completely unfettered speech as an ideal becomes laughable at best. The antifascist knows that “free speech” is code for “consequence-free speech.”

The following essay will hopefully provide a useful prism for understanding this distinction.

QUALIFIED EQUALITY: WHO IS ALLOWED TO SPEAK?

The raw ideal of the freedom OF speech, the thing which is enshrined in the First Amendment, is not undesirable at face value. The article itself spells out the natural right of a human being to express themselves, and to be free from government-sanctioned oppression in matters of speech, religion, the press, or political assembly. No argument is to be found here, overall.

The phrase “free speech,” on the other hand, is deliberately vague and underdefined, so borderless as to be useless as a principle. Among its most vocal defenders (which should be the first of many red flags) are the troglodytes inhabiting alt-right communities on 4chan, Reddit, and other platforms besides [3]. This version of the ideal, the maxim that all USAGE of speech is equal and therefore deserving of community protection, has been variously used to justify vicious misogyny, racism, child pornography, coordinated death threats, and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric [4]. Most of these debates have nothing to do with “freedom of speech,” because neither Reddit nor Twitter are government-affiliated bodies.

More importantly, “free speech” is based around the complex function of social capital. Generally defined, this is the form of cultural “currency” upon which social constructs either gain or lose legitimacy. It is supplied by social networks, traded through cooperation, and spent on the procurement of resources or the invocation of actions through others. This is the reason Republicans and Democrats continue to trot out celebrity endorsements; Ted Nugent is not versed in electoral politics or bank reform, but he can command social capital and deliver votes.

An obvious problem emerges: the networks through which social capital is generated can determine both legitimacy and dominance, depending on existing hierarchies. This means that the creation, usage, and validity of social capital is necessarily weighted through prejudice and structural repression. An identity, race, or sexual orientation which is not acknowledged as legitimate cannot gain the same level of representation, because their resources are comparatively limited. This is not inherently a positive or negative function: it is unquestionably a good thing that self-avowed Nazis are not granted much respect, because their social resources are thereby limited, and their actions minimized.

When this is used to the reverse effect — devaluing the voice of the marginalized in order to maintain their marginalization — social capital becomes an engine of needless suffering, unconscionable barbarism, and death at the hands of a privileged caste.

THE FREE SPEECH BUS: “IT’S JUST BIOLOGY”

This brings us back to the Free Speech bus. The message emblazoned on its side is a deployment of social capital: it simply states that “boys are boys, girls are girls,” and completely overlooks the individual facets of those assertions because the speaker (whoever they are) is assured of their legitimacy in the debate. Their voice counts; a transgender voice doesn’t. But why?

The slogan claims it’s merely a matter of “biology.” Ostensibly, the argument is that chromosomes and external sexual traits are the alpha and omega of “genuine” gender identity. However, that statement is, in itself, disconnected from both the trans narrative AND biology. First, the pertinent function of chromosomes is sex differentiation, meaning the physical traits which are built during fetal development [5]. This is the process by which genitalia develop, and males of the species end up with useless nipples. It is a full 14 weeks before the fetus begins producing hormones. Secondly, there are key markers which contemporary research identifies as components in how a human’s relation to their sexuality, sex identity, and gender conceptualization comes to be; all of them are developmental, and located within the brain [6]. Gender as a social construct is based on expressions of masculinity and femininity, but medical research also anchors self-identification with physiological elements — a trans brain can appear more akin to the person’s IDENTIFIED sex, not their assigned one. To quote a UCLA observation [7]:

Results revealed that regional gray matter variation in MTF transsexuals is more similar to the pattern found in men than in women. However, MTF transsexuals show a significantly larger volume of regional gray matter in the right putamen compared to men. These findings provide new evidence that transsexualism is associated with distinct cerebral pattern, which supports the assumption that brain anatomy plays a role in gender identity.

Of course, the last and most damning refutation of the biology argument is that trans identity, because it is an organic feature of a human’s individual narrative, doesn’t REQUIRE a currently-identified biological anchor to be valid. Some trans individuals choose to transition, others don’t. Many recognize themselves while still very young, consistently and with ease [8]. Other folk don’t fit within the gender binary at all, meaning the “male and female” descriptors of their bodies and brain patterns are being observed through a scientifically obsolete framework — the equivalent of what phrenology was to medical science.

To claim that “biology” is the foundation of the Free Speech Bus’s argument is ugly and dishonest. Nowhere on the bus are studies mentioned, nor are brain scans displayed for public scrutiny. The bus simply claims that “a boy is a boy,” based on physical traits and societal expectation of the behavior based around those traits. This is not a diversely-layered, dynamic social critique. This is the outlook of a non-specific cis individual, plastered on a bus, exerting its presumed authority over others. This is a message sent into cities to politely inform the trans community that their voice, their story, is invalid because it doesn’t fit cis expectations and assumptions. “Respect all.”

WHAT THE HELL IS THE “YAF?”

Across the country, students have been provoked by, and have confronted, a growing far-right and alt-right influence on their campuses. The University of Washington was a flashpoint for these tensions, when an IWW member was nearly killed by an alt-right supporter. UC Berkeley’s antifascists successfully broke the back of that particular tour. Meanwhile, the students of the University of Wisconsin have faced off against an environment of bigotry, the potential formation of a white nationalist party, and most recently, the arrival of Ben Shapiro for a speaking event hosted by the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). The students protested, rightfully outraged by Shapiro’s ignorant rhetoric [9] regarding trans identity.

The YAF has a lengthy history [10], stretching back to its founding in 1960 as a conservative student group. They began as a coalition of traditional conservatives and libertarians working to spread right-wing ideology on college campuses, but quickly fell victim to factionalism with its libertarian elements, who argued against any form of government impingement of personal freedoms, including the draft. When Ronald Reagan joined the advisory board of the YAF in 1962, its future was crystalized, whether or not the whole membership realized this fact. From this point onward, the more radical factions were gradually weakened, and eventually expelled in 1969, solidifying the YAF’s traditional conservative philosophy.

In March of 1962, the YAF sponsored a massive 18,000-person gathering in Madison Square Garden, which they called the “Rally for World Liberation From Communism.”[6] In attendance for this event was Barry Goldwater, who would receive massive support from YAF members throughout his campaign [11], although this fact is conspicuously absent from the YAF’s self-arranged history [12]. This is the most revealing decade for the YAF, and their ideology.

As part of his opposition to the Voting Rights Act [13], Barry Goldwater made the following statement: “I will never vote for any public accommodation clause in any Civil Rights bill because I think it’s unconstitutional, I think it tampers with the rights of assembly, the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, and the freedom of property…” And so began the YAF’s proud tradition of using “free speech” as a smokescreen for their continuation of Reaganite conservative philosophy.

As they evolved through the 80s, 90s and early 21st century, the YAF lost momentum as they blended with Reagan’s America, then revitalized themselves as boots-on-the-street advocates for conservative national policies, cashing in on right-wing resentment during the Clinton years. Finally, in the 2000s, they returned to their traditional role as a campus-based student organization, shedding their older members and being absorbed by the Young America’s Federation in 2010. During this new wave of enthusiasm, the YAF protested undocumented immigration, affirmative action, and pertinent to this article, trans rights. During a 2006 protest of anti-discrimination protections for marginalized folk, including trans individuals, the chairman of the MSU Lansing YAF chapter commented, “We find it despicable. The whole part where [transsexuals] are identified as a special group and deserve special privileges is just wrong. We’re against the notion that deviants deserve extra rights.” [14]

A supporter from the American Family Association added, “… the so-called sexual orientation law was cited as the justification for this type of discrimination. It threatens to discriminate against and violate the religious free speech rights of individuals and organizations who believe homosexual behavior is wrong.”

Shapiro’s dismissal of trans identity…

… and a YAF member’s agreement.

The YAF has not changed much in the interim. Mr. Shapiro, like the YAF’s membership, does not recognize trans identity as legitimate. In addition, he has been critical of Black Lives Matter [15], falling prey to the same respectability politics and idpol distractions that blind conservatives and liberals alike. He has claimed the gender wage gap to be fictional, and baselessly disparages feminists [16]. He is dismissive of socialism as an ideology which “entitles” the poor to money they haven’t earned, and claims socialism spreads racism [17], while capitalism is colorblind. Altogether, he is the perfect spokesman for this holdover organization from a time when most American youth still had faith in the deceptions of capitalism [18], nationalism [19], and American exceptionalism [20].

When the YAF brought Ben Shapiro to UW Madison, the students were quick to recognize this organization for what it was. They protested the speaking event, and organized a petition [21] attempting to have the YAF categorized as a hate group.

Among YAF alumni are such cockroaches as Jeff Sessions, who used the “free speech” argument to claim that secularists have no right to pass legislation, because they do not believe in universal truths [22]. The YAF also touts a partnership [23] with the Leadership Institute, the conservative group which runs Turning Point USA’s Professor Watchlist [24], a tool used to intimidate leftist educators into silence.

Curiously, the YAF were upset to learn they have been portrayed as a “fringe” group, lumped together with their sometime-rivals in Turning Point USA. The YAF actually opposed bringing Milo Yiannopoulos to CPAC — an event which the YAF themselves founded in the 60s. And yet, as proponents of far-right ideology and Western chauvinism, as Trump supporters who platform anti-trans speakers, and as craven neo-blackshirt infiltrators of educational institutes, it is difficult to understand the YAF’s complaints regarding this association. Right down to their “free speech” obfuscations and jingoistic merchandise, the two groups are practically identical in their behavior, and in the toxicity of their presence in campus politics.

If the Young Americans for Freedom are not the alt-right, they are certainly the parasitized corpse from which the alt-right sprang forth, devouring the flesh of their decrepit 1980s capitalist dogma, and becoming something even more repulsive than Reaganite patriots. They cling so tightly to their faded past, they’re still trotting out illegal arms dealer Oliver North at their events[25]. Yet, despite their hollow protestations, their future lies with Trump and his unmasked white nationalist voter base.

RACIAL ANTHROPOLOGY AND SCIENTIFIC ERASURE

Ben Shapiro’s argument against trans identity — shared by the YAF — looks something like a warped syllogism:

  1. There is no legitimate sexual or gender identity except one which is based on assigned sex and external sexual traits.
  2. Because trans identity is not legitimate, it cannot be discriminated against or invalidated; “true” transness doesn’t exist.
  3. Therefore, any negative reaction to trans oppression is actually anti-free speech authoritarianism, and goes against the “biology” of the first statement.

At this point, the flaws in this thinking should be clear. However, neither Shapiro, nor the YAF, nor TPUSA are the first people to unleash this kind of pompous bigotry draped with pseudo-scientific mythology. In fact, this very argument was present in the earliest introduction of race theory first developed by Western intelligentsia to justify their artificial superiority and colonial expansion.

The invention of the cephalic index was a catalytic moment for the “race anthropologists” of the 19th and 20th centuries. Invented by Swedish anthropologist Anders Retzius, the index was used to calculate the proportions of the skull, and used as one of many tools to determine the evolutionary advancement of various mammals. When this came to include humans, race anthropologists began categorizing people based on loosely-defined ethnic labels of their own design — that of the white, male, upper class in command of this new field of study. This measurement was one factor used to justify the greatest atrocities committed on the soil of so-called America. The indigenous folk were compared to animals in a literal sense, more closely related to wild beasts than “civilized” humans. Slaves and vagrants were declared mentally enfeebled and physically abnormal, and therefore subhuman.

A scientific methodology was painted onto to this process of categorization to lend it credence, although objectively, the basest assumptions of “race science” are based on nonsensical, ahistorical narrative. In Nell Irvin Painter’s The History of White People, various instances of this corruption are deconstructed: Petrus Camper’s arbitrary measuring of facial angles from Grecian statues to determine quantifiable beauty in humans; Johann Friedrich Blumenbach fashioning “Caucasian” as a synonym for whiteness, based on skull measurements and conflations of geography, skin color, and sexual attractiveness to European males; the first American censuses subsequently using only the categories of whites, unfree whites, and slaves.

Other examples: the diagnosis of “hysteria,” [26] used to silence the pain and defiance of women for centuries; the popularization of the “Jukes Family,” a degenerate caricature of the lower class used to justify eugenicist violence by the state [27]; junk science from corporate shills used to deny climate change and endanger human existence; the horrors of syphilis research enabled by racist attitudes. [28]

Humans are fallible, and therefore even purely scientific logic can be used to baleful effect in the wrong hands. Simply invoking the concept of “biology” doesn’t refute a person’s understanding of themselves, especially when contemporary medical science demands their life experiences be believed.

GIVE NO QUARTER, TAKE NO PRISONERS

What makes this scientifically dubious argument – that assigned sex is the bottom line – so damaging is that it allows the perpetrator to cry foul if they’re confronted. Couching their arguments in vaguely scientific terms, and insisting that their dehumanizing rhetoric is removed from the social consequences it produces, they make an easy ally to the cop-hugging centrist, who will defend to the death their imaginary moral high ground, while tsking at the filthy-handed black bloc saboteur.

The silencing of marginalized voices unquestionably contributes to further marginalization, regardless of the delivery system. It is not an exercise in “free speech” to tell trans people that their identity is false; it is the robbing of social capital by reinforcing prejudice. There are consequences when a certain group is denied their humanity, in however civil of words.

Insidiously, white supremacy draws on male supremacy, cis supremacy, and straight supremacy in turn. Note, for instance, Heinrich Himmler’s [29] rant on how homosexual behavior weakens a nation’s breeding stock, leading to a degeneration of the “man-state,” and opening the door to infiltration by foreigners, all tangentially based on what was genuinely accepted racial and sexual scientific analysis — a perfectly good tool wielded in reckless hands by the aristocrat and the fascist. And so whether the individual members of TPUSA or the YAF understand that their words have weight, they are being deliberately careless and playing victim when they’re put in check. Their mutual opposition to trans identity unimpeachably dovetails their voice and interests with that of white supremacists, nationalists, and crackpot alt-right figureheads. The YAF’s opposition to Milo was factionalism over optics, nothing more. At the end of the day, they all want the wall built.

When these people are platformed, they leverage their social capital to silence others through erasure, while simultaneously removing any blame from themselves by turning, as always, to “freedom speech” for validation. Debate is not the solution, and purely reactive defense will not be enough. On a campus infected with the millennial face of conservatism, organized aggression should be the order of the day.

If you are a student, seek out like minded individuals, groups, or mentors. Educate yourselves on the struggles fought by your predecessors: the UGA student sit-in against sexist campus policies [30]; the Student Afro-American Society fighting against continued Jim Crow restrictions at Columbia University [31]; the Student Homophile League fighting underground for gay and lesbian rights while being refused official sanction by campus bureaucracy [32]. Note that many of these organizations were symbiotic, yet independent. Demand from your chancellors that your right to exist is non-negotiable, and that amplifying a message of bigotry is tantamount to participating in the violence [33] that follows dehumanization. If you are an older community organizer, or a local radical, reach out to support these organizations, or share their student publications online. There are very real consequences to having liberatory education snuffed out in its infancy, especially when it is supplanted with crypto-fascist goon squads.

SOURCES

[1] https://itsgoingdown.org/free-speech-bus-ends-failure/
[2] http://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/blog/2017/03/24/the-anti-transgender-free-speech-bus-is-coming-to-boston/
[3] https://www.dailydot.com/society/reddit-beatingwomen-misogyny-images/
[4] http://fusion.net/how-reddit-is-redefining-free-speech-on-the-internet-1793849235
[5] http://www.who.int/genomics/gender/en/index1.html
[6] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-there-something-unique-about-the-transgender-brain/
[7] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-there-something-unique-about-the-transgender-brain/
[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2754583/
[9] http://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/transgender-kids-show-consistent-gender-identity-across-measures.html
[10] http://ndsmcobserver.com/2017/03/college-republicans-host-ben-shapiro/
[11] http://www.yaf.org
[12] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/nov/17/president-reagan-told-us-there-is-no-better-way-to/
[13] http://www.yaf.org/about/history/
[14] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/liberal-love-of-goldwater-is-inexplicable/
[15] https://web.archive.org/web/20080517172931/http://www.statenews.com/index.php/article/2006/11/lansing_ordinance_prompts
[16] http://www.dailywire.com/news/4029/flashback-shapiro-naacp-director-income-inequality-chase-stephens
[17] http://www.adweek.com/digital/ben-shapiro-on-pro-abortion-feminists-and-the-men-who-love-them/
[18] https://townhall.com/columnists/benshapiro/2010/10/27/why-socialism-breeds-racism-n736439
[19] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/04/26/a-majority-of-millennials-now-reject-capitalism-poll-shows/?utm_term=.7242bb82afb4
[20] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/07/03/a-generational-gap-in-american-patriotism/
[21] http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/early/2016/11/14/hlthaff.2016.1088
[22] https://badgerherald.com/news/2016/12/22/student-led-petition-calls-for-young-americans-for-freedom-to-be-denounced-as-hate-group/
[23] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/01/12/jeff-sessions-said-secularists-are-unfit-for-government.html
[24] http://www.yaf.org/partnerships/
[25] http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article120131058.html
[26] http://www.yaf.org/speakers/oliver-north/
[27] https://www.lib.uwo.ca/archives/virtualexhibits/londonasylum/hysteria.html
[28] http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/unwanted-sterilization-and-eugenics-programs-in-the-united-states/
[29] https://www.cdc.gov/tuskegee/timeline.htm
[30] http://der-stuermer.org/english/Heinrich%20Himmler%20speech%20-%2018.02.1937.pdf
[31] http://www.civilrights.uga.edu/cities/athens/persecution.htm
[32] https://exhibitions.cul.columbia.edu/exhibits/show/1968/causes/sas
[33] http://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/queer-youth-campus-media/on-college-campuses/glf
[34] https://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/transgender-students-are-particularly-vulnerable-to-campus-sexual-assault/



Liked it? Take a second to support It's Going Down!