~ short story

Man: I just want to talk about it. I have something to say, something important to express, and I simply desire the freedom to say my peace, in peace.


“Well, what is it you want to say?”

“Just say it already.”

“You can say it, but we don’t have to listen.”

“Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequence.”

“What kind of peace requires this much public focus, so much attention?”

“Words matter.”

“Is talking about it really all you want to do?”

“You fear saying it because you know of the controversy it will invite?”

“Well, get ready bitch!”

“Your words actually disrupt the peace, they summon chaos.”

“Have you considered maybe that you are objectively wrong?”

“How about being a little open-minded?”

“How about being a little more sensitive to the people that will be affected by what you say?”

“A conversation has two sides of course, will you allow us to respond in kind?”

“Why do you hide under the absolute guise of free speech?”

“Yeah, you can’t just come in and say FIRE! in a crowded theater. People die.”

“There is an unseen spurring in your expressions and we see right through it.”

“Words lead to actions!”

“All philosophies can be extrapolated to a natural endgame. Yours is one of prejudice and suffering!”

“You design to excite violence on the behalf of your hateful ideology!?”

“Hate speech is not protected!”

“If you plan to speak, then be prepared to face the consequences!”

“Nothing you say is justified.”

“We will fight you every step of the way, with our own words, our own philosophy, our own truth!”

“How do we know you say these things in good faith? How do we know you aren’t lying? How do we know you aren’t manipulating all of us.”

“Your opinions are just shit lmao and you should feel bad about them. kys.”

“You think your philosophy, your politics represent nothing more than mental gamesmanship — an exercise in your own psychic amusement among people that look like you and already think like you — and NOT part of the grand policy-making enterprise which ends up killing people!”

“Your very presence here is marginalizing a thousand other voices. You waste more than your own breath.”

“Your philosophy, the one you consider so fangless as to spout it freely into this marketplace of ideas, is one which spurs on the racists, the xenophobes, the psychopathic ideologues who want nothing more than to increase the sum total carnage in the world for their own self-interested designs!”

“You are being puppeteered by forces beyond your control!”

“You are giving a platform to these monsters. You are aiding and abetting their rise to prominence.”

“We can’t allow this in a modern society! He wants to destroy everything we have built, together, because he now happens to be in the newfound minority. We are NOT going to move backward!”

“You are a monster!”

“You are the real enemy here.”

“Yeah let’s fuck him up!”

“Wait, everyone! What if this is actually a good thing? What if knowing who thinks this way, who believes enough in these things to speak on them, to articulate their ideology in this way, to try to spur others to action — is ultimately a good thing? We actually want them out in the open, so we can see them and criticize them. The more we know the better, even if it does inevitably radicalize others into their camp. We need to know everything we can about those that hold these beliefs. The future of the human project lies in the balance. We need to know our enemy, so as to oppose them openly and with regard to our own developing vision of the good life.”

“Nah, fuck ’em all.”

“This guy is probably one too.”

“Rush him, silence him, destroy him!”

“The marketplace of ideas has spoken.”

“Let’s end this.”

“That’s right. This is just the beginning. There isn’t equivalency here. What separates them from us is faith. His peace is not made in good faith. And bad faith changes everything. The prime directive of the discourse changes as a result of its use. Its objective shifts from uncovering truth and speaking it to the enlightenment of all — friends and foes — to the objective of sowing misdirection, leading unto obfuscation, stoking manipulation, breeding chaos.

“Bad faith actors use platforms and carefully crafted lies to undermine whatever the truth may be. With his words, he comes to the table — “to the marketplace of ideas” — seeking to destroy the concept of good faith; no one can be trusted when everyone is lying and behaving monstrously within the discourse. In the shadows inevitably unveiled, there is no progression in such modes of expression. It’s a game, a public one and it is all very much about the dictates of popular opinion. They will try to manipulate their supporters, their surrogates, to incite genuinely literal or metaphorical violence on behalf of and outside of, the realm of mere discourse.

“In a concerted effort of a kind of hyper-normalization, individuals speaking in this way — operating under selective confirmation biases — transform the entire function of the discourse. From then on, it becomes irreversibly altered for all players involved. It switches to a game in which there can be no winners. The master value of free speech becomes weaponized, radioactive and concretely untouchable {despite the absence of faith}all in an attempt to protect themselves against all criticism or potential censorship. Yet the ideas have their widespread consequences as a result of this freedom, and the spread of bad faith corrupts the landscapes of our conversations. All the while, the truth burns on the cross. Not only this conversation dies, but many future conversations also die in this moment. This brand of speech is how democracies die.

“Of course, in all of this, intent is everything. And it becomes lost in the shuffle. There’s too many actors, and too much chaos — by design — for anything to ever be proven, regarding intention. All we can do is react, invoke damage control, and most of all — try to educate the observing parties to utilize some manner of independent rationality and fact-checking, becoming resilient to all manner of bad faith rhetoric. The best solution is simple, yet at the same time nearly impossibly difficult: think about what you are hearing, and think about your response. For this {The Discourse} to work, one must educate oneself on the person and their message, and the context of it all given these facts; one must try their hand at negotiating all of the nuances — diving in, wading around with sincerity for the necessary amount of time with respect to the conversation’s complexity and its importance — and ultimately vetting all of it both for the Truth and the Truth of the speaker’s intention in saying it.

“The bottom line: People can say whatever they want. But we don’t have to acknowledge it, repeat it, syndicate it, respond to it, or ever take the time openly criticize it or even bring it to greater light. We do not have to. Even if circumstances may demand it. We don’t have to listen. And when we do, and we take it in and move with it in whichever way we feel is right and necessary, and then criticize you and your message and threaten to never listen to you again — that must be acknowledged by the speaker of such ills. As a result of such a critical threat — that of being taken out of the game entirely — then, theoretically, one’s message has to evolve, it has to improve. The intent is forced to move further from manipulation and deception and closer to enlightenment and truth. Bad faith moves towards its opposite. It’s either that, or you’re done. That’s how we move forward. It’s the only way.

“And so, speak your peace. One way or another — there will be a response. The response is, in part, this mob. Or maybe, over time, it becomes a mass silence, as your words and your perspective fades into the deathly shadows of utter irrelevance. It’s your choice.

“But do not expect to see anything like peace. One such as you cannot ever know peace.”

Man: …

“Next time, think before you speak.”

“Good talk.”

“Until next time.”