Rising conservative star says “people are afraid to say what they believe”
For better or worse, we Americans of the 21st century live in age of unprecedented freedom of expression and unprecedented diversity of opinion.
The Internet and other social media provide new platforms for millions of us — no matter our social, political or religious views — to express ourselves to audiences large or small and like-minded or not.
Talk radio, the blogosphere, Twitter and YouTube afford opportunities for virtually anyone to share their opinions on any subject they might choose.
As an editor of a major daily newspaper said, almost disdainfully, a few years ago: “Anyone with a cheap computer can become a columnist or a pundit.”
Not surprisingly, of course, there are some people who are frightened by this freedom and diversity. They prefer the previous arrangements whereby discourse was required, either by law or social pressures, to follow more narrow rules that disallowed certain digressions from tradition.
Oh, there are still social pressures, and some of them are relatively new. Certain racial epithets, for example, are no longer acceptable in most social circles. And various other ugly references to gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation are widely considered ill-mannered if not worse. Call it political correctness, if you want, but there it is. Social norms are always evolving.
And, yes, our social dialogue and popular culture have become increasingly vulgar. That’s a downside to greater freedom of expression. But on this score, too, social pressure has a role to play. There’s no law against objecting to coarse language or naughty culture, even if the complaints sometimes fail to achieve the desired effect. You’re free to shun the vulgarians in your social circle, and you’re free to avoid movies and TV shows that offend your sensibilities.
But when it comes to speaking one’s mind in this modern age, freedom is the most popular F-word in our society.
And yet there are those among us who somehow have convinced themselves — and are trying to convince others — that there is less, not more, freedom of expression these days.
Take, for example, Dr. Ben Carson (above), an eminent physician who has become a popular public speaker of late among political conservatives and is sometimes mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate. Just the other day, Carson said America has become “very much like Nazi Germany” and is now “a society where people are afraid to say what they actually believe.”
Such grim rhetoric immediately brings several questions to mind:
Would Carson’s frequent and widely-circulated public criticisms of his country’s government have been tolerated in Nazi Germany? The answer is: Not likely. So his comparison of the Obama administration to the Third Reich is a bit overblown, to put it mildly.
Has Carson ever been afraid to say what he actually believes? It would seem not. What does he have to fear? His frequent expressions of discontent with the way things are in America have only made him an increasingly popular speaker at conservative get-togethers. If he was too afraid to say what he actually believes, there would be no demand to hear what he has to say. Only people in the medical community would ever have heard of him.
Putting it another way, Carson is living proof that the stuff he’s peddling is mostly crap. He’s become famous telling people that people have become afraid to speak their minds.
Still, his crap strikes a responsive chord among right-wingers who want the freedom to say what they actually believe without getting any blowback from people who disagree. That’s what demagogues of his ilk really fear. They don’t want anyone to challenge their pretensions to super-patriotism or their supposedly scriptural-based bigotry or their allusions to the good old days when women knew their place and when science didn’t upset the comfortable status quo and fill the minds of young people with dangerous and unconventional ideas.
You see, Carson is no less free than anyone else to say what he actually believes. The only thing he need fear is that some of us are more than ready to give him an argument. And if he’s really afraid of that, he’s just a wimp. A great doctor, yes, but a political wimp.