Is it possible for speech to be violence? The New York Times seems to think so, and their reason for making this claim should be disturbing to any American who values the first amendment. On July 15, The New York Times published an opinion piece entitled, “When Is Speech Violence?” by Lisa Feldman Barrett. You can stop groaning now.
In her article, Ms. Barrett states that we should consider certain types of speech to be violence. Note, she is not talking about speech that incites violence. Barrett is literally making the claim that some speech is violence. Like most ordinary people, you’re probably wondering how she justifies this assertion. I’ll let her explain it:
Words can have a powerful effect on your nervous system. Certain types of adversity, even those involving no physical contact, can make you sick, alter your brain — even kill neurons — and shorten your life.
The author goes on to explain the science behind her claims. According to Ms. Barrett, our immune systems produce proteins called proinflammatory cytokines that cause inflammation when it sustains a physical injury. These proteins can lead to serious health conditions — one of these being chronic stress.
Ms. Barrett then explains that our telomeres, which she calls “little packets of genetic material that sit on the ends of your chromosomes” get shorter over the duration of one’s life. She states: “Each time your cells divide, their telomeres get a little shorter, and when they become too short, you die.” That medical phenomenon is a normal part of aging, but Ms. Barrett also states that chronic stress can cause your telomeres to shrink. Simply put, chronic stress can cause deterioration to your health. She then makes the connection to the impact of speech:
If words can cause stress, and if prolonged stress can cause physical harm, then it seems that speech — at least certain types of speech — can be a form of violence. But which types?
At this point, the author indicates that there is a difference between offensive speech and abusive speech. Offensive speech is not harmful because it only causes “periodic bouts of stress.” In contrast, she argues that speech that contributes to “a culture of constant casual brutality” can cause chronic stress which leads to physical damage.
As an example of abusive speech, Ms. Barrett refers to conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. According to her, Yiannopoulos “is part of something noxious, a campaign of abuse.” Yes, that’s right — when Milo Yiannopoulos gives speeches critical of the left, he is committing acts of violence.
She also uses political scientist Charles Murray as an example of someone whose views are reprehensible, but “only offensive.” Good job, Mr. Murray. It is interesting (but not surprising) to note that she only discussed conservative speakers in her article; she did not bring up any leftists. Go figure. However, Ms. Barrett’s argument contains some flaws.
The author argues that provocateurs like Milo Yiannopoulos should be prevented from speaking because they use “abusive” speech. In her estimation, Yiannopoulos’ words are as harmful as hitting someone with a clenched fist. However, she is missing the fact that people choose to see him if they want to listen to what he has to say.
If students feel threatened by his opinions, they can refuse to attend his speeches. On the other hand, committing real acts of violence is something people inflict on those who are unwilling — you know, like the Antifa bullies who physically attack conservatives. There is no justification for preventing students from seeing a speaker just because other groups dislike the content of the speech. But that is not the only problem with Ms. Barrett’s assertion.
While the author provides evidence that chronic stress can cause physical health issues, she does not show that hearing extreme opinions constitutes the type of “injuries” that cause people to experience long-term stress. Simply put, she does not demonstrate that the words of a snarky conservative speaker are as harmful as a punch to the jaw. Perhaps we should get to the real reason Ms. Barrett is making this claim.
Arguing that speech can be a form of violence is just another way to keep conservatives from expressing their views. It would be easy to dismiss Ms. Barrett’s claims as another example of leftist propaganda — but it is far more insidious than that.
The truth is that many on the left are putting forth a concerted effort to silence people who do not adhere to their ideas. They wish to force everyone else to embrace their views — and they are willing to destroy our first amendment rights to do it. On an episode of “The Uprising” podcast, Liberty Nation’s Scott Cosenza stated that the left’s approach is creating a “crisis of free speech” in the United States. He is right.
The social justice movement actively promotes their anti-free speech agenda on college campuses and other areas of American society. Leftist groups use terms like “hate speech” to discredit any viewpoints that contradict their opinions. Ms. Barrett’s piece is designed to lend an air of “credibility” to these faulty arguments. Her claims to have scientific evidence that speech can be violence might deceive many into believing her statements. These types of deceptions are not incidental – they are by design. If they can convince Americans that their argument is valid, they can use it as an excuse to silence conservatives by any means necessary.
The truth is that speech is not violence. Physical force is violence. The New York Times’ article is just another piece written to validate the left’s efforts to keep conservatives from exercising their right to free speech. This should be a troubling thought to all Americans. Our right to say what we wish is one of the cornerstones of our society, and we cannot allow anyone to destroy it. There is a free speech crisis in this country, and it is imperative that liberty-minded Americans defend our right to free expression.