Thought Crimes and Free Association, and a Warning to Progressives


After the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, one University of Tampa professor took to Twitter to voice his opinion on the matter:

Progressive Ken Storey

Seems the weather is upset that Texas voted Trump and has decided to make an example of the state. Instead of opening a discussion on the unlikeliness of the weather having a political affiliation, or perhaps some other enlightening theological topic, the University just fired Ken instead. After a month that has seen actual and fake Nazis losing their jobs over attending a free speech rally, the Twitter mob snake has finally eaten its own tail. Tit for tat it seems. The conservative blogs are having a field day dragging poor Ken over the coals for daring to insult the God Emperor. The left is, obviously, incensed over this clear violation of Ken’s “right” to speak freely. This author thinks they’re both certifiably insane. Left and right can no longer be considered to believe in “free speech” at all: they simply defend their version of “goodthink” and attack viciously their version of “wrongthink”. Considering this revelation of the reality of free speech and rights in general, let’s examine how a free society conceptualizes free speech.


Freeze-peach and free association


The right to freely associate(and disassociate) from an individual is important to recognize as a libertarian. This stems from everyone’s basic “right” to have complete and exclusive control over their body and property. Forced association is analogous to a forced monopoly on a good or service: rather than being free to choose a producer of a product who provides the good or service at the best price and highest quality, the consumer is forced to obtain the product from a limited number of suppliers. This distorts the market as consumers are unable to signal with their purchasing power what price and quality is most acceptable to them. Now apply this to the idea of being forced to associate with someone whose ideas you find off-putting or whose personality you don’t care for…you can see the similarities. Bad ideas stick around because there is still an artificially high demand for them(*cough cough* the State *cough cough*). Free association gives the individual the ability to peacefully affect the general pool of ideas in society. The marketplace of ideas and behaviors, therefore, reflects the general preferences of most people in a society, and those people who reflect a minority of ideas are free to associate with each other and be unmolested. Sounds good, right?

Well, while people actually DO associate freely in practice and extend the right of free association to others possessed of their personal “goodthink”, there is a tendency to not extend the same privileges to people determined to possess “wrongthink”…ie, allow them to associate freely with one another and be unmolested. There is a tendency to attempt to punish them in addition to disassociation…sort of a lash to go with the exile: “think twice before you do that again” kind of attitude. Hans-Hermann Hoppe, who wrote extensively on the subject of free association(to this author’s occasional agreement and often to his disagreement) experienced this punishment of “wrongthink” firsthand. His opinions which were counter to the traditionally left-wing opinions of his university nearly cost him his job. More recently Jordan Peterson has experienced the same situation. Now I’m not saying you have to agree with Hoppe or Peterson’s opinions, but I am saying that when society develops a “tool” for discouraging generally poorly perceived ideas and encouraging generally well-perceived ideas…one must realize that tool is as easily used against them as against their “wrongthink” enemies. As we have just seen with the case of Ken Storey. Think about this. Realize your powers of free association and their ability to affect the marketplace of ideas…then ask yourself: do I want to live in that kind of world? A world where people are routinely fired, or worse, for expressing ideas?

This is why a libertarian sees the rejection of force and acceptance of free association as critically linked in producing a free society. As individuals, we are free to associate(and this includes private businesses’ right to hire and fire based on free association), but each association and disassociation does contribute to the generally accepted norms of association. If being fired or attacked for having an opinion becomes a norm, it is not guaranteed only your “goodthink” ideas will survive. If we don’t want to live in the world represented in Orwell’s classic “1984”, then as individuals we must begin to respect the opinions of others and realize this: a thought is not a crime and mob justice is not justice. If you don’t believe in free speech for your enemies, you don’t believe in free speech at all.

Progressive Noam Chomsky

You can read more by Josh Welborn on Think Liberty here.


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