In a scathing review of Adam Carolla’s documentary, “No Safe Spaces,” Anthony Fisher coins the phrase “free speech tourists.”
A true commitment to free speech requires defending the right to express the most vile, transgressive, and unpopular ideas. And the truest demonstration of that commitment is to hold one’s own political tribe to account when it fails to walk the walk on the principle.
You won’t find such introspection in “No Safe Spaces,” a new documentary that exemplifies the growing “free-speech tourism” on the right.
There’s irony buried in this hypocrisy. Free speech was once in the exclusive possession of liberals, a cause célèbre at Berkeley, where a movement was born to secure the right to say whatever one chose to say. It’s now a tenet of white supremacy on the radical left, as it turns out that some people say things that offend. This isn’t exactly news, although it informs Corolla’s propaganda.
While the movie provides solid cases against the logical fallacies made by left-wing activists, it fails to address free-speech violations on the political right and takes the safest route possible by preaching to the choir.
This is tribalism, where pointing out the faults of the other tribe, while ignoring the faults of one’s own tribe, has become a daily ritual, replete with canned arguments about who started it, who’s worse and why the same fallacious contention in your tribe’s hands is true, while it’s outrageously false when wielded by the other tribe. This, too, isn’t exactly news.
But there is a difference, and one that distinguishes Fisher’s criticism of this clearly tourista “documentary” from what it could, and should, have been.
“No Safe Spaces” is indicative of a frustrating trend in an era where the freedom of speech is regularly under attack from both sides. Instead of soberly addressing threats to free speech, the movie relies on some dubious “free-speech warriors” who often don’t practice what they preach.
Fisher goes on to explain how the “protagonists” in the film, Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin and PragerU’s Candace Owens, are run-of-the-mill hypocrites, complaining of campus progressives while threatening defamation suits against their own challengers. It’s not only fair criticism, but entirely correct. And as the cherry on top, he notes how “alt-right friendly comic Owen Benjamin” was adored until he went anti-Israel and was “de-platformed” for his heresy.
Basically, the complaints are entirely legitimate, but entirely one-sided and hypocritical. These aren’t “free speech warriors,” but self-serving warriors who love their own free speech but not anyone else’s. In other words, “free speech tourists.”
While Fisher’s critique is sound, it misses one point that strikes me as critical. The right, the conservative folks for whom this documentary was created, were never the tribe who stood for the Constitution. They weren’t marching in Berkeley. They didn’t defend the Nazis in Skokie. They were never the side of free speech. They were never the side of the Constitution. They never claimed to hold the constitutional high ground.
So now they’re hypocrites because they discovered the First Amendment when it served their interests? When were they not? The same is true for the Second Amendment, dear to a great many conservatives who had little use for the Fourth, Fifth, etc. But to be fair, they were always constitutional tourists, willing to care only when it served their interests, and otherwise pretty much hating everything about constitutional rights.
The left, on the other hand, claimed the constitutional high ground. It went to war over it at Berkeley, in Skokie, in a thousand other battles, protests and causes. While the right only used the Constitution when it was good for them, the left owned it, and was willing to suffer the indignity of supporting the right of Nazis to march to not be hypocrites, to prove their fight was principled.
Anthony Fisher’s criticism of the documentary as “free speech tourism” is absolutely correct, but the right was always just passing through. That the left vacated the premises, on the other hand, has left the Constitution unoccupied by either tribe. It’s just a few of us old-time liberals who are squatting there, and it won’t be long until we’re put on a sled and left in the woods.