Les Sillars – Subjective vs. absolute truth

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, August 18th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Here’s journalism professor and WORLD commentator Les Sillars now on Paw Patrol and the truth.

LES SILLARS, COMMENTATOR: During the recent riots, cancel culture warriors went after positive portrayals of police. Here’s Fox News commentator Stuart Varney in June.

VARNEY: The TV show Cops canceled after 32 seasons. And then, believe it or not, there is Paw Patrol.

What? My grandson loves Paw Patrol.

VARNEY: That is an animated TV show featuring Chase, a cartoon German shepherd who helps people. You know, does good things. In a police uniform. But that’s bad. Social media is full of demands to take Chase off the air.

This, Varney said, is a direct threat to free speech.

VARNEY: There is no real debate, no real free speech, if even mild pro-police opinion or shows are censored.

No no no, says Zach Beauchamp, a writer at Vox.com. The free speech debate isn’t really about free speech, he argued. And cancel culture warriors do so support open debate. There have always been limits on free speech, he pointed out. The question is, who gets to draw the boundaries?

Social justice activism doesn’t restrict freedom, he argued. It expands it. Sure, maybe they overreach a bit sometimes. But they’re just shifting the boundaries left to let silenced and oppressed minorities speak. And it’s about time.

It was an amazing piece of sophistry. Beauchamp turned a partial truth about free speech into an argument that silencing the views of half the country enhances free speech.

Yes, free speech has limits, and it should. The Founders never intended the First Amendment to mean, “Anyone can say anything.” They wanted to ensure citizens could criticize their governments without punishment. But they supported reasonable limits and laws against things like libel.

The recent shift leftward obviously narrows the bounds of free speech. But there’s an even bigger problem.

Free speech only works if everybody is seeking the truth in good faith. Milton argued in 1644 that (I paraphrase) if you let truth and falsehood battle it out in a free and open encounter, truth will win. That way we can find justice and settle conflicts with words, not armies.

But some people aren’t really searching for truth, not if it limits their autonomy. They want to win. That’s when free speech leads to chaos. It’s why truth doesn’t always win in the public square.

Cancel culture isn’t about searching for truth. It’s about “equity” and “power.” Beauchamp wrote that it’s about, quote, “making historically marginalized voices feel comfortable enough in the public square to be their authentic selves, to exist honestly and speak their own truths.”

Exactly. Their truths. Not the truth.

For cancel culture warriors, speech is just a tool for exerting power. Of course they’ll try to silence other views. We should stop being surprised by this.

Free speech is important, but we also have to affirm the existence of absolute truth. We can’t know all truth but surely we can know some. That’s because of the One who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Light.” We proclaim that truth regardless of what the culture tries to cancel.

I’m Les Sillars.

(Photo/Nickelodeon, Paw Patrol)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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