We like to think that we’ve gotten past all that. This is the US/UK/Europe, after all, founded on principles of freedom. We’re not in any danger of falling under the sway of totalitarian regimes. We have a free and open culture, where immigrants and minorities are welcomed and valued. We have Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression safely ensconced in the US Constitution, which means the government can’t legally suppress what we think or what we say. But will that really protect us?

One of the arguments presented by readers at at File770 was that Freedom of Expression meant that public opinion would take care of racist/subversive ideas, shaming and ostracizing anyone who questions public policy on racial or ethnic lines, for example. The premise was that it’s fine to attack people and lobby for their removal on the basis of assumptions about their views because this will publicize and emphasize that some views are morally wrong and unacceptable to the public. This is expected to intimidate others who might be tempted to express similar views.

Because I’m of a certain age, I can recall a previous US administration where questioning of the current president or his policies resulted in immediate shaming on public media by groups supposedly unconnected with the government. Oppose the president, and you’re toast. Was this really public opinion or was it something else? I can also remember another previous administration where the president made extremely risky decisions that brought the country to the edge of nuclear war because of a phenomenon called “groupthink.” This describes when people who are intent on conforming to group values end up making dangerous decision. The current term for this is “virtue signaling” where everyone is expected to signal that they are part of the group, toeing the line and reciting the creed. Is this a good thing, or will it lead to dangerous results?

When I was asked by the readers on File770 if I thought racism was acceptable, I answered that this was a complex subject and that everyone was a racist to a certain extent. This immediately signaled that I wasn’t part of the group, and the discussion degenerated to personal attacks. Suddenly I was dangerous and needed to be ostracized as quickly as possible. My ideas were subversive and needed to be suppressed.

So, was Bradbury right? Will suppression of ideas lead to an eventual conflagration? Or was this just another stupid, hysterical diatribe?

Note: The fact that this discussion took place in the comments section of File770 is no reflection on Mike Glyer who owns the magazine and writes the articles. The readers comments do not represent his views. Read the discussion here. Please see previous blog for more comments on the incident.