Current Events

We Don't Have to Give White Nationalists a Booth in the Marketplace of Ideas

If only someone had interviewed Steve Bannon before and maybe he could have been stopped.
If only someone had interviewed Steve Bannon before and maybe he could have been stopped. Image via Bloomberg Politics/
Arguably the worst trend over the past few years has been the weaponization of stupidity when it comes to the subject of free speech. Free speech is a complicated issue, one that has been and forever will be ever-shifting, but rarely are the people crying about their perceived lack of free speech ever arguing anything more complex than “I’m a carnival barker and these private businesses don’t want to build me a box to stand on.” And because they have no leg to stand on, they’ll cry about “censorship”, knowing that it’ll garner sympathy because enough hucksters have gone that route that people who slept through government class in middle school believe that not handing someone a megaphone is apparently high treason.

And that alone would be a huge problem, but the situation is even worse due to the fact that for some reason many major media outlets have reacted in 100 percent the wrong way when it comes to free speech. Obviously, I agree that a free press is essential for a democracy to function, but I also believe that a free press needs to make smart judgments about how they report on reality. In an effort to look free of bias — because they’re bending to the will of people who don’t understand how bias works — they’ve over-corrected, spending to much time giving platforms to points of view that aren’t worthy of attention.

Let’s be honest: the “marketplace of ideas” is ultimately a bad concept because the majority of people are easily swayed by con men with even the smallest touch of charisma. Ideas don’t rise and fall based on their value, but by what makes people feel good. There’s a reason the slogan was “Make America Great Again” and not “Make White People Feel Special Again” after all. But no matter how good some ideas might make people feel, some ideas are just rotten at their core; racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, and anti-Semitism are all bad and don’t need a booth in the market. The only reason people champion the “marketplace of ideas” is that it allows them to feel morally superior because when you have nothing to lose by being white and straight, it’s fun to pretend humans are logical when the reality is that we’re extremely emotionally.

But even the most high-minded folks actually realize this, they’re just playing pretend for the cash and for the clicks. I mean, if, for example, the New Yorker and Economist really believe that all ideas are worth bringing into the sun for debate, why aren’t they inviting flat Earthers, pedophiles, Pizzagaters, and Qanon advocates to their events?

This leads us to the Steve Bannon stupidity of the weekend, and the other problem with a media seemingly unable to put its foot down about ideas that have no value: ego. Maybe people have just watched The West Wing one too many times, or maybe they think that because Clark Kent was a journalist that they too have superpowers, but there’s this idea that because good reporting helps the world that reporters, with just the right quip, can destroy whomever they deem as bad. Notice in both Bannon situations it was the head editor who was going to sit with him, and both believed that by interviewing him they would be exposing how bad his ideology is. Just a few minutes on stage would finally be enough to end white nationalism, you see.

If “pointing out that white nationalism is bad” is all it takes to end white nationalists, we wouldn’t have white nationalists anymore. But we do, and we always will. But you know what helps in the fight? Telling white nationalists they’re not welcome, and not giving them platforms to voice their garbage opinions. By all means, report on them, but don’t give them free advertising time in the form of interviews at your “festival of ideas.” Or, perhaps, if you really, truly think that’s the best tactic, maybe interrogate yourself about why you’re comfortable with giving them that platform and what you really believe.
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Cory Garcia is a Contributing Editor for the Houston Press. He once won an award for his writing, but he doesn't like to brag about it. If you're reading this sentence, odds are good it's because he wrote a concert review you don't like or he wanted to talk pro wrestling.
Contact: Cory Garcia