Two of the leading young lights in conservative media, Guy Benson and Mary Katherine Ham, are out with a new book, “End of Discussion.” They take on a serious topic with wit and levity — the left’s impulse to shut down speech that “offends,” or more clearly, differs from the liberal hymnal on proper thought and speech. Guy and Mary Katherine agreed to take part in a Q & A, the first part of which is below. Part 2 will run tomorrow.
Why did you write the book and write it now?
We make a living with words, so we’ve watched with increasing alarm the move toward limiting and banishing words and thoughts from our national lexicon and conversation. We don’t believe that disqualifying opponents with demagoguery is a fair method of “winning” debates, yet that’s what’s too often happening. This toxic phenomenon in our public discourse isn’t limited to public figures, either; everyday people are experiencing the rising social costs of crossing the Thought Police, including the loss of friends and even one’s livelihood. The episode that really catalyzed “End of Discussion” was the 2014 purging of Brendan Eich from Mozilla, a company he helped to found.
When it was discovered that Eich had donated to California’s Proposition 8, an anti-gay marriage referendum, he was deemed unworthy of running his company any longer. Not because of poor leadership or discriminatory behavior, mind you, but because of a personal political opinion (which was the prevailing one at the time, even in California, and which remains a mainstream belief today). Mary Katharine and I actually disagree with Mr. Eich on that particular question, but we were horrified that the wages of said disagreement was an unceremonious ouster from a job he’d built a career to earn. The Eich incident is just one of many examples, sadly. Just this week, a high school principal in Florida lost his job over a non-vulgar, non-racist Facebook comment pertaining to a police-related controversy. By entering the marketplace of ideas in a remarkably anodyne manner, he supposedly violated a policy barring him from engaging in speech “perceived” to be insensitive. This is not America. This is not how a society that purports to value and cherish free expression and the robust exchange of ideas ought to operate. That’s why we believe that “End of Discussion” is timely and important.
Do you distinguish between uncomfortable, even vitriolic criticism of conservatives and punishment/retribution like job loss, expulsion from school, etc.?
Uncomfortable rhetoric and vitriol date back to the early days of our republic. People have been complaining about “political correctness” for years, too. As an aside, Jerry Seinfeld’s recent comments about PC hall monitors threatening the lifeblood of comedy — a concern echoed by Jay Leno and Chris Rock, among others — indicates that the merchants of feigned and tendentious outrage aren’t just making the country less free. They’re making it less fun, too. In any case, what seems new is the weaponization of outrage over the slightest of perceived offenses. Self-righteous scolding is giving way to a campaign of exacting retribution. The paradigm is shifting away from “I may disagree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it,” to “I disagree with what you say, so I’ll eagerly join the punishment mob, you _____-ist bigot.” We love the Internet, but it’s impossible not to acknowledge that social media makes manufactured outrage storms much easier to execute. Spaces like Twitter lend themselves to group action, which can be used for good and for ill. We’re encouraging people to take a breath and chill out a little more often.
Conservatives now have the Internet, Twitter, Fox, etc. so are there more outlets for expression of conservative ideals?
Absolutely, and “End of Discussion” isn’t a book that whines about how poor, put-upon conservatives have no voice in American society. Nor do we argue that faux umbrage is the exclusive province of the Left. We routinely call out our own side (and occasionally ourselves specifically) throughout the book. What we do argue is that silencing and bullying machinations are primarily on the Left at the moment. Righty outrage is often impotent. Obnoxious, but impotent. Lefty outrage has a more receptive audience among many of our country’s tastemakers and opinion-shapers because the left-of-center worldview dominates key cultural institutions: academia, the entertainment industry, and much of the media. So illiberal outrage purveyors enjoy institutional advantages of amplification and credibility. And don’t just take our word for it. A series of center-left figures, to their credit, have begun to sound the alarm about this anti-intellectual cancer growing on their own side of the aisle. One of the arguments we advance in “End of Discussion” is that liberals fancy themselves the champions of tolerance, open-mindedness and coexistence, so we want to challenge them to live up to those value vis-a-vis people and ideas with whom they’re not inclined to agree.
What advice do you give to conservatives about how to respond if victimized and also how to avoid being their own worst enemies?
We offer advice to conservatives (and others) in the concluding chapter of “End of Discussion,” as well as highlighting recent examples of people who’ve gone toe-to-toe with the Outrage Circus … and won. We were fortunate enough to get exclusive interviews with Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Cory Gardner for the book, in which they explain how they survived and defeated firestorms. Three common themes: Courage, lack of apology when none is owed, and good cheer. Both are also skilled and savvy communicators who understand that defensiveness is often counterproductive. We also praise the example of the late, great Joan Rivers. She would frustrate and confound offense-takers by utterly refusing to back down or apologize for controversial jokes. She’d say things like, “I’m a comedian, I told a joke, I don’t apologize for it, and if you’ve got a problem with that, you can go [suggestion redacted].” Reject the premise. Stand your ground. And remember that very often, the aggrieved parties represent a loud, fractional minority.
To the ‘being our own worst enemies’ question, we don’t elaborate too deeply on this point in the book, but the center-Right seems to waste an awful lot of time and energy battling itself, sometimes using precisely the tactics we lament. The “RINO”-huntin’ and “TruCon”-sneering isn’t helpful, nor is the casual, knee-jerk impugning of motives.
Look for Part 2 tomorrow.