A few days ago I lost my patience with Bret Stephens, an anti-Trump conservative who wrote an apologia defending Kevin Williamson, who’d just been hired by The Atlantic despite having publicly expressed his opinion that women who’d terminated their pregnancies (and their doctors) should be hanged. My position was simple: if you think the opinion that hanging people for receiving or performing an absolutely legal medical procedure has a legitimate place in the marketplace of ideas, then…well, fuck you.
There’s a discussion to be had on abortion, to be sure. But it’s basically impossible to have a discussion when one party’s position is “hang ’em.” In any event, the issue isn’t abortion itself; that just happened to be the subject on which Williamson expressed himself. The real issue is this: what are the boundaries of civil discourse?
After some reflection and thought, and under pressure from outraged readers of The Atlantic, the magazine decided NOT to hire Williamson after all. Jeff Goldberg, the editor who’d hired Williamson, offered an explanation both for his hiring and his firing. In defense of hiring him, Goldberg said, “[N]o one’s life work should be judged by an intemperate tweet.” Which I happen to agree with. However…well, let Goldberg himself say it: “The tweet was not merely an impulsive, decontextualized, heat-of-the-moment post.”
In other words, Goldberg thought it was fine for Williamson, in the heat of the moment, to say he’d like to see women who have an abortion and the doctors who perform them hanged. But it was NOT okay for Williamson to actually hold that view as a considered opinion. To which I can only reply to Goldberg, fuck you. That’s bullshit. Even in the heat of the moment, once somebody voices the opinion that ‘you and people like you deserve to be killed‘ the discussion is basically over, even if the person who says that doesn’t really mean it. The fact that Williamson DID mean it, only makes it worse.
Now that Williamson has been returned to the editorial shelf, conservatives are rushing to his defense and the defense of free speech.
Kevin Williamson’s firing is another reminder that much of American conservatism finds itself ghettoized not by choice, but by the left’s active demands that the right be silenced. Socialists, national or otherwise, don’t like to compete for ideas when they can shut up others.
Fuck you. Nobody is calling for the right to be silenced. But a lot of folks do hold the opinion that advocating death by hanging for folks who engage in a legal medical procedure isn’t a position that merits much consideration or discussion.
It appears that The Atlantic has fired Kevin Williamson. That was close. They almost expanded their intolerant little bubble for a brief moment. In the end, we knew they couldn’t abide employing a talented individual with – gasp – a different worldview.
Fuck you. I feel no obligation to tolerate a worldview that says women and their doctors should be killed for legally terminating an unwanted pregnancy. If you feel that’s an acceptable worldview, then…well, fuck you.
Kevin Williamson: hired for his talent, fired for his views. This is chilling.
Fuck you. You know what’s chilling? Saying women and doctors deserve to die because they choose to undergo a medical procedure you find abhorrent. That’s pretty damned chilling to any sort of civil discussion.
Here’s the thing: there are venues and forums for every political, social, or religious view, no matter how extreme. If you believe Jews are actively plotting to destroy Christianity, there’s bound to be a place where that view can be discussed. If you believe nine-year-old boys are capable of consensual sexual experiences, there’s probably a place where you can discuss that. If you believe slavery is a legitimate social institution, I’m pretty sure you can find a forum where that view is welcome. If you believe people who eat meat should be locked up in a hog containment barn for a year, there are places where that view will be seen as legitimate. If you think it’s a mortal sin to omit nutmeg when serving eggnog, you can find a venue where that belief will be applauded.
But extremist views of any sort don’t belong in general social discourse. Extreme voices shouldn’t be silenced, but that doesn’t mean we’re obligated to hear them or accept them as legitimate. And if you think claiming women and their doctors deserve to be hung by the neck until dead is NOT an extremist view, then fuck you.