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The Boy Who Cried ‘Hate’

While snowflakes were falling over San Antonio last night, snowflakes everywhere were in a flurry over the downfall of The Libertarian Catholic Facebook page.

In an abrupt conclusion to what had been a tempestuous week, Facebook made the decision to unpublish the page which had over 12,000 followers and not a few viral memes that reached more than a million readers. It’s a page that has generated some excellent content and fascinating conversation over the last few years, and has given people a place to work out some of the biggest ideas of the age.

So why was it taken down?

The acute cause will probably never be known since Facebook is secretive about their decision-making process. We can speculate: Last week, we published a meme in response to a photo that was circulating around the Internet featuring a protester holding a sign with the acerbic Marxist line, ‘If I can’t even afford Ramen, I’ll eat the rich’. Playing off the protester’s hyperbole, our meme noted the cost of Ramen and contrasted that with the cost of her first-world lifestyle.

Now, this meme is everything that a meme should be: First, it is visual and accessible, it is provocative and witty, and, perhaps most importantly, it is debatable. When you present a controversial meme, people are compelled to comment, and when people comment, other people see it, and the whole process continues.

At first, the meme was received with normal fanfare with a few hundred likes and comments. But, by Sunday, it had made its way to the dark reaches of Facebook’s socialist community, and, we believe, became a target of their wrath.

We had never really been targeted by a group of socialists before. Confused libertarians and Catholics, yes, but this was something new. They flooded the meme with thousands of comments, mostly inane critiques of the meme’s logic (“How do you know she didn’t get the clothes at thrift stores?”), some achingly irrational (“You don’t want her to have glasses or cut her hair!”), and many, ironically, hateful (“Shut the **** up you *****!”). Some of the haters even created a spoof Facebook page that then mocked the meme with an exaggerated version, evidently to prove that the Left still has no ability to meme. (That spoof page is still up, interestingly.)

Clearly, it struck a nerve. As Churchill is attributed as saying: “You have enemies? Good. It means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” Of course, Churchill didn’t live in the postmodern world of Antifa, safe spaces, and trigger warnings. In the outrage sweepstakes, it’s not those who have stood up for something that prevail; it’s those who tear things down.

Prior to Facebook’s taking down the page, at least one visitor threatened he would report us for abuse. Facebook’s official message zeroed in on what we had done—evidently the real crime of our age—‘hate speech’.

Anyone who can read knows that the term ‘hate speech’ means a terrible, irrational attack intended to intimidate and bully. And that’s bad enough. But in our age, it means something much more. While it often implies intent to physically harm the recipient, some have conjectured that the speech itself is harmful because it causes stress and stress has been shown to cause physical harm.

Accordingly, there has been a sizeable movement to prohibit hate speech—in schools, in the business world, and in politics. The moral of the story: Speech is violence, and so we cannot tolerate words that disrupt our sense of safety.

There is one little problem in all of this—there is no objective definition ‘hate speech’. We live in an age where the only judge of whether speech is hateful is the recipient of said speech. And that means that, if someone is offended, then it’s hate speech. And, as we are beginning to see, folks take offense to just about everything these days. If someone is confronted by an idea that he disagrees with, it’s hate speech; if someone sees something different, it’s hate speech; if someone posits an original idea at all, it’s hate speech.

As a result, we see authority figures quickly jumping at any hint of accusation so as to avoid the possible harm that comes from it. The perceived harm that comes from hate speech is so great that these authorities will go so far as to suppress or delete those accused of the act. The consequences are sobering: Great communities and institutions of content-builders can be evaporated in an instant just because a random passerby disagrees with their message. As it appears, a Facebook community is as fragile as its weakest member.

Evernote founder Phil Libin once described to me a concept called ‘Negativity Bias’. In groups, we tend to believe that we look smarter when criticizing something rather than supporting it. And so we like to shoot down ideas more than we put forth anything new; the more distinct and original an idea is, the more liable it is to be attacked.

Is this really the road we want to go down? I can hardly believe that even our Marxist detractors want to. The boot girl’s message trumpets the essential postmodern idea: The world is just one power play after another, and so all the weak can do is to band together to destroy the strong.

But, if that is the case, then the weak will eventually become the strong and will then need to be torn down as well. The only possible outcome is a constant tearing down of each other that will escalate into a Hobbesian war of all against all.

At the Libertarian Catholic, we strove to produce content that was distinct and original. My brother’s big idea was to synthesize two seemingly opposed ideas—libertarianism and Catholicism—and see what discussion blossomed. For the most part, the result was enlightening—the basis had been paradoxical in the most illuminating and productive way.

But, like all paradoxes, it also generated severe revulsion from an agitated few. With every viral post, we drew in people who just could not accept the notion that libertarianism and Catholicism could coexist—liberty and hierarchy, innovation and order, reason and faith.

Now, there can be no doubt that we have posted provocative content, and the boot girl meme was a prime example. But we never posted anything intended to injure or belittle others personally. To paraphrase Justice Scalia, we attack ideas, not persons. To attack persons is a form of logical fallacy, and we take pains to avoid such fallacies if only because we know how unproductive they can be when used against us. Our detractors seem to never have learned the lesson.

It is possible that Facebook will reinstate the page upon appeal. And, if they do, we will thank them for being objective and judicious about their policy. But, no matter what happens with the page, the episode is indicative of a serious crisis in our culture. We are surging to a point in our society where speech will become violence and thought will become crime. And, if we ever arrive at that point, it won’t be from Facebook that we will be asking for mercy, it will be from God.