In the past three weeks, Joe Rogan has spent more time in headlines than any 3-week period prior – I’m dramatic for effect, but I’m probably right. In episode 138 of Podcasting Sucks I was asked by Jeff Townsend whether or not podcasting was/is the last bastion of Freedom of Speech (a question likely inspired by Joe Rogan’s recent activities) and I was forced to break a general rule I have about podcasting: don’t spring politics on you listeners if that’s not what they’re showing up for.
In my case, of course, the political discussion centered around podcasting so I think I bent the rule more than I broke it, but still, it made me uncomfortable. I’m more comfortable with written words rather than spoken ones, so I wanted to flesh out the points I made about Freedom of Speech (and how they apply to Joe Rogan and Spotify) and podcasting in episode 138, here.
What is the right to Freedom of Speech? Apparently not what far too many people think it is.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.Cornell Legal Information Institute
The right to Freedom of Speech, as provided in plain English by the US Constitution, is simply a promise that the Congress will not make laws to regulate the free expression (be that expression in the form of speech, press, religion, assembly, or petition) of private citizens in the United States.
Nowhere in this Amendment, or any other, does the Constitution lay out any guidelines of behavior in concerns to the relationship between private citizens and business. Spotify cannot be regulated in this way by the government – and neither can Joe Rogan.
And that’s a problem for we private citizens.
If the Government cannot govern businesses (though it can regulate industries), that means a business is free to behave however it might wish to (for the most part) and the Government cannot intervene. Meaning if a business wanted to, for example, give a platform to a person with acerbic opinions, there’s nothing the government can do about it.
This means we have no recourse – we have no way to make the company change their behavior or make different decisions.
Or do we?
One of the beautiful things about Free Market Capitalism is that it fixes this problem for us by giving citizens the ability to regulate businesses themselves through protest, boycotts, and other forms of constitutionally protected behavior which can directly affect the lifeblood of any for-profit organization: profit.
Through the protections of Freedom of Speech we, private citizens of the United States, are able to directly influence businesses behaving in ways we believe they shouldn’t be and, if our numbers are large enough, and our voices united enough, we can regulate a business from the outside-in. Whether that business is Joe Rogan Inc, or Spotify.
So the last bastion of freedom of speech isn’t podcasting, it’s you.
This power is immense, and it must be wielded responsibly because it can absolutely be used for evil. We’ve all seen people who didn’t deserve it lose their jobs or have their funding pulled because a group organized against their unpopular but not truly damaging opinion on XYZ. And that is precisely the sort of thing Franklin was talking about when he, in answer to the question, “What do we have, a Monarchy or a Republic?”, said,
“A republic, if you can keep it.“
In a country which truly values the concepts of liberty and free expression, we cannot use any tools other than the many constitutionally protected behaviors our Constitution gives us access to.
That means if peaceful protests, boycotts, and non-violent disruptions, do not result in the outcomes we desire, we must accept that too few people agree with us and that we do not deserve to get our way.
It is antithetical to liberty, to the very heart of freedom of expression, to invite a government to infringe upon Constitutionally protected actions “in certain situations” – unless those certain situations occur within government spheres (like you can’t curse out a judge in a courtroom without being punished for it, but you could curse out a judge in the supermarket) – because the second we do it once, we provide future justification for it to go a step further.
That’s not how this country was intended to work. If people want to change the foundational values of this nation, that’s something that may occur in due course, but for the time being, if we the people cannot pressure Spotify in fair-play ways, then we the people don’t have the right to subvert the Constitution to get our way.
In other words: if we don’t have the numbers to get our way fair and square, we do not have the right to kick and scream and call in a nuclear strike. That’s not in line with liberty. It is, instead, more in line with authoritarianism.
We’re not supposed to be in favor of that sort of thing.