There’s an argument being advanced in open letters and Op Eds about “cancel culture” and the threat to free speech posed by an illiberal and intolerant woke orthodoxy. One piece of evidence proponents of this argument have produced is data on the levels of self-censoring people are practicing, that is, the amount to which people who previously would have felt free to express their opinions have stopped, for fear of reprisal. This, the Op Eds warn, has a chilling effect on free speech.
Maybe some people have stopped airing their views out of fear of social or professional consequences. That’s certainly not healthy for a democracy that prides itself on protecting a multiplicity of speech. We should resist such fear.
But maybe other people, maybe more people, are choosing to listen before they speak, if they choose to speak at all. Maybe self-censorship is not oppression but self-control, a choice one makes for themselves about how to value their voice relative to everyone else’s, particularly, in this moment, relative to voices that have been ignored or silenced for centuries.
Self-censorship might not necessarily point to curbed liberties. It might point to maturity.