Speech Is Only Free If Dissenting Voices Get Heard: Notes From The Edge Of The Narrative Matrix

Caitlin Johnstone
4 min readJan 25, 2022

Listen to a reading of this article:

How many journalists are capable of doing what Julian Assange did to expose the criminality of the powerful? Not many. How many are both capable and willing? Fewer still. How many of those are now willing after seeing what’s being done to Assange? Even fewer. And that’s what his persecution is all about.

Americans: healthcare please

US government: Sorry did you say send 100 tons of weaponry to Ukraine?

Americans: no, healthcare

US government: Alright, you drive a hard bargain, but here’s those 100 tons of weapons to Ukraine you asked for.

A Ukraine war is very easily avoidable and anyone suggesting otherwise is a lying shitstain who you should hate intensely and never forgive.

“Kids, a nuclear war has started and we’ll all be dead soon.”

“Oh no! Why??”

“I don’t really know. Something about NATO open doors and needing to confront Putin in eastern Ukraine? Couldn’t understand it but I trust that it was worth it.”

Our foreign policy establishment is writing checks that our ability to tolerate nuclear radiation can’t cash.

Free speech matters because dissent from the status quo is how the status quo gets changed. If voices which oppose the status quo are consistently denied access to mainstream platforms and are algorithmically suppressed online, they’re unable to change the status quo. They don’t have free speech in any meaningful sense, because they’re actively obstructed from using free speech to do what free speech is supposed to do: challenge existing consensus, norms, systems, and power structures.

If the only way to get your voice into a position of influence is to support the status quo, then as far as the actual reasons free speech is considered an important right are concerned, it’s functionally the same as having no speech at all. It’s like saying “You have free speech; you can say anything you want into this hole in the ground!”

It doesn’t matter what you’re free to say if nobody hears you say it. If those who support the status quo are loudly amplified on all media while those who oppose it are denied access to mainstream audiences and algorithmically censored, dissenting views have no effect. They might as well not exist. An environment where everyone has “free speech” but only those who support the status quo get heard is functionally indistinguishable from an environment where no one has free speech and only authorized state propaganda gets heard.

Which is of course the idea. A tremendous amount of effort goes into keeping the public from awakening to and freeing themselves from the injustices of status quo systems while still giving them the illusion of freedom. Whoever controls the narrative controls the world.

“Nobody’s obligated to give you a platform” is a nonsense argument if all platforms with any meaningful influence are depriving a voice to literally everyone who wants to significantly change the status quo. And they are.

“Nobody’s obligated to give you a platform” is a nonsense argument if all platforms of any influence are heavily intertwined with and supportive of status quo power structures. And they are.

“Nobody’s obligated to give you a platform. If you want to oppose the status quo you are free to oppose it quietly, on your own, where no one can hear you, while those who support the status quo are loudly amplified on new media and traditional media so everyone can hear them. This is what free liberal democracy looks like.”

Maybe get okay with the fact that literally any strategy for revolutionary change is going to look like a long shot. Because the system is just that entrenched and the public is just that propagandized. Ignore anyone who dismisses an idea for facilitating healthy change as a long shot. They’re all long shots.


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