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40 Under 40: Jon Lovett Isn't Telling You to Shut Up

By Lucas Grindley

Jon Lovett
Los Angeles
@jonlovett

Jon Lovett isn't telling everyone else to shut up. That's the last thing he'd want. He just wishes all those voices out there who so reflexively object to being offended would perhaps give their outrage a congenial second thought. 

In a piece for The Atlantic earlier this year, based on a speech he'd given about the First Amendment at Loyola Marymount University, Lovett lamented our collective devolution into "vicious personal attacks" and "self-righteous calls for apology." Social media and its Internet backbone are to blame, he wrote. "It's basically the cause of, and solution to, everything that plagues our culture."

Lovett, 31, describes the melee that is our mixture of 24-hour cable news on television, the river of headlines online, plus tweets and status updates and comments across social media as a "great experiment in talking." He's actually encouraged, he tells The Advocate, that "we are all talking to each other a lot more than ever before."

The awesome part about freedom of speech these days is that those of us once marginalized and picked on by the loudmouths can now stand up for ourselves and be heard. The trouble, Lovett says, is the effect all this fighting has on the person standing quietly on the sidelines. Maybe they'd rather not say anything. Who can blame them when it looks so risky?

"The thing I care about most is that people can still say interesting, unexpected, surprising outrageous things. We need that," says Lovett. "We have a lot of really boring, silly, stupid politics. We need people to point that out. We need people to point out groupthink, we need people to point out stale old dumb thinking, and we sometimes need to do that when it's considered dangerous, strange, or, by some, offensive. And we should be all of us trying to protect that, it's really important."

Freedom of speech isn't exactly being threatened by some powerful overlord stopping any of us from speaking up. It's being quashed by a culture of quashing. 

Lovett, the out former speechwriter for President Obama, knows a few things about winning arguments. Even on issues of LGBT equality he'd suggest a bit more restraint. "This is not a conversation you win with a scorched earth," Lovett tells The Advocate. "This is a conversation you win with an open tent."

"More and more people support equality for their gay friends and neighbors, and that is not because the Duck Dynasty guy almost lost his show," he says. "That is because we are winning the argument."

Lovett's basic plea, as he wrote for The Atlantic in "The Culture of Shut Up," is for tolerance of the First Amendment: "The right to free speech may begin and end with the First Amendment, but there is a vast middle where our freedom of speech is protected by us — by our capacity to listen and accept that people disagree, often strongly, that there are fools, some of them columnists and elected officials and, yes, even reality-show patriarchs, that there are people who believe stupid, irrational, hateful things about other people and it's OK to let those words in our ears sometimes without rolling out the guillotines."

This year's 40 Under 40 list, dubbed "Emerging Voices," is designed as a guide to which messages from this endless cacophony are worth stopping and hearing. Lovett's message could be taken as an instruction on what to do after listening. If someone on this list says something you disagree with, don't threaten their job, for example. Don't call them names. Maybe don't threaten to unsubscribe from The Advocate. Perhaps just disagree, wherever you like, and take part in a vigorous conversation. 

If you'd like to join us, we'll be hosting a giant Twitter chat among all of the honorees August 28 at 2 p.m. Eastern/11 a.m. Pacific at #Advocate4040.

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