Is Today’s Left More Opposed to Free Speech Than Yesterday’s?

by Corey Robin on March 26, 2014

In a sharp take on the left, Freddie deBoer asks, “Is the social justice left really abandoning free speech?” Drawing on this report about an incident at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Freddie answers his own question thus:

It’s a question I’ve played around with before. Generally, the response [from the left] is something like “of course not, stop slandering us,” or whatever. But more and more often, I find that the answer from lefties I know in academia or online writing are answering “yes.” And that is, frankly, terrifying and a total betrayal of the fundamental principles we associate with human progress.


Freddie goes on to offer a rousing defense of free speech. I don’t want to enter that debate. I have a different question: Is Freddie’s sense of a change on the left—”more and more often”—accurate?

To be clear, I know exactly the phenomenon Freddie is talking about, so he’s not wrong to point it out. But from my admittedly impressionistic vantage as a middle-aged American academic, it seems far less common than it used to be.

Historically, the left has had an ambivalent relationship to what used to be derisively called “bourgeois freedoms.” From Marx’s On the Jewish Question to Herbert Marcuse’s notion of repressive tolerance, some of the most interesting thinking on the left has been devoted to examining the limits of what for lack of a better word I’ll call the liberal defense of freedom and rights. And of course this tradition of thought has often—and disastrously—been operationalized, whether in the form of Soviet tyranny or the internal authoritarianism of the CPUSA.

But if we think about this issue from the vantage of the 1960s, my sense is that today’s left—whether on campus or in the streets—is far less willing to go down the road of a critique of pure tolerance, as a fascinating text by Marcuse, Barrington Moore, and Robert Paul Woolf once  called it, than it used to be. (As Jeremy Kessler suggests, that absolutist position, which is usually associated with content neutrality, historically went hand in hand with the politics of anti-communism.) Once upon a time, those radical critiques of free speech were where the action was at. So much so that even liberal theorists like Owen Fiss, who ordinarily might have been more inclined to a Millian defense of free speech, were pushed by radical theorists like Catharine MacKinnon to take a more critical stance. But now that tradition seems to be all but dead.

Something happened on the way to the censor. Whether it was the pitched battle among feminists over the MacKinnon/Dworkin critique of pornography—and their advocacy of anti-porn statutes in Indianapolis and elsewhere—or the collapse of the Berlin Wall,  leftists since the 1990s have been—comparatively speaking—leery of deviations from the absolutist position on free speech. Not just in theory but in practice: just consider the almost fastidious aversion to shutting down discussion within the Occupy movement. That’s not to say that leftists don’t go there; it’s just that the bar of justification is higher today. The burden is on the radical critic of free speech, not the other way around.

Yes, one can still read of incidents like the one that provoked Freddie’s post (though compared to the past, they seem fewer and farther between). And critical issues like the relationship between money and speech are still argued over on the left. But, again, compared to the kinds of arguments we used to see, this seems like small beer.

My take, as I said, is impressionistic. Am curious to hear whether others have a different impression. And to be clear, I’m talking  about the left, not liberals, who may or may not be, depending on a variety of factors and circumstances, more inclined to defend restrictions on freedom of speech.

{ 284 comments }

1

Watson Ladd 03.26.14 at 1:39 am

The RCP is very strongly against pornography, to the extent of having protests about it. Anti-fa groups engage of disruptive protests against fascists, including beating them up in the streets. I don’t know if this points to a broader left tendency, but these are two data points worth knowing.

2

David 03.26.14 at 1:43 am

I was pretty sure it had always been the intent of the Left to deny Right Wing and Far Right positions opportunities to express their views, hence “no platform.” Not that I am exactly weeping about it.

3

shah8 03.26.14 at 1:51 am

Oh heck yeah!

Anything to escape that obnoxious strain of libertarianism that valorizes the failures of free speech rather than protect what free speech is good for!

4

rootlesscosmo 03.26.14 at 1:57 am

Dworkin and MacKinnon consistently denied supporting content-based anti-porn laws. Their proposed legislation would have created a civil cause of action on the ground that porn was, or was responsible for causing, harm; whether any particular plaintiff(s) had been harmed by any particular instance of porn would be, as always, a question for the trier of fact, based on the evidence presented, and the penalty would take the form of an award for damages, not a criminal sentence.

5

adam.smith 03.26.14 at 2:10 am

I’d assume like lots of things this goes up and down so it depends on the time horizon. I think Freddie is right if you’re looking at a 1990-2014, you’re right if you’re looking since 1940 or 1840.
My guess for the reason of left-wing skepticism about free speech are the increasing troll-ish tactics of the right (and the abortion-porn images used at UCSB are a case in point as is the entire existence of Rush Limbaugh.) If public discourse resembles YouTube comments, a strict moderator looks like a very good idea. I’m 100% with Freddie that this is a bad idea, but I don’t find it hard to understand.

6

adam.smith 03.26.14 at 2:11 am

(btw. – link to Freddie’s piece in the OP goes to Corey’s comment. I assume that’s not on purpose)

7

Corey Robin 03.26.14 at 2:16 am

Oops, thanks adam.smith, I fixed it.

8

PJW 03.26.14 at 2:18 am

Misinformation about climate and whether that may be criminally negligent might fall under this topic. HT Leiter Reports: https://theconversation.com/is-misinformation-about-the-climate-criminally-negligent-23111

9

Doctor Slack 03.26.14 at 2:23 am

Unless the Left ever decides to organize to affect elections, I don’t know that it’s ever going to matter that much which side of the free speech fence it’s on. But I think generally across the political spectrum outside the Republican — tent? lean-to, maybe? — people are losing patience with the intransigent right and a willingness to dialogue with people who show no interest in dialogue is breaking down. Which is understandable to some extent, though on principle Freddie of course is right.

10

David 03.26.14 at 2:25 am

I’m really not sure principle matters in the face of something like systematic climate change misinformation.

11

Doctor Slack 03.26.14 at 2:35 am

“Free speech” does not necessarily protect fraudulent or irresponsible speech or hate speech, so there’s that to consider. Climate change denialism is basically the equivalent of shouting “Everything’s fine!” in a burning theatre.

12

shah8 03.26.14 at 2:35 am

It’s not just misinformation, you know…

It’s also about assault. Just because it’s not physical doesn’t mean rhetoric meant to assault isn’t violent.

People are just afraid of nuance, and the profound need to actually weigh the impacts, and make adjustments to trim the bad and boost the good. Controlling people love that, because absolute concepts are convenient for browbeating their opponents. Which is one big reason why the right wing (and petty people in general) has more access to First Amendment freedoms than people out of, or against the hierarchy.

13

Anarcissie 03.26.14 at 2:36 am

The suppression of free speech, etc., requires power. The Left has no power. The issue seems … academic.

14

Russell Arben Fox 03.26.14 at 2:36 am

RootlessCosmo is correct about the efforts of Dworkin and MacKinnon, and the fact that their–I think fundamentally reasonable–attempt to emphasize that the harms of certain forms of pornographic speech ought to be conceived in such as way as to enable those women who experienced said harms to be able to respond to them through tort actions was, by and large, ridiculed as illiberal femi-nazism speaks volumes to how deeply certain libertarian claims have been accepted by many on both the left as well as the right. You had a–again, I think fundamentally reasonable–legislative effort to allow those genuinely wounded by hate speech in the most invasive and personal of contexts to find redress to the quest for damages, and it was challenged all the way up to the SCOTUS, and it was dismissed almost without a second thought, going down in an 8-1 vote. To my mind, Corey is right and Freddie quite wrong; the idolization of the First Amendment among Americans of nearly any political persuasion is near total. Which is rather unfortunate, in my view.

15

Dr. Hilarius 03.26.14 at 2:45 am

MacKinnon and Dworkin’s denials of favoring content-based prohibitions on porn don’t deserve serious consideration. Their private civil action approach was just a legal dodge to try to circumvent 1st Amendment law. Sections of the left have long had puritanical tendencies in addition to run-of-the-mill Leninism. I can’t say whether these tendencies have grown or diminished over the past few decades, leftists being an endangered species outside of a few academic preserves.

16

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 03.26.14 at 2:48 am

Unless the Left ever decides to organize to affect elections, I don’t know that it’s ever going to matter that much which side of the free speech fence it’s on.

Our elections are sold to the highest bidders (to the dismay of some on the Left).
~

17

Bruce Baugh 03.26.14 at 2:51 am

Russell touches on something I see with my friends active in LGBT rights efforts. Any attempt to ask “What harm is done by X kind of speech, and what do we need to do, on whatever front, to reduce that harm?” gets treated by some vocal respondents as completely synonymous with totalitarian censorship. Even if the question exists entirely in a context of, say, training people likely to be verbally assaulted in rhetorical tools for good response and extending stress-related counseling, it’s always the same thing for some people. Their concept of free speech does not permit acknowledging that anything this side of direct incitement to violence has, or can have, any down side.

Frustration at dealing with this reality does sometimes bubble over into venting remarks about how the First Amendment is just a bad idea. I don’t see this translating into any sustained effort at actually undoing speech rights, though. It’s jut a wish for more of reality to matter to public discourse.

18

Russell Arben Fox 03.26.14 at 3:03 am

Frustration at dealing with this reality does sometimes bubble over into venting remarks about how the First Amendment is just a bad idea. I don’t see this translating into any sustained effort at actually undoing speech rights, though. It’s jut a wish for more of reality to matter to public discourse.

Well said, Bruce. The problem is obviously not free speech protections; the problem is the fetishization of “free speech”! The connection between a kind of individual absolutism when it comes to speech acts, and profoundly undemocratic SCOTUS decisions like Buckley v. Valeo and Citizens United may not be obvious….but their overlap, at least, is hard to deny.

19

Red Vienna 03.26.14 at 3:05 am

Probably I’d say shah8 and David get at two of the main points. Basically we’ve had 30 painful years of working out in detail in any number of venues academic and popular that speech is about power relations and positionality. That symbols are important. How media discourses are shaped and in turn how they normalize or valorize certain attitudes and behaviors. How access to media platforms and public spaces is created & regulated. Which persons are licensed to exercise free speech and which are strongly policed. That sexual harassment and racial slurs aren’t just jokes but tools for reinforcing hierarchies.

The reaction to that has been a naive, shoddy South Park style anti-PC edgy contrarianism resting on the sacred right of ~free speech~. To hell with that garbage. I think Stewart Lee’s answer is sufficient.

From David’s angle I think we get a pretty good case study on how framing processes work in translating (or obfuscating) specialist knowledge into lay terms for political purposes. Oreskes and Conway, the analysis of the Wegman report, etc. are solid examples of how journalistic weaknesses (truth is in the middleism, overton windowing, unseen errata or retractions, horse racery, absence of accountability, murky credentialing of sources, decontextualization, burying of nuance, etc) work to facilitate the ability of powerful actors to manipulate public reception. On the reception end there’s a giant stack of socsci from the cognitive to the sociological on how reader reception and narrative formation works.

Going back to the Patriot movement, Dave Neiwert got into how re-transmission of extremism works, the amplification and patchwork assembly of innocuous news items or science into evidence for conspiracy.

Jason Antrosio has a good snapshot of how this works out in the classroom with an examination of how careless framing of otherwise justified critique of SJ Gould’s /Mismeasure of Man/ wound up supporting the cause of “race realism”:
http://www.livinganthropologically.com/2011/06/14/mismeasuring-gould/

In short, Antrosio is saying that the authors did a piss poor job of anticipating the nature of the discourse into which they were launching their critique and that they failed to recognize that their article would be quote-mined, weaponized, and re-transmitted via authoritative media figures. As Antrosio laments, he’s going to be busting that myth in Anth101 as it emerges from the mouths of undergrads from now until the end of his days. And he’ll probably get scolded for quashing their ~free speech~ while he’s at it.

Antrosio writes that “the results of science must still be presented within a particular historical and political context”. I’ll go farther — if authors know their work is fodder for racists & reactionaries, not only should they demote and defuse the “explosive” lede by burying it in necessary context, authors should also ramp up the adjectival qualifiers and crank the obscuring academese to 11. In short, make it so that enthusiastic lay racists cannot understand it, and so that their media lack the terminology to quote-mine repurpose the study.

They should make their paratexts, form, and style conducive to being /politically correct/.

Climate and environmental scientists had long practice supplementing their native caution with similar rhetorical tactics, in an effort to prevent themselves from becoming targets. Its only with the Mann witch hunt and CRU hack that it became clear textual niceties and PR dept. press release vaguity mostly protects denialists.

20

Bruce Baugh 03.26.14 at 3:08 am

Russell:

Yeah. I should clarify that when I mention “harm” in my last, I’m thinking of things like the very real physical and psychological toll of being hated by prominent authorities, the constant experience of diminished choices relative to peers who aren’t marked with a particular stigma, and the wasted time and effort of dealing with credible threats that happen not in that particular case to lead to actual violence or whatever. It’s not about “feeling bad” and the other insulting labels applied to people who bring the concept up; it’s about what people at actual risk have to do.

21

Sebastian H 03.26.14 at 3:14 am

As framed this “more” question is useless. Which left? What time frame? Who cares?

Yes compared to Communism where making mildly critical comments against the state could get you killed or sent to the gulag the left isn’t ‘more opposed to free speech’ than before.

Yes compared to the ACLU in the 1960s, the left is dramatically more opposed to free speech than before. Hell the ACLU isn’t even as for free speech as it used to be. It used to be committed enough to free speech to defend it for neo-NAZIs and clan members (back when they were actually very live political forces). Now ACLU chapters split over whether or not pro-life protesters should be allowed to have placards.

A much more interesting question is whether or not the left currently remembers the importance of procedural freedoms. Free speech has a large component of procedural freedom. Both sides go back and forth on whether or not they care about procedural protections/freedoms. My current read of the political landscape is that the US right has completely abandoned procedural freedoms, and the left’s pendulum is pretty close to abandoning procedural freedom. Everything for both sides is essentially an instrumental freedom or useless.

A lot of procedural freedoms/ protections are about intellectual humility–you know that you aren’t right about everything so you realize it is stupid to shut yourself off from disagreement and it is stupid to put even people who agree with you beyond easy checks and balances. At the moment both sides are extremely convinced of the rightness of their own doctrines, so neither side sees much value in procedurally based freedoms.

22

Thornton Hall 03.26.14 at 3:27 am

It’s not every day that a defense of liberal values is simultaneously a demonstration of the danger of failing to obtain a liberal education. America’s free speech obsession is unique in the world. Only someone too parochial to know that could assert that it is necessary for freedom. When I studied in Scotland there was a law against dressing like you were going to a rave. Democracy survived.

23

geo 03.26.14 at 3:33 am

Ellen Willis has a fine essay on the subject: “Freedom, Power, and Speech” in Don’t Think, Smile, which I reviewed here: http://www.georgescialabba.net/mtgs/1999/10/don-t-think-smile-notes-on-a-d/print/.

What about another case: in Chile in the early 1970s, in Nicaragua in the late 70s and early 80s, and in Venezuela today, virtually all the private media were or are well to the right of Fox News and all but explicitly committed to bringing down the government by violence. The damage wrought in the first two cases was enormous. What, in retrospect, should the Allende government and the Sandanistas — and by extension any popular left-wing government subjected to a well-financed propaganda campaign in support of domestic and international violence against the regime — have done? It seems to me that, for prudential reasons, they were right to refrain from censorship: it worked out in the Nicaraguan case, though not in the Chilean. But given the unscrupulous nature of the right-wing opposition and the degree of US subversion in both (all three?) cases, I’m not sure what to think as a matter of principle.

24

Bruce Baugh 03.26.14 at 3:52 am

geo: That’s a darned good set of examples. The older I get, the less sure I feel either what I’d likely do if in charge of response or of what anyone should do.

25

afinetheorem 03.26.14 at 4:05 am

This comment thread strongly argues in favor of Freddie’s position. In none of the arguments against free speech absolutism above do I see any recognition a) that in the absence of absolutism, there is no particular reason to believe that the speech you dislike will be what is censored, b) that we ought be humble about understanding the value of different types of speech, no matter how odious or damaging they might be, c) that procedural justice is important in and of itself, or (most importantly) d) that the liberal project for literally three centuries has been predicated on the rights of individuals, that a perfectly adequate response to speech you don’t like is to walk away (harassment, where the speech follows you, is already illegal) or to use your own speech to convince the other side.

I mean, look at some of the examples above. It is not just “Westboro Baptist harassing funerals” that should be restricted by government, but “disinformation” about climate change, or mass media opposed to an existing government! If advocating a position on a scientific issue, even disingenuously, ought be illegal, then it is very easy to find people on any side of the political spectrum who would be restrained. If mass media a la Venezuela or Nicaragua cannot speak against, or even advocate the replacement of, governments they dislike, then what are we to think of, say, the involvement of many internet firms in the Arab Spring?

26

David 03.26.14 at 4:56 am

‘I mean, look at some of the examples above. It is not just “Westboro Baptist harassing funerals” that should be restricted by government, but “disinformation” about climate change, or mass media opposed to an existing government!”

It is bordering on psychopathic to suggest that banning Fred Phelps from picketing funerals is somehow more justified (i.e. the “reasonable” kind of restriction of free speech) than preventing the worst eventualities of global climate change.

27

Lew Dog 03.26.14 at 5:19 am

Why don’t the crooked timbers care more about their own little forest? “Concepts of ‘censorship’ are not applicable.” Ergo, you have no right to speak of such ideas in this forum.

28

Meredith 03.26.14 at 5:28 am

I used to agonize over these issues till some time in the late 80’s, when a British visiting academic (with whom I was very friendly, btw — these exchanges mattered because we felt “in league”) shouted in my face on two different occasions, “You Americans, you and your freedom of speech!” and “You Christians, you and your original sin!” (She understood little about the complexities of Christian debates about original sin, in which, actually, I had little interest at the time. No matter.) A lot to unravel, but not really. I realized then and there that the First Amendment and John Peter Zenger do pretty much establish my commitments. We are challenged to persuade others — and maybe learn from them? (Radical idea!) — through speech. Yeah, the Koch Bros can buy air-time. So what’s our response? We should have our ways, must develop our ways. The burden is on us, and rightly so.

It’s easy to deride the Enlightenment’s blind spots. And to overlook its insights.

29

John Quiggin 03.26.14 at 5:39 am

A question about the original incident. Is taking a sign (one of many) and tearing it up suppression of free speech? There’s a (fairly trivial) breach of property rights involved if the sign was taken by force, but if there were simply a bunch of posters stuck up somewhere, I’d say that ripping one of them up is an exercise of free speech rights rather than the contrary. Compare flags (expression of patriotic sentiment) and flag burning (repudiation of same).

30

Brett 03.26.14 at 5:57 am

I don’t like the idea of ripping down other people’s posters as “free speech” as opposed to private censorship efforts. It’s in the same category as defacing art because it offends your religious sensibilities, or ripping the legs off of someone’s Darwin Fish on their car.

With flag burning, it’s presumably different since you’re burning a flag you got or purchased voluntarily from someone (most of the time).

@Meredith

Yeah, the Koch Bros can buy air-time. So what’s our response? We should have our ways, must develop our ways. The burden is on us, and rightly so.

If anything, we’ve got a ton more ways to communicate despite the rich having a lot of money to spam television ads all over the airwaves. And we’ve been there before in the US – late 19th century/early 20th century plutocrats had a lot of money to spend on platforms for speech and almost no restrictions on doing so.

31

Rakesh Bhandari 03.26.14 at 7:09 am

I have wanted to read Jeremy Waldron’s The Harm in Hate Speech. See that it was reviewed by Brian Leiter at ndpr.nd.edu

32

Martin Bento 03.26.14 at 7:16 am

If tearing down someone else’s posters is free speech, how about emptying their newspaper dispensers and burning the contents, jamming their broadcast signal, or pulling a DOS on their website? I don’t see how any of those are fundamentally different. To hold that suppressing the speech of another is speech is worthy of Orwell: censorship is free speech!

33

Martin Bento 03.26.14 at 8:08 am

To address the flag-burning comparison: if we regard flags as speech, they are the speech of the government and deliberately ubiquitous. Therefore, the intent of flag-burning cannot actually be to prevent people from seeing flags – that would be ridiculous. Precisely because the burning can have no censorial effect, it has to have another purpose and that is why it can be speech (but is not necessarily. If a drunk teenager burns a flag to start a beach bonfire, that is neither speech nor censorship, but another category). I would put book-burning in the same category, provided it cannot have any actual censorial effect, but is being done to make a statement. If someone at this point in time bonfires some copies of Tropic of Cancer, The SCUM Manifesto, Satanic Verses, whatever, I would consider that speech. However, the content of the speech is, in every case I know of or could imagine, advocacy of censorship. Bonfiring the only copy of an unpublished manuscript is a different matter. Tearing down a poster is in the latter category because no specific poster is so ubiquitous that one could not possibly prevent anyone from seeing it by tearing down all the copies you could.

34

Abbe Faria 03.26.14 at 8:36 am

The world’s a big place, but certainly in the UK things are drifiting in that direction. There’s a general trend of more laws on racial hatred, anti-pornography, religious hatred, glorification of terror, offending people using electronic communications, etc all of which is supported by the left. Restrictions on speech are expanding.

35

Sam Dodsworth 03.26.14 at 9:22 am

Echoing Anarcissie@13 – The really convenient thing about the universal principle of free speech is not just that it’s an extraordinarily effective topic for concern trolling, but that it lets those with power claim they’re being oppressed by those who try to oppose them.

36

Sam Dodsworth 03.26.14 at 9:30 am

Or to put it another way, speech and silencing can both be tools of oppression – but it’s the oppression that needs to be considered and addressed.

37

John Quiggin 03.26.14 at 9:33 am

“Tearing down a poster is in the latter category because no specific poster is so ubiquitous that one could not possibly prevent anyone from seeing it by tearing down all the copies you could.”

But no-one tore down all the copies they could. A group of people ripped up one copy that been taken away from the scene of the demonstration. There was no attempt to suppress the demonstration, just one person getting annoyed and expressing it to others who shared this annoyance. The impact on speech was zero, unlike DOS attacks etc.

On your view, it would be improper to deface a poster, even one of hundreds, just in case hundreds of other people did likewise. Do you really think that?

38

SusanC 03.26.14 at 10:36 am

In the context of the Snowden leaks, it’s been said that within both “left” and “right” there’s a variation in how “authoritatian” vs “libertarian” people are … with Snowden himself being probably libertarian right, his supporters being mostly anti-authoritarian (of both left and right), and his opponents mostly authoritarian (of left and right).

Free speech is pretty central to the Snowden/Assange/Manning/Greenwald type of political activism. Leaking a load of government classified documents is one of less protected kinds of speech in the US. (Manning is in jail; Snowden is in exile; and Assange.. well, ahem, let’s skip that example; in any case, he’s not American). Note also that in these cases they seem to believe that their speech will actually make a difference, that it will have political effect.

So I’d say both the left and the right are split on free speech, and this split is becoming more relevant to the political debate.

====

As academics, we’re in a somewhat unusual position. We’re in the business of communicating ideas, whether it’s new ones we’ve come up with or old ones we’re preserving. Quite often they’re unpopular ideas, but still preserving them is part of our job function. So it wouldn’t be surprising if academics were more pro-free speech that most occupations.

39

Main Street Muse 03.26.14 at 11:20 am

These days, it seems that the 2nd amendment is the only amendment people feel passionate about protecting.

And it seems that Americans are passionate about free speech only when the speech aligns directly with their values. All other expressions should be banned. This desire to stop free expression is not just found among the lefties, though.

40

Barry 03.26.14 at 12:10 pm

SusanC 03.26.14 at 10:36 am
“In the context of the Snowden leaks, it’s been said that within both “left” and “right” there’s a variation in how “authoritatian” vs “libertarian” people are … with Snowden himself being probably libertarian right, his supporters being mostly anti-authoritarian (of both left and right), and his opponents mostly authoritarian (of left and right).

Free speech is pretty central to the Snowden/Assange/Manning/Greenwald type of political activism. Leaking a load of government classified documents is one of less protected kinds of speech in the US. (Manning is in jail; Snowden is in exile; and Assange.. well, ahem, let’s skip that example; in any case, he’s not American). Note also that in these cases they seem to believe that their speech will actually make a difference, that it will have political effect.”

Which leftists opposed Snowden’s leaks? Heck, which liberals[1] opposed his leaks?

[1] By liberals I mean actual liberals; for example a ‘journalist’ who supported the Iraq War and had no problem with the Bush administration’s leaks is not a liberal; nor are the ‘even the liberal’ types whose only job is to fake being a liberal to help the right.

41

Rob in CT 03.26.14 at 12:40 pm

[40]

I’ve read plenty of liberals on liberal blogs ripping Snowden/Greenwald (usually ad hom with little actual reasoning involved). They’re not false flag liberals. They are people whose reaction to negative information about their team (Democrats/liberals) circled the wagons.

I find the comment section here pretty depressing. I’m not included, as this is about “leftists” not liberals, and I’m a liberal. Still, ugh.

42

Barry 03.26.14 at 1:17 pm

“I’ve read plenty of liberals on liberal blogs ripping Snowden/Greenwald …”

Perhaps some names?

43

marcel 03.26.14 at 1:18 pm

MSM wrote:

These days, it seems that the 2nd amendment is the only amendment people feel passionate about protecting.

I think you can find plenty of 10 amendment wackos out there if you start to look. For the record, I’m a third amendment absolutist (much more so than the 2nd amendment or even the first, fourth or eight), but it has been sometime since I’ve felt it was seriously threatened.

44

marcel 03.26.14 at 1:20 pm

That should have been “10th amendment wackos” in the comment above.

45

Manta 03.26.14 at 1:29 pm

One of the main effects of free speech is to give outsiders the possibility to voice their opposition.
It would make sense if liberals are more hostile today to free speech than in the past: they have more power.

Barry: “Heck, which liberals opposed his leaks?”
All of Obama’s administration: or is it an exercise in “no true liberal”?

46

Anarcissie 03.26.14 at 1:29 pm

Russell Arben Fox 03.26.14 at 3:03 am @ 18 — I am curious about these Citizens United ‘absolutists’. They want to do away with copyright, libel laws, and prohibitions against fraud, ‘fighting words’ and incitement to riot? I hadn’t heard this, but I am poorly informed.

47

Patrick 03.26.14 at 1:33 pm

Burning a flag and tearing up a poster are both capable of being expressive acts. But if it’s your flag, then the only harm is that you might upset people. If it’s not your poster, then there’s obvious harm to a property right, though it might be de minimus depending on context. If the tearing up if the poster is part of an effort at stopping people from seeing the poster, then we have harm to someone else’s free speech. If tearing up the poster is an expressive act and the expressive intent is “no one should be able to see posters such as this,” the attack on free speech values is pretty clear.

These things are rarely that complex if you break them down. Instead of looking at rights as absolute realities, look at them as competing interests that have been identified as particularly important. Then you will avoid mistakes like presuming that tearing up a poster can’t be speech if it is also censorious, or vice versa. It can be both.

48

Ronan(rf) 03.26.14 at 1:36 pm

It’s odd that (broadly speaking) some on the left can think two things (1) that the political process has been captured by moneyed elites which has skewed policy in their favour and (2) that that process can be trusted to write legislation to restrict speech, which in the ideal would restrict rhetoric like ‘climate change denialism.’
Wouldn’t any legislation coming from a policy making apparatus captured by moneyed interest represent the interest of moneyed elites ?

49

Ronan(rf) 03.26.14 at 1:38 pm

Just to add, equally I would not leave those decisions in the hands of Mireille Miller-Young.

50

Manta 03.26.14 at 1:43 pm

@Ronan: I don’t really know about what the broad left think, but what you say is precisely the root of my strong support for free speech: the people who would end in charge of deciding which speech should be censored are exactly the people I don’t want to have such power.

51

Ben Alpers 03.26.14 at 1:45 pm

I would have said that I’m with deBoer (and afinetheorem @25) about the (lack of) wisdom of most proposed restrictions on free speech, but with Corey Robin on the decreasing frequency of the left’s support for such restrictions (even over the last quarter century). However, this thread makes me think deBoer might be right about trends in the left’s general commitment (or lack thereof) to free speech, too. But so far this discussion about these trends (by deBoer, Corey, and in this thread) is largely anecdotal. I also think it might be useful to distinguish between thorough critiques of free speech (a la Marcuse) and more casual and ad hoc support for suppression of speech that one disagrees with, as in the UCSB case that deBoer discusses. It may be the case that the critiques may be decreasing and the support for ad hoc suppression increasing (though, again, all we’re dealing with so far are anecdata).

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Bruce Baugh 03.26.14 at 1:50 pm

Well, this thread is illustrating the point my friends mentioned in my first comment complain about: it’s hard to even talk about dealing with the harm done by some speech without it degenerating into a bunch of platitudes about the speech and no interest in helping those who suffer in any way or it. Whether it’s the national corruption of allegedly representative politics or the individual stress of verbal attacks, particularly the ones that accompany occupational and other discrimination…”tough shit, losers; next time talk up more in the face of those who are already making your life harder than mine’ll ever be” seem to be the standard response.

I hadn’t really thought about how much this is structurally the same kind of crap that accompanies pitches for lots of things. “Pass this trade agreement now, and of course we’ll make sure there’s support for workers who lose out.”, and so forth and so on. Victims just aren’t very interesting when you’ve got a noble cause. They add irritating complexity. Much better to just wish them away.

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MPAVictoria 03.26.14 at 2:00 pm

I am pretty close to being a free speech absolutist. However, what conservatives want isn’t free speech but freedom from the consequences of their speech.

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harry b 03.26.14 at 2:06 pm

The first amendment is, basically, a platitude — of course people should be free to say things. But, equally obviously, not whatever they might want to say, wherever and whenever they might want to say it. Denial that in certain contexts certain speech acts can harm others is something you only do if you are under the grip of some ideology. If you want to defend a right to use racial slurs, or for fascists to march (anywhere, let alone through a largely Jewish neighborhood). defend it — that is, give reasons why the government should distribute harms to the victims. Like geo, I think it is very often prudent not to prosecute wrongdoing; but I want to hear much better reasons that there is a right to do these sorts of things than I ever do hear. And that is partly because, as Bruce notes, the very idea that speech might be harmful triggers some sort of dogmatic reaction by first amendment absolutists.

Think of it this way. Who do you know that can’t be harmed by speech? I think I do know a few people like that, and it is probably handy that a few such people are around. But I don’t want to be friends with them, and I certainly don’t want my children to turn into them.

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harry b 03.26.14 at 2:07 pm

And Thornton Hall — what a great comment!

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Corey Robin 03.26.14 at 2:07 pm

Ben Alpers makes a critical distinction that I should have noted in my post: between structural critiques of free speech as an idea and ad-hoc restrictions on free speech. And I would throw in a third that bridges the two: systemic political practices of restricting speech (a la the CP in certain moments and venues) based on structural critiques of the idea.

My sense is that the first and the third — structural theoretical critiques and systemic implementations of those critiques — are definitely on the wane on the left, if not completely gone. Nothing in this thread leads me to believe otherwise. Can anyone point to either a systemic critique, a la Marcuse or MacKinnon, that’s been made in the last 20 years? I’m hard pressed to think of one. Likewise when it comes to systematic implementations of these ideas, the only folks I can think of who even come close are university administrators, who are terrified of litigation, and they’re not exactly our constituency on the left.

But on the ad-hoc question, well, I don’t know. I find it hard to believe it’s actually on the rise but maybe, if you put it in the context of university administrators fearful of litigation, you’d see some sort of alliance that could be increasing the number of incidents? I don’t know.

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AcademicLurker 03.26.14 at 2:11 pm

My sense is that leftist enthusiasm for restricting free speech peaked in the late 80s/early 90s and has mostly diminished since then. I certainly haven’t heard much about “speech codes” and the like for decades, despite working on university campuses.

There was the MacKinnon-Dworkin anti-pornography crusade in the 80s, but that didn’t accomplish much in the U.S., and in Canada obscenity laws heavily influenced by them were used to selectively go after gay and lesbian materials. Which I suppose served as an object lesson in how speech restrictions* won’t necessarily be used the way you want them used. Like the fracas over campus speech codes, it seems like it was all over by the mid 90s.

I think the place where some new thinking about how to deal with harmful speech would be most useful is in the area of threats made online. It’s become clear that if your on the internet and identified as a woman, breathing and having a pulse is enough to get you death and/or rape threats. There seems to be a whole little subculture that considers it a normal thing to do. I’m not sure what should be done to try to push back against that while not enabling the kind of idiocy that happened a few months ago when right wingers went after Eric Loomis for calling for some NRA leaders “heads on sticks”.

*I’m familiar with the “but it’s not technically censorship” argument. Not impressed.

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AcademicLurker 03.26.14 at 2:15 pm

your = you’re

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bianca steele 03.26.14 at 2:18 pm

Can anyone point to either a systemic critique, a la Marcuse or MacKinnon, that’s been made in the last 20 years?

Fish–people who have a goal and common values have no reason to permit speech that interferes with their activities (obviously when it comes to the practical and strictly political his issues are right-tending ones)–presumably doesn’t count as systemic?

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Corey Robin 03.26.14 at 2:19 pm

Actually, as I’m thinking about it, Cass Sunstein did pursue a vaguely structural critique in his *Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech*. Essentially went after the analogy between the marketplace of ideas and the actually economic market, and also tried to distinguish between free speech as an individual or personal right and freedom of speech as a measure of the state of collective deliberation in public life. And, if I’m remembering correctly, came up with an argument for state intervention in order to redress imbalances. Not restrictions, of course, but some kind of nudges. That was in the mid-90s. Again, hard to think of that as anything more than the last gasp of a tradition.

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Corey Robin 03.26.14 at 2:22 pm

Bianca: I don’t know Fish’s work well enough to comment. What sorts of structural critiques and policy recommendations did he offer? I ask b/c both Marcuse and MacKinnon had fairly radical arguments — admittedly a tough thing to measure — and were willing to take their arguments fairly far. Very interested in questions about speech v. power, speech v. action, etc. My vague sense of Fish is that he’s more interested in critiquing the epistemological foundations for a Millian pursuit of truth kind of argument. But not much more than that. Like I said, I don’t know his work that well, so am eager to hear more.

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rootlesscosmo 03.26.14 at 2:24 pm

“*I’m familiar with the “but it’s not technically censorship” argument. Not impressed.”

Under the law of libel, smeone claiming to have been harmed by speech or writing has a cause of action in civil law. If they can meet the usual civil law standards (preponderance of the evidence to show liability and damages) they have a civil remedy. There are variatrions in libel law (since Sllivan v. New York Times, e.g.) but that’s still the basic pattern. MacKinnon-Dworkin wanted to expand the scope of asctionable harm to cover harm cased by porn. The harm complained of is by definition in the past; hence we’re talking not about conent-based prior restraint but about a remedy x post. Unless libel law = censorship–and I don’t think it does–then this is much more than a technical point.

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rootlesscosmo 03.26.14 at 2:26 pm

Aargh. “someone,” “variations,” “Sullivan,” “content-based,” “ex post.” Sorry.

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AcademicLurker 03.26.14 at 2:29 pm

@62: I wasn’t intending to start a debate about the ordinaces. I was mostly just agreeing with Corey Robin that there hasn’t been much activity on that front since the early 90s.

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Corey Robin 03.26.14 at 2:30 pm

Though wasn’t the anti-porn argument drawing upon a notion of group libel as much as anything? Which I think has a more precarious standing in at least the US tradition than does libel as such.

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Anarcissie 03.26.14 at 2:36 pm

@60 — Doesn’t a structural critique of a kind of freedom require an enforcement component? People are going to do whatever they want to do until you stop them somehow. McKinnon says ‘Call the cops’, easily understood, but Sunstein’s version seems mysterious.

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TM 03.26.14 at 2:38 pm

When somebody frames a question like “Is the social justice left really abandoning free speech?”, you don’t even have to know the details to know it’s a propaganda hit piece. Why does this BS even merit a response?

If anything, one might take it as grounds for a different investigation: why are isolated incidents of leftist “intolerance” blown up in ways that never happen in other contexts? Nobody seems to ask why conservatives are “abandoning free speech”, when you could come up with plenty of evidence for that (e.g. David Horowitz, Nadia Abu El Haj, Fox News to name a few). What is so endlessly frustrating about posts like this, Corey, is that again and again liberals are allowing the right to frame the debate. Just stop it!

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AcademicLurker 03.26.14 at 2:39 pm

Getting back to 57 for moment, is there any scope for improving legal remedies re: online threats? Disclaimer: not a lawyer.

I assume that direct “I’m going to come over to your house and kill you” type of threats are already against the law, yes? Is it being assumed that they aren’t credible because they’re being made online rather than in person? I’m trying to get a sense for the extent to which the failure to deal with this sort of thing is due to legal principles vs the practical problems created by shear numbers. There’s the anonymity issue, of course, but being truly anonymous on the internet isn’t as easy as people tend to think.

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bianca steele 03.26.14 at 2:42 pm

Fish’s later books handled free speech related issues from two different points of view: (1) Does what professionals do, particularly in literary interpretation and law, have to be subjected to self-criticism from the point of view of universal reason? Or can those in particular professions consider for themselves what counts as a good reason? (2) Does the actual practice of law set first amendment principles above others, or does it always balance freedom of speech with other policies?

In politics, people can always say, “We have a policy preference for not allowing that kind of speech,” and for Fish this should trump (and does trump) any free speech considerations. (My copy of the law book is packed away somewhere, because Fish didn’t seem very far from other people who were actually legal scholars when it came down to points regarding religious practice and political speech.)

At a plausibly more personal level, Fish says those in a practice can always say, “We don’t do that here,” with no explanation, and those who want to engage in the practice have no argument to make in favor of doing things differently. He’s talking about the seminar room, but he uses the generic term “professionals,” and anyway the argument plausibly applies to any community or group.

On the porn cases in the 90s: Workers at at least one publisher refused to handle “American Psycho.” If the Rushdie controversy had been handled differently, the same might have happened with that book.

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AcademicLurker 03.26.14 at 2:43 pm

@67: It’s because no one, at least among liberals, ever seriously believed that the right had any sort of principled commitment to free speech. So when they try to suppress it, it’s not exactly a surprise.

Free expression is, on the other hand, generally considered to be a “leftist” commitment. So when leftists come out against it, it raises questions that don’t come up when the right does it.

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Ronan(rf) 03.26.14 at 2:45 pm

Academiclurker – there have been successful prosecutions in those types of cases

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-25641941

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AcademicLurker 03.26.14 at 2:51 pm

@71 Thanks. I’d forgotten about that case, although it’s in the UK, which differs in some significant ways from the US on these things.

I know in the US there have been “cyberbullying” prosecutions, but in the cases I’m aware of the charges were brought after someone committed suicide.

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Corey Robin 03.26.14 at 2:53 pm

harry b: “The first amendment is, basically, a platitude — of course people should be free to say things. But, equally obviously, not whatever they might want to say, wherever and whenever they might want to say it. Denial that in certain contexts certain speech acts can harm others is something you only do if you are under the grip of some ideology. If you want to defend a right to use racial slurs, or for fascists to march (anywhere, let alone through a largely Jewish neighborhood). defend it — that is, give reasons why the government should distribute harms to the victims. Like geo, I think it is very often prudent not to prosecute wrongdoing; but I want to hear much better reasons that there is a right to do these sorts of things than I ever do hear. And that is partly because, as Bruce notes, the very idea that speech might be harmful triggers some sort of dogmatic reaction by first amendment absolutists. “

Not taking a position on this — I’ve gone back and forth on it over the years, and see strong arguments on both sides — but I did want to use your point as an opportunity to flag a lovely little passage from Ellen Willis that geo actually flags in his review of her work that he links to above at 23. Here’s the whole graf from his review, with the Willis quote.

“Willis avoids the untenable absolutist rejoinders: that the First Amendment is unambiguous and that speech can infallibly be distinguished from action. She acknowledges, as one must, that speech is a particular kind of action; and of course she does not deny that legally actionable harassment can sometimes be purely verbal. But while MacKinnon’s argument stops there, content merely to demote speech from categorical uniqueness, Willis goes on to root a defense of controversial speech in a theory of freedom, which is in turn derived from a theory of moral psychology. It’s not that speech is never wounding, she argues, but that freedom is healing. ‘Symbolic expression, however forceful, leaves a space between communicator and recipient, a space for contesting, fighting back with one’s own words and images, organizing to oppose whatever action the abhorred speech may incite. Though speech may, and often does, support the structure of domination, whether by lending aid and comfort to the powerful or frightening and discouraging their targets, in leaving room for opposition it falls short of enforcing submission. For this reason the unrestrained clash of ideas, emotions, visions provides a relatively safe model – one workable even in a society marked by serious imbalances of power – of how to handle social conflict, with its attendant fear, anger, and urges to repress, through argument, persuasion, and negotiation (or at worst grim forbearance) rather than coercion. In the annals of human history, even this modest exercise in freedom is a revolutionary development; for the radical democrat it prefigures the extension of freedom to other areas of social life.’ I think this takes the debate a step beyond Stanley Fish’s There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech – no small achievement. “

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AcademicLurker 03.26.14 at 2:59 pm

But I’m probably derailing the thread. Thinking about it it seems like with online threats it’s mainly a practicality/numbers issue rather than a legal one.

Bianca Steele@69: I recall some leftist defenses of the fatwa against Rushdie, back in the day. I don’t recall the details, but they were generally along “Who are we to impose our hegenemic Western Enlightenment values on the Other?” type grounds. But that too was in the late 80s/early 90s.

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Corey Robin 03.26.14 at 3:00 pm

Thanks, Bianca, for that great summary. Having read it, I’d say provisionally that it doesn’t quite rise to the level of the radical critiques I was talking about.

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TM 03.26.14 at 3:03 pm

AL 70: holding oneself to higher standards than the opponent may be laudable but politically it’s idiotic. Which was my point originally: liberals seemingly cannot help but allow the opponent to frame the political debate. It seems to be a lemming-like fatal disorder.

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bianca steele 03.26.14 at 3:06 pm

Academic Lurker: An anecdote, but just after the US paperback came out, I was visiting Columbia’s campus and casually picked up a copy in the campus bookstore, and was sneered at by a student working in the store. I gathered, at the time, that the feeling was not so much “who are we to judge” but that Rushdie had adopted Western bourgeois values and of course the West was supporting him against the global South, so leftist solidarity implied at least condemnation of the book and refusal to read it or send the author money for it.

On the other hand, though I tended to assume the mainstream of the Columbia left was closely tied to the New York elements of the Democratic Socialists of America–there was a semester where the student newspaper became an overt DSA recruiting vehicle–I’m not sure how typical they were otherwise.

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Matt 03.26.14 at 3:07 pm

I kind of liked Rawls’ critique of Buckley v valeo, using his idea of “fair use” of political liberties. Not a radical critique of bourgeois freedoms, to be sure, but not ad hoc, either,

Alot of what counts as “hate speech” has been most effectively stifled by public shaming.

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bianca steele 03.26.14 at 3:11 pm

TM: holding oneself to higher standards than the opponent may be laudable but politically it’s idiotic.

Well, that’s Fish’s argument, and it’s why at first it wasn’t at all obvious he wasn’t (still) on the left.

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Bruce Baugh 03.26.14 at 3:17 pm

Matt: You’re very right about the shaming. But I have never yet seen an argument about how best to go about it that doesn’t include a large dose of someone explaining how this is tantamount to censorship and a de facto chilling of free speech and simply not to be tolerated by good liberals/leftists/etc.

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Kaveh 03.26.14 at 3:19 pm

I think the examples given in this thread, including some remarkably clumsy misreadings of people’s statements, have pushed me into the “stop slandering us” camp. Best I can tell, the link @8 didn’t actually propose that the government restrict climate denialism or make it illegal, as afinetheorem @25 suggests, it proposed that the d’Aquila earthquake case offered a way to punish climate denialists using existing laws. Martin Bento’s responses to John Q @32 & 33 are also misreading in a pretty clumsy way the question that John posed. One poster vs all the posters you can see is a pretty crucial difference.

And then Red Vienna’s comment @19 is AFAICT only talking about rhetoric (and maybe that was your point?). Using a certain rhetorical strategy and recommending that other like-minded people (e.g. other non-racists) use the same strategy does not even remotely challenge free speech. If what we (should) value is procedural protections to free speech, then the rhetorical strategies people use are completely beside the point.

Manta @45 & Barry @40, the “liberal”[1] Obama administration being the most visible group opposing the Snowden leaks is kind of the exception that proves the rule that the social justice left values free speech. The division between the left and liberals you would expect to see would have the left circling wagons around Obama and liberals giving priority to procedural protections. Instead, the social justice left generally seems to criticize the surveillance state as being mostly about opportunistically punishing brown and black people for the sake of security theater.

The one place where I see a a potential for a split within the left on free speech is protection of anonymity on the internet, which is useful for online harassment, revenge porn, &c.

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PatrickinIowa 03.26.14 at 3:33 pm

@50 and 57, and maybe some others.

On the one hand, it seems reasonable to suppose, in theory, that some kinds of speech should be restricted because the consequences of that speech are bad. And, as a practical matter, that’s what “fire in a crowded theater,” means.

But, as a practical matter, giving more power to the police doesn’t sit well with people on the left (except liberals when they’re in power, hence the Obama administration), and in the case of the Dworkin-McKinnon inspired Canadian obscenity laws, we have an excellent example of why they are right to think so: http://www.advocate.com/arts-entertainment/entertainment-news/2002/10/04/british-lesbian-novel-stopped-canadian-border-6528.

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Random Lurker 03.26.14 at 4:03 pm

My two cents:
“free speech” is a very general right, that can collide with other rights or requirements (e.g. Manning and Snowden free speech rights vs. USA’s security concerns and Manning’s supposed duties as a soldier).
Judges and lawmaker will draw a line to tell where one right will prevail, and where will the other.
As a consequence, there can’t really a “general theory of free speech”, but rather a lot of different conflicts of rights that every political side will try to solve differently.
For example, in my opinion there is no particular contradiction in holding those four opinions:
– Manning right to free speech is more important than his duties as a soldier (pro free speech);
– Hate speech against minorities should be be blocked (anti free speech);
– Copyright law should be limited (pro free speech);
– Privacy laws should be such that you can’t record my private actions without my consent and then put me on youtube (anti free speech).
This is because each of these conflicts is very different from the others and it makes no sense IMHO to speak of a “tendency” with regard of so different things.

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Ronan(rf) 03.26.14 at 4:11 pm

Are the Manning/Snowden situations examples of free speech? Whatever the rights and wrongs of the cases I’d assume they signed away 1st ammendment protections when they took the jobs. Free speech doesnt apply here any more than someone in R&D at Google making public ongoing classified research, no ?

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anon 03.26.14 at 4:19 pm

The essence of the postings so far is:

“I’m totally in favor of free speech. As long as the speaker agrees with me. The other side lies and distorts so they ABUSE their freedom of speech and should not have it.”

That view isn’t just on the left. It is a feature of the right also.

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Ronan(rf) 03.26.14 at 4:21 pm

That’s might sound good, but it’s not the ‘essence of the postings so far’ by any stretch of the imagination.

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Random Lurker 03.26.14 at 4:22 pm

@Ronan(rf) 84

Well if you take an “absolutist” view of free speech, then people can’t sign away their free speech rights, anymore that they can sign away their voting rights.

Would a “he signed for the army so he can’t vote communist” clause have value in american law? I think not.

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PGD 03.26.14 at 4:26 pm

Many years ago I read the Ellen Willis piece Geo refers to in 23, and ever after I’ve been looking for it in linkable form on the web (Geo linked to his own excellent review, not the original essay…would still love to find it). It is one of the most powerful defenses of free speech I’ve ever read and it tracks my own intuitions on why the simple observation that speech can cause harm misses the point on the value of free speech.

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Sebastian H 03.26.14 at 4:34 pm

John Quiggin, you seem to have picked up an incorrect view of the case. You write: “A question about the original incident. Is taking a sign (one of many) and tearing it up suppression of free speech? There’s a (fairly trivial) breach of property rights involved if the sign was taken by force, but if there were simply a bunch of posters stuck up somewhere, I’d say that ripping one of them up is an exercise of free speech rights rather than the contrary” and then you write “But no-one tore down all the copies they could. A group of people ripped up one copy that been taken away from the scene of the demonstration. There was no attempt to suppress the demonstration, just one person getting annoyed and expressing it to others who shared this annoyance. “

This is not correct. The pro-life protest and fliers were already taking place in a very limited “free speech zone” and were not permitted throughout the campus. There were only three posters. Professor Miller Young was offended by the photos and claimed that other people were triggered by them. She demanded that all of the posters be taken down. When the pro-life protestors refused to take all of the posters down Professor Miller-Young grabbed a sign out from the protestors hands (her own words were “I’m stronger so I was able to take the poster”) removed it from the site and destroyed it.

She said to the police officer that she felt she could take the poster because it was upsetting to her and some college students and in her opinion the activists did not have a right to be there. (This last is incorrect as UCSB had specifically set up that area as a free speech zone, and protesters from outside the campus were regularly welcome there).

Her intent to suppress all of the speech (your DOS analogy) is clear. She wanted to get rid of all the signs, she physically wrested one of them from the other woman’s hands, and she did not believe that the protestors had a right to be there at all. Further this case doesn’t implicate the global warming subthread, as she wanted the protest shut down because it was “offensive”.

I find this whole thread troubling, and I kind of wonder if this isn’t a case of people not seeing the waters they swim in. The free speech norms of the US are hugely beneficial to leftists wanting to get their message out. If the norm were “political messages that are uncomfortable can be squelched” I can promise that law makers on the right could hit ‘false propaganda about capitalism’ much earlier than you are going to get speech which in your opinion improperly defends powerful military or monied interests suppressed.

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faustusnotes 03.26.14 at 4:52 pm

My sense is that the left in the UK and europe has been getting more censorious on pr0n and sex work issues, and that this reflects the general conservatism of American radical feminism that is being exported to other countries. I don’t see the same from other parts of the left (e.g. unions) outside America.

It’s funny to see this debate here at the same time as the WUWT crew and the climate fraudit mob are running an organized harrassment campaign (including death threats) against a professor who suggested organized climate denialism might one day be subject to legal sanction. A little more censorship and a little less free speech might be a good thing.

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shah8 03.26.14 at 4:59 pm

Nobody cares about what other people say, per se. I don’t care about what a neo-Nazi say, and I don’t think anyone else does. Neo-Nazi beliefs don’t impact me, all the way up until they hold a threatening demonstration of belief that they view you as the enemy. That’s because I view the right to feel secure on my premises as being at least as important as my right to say anything.

What people want are carve outs to deal with trolling, saying that it causes bad things to happen.

Of course, I’d object Willis’ characterization that there is some unbalanced tilt towards healing on the part of speech. Too many things that could be said are just as powerful as physical blows.

As for the idea that the people in power would abuse any such restriction…Yup, and so? Abusive people with power abuse everything, every custom, every law. It’s not as if the Fourth Amendment exists in any real sense anymore is it? The Fifth is only honored in the breech. We all know how people abuse a nuance like drug war here, or the way libel suits are handled in the UK. It’s perfectly possible to write nuanced laws that take social position and/or abuse in mind, such as how the US treats “public personalities” versus the UK. Here, powerful entities have to use a SLAPP lawsuit at their expense and with no anticipation of success, rather than a libel lawsuit that’s cheap and completely costless.

You know, it can actually be done. You just have to write it a certain way, and understand that future people are going to do what they are going to do. You’ll just have to hope that the wisdom of the words you write into law has its own compelling strange attractor that brings the focus back to why you took the time and effort to write this law.

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Manta 03.26.14 at 5:02 pm

shah8:
“As for the idea that the people in power would abuse any such restriction…Yup, and so? Abusive people with power abuse everything, every custom, every law”

The main difference is that one of the core aims of free speech is give the possibility to talk against people in power.

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shah8 03.26.14 at 5:17 pm

And what would I want that would stop that possibility?

That’s what’s fucking up your world, isn’t it, Manta et al?

Another reason why I’m pissed about the absolutism is that it’s a profound rejection that craft means anything. That skill means anything. Like those stupid goldbugs that can’t be bothered to understand that gold is no more money-like than “fiat currencies” are, because gold offers them some illusitory independence from the whims of the state.

But guess what, you’re not independent when you hoard gold, or every sort of free speech. You never were. You have to judge what you want, go out there and advocate for what you believe in and help craft a regime that suits you, whether that be trading gold for a home, with zoning laws and collectible/currency/commodity markets, where home, markets, all–they are all *crafted*.

Absolute free speech and multi-ethnic societies (where everyone has rights) don’t mix, and never had, and as the disease of nationalism retreats from the world stage, we should stay engaged in the issues that pop up, and craft the best response possible.

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Kaveh 03.26.14 at 5:37 pm

@70 & TM @76, I think the present discussion has some value just because people AFAICT have completely failed to come up with examples of the left nowadays being less than fully supportive of procedural protections for free speech. In the case that the OP was about seems to be isolated and I don’t see a lot of people supporting her. The reactions I’ve seen from leftists are along the lines of ‘oh god we don’t need this sh1t’. But I haven’t read widely about people’s reactions, so I could be missing something.

Sebastian H @89’s clarification of what happened is helpful. It makes me less inclined to defend her, but in the first place I didn’t see people defending her…

Ronan(rf) @84 “Are the Manning/Snowden situations examples of free speech?”

There’s at the very least a press freedom issue there, considering how the governments in the US and UK have been going after the Guardian and journalists with access to the documents. Arguably still a grey area. Much less grey IMO is when the Manning leaks first happened, ALL govt employees were forbidden from talking about them.

anon @85 The essence of the postings so far is:A snappy-sounding comment I wanted to make without reading what anyone said is:

“I’m totally in favor of free speech. As long as the speaker agrees with me. The other side lies and distorts so they ABUSE their freedom of speech and should not have it.”

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DaveL 03.26.14 at 5:37 pm

MSM@39: “And it seems that Americans are passionate about free speech only when the speech aligns directly with their values.”

That seems to me to much too broad a brush, both in terms of the domain (speech that “aligns directly with their values”) and the range (“Americans”). A great many Americans of all political stripes are free speech absolutists, and many that aren’t are tolerant of speech they disagree with. It’s the edge cases, where speech that seems to verge on unhinged ranting or harassment or DOS attacks tends to push people towards censorship.

Of course, the First Amendment is hardly absolutist in any case, as it applies only to governmental action against speech. Individuals and non-governmental entities are (within pretty broad limits) allowed to censor anything or anyone they want. If I say that Barack Obama is a terrible President, there’s nothing the government can do about it (other than audit me, of course, or tap my phone and email). If I say the same thing in my capacity as an employee at Big Company, they are within their rights to fire me, all other things being equal.

So, arguing over whether the “left” or anyone else is more or less tolerant of free speech than previously, especially given the left’s impressive track record of never holding elective office, seems rather about angels and pins. (I could substitute “libertarians” in the previous with equal truth.)

The real question is more what to do about the soi disant “liberals” such as Harry Reid who are promoting restrictions on constitutionally protected speech by the unwashed, and redefinitions of eligibility for 501(c)(4) status by “social welfare” groups they disagree with politically. The former seems to have gotten some opposition from left and right, but the latter seems to have only animated the right, as more of their oxen are up for goring.

I.e., what is government actually up to in the censorship area?

96

Kaveh 03.26.14 at 5:40 pm

shah8 @93 What are some specific restrictions you favor, that would differentiate you from free speech absolutists?

97

geo 03.26.14 at 5:44 pm

PGD@88: Willis’ essay first appeared as “Porn Free” in Transition#63, Summer 1994 and is reprinted in her Don’t Think, Smile, Beacon Press, 1999.

98

elm 03.26.14 at 6:18 pm

Freddie is purer than thou and out to organize a circular firing squad.

Also, the sun rose in the east.

99

shah8 03.26.14 at 6:27 pm

That was always the hard part, no?

One thing I was noodling on are civil or criminal liabilities for “disturbing the peace” as it relates to speech. That is, people are liable for diminishing the perceived safety *and* utility of the “public space” wrt other people (not corporations, governments, etc). As in, any means of protest can’t, in practice, deny people of rightful access to services or places of labor (whether for money or not), nor can they imply future retribution. If your group or cause has a history of violence, then just being where your historical victims live and work would violate such laws.

Now, specifically for hecklers like the Westboro folks, I would only say that they are permitted to do what they do as a matter of policy. People don’t normally allow hecklers in public gatherings to remain, except at the discretion of the speaker or some other leader. Do you really think that, say, a nasty band of Oneida folks can go and protest at Ralph Wilson’s funeral with every bit of the nastiness Fred Phelps nurtures? There is a tradition of right wingers doing more or less illegal/untolerated activities because hey, IOIYAAR. Making everyone equal in terms of enforcement of norms will cure most of it.

As far virulent speech goes, like blood libels and chain emails go, more speech usually is effective, because in harsh daylight, their nastiness (and clumsiness) is usually pretty evident. Here, the only thing I want to do is figure out some way to end the use of repeating lies in order to fillibuster other people’s speech by drowning them out. The thing is, more speech here doesn’t work, and the harm done by empowered (usually industrial/corporations) folks that use it is utterly massive and lethal–tobacco, lead paint, asbestos, etc, etc. This part is hard to craft well, but it’s also important in a way I think that is missed by many people. When you read books like Bending Science by McGarity and Wagner, it gets pretty obvious that this is a pretty big issue. Somehow, knowingly repeating and magnifying lies does have to be dealt with.

100

TM 03.26.14 at 6:34 pm

This whole thread is terribly misguided. If it has any “value” (Kaveh 94), it is as a text book example of how the left is capable of getting sidetracked by needlessly debating the right’s obviously false and made-up in bad faith talking points.

May I suggest the following future topics for CT posts:

“Is the climate change movement really abandoning scientific freedom?”
“Are pro-choice liberals really abandoning religious freedom?”
“Are feminists really abandoning equal rights for men?”
“Does Occupy Wall Street really plan the genocide of hedge fund managers?”
“Is Obama really the new Hitler/Stalin/anti-Christ?”

You are welcome.

101

Adrian Kelleher 03.26.14 at 6:55 pm

Aaaaaahhhhh-mennnnnnn.

102

Dr. Hilarius 03.26.14 at 6:58 pm

Academic Lurker: criminal charges for threatening comments, whether in person, by telephone or online, are commonplace in US courts. The line between offensive speech and threat isn’t bright line but clear enough for many successful prosecutions.

The idea of restricting speech such as climate change denialism is just bizarre. It reflects frustration with the massive, organized efforts of business groups to derail environmental regulation. But it also reflects the impotency of the left/liberals/scientists in communicating information to the general public. As an earlier poster suggested, power and money would be able to use any speech restrictions disproportionately in their own favor. Who would want to publish climate research if there was a risk of being hauled into a decade-long civil action about its truthfulness?

Note on MacKinnon/Dworkin: my recall is that their proposed civil action for porn harm lacked any meaningful nexus requirement between the porn in question and the plaintiff. You didn’t need to be the model in the porn, you simply needed to assert that its existence harmed you in some manner.

103

John Quiggin 03.26.14 at 7:12 pm

@Sebastian I just read the linked Gawker article and based my comment on what was stated there. If the facts were different, you can take my argument as a hypothetical one

104

TM 03.26.14 at 7:28 pm

102: For information, here’s a story showing how low the threshold can be for an isolated tweet to be criminalized as “threatening”. It is always interesting to observe when the mainstream chooses to make a fuss about free speech restrictions and when it’s just shrugged off. As a rule, a right-winger in trouble for hate or threatening speech can always expect sympathy that somebody else would never get.
http://arkansasmediawatch.wordpress.com/

105

Manta 03.26.14 at 7:36 pm

“If your group or cause has a history of violence, then just being where your historical victims live and work would violate such laws.”

Thanks for stating openly that you are insane.

106

Wonks Anonymous 03.26.14 at 7:47 pm

The Third Amendment has in fact been repeatedly violated by our government. Most people just haven’t heard about it. Most notably, Aleutians during WW2.

107

Manta 03.26.14 at 7:54 pm

Kudos to Kaveh @96 for asking the right question.

108

Sebastian H 03.26.14 at 8:15 pm

John, the police report is here .

I’m not sure what kind of hypothetical you mean. The group of people who want to tear down signs, but only one of the signs-definitely not all of the signs-seems pretty narrow. Tearing down someone’s otherwise legally placed signs strikes me as either motivated by an attempt to suppress which you don’t seem do be ok with, or just a violent expression of frustration, which I’m not sure you’re defending.

109

shah8 03.26.14 at 8:21 pm

Well, Manta, are the civil rights of men (or women) who have a restraining order against them being impaired because they can’t be at the residence or any other location of the people who obtained the restraining order?

110

TM 03.26.14 at 8:24 pm

111

Manta 03.26.14 at 8:27 pm

Thanks for the report, Sebastian.

Judging from it (i.e., assuming that it is truthful and complete), she seems unfit to teach; but YMMV.

Moreover, she teaches “reproductive rights” and
1) does not know the relevant laws
2) is “triggered” by anti-abortion posters?

She is *particularly* unfit to teach reproductive rights.

112

Katherine 03.26.14 at 8:32 pm

My sense is that the left in the UK and europe has been getting more censorious on pr0n and sex work issues, and that this reflects the general conservatism of American radical feminism that is being exported to other countries.

That’s a pretty impressive misrepresentation (or misunderstanding) of both the left in UK and Europe and American radical feminism. Well done!

Fwiw, I think examining the standard formula of “my right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins” is a good exercise. Whose fist? Whose nose? What is the nature of the metaphorical swing? What is the harm envisaged and how is it measured and by whom? And, more importantly, who has historically been in the position to impose their interpretation?

113

Curmudgeon 03.26.14 at 8:33 pm

A strong trend visible among left-leaning groups in fights started by feminist radicals is their belief that free speech has ‘consequences.’ Which is, essentially, an argument that people who use–or might use–free speech in ways said radicals dislike should be bullied, harassed, intimidated, or hounded out of society entirely.

Not that long ago a blogger here on CT defended a professor who poisoned the academic environment for two student journalists who reported that the professor brought her infant to a lecture class and allowed it to be disruptive to her students’ learning experience. It’s impossible to reconcile intimidating journalists for doing their jobs with any kind of support for freedom of speech.

More recently, the denouement of the Jonathan Ross/Worldcon incident saw Ross’ SO and child subjected to torrents of abuse by feminists on Twitter who were afraid that their husband/father might tell a fat joke. Whatever weight of legitimacy one places on fat jokes, harassing someone’s family for speech they might use speaks to an attitude that is fundamentally and irreconcilably opposed to the exercise of free speech.

These, any many other examples, make it very clear that the identity politics left prefers speech chilled if not frozen solid.

114

js. 03.26.14 at 8:34 pm

It might be worth placing together two things that DeBoer says:

1. From the post, re Miller-Young’s tearing up of a sign:

this is not OK. It is not OK to attack protesters. It is not OK to try to silence people whose views you don’t like.

His point apparently being that it’s not ok. (I think.)

2. From a comment (@ 24 Mar, 7.19pm):

I get that this gets complicated when we’re talking about competing speech acts but the ultimate goal should be meaningful expression. Efforts to shout people down are intended to halt meaningful expression.

So am I right in concluding that using naked intimidation to prevent women from exercising bodily autonomy is “meaningful expression”, and tearing up a bit of noxious misinformation is “shout[ing] people down”? Because if I am not right about this, it seems perfectly fucking fine (perhaps even laudable) to tear up the posters. After all, who’s shouting down who here?

My commitment to free speech means that I oppose efforts by the state (and, ideally, corporations, etc.) from banning or censoring certain kinds of speech—in what bizarre world does it mean that I as a private citizen have to treat every bit of vile nonsense as a good faith attempt at meaningful expression or rational argument when all the evidence in the world suggests that it’s exactly the opposite?

115

SamChevre 03.26.14 at 8:43 pm

One tricky issue is alluded to a few times, and in my observation is where most libertarian-leaning (e.g. Eugene Volokh) complaints about the left and freedom of speech come from.

Of course, the First Amendment is hardly absolutist in any case, as it applies only to governmental action against speech. Individuals and non-governmental entities are allowed to censor anything or anyone they want.

This opens up the possibility of government pressuring non-governmental entities to suppress speech. It’s clear that I can refuse to hire someone to rake my lawn who curses continually. It seems reasonably to follow that I could refuse to hire someone to work in my(hypothetical) store who does so. But it is distinctly problematic if the law enables me to be punished legally (sued for harassment, refused a business permit) UNLESS I refuse to hire that person.

The same comes up in the professional speech context; it makes perfect sense that the “Association of Freudian Psychologists” can refuse membership to Jungian psychologists if it wants to; it’s much less clear that the government can require psychologists to be licensed, and allow the licensing agency to deny licenses to Jungian psychologists; and it becomes problematic if the government requires the licensing agency to to deny licenses to Jungian psychologists.

(All examples are intended to be made up; any resemblance of names to real groups is accidental.)

116

faustusnotes 03.26.14 at 8:53 pm

Care to elaborate, Katherine? Recently in the UK there was a large campaign (still running I think) to ban lad mags from display at local stores. How is that not censorship? There’s a broad movement in Europe and the UK towards the “nordic model” of criminalizing sex work that is disastrous for the women it “protects,” and isn’t Iceland planning to completely ban pr0n? In Australia there was a long-running campaign by the labor party to introduce an internet filter to “protect the children”. All of this is driven by a particular brand of feminism based on an essentialist interpretation of women’s sexual roles, in which they aren’t capable of treating sex in a utilitarian fashion and only benefit from sexual activity within a very narrow frame (entirely the reason Dworkin and Mckinnon considered pr0n to be harmful to all women – and yes I have read Dworkin).

I think you need a stronger defense than accusations of nonsense …

117

Manta 03.26.14 at 8:54 pm

Sam, what about credit card companies that (after some thoughtful prodding from the vice-president) refuse to deal with a news organization because it exposed government’s dirty secrets?

(Again, a completely made-up example)

118

SamChevre 03.26.14 at 8:55 pm

Manta

That’s a non-made-up example of the same phenomenon.

119

GiT 03.26.14 at 9:18 pm

” Recently in the UK there was a large campaign (still running I think) to ban lad mags from display at local stores”

What do you mean by “ban”? Having to buy your porn in an opaque plastic envelope or a sex store isn’t really censorship.

120

Manta 03.26.14 at 9:21 pm

“Isn’t really censorship”:
it should be motto of the censorship bureau.

121

Ronan(rf) 03.26.14 at 9:24 pm

re the shift to ‘the Nordic model’, afaict in the UK anyway this would be a progressive change, as it criminalises the person buying sex rather than the sex worker.Personally my preference would be for complete decriminalisation but the ‘Nordic model’ seems much more preferable than the current one in the UK. (as far as I know it)

122

Katherine 03.26.14 at 9:27 pm

There’s a broad movement in Europe and the UK towards the “nordic model” of criminalizing sex work that is disastrous for the women it “protects,”

Oh, you mean the Nordic model of criminalizing sex work that actually decriminalises the sex workers? It criminalises the johns, yes. Are you suggesting that the right to buy people’s bodies for sex is an issue of free speech?

And would you care to offer any evidence for your claim that this model is disastrous?

123

Manta 03.26.14 at 9:34 pm

Katherine: it seems that the actual prostitutes (as opposed to politicians and activists) do agree with faustusnotes (but maybe “disastrous” is too strong: very bad would suffice).
http://www.petraostergren.com/pages.aspx?r_id=40716

124

Anderson 03.26.14 at 9:35 pm

“Are you suggesting that the right to buy people’s bodies for sex is an issue of free speech?”

I believe the verb is “rent.”

125

Manta 03.26.14 at 9:47 pm

Or “hire”, like in “hire people for sex”.
(But I agree with Katherine: I don’t see what it has to do with free speech, so I won’t pursue this topic any further).

126

faustusnotes 03.26.14 at 9:51 pm

Katherine, the nordic model is presented in defense of my argument that radical feminism is conservative and misogynist. It instrumentalizes women (who by-and-large don’t agree with the radical feminist view of sex work and sex) as tools to the political ends of the movement. The goal of this movement is to reduce all sexual activity to within certain very limited forms of interaction of which the McKinnons and Dworkins of the world approve. If you doubt this, you just have to look at the writings of the lead proponents (Sheila Jeffreys and her cohort). They have a very narrow and conservative view of what is acceptable between consenting adults.

GiT, do you think that plain packaging laws for cigarettes are a form of censorship aimed at the tobacco companies? It’s the same thing. Treating lad mags the same way as tobacco advertising is frankly ridiculous and it’s clearly censorship.

Ronan, it’s not a progressive change if it increases the risk of violence towards women, which is what the nordic model achieves.

127

shah8 03.26.14 at 10:15 pm

Man, those goshdarn feminists just went way over-board didn’t they? Identity politics are the suck!

I guess Mirelle Miller-Young has been teaching about how rape isn’t sex, and that anti-abortion politics has nothing to do about life, for just a little too long, and she was overcome by the power of her ideology when she saw those protesters.

128

Collin Street 03.26.14 at 10:16 pm

Which is, essentially, an argument that people who use–or might use–free speech in ways said radicals dislike should be bullied, harassed, intimidated, or hounded out of society entirely.

Your use of “free speech” is question-begging: whether the speech should or should not be “free” is precisely the point in issue.

[if you're engaging in question-begging and/or equivocation it means you literally don't have a firm grasp of what your own argument is: fairly obviously, it's not going to be hugely productive for other people to engage with your arguments if you don't actually understand them, because seeing an error in an argument you don't understand -- even/especially if it's your own argument -- is not exactly straightforward, and efforts to bring people to see errors in arguments they don't understand are unlikely to be an efficient use of effort.]

129

GiT 03.26.14 at 11:01 pm

Banning the distribution of pornography is really censorship. Controlling the packaging in public accommodations is pretty weak sauce run of the mill regulation with little effect on expression,

130

Manta 03.26.14 at 11:08 pm

“I guess Mirelle Miller-Young [...] was overcome by the power of her ideology when she saw those protesters.”

Actually, that’s what she claims happened: “Miller-Young said she found this material offensive because she teaches about women’s reproductive rights and is pregnant”.

131

Sebastian H 03.26.14 at 11:14 pm

“whether the speech should or should not be “free” is precisely the point in issue.”

It depends on your background assumptions and where you think the burden of proof lies. The background assumption in the US is for very broad free speech freedoms. You seem to be arguing against that US levels of free speech are inappropriate. Ok, but you do so in very general terms and without evidencing much in the way of understanding why free speech got the way it did. In the case here, a professor wanted to shut down pro-life protests using pictures of dead fetuses because she was offended. Abortion in the US is a hotly contested political issue, not at all subject to the idea that it is well settled. So are we really advocating the idea that some ruling class gets to shut down even face to face interactions on hotly contested political topics on the basis of offense?

Everyone, including the left is better protected by not allowing that kind of ground rule. So I presume you would want some other kind of ground rule. But you don’t bother saying what it would be.

And those who do say what they want it would be seem to naively imagine a world where their hotly contested political issues get aired, while their opponents get theirs squelched. I don’t know where you get the idea destroying or largely modifying the background assumptions about free speech will get you that result, but I’m pretty sure you’re wrong.

132

Abbe Faria 03.26.14 at 11:19 pm

“What do you mean by “ban”? Having to buy your porn in an opaque plastic envelope or a sex store isn’t really censorship.”

The specific argument is that shops have a legal obligation under the Equalities Act 2010 to prevent customers and workers being exposed to harrassment and discrimination. And because lads mags ‘portray women as dehumanised sex objects for the purpose of sexually gratifying men’ this obliges shops to stop selling them. That argument is 100% bullshit, but campaigners are absolutely sincere in thinking that’s the correct interpretation and the one the courts should adopt.

http://www.losetheladsmags.org.uk/about/faqs/

133

faustusnotes 03.26.14 at 11:22 pm

GiT, the lose the lads’ mags campaign aims to “stop selling sexist, pornographic lads’ mags like Nuts and Zoo”. It is connected with Object, an explicitly anti-pr0n campaign. The logic of these campaigns is that viewing naked women is somehow “harmful.” Any plain packaging or under-the-counter type sales goals are simply milestones on the road to the stated objective.

Object is also opposed to strip clubs and sex work – again, trying to control the avenues of sexual expression available to consenting adults. This is a type of conservatism that imho has grown in strength in the left since the 1970s. It’s consistent with a) a new conservatism generally in the rich world and b) the growing influence of conservative American feminism (and yes, identity feminism) in what should be a worldwide movement.

134

GiT 03.26.14 at 11:29 pm

From the FAQ:

“We have obtained new legal advice stating that retailers are potentially breaching equality legislation by displaying and selling lads’ mags and papers with Page 3-style front cover images. “

“Displaying and selling with page 3 style front cover images” is not equivalent to displaying and selling tout court. Maybe the people behind the campaign would object to covered covers, but I don’t know.

135

Katherine 03.26.14 at 11:30 pm

Ronan, it’s not a progressive change if it increases the risk of violence towards women, which is what the nordic model achieves.

Sigh. Cite please? Or am I just supposed to take your word for it?

136

Katherine 03.26.14 at 11:34 pm

And I notice that you’ve just skipped past the point that the Nordic model does not, as you asserted, criminalise sex work, but in fact decriminalises sex workers.

137

TM 03.26.14 at 11:36 pm

I agree with SH 131 but more important is to point out hat this incident is not representative of anything and its use for sweeping generalizations of “the left” is made in bad faith. More important also than the details of the case is to understand the very peculiar dynamic that tends to unfold in these cases when a transgression like Miller Young’s, which I regard as poor judgment but hardly terribly injurious to her opponents (as compared to many other cases I could cite when people were really victimized solely for their speech, which is rather more common than Americans tend to imagine), gets full media attention and then people like Freddie deBoer and Corey Robin start framing an entirely unproductive debate about “the left” and free speech, and then it goes where it always goes. And one despairs over the impression that the left just can’t learn from its tactical mistakes (but I admit I’m guilty of generalization).

And I promise I won’t comment any more to this idiotically wrong-headed debate. Also, 100.

138

David 03.26.14 at 11:41 pm

“The idea of restricting speech such as climate change denialism is just bizarre. It reflects frustration with the massive, organized efforts of business groups to derail environmental regulation. But it also reflects the impotency of the left/liberals/scientists in communicating information to the general public.”

Politics is not a game of good faith and principled stands fueled by honest reflection on evidence. I would have thought we were all grown-up enough to realize that by now.

139

faustusnotes 03.26.14 at 11:45 pm

Katherine, pretty much every sex worker organization involved objects to the law on this basis. Methods for improving the safety of sex work are pretty well understood, if you talk to sex worker organizations they will tell you pretty clearly what they think. You could try the international union of sex workers for starters. These organizations can be pretty critical of the anti-trafficking campaigns generally mounted by these same groups claiming to be working in women’s interests. Do you think they might have a right to a say over the working conditions in their industry?

And the claim that the nordic model doesn’t criminalize sex work is just a furphy. It criminalizes the purchase of sex work, which means it criminalizes the exchange, it interferes with the right of adults to consent, and it forces women to work in hazardous conditions (i.e. alone and out of sight).

I guess you also think that age of consent laws don’t criminalize underage sex, since one party is not punished for them. Right?

140

shah8 03.26.14 at 11:48 pm

You know, I’m not actually sure just how “conservative” anti-porn activists are. I mean, let’s say that erotic images aimed at gay men are on the cover of their porn magazines and sold openly right next to the “lad mags” instead of choices being limited to the placid “beefcake mags” in the fitness section. Would there be a fuss, or not one? I’m betting on fuss.

Only certain people ever get real free speech. Never did matter if said speech was in clear bad faith or harmful. The rest of us are invited to shut up.

141

shah8 03.27.14 at 12:10 am

As an aside on sex work decriminalization, what percentage of sex workers would actually benefit from decriminalization? I’m not sure the distinction between only criminalizing johns and criminalizing both johns and the prostitute is meaningful. While saying that might seemingly support faustusnotes, I’m inclined to disagree, mostly because sex as a utility is (or almost) always free. Men who want to *buy* sex aren’t typically just buying the sex (unless they’re taking care of some fetish, in some cases). Therefore, while I might have “harm reduction” mentalities were I to be benovolent dictator, but I’d always prefer to more or less eliminate cheap prostitution because there’s always a huge pool of nastiness behind the facade of voluntary exchange.

142

Ronan(rf) 03.27.14 at 12:17 am

shah8 – I’m pretty sure they do sell gay p**n in the average newsagent.

“Ronan, it’s not a progressive change if it increases the risk of violence towards women, which is what the nordic model achieves.”

I don’t think there’s evidence of that specifically. (That it increases violence towards women as compared to current policy in the UK) So it’s an improvment (imo) and is a route closer to normalisation.
I agree with you that sex workers generally (appear to overwhelmingly) support full decriminalisation/legalisation (as do I personally) and that criminalisation of the buyer still obviously interfers in the industry in a number of ways, all I’m saying is it’s an improvement.

143

Ronan(rf) 03.27.14 at 12:23 am

“As an aside on sex work decriminalization, what percentage of sex workers would actually benefit from decriminalization? “

Decriminalization, labour protection, right to unionise, access to welfare/healthcare etc, safer work enviornment, greater access to the legal system, no criminal records would be some of the benefits. Of course there would always be those outside the system, but there are clear benefits for potentially *a lot* of sex workers.

144

shah8 03.27.14 at 12:25 am

Naw, wait, do they actually sell gay-men versions of Maxim in the UK on the same shelves? When I looked online, I couldn’t really find any. There is a german GQ-ish magazine that caters to upper class GBLT, but that was mostly it.

145

Ronan(rf) 03.27.14 at 12:35 am

Yeah I’m pretty sure they do. It’s not Alabama circa 1930.

146

shah8 03.27.14 at 12:39 am

As for decriminalization, Ronan(rf)…I’m hesitant about it because liberalization of certain things people tend to really care about (but with attendant unsavory aspects) have a habit of worsening some outcomes. My personal example is liberalizing international adoption laws. Most countries flirt with it because the orphanages are always full, you know? However the demand is always for a very narrow specification of a healthy infant (preferably white). So a country decides to liberalize adoption laws, and within a few years finds out what every other country eventually does–people start coercing women and kidnapping infants for sale on the international market, using the country’s newly liberal laws to launder the proceedings. And it’s not necessarily the women at the bottom of the heap (that nobody gives a shit about), they don’t tend to have as many healthy babies as the somewhat better off women that do have some marginal social power. Then the country tightens the laws back up.

Internationally, human trafficing is a really major problem that tends not to get much notice for, and a lot of workers, whether that be domestic/construction labor or sex labor, tend to be, for all intents and purposes, slaves. Liberal prostitution law, from my perspective, might make the sale or kidnapping of young women and children even more profitable than it is, and we might not really know about it because we see and talk to the prostitutes that are naturalized citizens (speaker) and not talk to those that aren’t.

147

shah8 03.27.14 at 12:40 am

name one, then.

148

Fu Ko 03.27.14 at 12:48 am

Tearing down a poster is speech, obviously, just as much as putting another poster up on top of the original poster. The issue hinges, not on what is speech, but on who owns the wall.

Free speech in the USA gets confused with where the real conflict is: property. The property owners want the power to determine what people will hear. Yet some people, who don’t own property, think they should still have a voice. Some people think they should be able to tear down the poster because they have just as much right to be heard as the person who owns the wall.

Should the power to be heard be auctioned away on the free market? And if not, then how should that power be allocated? That’s the big question.

(The conception of free speech as a personal liberty — e.g., the idea that one shouldn’t be punished for expressing some particular view — must not be allowed to cloud the issue. Such conflation is what “bourgeois freedom” criticizes. On the left, we recognize the political force inherent in money. The real personal liberty issue with speech that ordinary people have in their daily lives obviously isn’t direct government censorship, but economic sanctions for speech imposed by private parties — which of course are enforced by government. If anybody were really concerned about censorship in the sense of violation of personal freedom, they would be pushing for labor laws that insulate workers from “at-will” termination for their views and speech. But that’s clearly tangential to the big political question, which is how to structure allocation in the “attention economy,” which is currently dominated by money. Right now we have platforms of speech which are bought and sold — and this is ruining discourse and democracy. The personal liberty issue is almost entirely irrelevant to almost everyone, simply because no one cares what we say when we don’t have the power of large-scale broadcast amplifying our voices.)

149

Bruce Baugh 03.27.14 at 12:50 am

Shah8’s 140, with its Only certain people ever get real free speech. Never did matter if said speech was in clear bad faith or harmful. The rest of us are invited to shut up. is pretty true. In practice, most speech debate ends up, if there’s any practical application at all, about whether anyone else will be allowed to make the Freddies of the world experience any discomfort on their way to saying whatever the hell they want. Whether those who are actually getting beaten up can say “For fuck’s sake, stop beating me up!” without getting beaten up again for it, that’s a different kind of matter.

150

adam.smith 03.27.14 at 12:56 am

about whether anyone else will be allowed to make the Freddies of the world experience any discomfort on their way to saying whatever the hell they want

really? The world turns around the interest of humanities graduate students in the Mid-West? That’d be encouraging.

151

Joshua Holmes 03.27.14 at 1:05 am

Restricting speech based on harm is tricky. That’s why restraining orders and gag rules have to be very narrowly tailored to specific incidents, usually a very credible threat of actual harm.

Broader speech rules like “no racism” are subsets of the Infliction of Emotional Distress torts, and these torts have always been difficult to quantify and enforce fairly. A racist quip might devastate one person but amuse the next. My using the n-word is likely to be a lot more harmful than a black person calling me a cracker, which I find funny. Additionally, given American history, I would expect the “no racism” rules to be enforced mostly against the poor and people of color.

152

musical mountaineer 03.27.14 at 1:10 am

“But no-one tore down all the copies they could.”

Finally, a little clarity. So long as you don’t tear down all the copies, it is rightfully protected free speech to physically assault anyone you disagree with.

Right?

153

rea 03.27.14 at 1:11 am

An absolute right of free speech is workable only in a society consisting of one person. Otherwise, your free speech rights are necessairly limited by the rights of others. You can’t use speech to commit crimes–Bernard madoff is not a free speach marty, and there really was a guy who shouted, “fire” in a crowded theater, causing mass casualties:
http://coreyrobin.com/2013/02/17/falsely-shouting-fire-in-a-theater-how-a-forgotten-labor-struggle-became-a-national-obsession-and-emblem-of-our-constitutional-faith/

And there can be reasonable time, place and manner restrictions, as a matter of common sense–no bullhorns at 2:00 am in residential neighborhoods.

As usual when dealing with conflicting rights, there are going to be close questions at the margins. But it’s not a betrayal of the value of free speech to recognize limits based on the rights of others.

154

Bruce Baugh 03.27.14 at 1:13 am

I pointed earlier at a tiny sample of the variety of things some people do to help targets prepare for and deal with verbal attacks on them that don’t involve attempting to silence the attackers at all, starting with training in public speaking and support networks for stress management.

“The cure for bad speech is more speech” is substantially bullshit, but becomes less so if we realize that help may well involve different kinds of speech in different contexts.

155

roy belmont 03.27.14 at 1:15 am

A. Talking about something called “the left” in the contemporary US political landscape has a definitely misleading symmetry to it. As though the two sides were balanced parts of a whole. When the thing is way lopsided, and what even just sounds left in public/mediated forums is not symmetrical weighted viz. the noise volume of the right. Sort of what TM was saying.

B. Free speech is not ice cream, nor is it even potatoes. It is not a consumer item to which all customers have the legal right of purchase.
So the debate isn’t, or shouldn’t be, about withholding that right.
Willis via geo’s “It’s not that speech is never wounding, she argues, but that freedom is healing” moves toward it. But only healing in the context of we are presently ill, so need it. Something even finer than healing is possible, and the idea is free speech increases the likelihood of that possibility.
It’s about what comes out of the nutrient bath of free expression. And like most of the really groovy stuff we don’t have yet, it can’t be entered into evidence, because it doesn’t exist yet. So that’s a serious disadvantage in an argument about its potential benefits.
Especially when the consumerist mindset is reducing everything to retail transaction.
The future is the most valuable thing we have, yet by its nature it isn’t on the shelves, so doesn’t have legitimate standing in the marketplace. But that seems to have been at least part of the idea behind the Constitution and Bill of Rights, to secure some basic freedoms for those who came after.
The tension between a present right to an exercise of freedom and the right of some theoretical members of some theoretical community in some theoretical future to have better lives is hard to see for what it is, because there’s so much loud idiotic partisan confusion over present day rights, and the future is silent. One has to assert its inevitable factuality, over and over.

The idea of “shaming” as a counterbalance to noxious speech is so hideous and retrograde it’s hard to address. Spectator vigilantism, without guns. Censorship by flash-mob. Group tantrums as political acts.
As if mob rule were the truest form of democracy. Because the people.

156

musical mountaineer 03.27.14 at 1:16 am

Mind you, I’m not sure of the accepted state of the facts in the matter of the assault, on this thread. My understanding was, someone left bloody fingernail marks one somebody else’s arms. To me, that’s very serious. You don’t know where the heck those fingernails have been.

157

Consumatopia 03.27.14 at 1:31 am

“But it also reflects the impotency of the left/liberals/scientists in communicating information to the general public.”

Indeed, a scientific establishment that can’t convince the public that the climate is worth doing something about certainly isn’t going to convince them to ban the opposition. If climate denialism is powerful enough to prevent legislation from being enacted, it’s already too powerful to ban. (Conversely, if it wasn’t too powerful to ban, you wouldn’t want to ban it.)

I think there is a good argument that we should go further in restricting speech that’s intended to intimidate or harass minorities, but you can’t prevent the general public from being deceived if they want to be deceived.

158

Ronan(rf) 03.27.14 at 2:07 am

@147 – Name one what ? A magazine which caters to gay men and is on mass release in newsagents ? Well, the Gay Times ?
This is to say nothing of the larger ‘lads mags’ debate, of which I’m agnostic.

159

Watson Ladd 03.27.14 at 2:08 am

To say that one’s rights to speech are limited by the rights of others is to say nothing at all, unless one spells out what those restrictions should be. In India books are banned on the basis of insulting one particular religion or another. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was de facto banned in much of the South, to the extent of running booksellers out of town who sold it.

More recently, the US newspapers and publishers have quietly and cravenly agreed to submit to violent demands to refrain from publishing visual works critical of Islam because of a risk of violence.

No one claims the right to censor out of a political motive. Instead it is “to avoid insult”, to “assure civic peace”, or some other excuse. Out of concern for the souls of Englishmen, the Spanish prepared the Inquisition. The law which bans some titillating textual depiction of the rape of a minor would no doubt ensnare Lolita.

Many of the pivotal free speech cases in the US involve an embattled and disliked minority against a majority, who do not only believe they are right, but are so right that they seek the power to forcibly silence those who speak against them. Are we so wrong to presume that, absent some tangible harm, they should have the opportunity to spread their message to those who may wish to hear it? As disgusting as pictures of aborted fetuses or the dead in war are, should our public debate be sanitised of the consequences of our actions? Should judges be in charge of deciding that “I am Curious: Yellow” is not porn, but “Debbie Does Dallas” is?

(It was this issue that doomed the government side in Citizen’s United)

Free speech as it exists in the US came out of a long series of court cases, some well decided, some not. We have learned, through a long and painful process, that judgements of censorship are rarely justified in hindsight, and can do great harm, while an excess of speech has usually not been regretted.

160

shah8 03.27.14 at 2:19 am

The Gay Times isn’t really a gay version of a laddie magazine, and it would be placed off in the GLBT ghetto. The wiki for it at least points to more likely suspects, and those are only sold at GLBT-friendly retail/service outlets.

You’re right, it’s not Alabama 1930, but it’s still not far enough away from that setting.

161

Ronan(rf) 03.27.14 at 2:22 am

Okay, so your solution is ban them all, rather then ‘put them all on the same shelf’?

162

faustusnotes 03.27.14 at 3:17 am

But it also reflects the impotency of the left/liberals/scientists in communicating information to the general public.

I provided a link above to an example of how “free speech” is used by those opposed to global warming science. Perhaps like a good WUWT luddite you didn’t read the link? Here is an excerpt:

Graham Readfearn at deSmogBlog reported that Dr Torcello received upwards of 700 hate emails and telephone calls. Some examples:

“DIE you maggot”

“Fortunately, your kind will be marched to the wall with all the other leftist detritus”

…Others accuse Torcello, an assistant professor at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Department of Philosophy in the west of New York State, of being a fascist, Stalinist and a Nazi.

…At one point, he says he picked up his phone to be told that soon he would be “paid a visit”.

One email told Torcello — in customary all-caps angriness — that he was a “FAGGOT” and that global warming was “A LIE STRAIGHT FROM THE JEWS”.

I don’t think failure of scientists to communicate here is the issue. The issue is that these people are protected in their right to abuse and threaten people who have an opinion they don’t approve of.

163

faustusnotes 03.27.14 at 3:17 am

… although free speech would also be enhanced by Crooked Timber having functional html.

164

Bruce Baugh 03.27.14 at 3:35 am

Ronan: Is it actually useful to think about stores not carrying things as banning them? If so, why, given the absurdity of them “banning” every single product they happen not to carry?

165

roy belmont 03.27.14 at 3:45 am

The issue is that these people are protected in their right to abuse and threaten people

The specific legal issue yes. But the moral issue is not the same thing. The moral issue is why are there people like that doing that in the first place, and what can be done about them?
And that leads pretty straight to the mind-influence bordering on mind-control those poor benighted souls are subject to, because that’s why they’re doing that. Attack chihuahuas. Independent bile contractors.
Quibbling about whether they have a right to foam at the mouth on someone’s phone while ignoring the intentional infecting of their minds, the enabling of their pathologies, is sort of a past-time, rather than a serious attempt to address the problem.
The problem being there’s a dark side obverse to the healing and promise of truly free speech. Where a crowd of feral human drones gets to virtually stone the designated recipients of their masters’ contempt.
Where the lone wolf hater is pumped on broadcast nerve poisons and shown a suitable cathartic target. Rush Limbaugh’s hands are perfectly clean and well-manicured.

Examples of hate mail/hate speech etc. that are dropped into the discourse of people who don’t have much experience of it, its volume and intensity, are propaganda tools. Look! Someone being mean to a puppy!
What decent person wouldn’t want that stopped?
Measured against the bulk of its actual presence, the amount of that shit happening, mostly outside public awareness – it’s a security thing, you wouldn’t understand – it loses immediacy. And points to a larger problem: What good is free speech in an arena of fools and reptilian monsters?
Because we’re here too, still here, and freedom heals.

166

Bruce Baugh 03.27.14 at 3:45 am

(I should add that that’s a real question, albeit snarky in presentation. It could be that any of the zillion things I don’t know or have forgotten or don’t realize apply here make it a sensible useful framework. If that’s so, I’ll be glad to know it. It’s just that I start off very skeptical.)

167

Jacob McM 03.27.14 at 4:05 am

@19

Antrosio writes that “the results of science must still be presented within a particular historical and political context”. I’ll go farther — if authors know their work is fodder for racists & reactionaries, not only should they demote and defuse the “explosive” lede by burying it in necessary context, authors should also ramp up the adjectival qualifiers and crank the obscuring academese to 11. In short, make it so that enthusiastic lay racists cannot understand it, and so that their media lack the terminology to quote-mine repurpose the study.

They should make their paratexts, form, and style conducive to being /politically correct/.

The problem with that approach is that there is no shortage of intellectuals who are willing to translate that jargon into language that lay racists can understand. For example, a book like Nicholas Wade’s ‘A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History’ is fodder for the entire racialist agenda, and it’s written for a lay audience.

Wade has been the NY Times science reporter for years and is a mainstream respectable figure. It would look bad if the left chose to censor him and declare him persona non grata. Yet his book contains many troubling implications for the left, such as providing scientific evidence that not only is race a biological reality, but that there are important genetic differences between the races which influence the kinds of societies they can create and maintain. Nor have the political implications of Wade’s book been lost on far right ideologues. As one of them put it, in a review of Wade’s book: “next thing you know, someone might say the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be repealed or that women have no business on submarines.”

So the left finds itself in a real dilemma. Should they ignore the book, and thus practice de factor censorship, in order to promote a Noble Lie, or should they contend with it, even if it means damaging their commitment to equality? This is doubly problematic, because the left has historically been proud of its commitment to the empirical sciences and mocked the backwardness and obscurantism of reactionaries. Now the biological sciences appear to have become the left’s most formidable enemy.

168

bad Jim 03.27.14 at 5:07 am

The mainstream does seem to be ignoring Wade’s book, mindful perhaps of the long sordid history of similar efforts. I did find some scathing comments on a previous work of his by a couple of biologists. Perhaps there’s a consensus that he’s simply not worth taking seriously.

169

Timothy 03.27.14 at 5:53 am

Politically, I think ideologies depending on the suppression of free speech will fail, the suppression itself being an idealistic impossibility and perhaps even counterproductive, tending to have a “Streisand effect.”

You can’t police every whisper and every encrypted online message. Wherever you focus your policing, you also shine a spotlight. I think people are pretty dumb, but ideologues seem to think they’re even dumber – that people can’t see through the policing.

You need widespread condemnation by individuals, and I’m talking child porn level, not racism level.

170

Lew Dog 03.27.14 at 5:54 am

And yet fools talking trash about free speech still haven’t read their own comments policy. Have any of you scholars heard of irony?

171

faustusnotes 03.27.14 at 6:16 am

Wade’s book hasn’t even been published yet. It comes out in May. Seems a bit premature to assume anyone is ignoring anything.

172

John Quiggin 03.27.14 at 6:26 am

@Lew Dog Yes, as the scholarly owners of the Interwebz only weblog (or ‘blog’) we have a moral obligation to publish anything and everything submitted to us. It’s not as if the trolls and morons we reject can go to wordpress.com or blogger.com and start their own blog. You need a PhD to do that.

But we don’t care, even when the irony of the situation is pointed out to us.

173

John Quiggin 03.27.14 at 6:33 am

Based on the police report, Sebastian, I agree with your view of the issue.

174

GiT 03.27.14 at 7:44 am

Aww, I thought Lew Dog’s first comment was an arch joke. Sad to see he’s just a dope.

175

David 03.27.14 at 7:44 am

This entire comment section has been Grade A Terrible, but Jacob McM is taking it to new heights. What does it even mean to suggest that the biological sciences are “the Left’s” (as though the US has a Left) enemy? Racial egalitarianism is no more based on the “equality” of different races than classical liberalism is based on the literal equality of every human being.

176

Abbe Faria 03.27.14 at 8:19 am

How is interpreting the law so that retailers can be sued for selling lad mags notan attempt to censor them? It isn’t as it UK feminists don’t have form, they have successfully campaigned to have music videos pre-censored and banned.

177

Collin Street 03.27.14 at 10:17 am

Free speech as it exists in the US came out of a long series of court cases, some well decided, some not. We have learned, through a long and painful process, that judgements of censorship are rarely justified in hindsight, and can do great harm, while an excess of speech has usually not been regretted.

But the US experience is by-and-large the experience of an apartheid state, and while the US isn’t an apartheid state currently… well.

If your laws and jurisprudence were worth anything, Jim Crow wouldn’t have happened, surely.

178

SamChevre 03.27.14 at 12:10 pm

Bruce Baugh @ 164
Is it actually useful to think about stores not carrying things as banning them?

No.

But it is, I think, useful to think of “you are subject to legal punishment for carrying X” as banning that thing from sale, even if the punishment is not successful in entirely stopping sales. (I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say “selling counterfeit designer handbags is banned,” even though tyou can still buy them from some fly-by-night merchants.)

179

Ronan(rf) 03.27.14 at 12:23 pm

Bruce @164 No I dont think thats a useful frame, but its Shah8’s not mine (afaict)

180

Manta 03.27.14 at 12:39 pm

Watson@159: very well put.

181

Jacob McM 03.27.14 at 1:06 pm

I realize that, on an abstract level, racial egalitarianism need not and should not rest on biological egalitarianism, and people like Steven Pinker have made that argument. Problem is, I don’t think this argument holds up in real life.

I won’t beat around the bush: everyone here knows that Black people would bear the brunt of a racialist resurgence, so I’ll use them as my example. If Wade’s arguments are true, then the implication is that Black people, in the aggregate, are not capable of maintaining a First World level of civilization. The evolution of the Black race has adapted them to a completely different, pre-modern environment. It follows that if the number of Blacks in your neighborhood passes a certain threshold, more likely than not you’re going to end up with Detroit, Oakland, East St. Louis, Haiti, Zimbabwe, etc. Crime rates skyrocket. Property values and school quality plunge. White flight ensues. Wade mentions the fact that the MAO-A gene, the “warrior” gene, which is linked to hair-trigger temper and violence, is found fifty times more often among American Blacks than among Whites, and his pleading not to draw too many conclusions from this rings hollow when compared to the tenor of the rest of his book. Wade also touches on the Black-White IQ gap while refusing to take any firm stance on the issue.

Now if this knowledge became widespread among the general population, do you really think the average person is going to care one whit about equal rights? I’m very skeptical of that. They’re probably going to want to keep the number of Black people in their neighborhood to a bare minimum, if they allow any at all. This means that segregation and discrimination, both de facto and de jure, will become more acceptable, and have “scientific” backing. A revival of Jim Crow is possible. At a certain point, people might even decide that Blacks are simply too much of a liability to keep around, and there could be calls for mass deportations or worse. If genetic differences are too stark, “equal rights” won’t survive the implications.

By the way, Wade makes reference to the research of Gregory Clark, whose work in the NY Times (see his piece “Your Ancestors, Your Fate”) is laying the groundwork for a resurrection of genetic determinism, even though Clark astutely avoids the racial issue.

So those are the stakes. Classical liberalism was first developed within the context of relatively homogeneous societies, racially speaking. It’s worth remembering that some of its major figures, such as Thomas Jefferson, felt that the innate differences between Whites and Blacks were too insurmountable for them to ever live side by side in a state of equality.

Of course, scientists could attempt to prove Wade wrong, and I’ve no doubt that Wade is incorrect on some matters. But what if his claims are for the most part scientifically valid? Do we allow Pandora’s Box to be opened?

182

mdc 03.27.14 at 1:08 pm

Roy Belmont, why is shame so horrific? Many bad things are legal, yet shameful; and their being shameful prevents them from happening so much. It’s not likely to work as a deliberate strategy, but as an outcome of cultural shifts.

It used to be respectable to tell racist “jokes” among colleagues. Now, such jokes are likely to get you uncomfortable frowns, quick changes of the subject, some degree of shunning (some places). These behaviors let the jokester know that others *look down on them.* It’s not mob rule, it’s manners. I say, awesome.

183

Manta 03.27.14 at 1:32 pm

“I’ll go farther — if authors know their work is fodder for racists & reactionaries, not only should they demote and defuse the “explosive” lede by burying it in necessary context, authors should also ramp up the adjectival qualifiers and crank the obscuring academese to 11″

Seems quite unethical advice: a “scholar” who followed it should be ashamed of him/herself.

184

Ronan(rf) 03.27.14 at 1:48 pm

@181 – I’ve read bits of the Clark book, which traces generational inequality through surnames (within countries, and not racialised) and part of his explanation for this long term inequality(it seems, though I havent got there yet) is genetic. Bear in mind (1) he’s an economist (2) he’s running a simple model, so his conclusions are going to be reductionist and simple.
Of course you can study the role of gene’s in IQ without it leading to the reinstatement of Jim Crow because (1) the results are going to be so complicated, caveated and ambiguous to be virtually useless policy wise and (2) the results (afaik) aren’t going to fall along any clear ‘racial’ lines , in fact they make a mockery of general conceptions of ‘race’, and most people (bar racists) wont be paying attention anyway.
Now, I am not a geneticist (though would like to be) so people can feel free to school me on genetics.

185

Watson Ladd 03.27.14 at 1:54 pm

Jacob McM: The Netherlands in the 17th century was not racially homogeneous. Sephardic refugees, Portuguese merchants, Frisian farmers (no, they are not Dutch: look up Pier Gerlofs Donia), Catholics and Protestants all lived together. European traditions of religious freedom emerged from a bloody centuries long conflict about the Pope. Today the whole world lives in New York: Abyssinians, Hassids, Nigerians, Egyptian Copts, etc. all find a refuge in the liberal order that their home countries failed to maintain or adopt.

By contrast the millets of the Ottoman empire lead to genocide and slavery as tensions between peoples who barely knew each other spilled into violence.

Collin Street: The original gag rule was to prevent discussion of slavery on the floor of the house. Abolitionist speakers were beneficiaries of liberal free speech laws, that let one discuss the moral necessity of violence against slaveowners without being jailed. Martin Luther King could only march in Selma because of the First Amendment.

186

Bruce Baugh 03.27.14 at 2:01 pm

Ronan: Ah, okay, I’d missed some posts somewhere along the line between refreshes. Thanks. :)

187

Ronan(rf) 03.27.14 at 2:09 pm

Bruce, tbh Im genuinely not sure what I was arguing, so I might well have been arguing something along those lines at one stage. ; ) It wasnt very clear or coherent on my part. I’m still at a loss as to what my point was!

188

dk 03.27.14 at 2:34 pm

@TM

Academic blog discusses academic point: news at 11.

Not that I actually disagree with you…

189

Ronan(rf) 03.27.14 at 3:32 pm

Jacob – I just read the Clark article at the NYT which you forgot to link to :

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/21/your-fate-thank-your-ancestors/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

He doesn’t ‘astutely avoid the racial issue’, he rejects it :

“But to be clear, we found no evidence that certain racial groups innately did better than others. Very high-status groups in America include Ashkenazi Jews, Egyptian Copts, Iranian Muslims, Indian Hindus and Christians, and West Africans. The descendants of French Canadian settlers don’t suffer racial discrimination, but their upward mobility, like that of blacks, has been slow.”

I am a little sceptical of your take on Wade’s book after this dooodgy analysis of a 2000 word article.

190

Bruce Baugh 03.27.14 at 3:40 pm

Ronan, I find it very reassuring that others have that experience.

Jacob McM: Ronan’s quote from Clark illustrates the first thing anyone should know when evaluating claims of ethnic/etc intellectual inferiority – people doing so lie, all the time, by omission and commission. It’s possible to get carried away with Bayesian priors, but 30 years of reading about human genetics and development have given me good reason to begin by assuming that any claim of inferiority on the part of some category of humanity, particularly a category defined in practice by visible features, is likely to be factually wrong and almost certainly deliberately so. Racists and other bigots are liars, relying on lying authority figures and telling each other things they have good reason to know are lies about whatever group it is they want to dump on.

It’s always possible that the next round of claims will be true and verifiable, just as it’s possible that the sun won’t rise tomorrow because the Earth will have stopped rotating or teleported into interstellar space, or that Scalia will begin interpreting the Constitution with consistent integrity even when it goes against his personal wishes. All these things are equally unlikely, and none bear worrying about until there’s the slightest clue that they’re actually happening this time.

Personally, I prefer to give my conditional support to claims whose advocates are less likely to be lying sacks of shit.

191

faustusnotes 03.27.14 at 5:18 pm

An addendum to Bruce’s comment: when people present new “scientific evidence” as a potential threat to (other) people’s willingness to support racial equality, they are always ignoring the fact that the vast majority of people who object to racial equality measures do so without any consideration of the scientific “facts” about race – they do so because they are racists. So the existence of scientific evidence supporting or refuting their position is irrelevant, and serves largely only to provide cover for sophisticated racists to be racist without looking coarse. It’s a kind of boutique racism for real specialists.

192

Timothy 03.27.14 at 5:32 pm

“The descendants of French Canadian settlers don’t suffer racial discrimination”

If you use some sort of Negroid Caucasoid Mongoloid idea of “race”, I guess you can play semantics, and you can argue that like anti-Black discrimination it’s decreased since the 60’s but… this is ahistorical.

193

David 03.27.14 at 5:47 pm

@191 Faustusnotes:

What seems to be lacking in general consciousness is the extent to which this is true for ALL issues. People begin with foundational emotional commitments and construct “facts” post hoc to support them.

Which is the biggest reason that the “Just use better arguments to convince climate denialists” side of this argument looks so painfully naive.

194

Ronan(rf) 03.27.14 at 5:51 pm

Are the descendants of French Canadian settlers those dudes in Louisiana ?

195

Bruce Baugh 03.27.14 at 6:01 pm

One of the things I look for as a sign of truthfulness is how a new work deals with its predecessors. I’m in the midst of Margaret Macmillan’s The War That Ended Peace, and as with her previous works, she gives good consideration to a bunch of different interpretations of people, trends, and events, looking at where the evidence has accumulated, what guesses didn’t pan out, and so on. Likewise with “Starts With a Bang”, the blog of astronomer Ethan Siegel. He routinely writes about ongoing research and tentative interpretations, and is completely upfront about what ideas didn’t work out and why – including his own.

There’s none of that that I’ve ever seen in would-be scientific racism. Proofs of fraud by fellow racists don’t appear. Long-debunked ideas surface again and again with no serious engagement, if any at all, with their refutations. There is no real history to the field at all. It’s possible for a work to be correct about its own claims despite that…but the odds are against it. The ghost of Bayes is over here saying “Don’t count on it.”

196

Kaveh 03.27.14 at 6:05 pm

Manta 03.27.14 at 1:32 pm “I’ll go farther — if authors know their work is fodder for racists & reactionaries, not only should they demote and defuse the “explosive” lede by burying it in necessary context, authors should also ramp up the adjectival qualifiers and crank the obscuring academese to 11″

Seems quite unethical advice: a “scholar” who followed it should be ashamed of him/herself.

But I bet you actually follow this advice yourself. If you read it carefully, is nothing more than a description of good, careful academic writing. The problem is in the word “lede”. What makes something a good lede? You want a lede to be surprising and maybe run counter to conventional wisdom, but you don’t want it to be misleading. For somebody else who is quote-mining to support their views with absolutely no regard for whether what they are saying is actually consistent with the views presented in literature they are quoting. The kind of people who will take ‘greenhouse effect of methane less than previously thought’ and report it as ‘science proves environmentalists were wrong about fracking.’ Something that is a ‘lede’ for a crank might be just a curiosity for you, or might be of no significance to you (might just be an easy, kind of lazy way to state a point), so what do you do?

I often find myself in situations where a sentence I wrote could be taken to mean something totally incorrect by somebody who isn’t familiar with the subject, on issues that are not politically charged at all. And bad, careless academic writing makes it easy for the reader to make those mistakes, and then when you read it and talk to somebody about it you sound like an idiot because you only read that one thing and made said mistakes. If people are actively trying to make those mistakes, and don’t care about whether their interpretations are consistent with the larger body of knowledge about the subject, then you make damn sure not to say something that could be taken out of context to mean something that is at odds with the general findings of research.

197

Timothy 03.27.14 at 6:05 pm

Some of them ended up in Louisiana. Why was that? Exile.

198

js. 03.27.14 at 6:29 pm

Wow. @181 is a marvelously unhinged comment. Well done!

199

Corey Robin 03.27.14 at 6:35 pm

Please do not let this discussion be threadjacked by someone who really wants to “debate” the relationship between race and IQ.

200

Bruce Baugh 03.27.14 at 6:40 pm

Corey: Fair enough. Mostly it makes a handy demonstration that a lot of bloviating about “political correctness” and all boils down to “you don’t rush to agree with my latest lies and bullshit”.

201

geo 03.27.14 at 7:14 pm

I wonder if comments 198-200 aren’t unfair to Jacob @181. I had the impression that he wasn’t endorsing the arguments (Wade’s) he set out, or even proposing them for discussion, but merely pointing out that they exemplified the kinds of assertions that those concerned for racial equality might be — understandably — tempted to try to suppress. If that was his purpose, then it fits squarely with the main theme — ie, the left and free speech — of the thread.

202

David 03.27.14 at 7:20 pm

He was basically saying that they were probably true and then wanting to discuss what the Imaginary Left’s response to their truth should be.

203

js. 03.27.14 at 7:25 pm

@161:

Wade has been the NY Times science reporter for years and is a mainstream respectable figure. It would look bad if the left chose to censor him and declare him persona non grata. Yet his book contains many troubling implications for the left, such as providing scientific evidence that not only is race a biological reality, but that there are important genetic differences between the races which influence the kinds of societies they can create and maintain.

So the left finds itself in a real dilemma. Should they ignore the book, and thus practice de factor censorship, in order to promote a Noble Lie, or should they contend with it, even if it means damaging their commitment to equality? This is doubly problematic, because the left has historically been proud of its commitment to the empirical sciences and mocked the backwardness and obscurantism of reactionaries. Now the biological sciences appear to have become the left’s most formidable enemy. [emph. added --js.]

If not racist, then definitely racist-curious.

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Manta 03.27.14 at 7:30 pm

I think “unhinged” is the best description: not for the actual content (about which we are not sure), but for the obscurity and pointless meandering it is presented with.

Anyhow, the series of posts on the Gould affaire is quite fascinating.

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Collin Street 03.27.14 at 8:22 pm

Collin Street: The original gag rule was to prevent discussion of slavery on the floor of the house. Abolitionist speakers were beneficiaries of liberal free speech laws, that let one discuss the moral necessity of violence against slaveowners without being jailed. Martin Luther King could only march in Selma because of the First Amendment.

I’m aware of this. The US first amendment, and the surrounding jurisprudence, was good law for the time it arose in because the US federal courts [once they decided that racism was bad, m'kay] couldn’t rely on local enforcement of anything even slightly ambiguous or discretionary, and didn’t have the authority [the power, yes, but not the authority] to micro-manage and dictate discretionary/interpretative actions.

The US has a very unusual history: law being contingent, it’s thus likely that legal measures and responses that are [or, increasingly, were] appropriate in the US may not be the best choice for other times and other places.

It’s not always 1930s alabama. Sometimes it’s 1920s germany. Different situation, different key problems, different legal frameworks become appropriate.

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Watson Ladd 03.27.14 at 8:32 pm

Right, because the best way to avoid the horrors of the Nazis burning books and killing their political opponents, is to burn their books and imprison them as your political opponents. Since they bend the law, we must bend it too. Politics after all, is only for those we agree with. For those we don’t, only force will work. Color me unconvinced by this logic.

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shah8 03.27.14 at 8:44 pm

Hyperbolic Godwin, much?

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Manta 03.27.14 at 8:48 pm

Collin: what is the “different legal framework” you think is appropriate?

The “censorious” approach has been tried; actually, is still the norm in most countries.
Can you point out to some country whose approach to freedom of speech (or lack thereof) you approve, and say what you like about it?
(My take is that the US, where freedom of speech is constitutionally protected and taken seriously, is one of the best in the word in this aspect: not perfect, but less bad than the alternatives I know).

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geo 03.27.14 at 8:49 pm

There are different questions:

1) Is “race” a valid concept, and if so, are there biological differences between the races? This is NOT relevant to the OP, hence not something we should discuss.

2) If the answer to the above questions were “yes,” would that justify racism, ie, differential treatment on the basis of race? This, too, is NOT relevant to the OP, hence not something we should discuss.

3) If a great many people among the general public believed that the answers to the first two questions were “yes,” would that fact justify efforts by the left to prevent or discredit discussion of those questions? This is what I took Jacob to be asking. If so, it IS highly relevant to the OP, hence perhaps something that should be discussed, if not here then somewhere, sometime, by someone.

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Corey Robin 03.27.14 at 8:56 pm

geo: I agree with you that 3 is relevant, but as js pointed out, Jacob is going considerably farther than that. He’s saying that the answers to 1 and 2 may well be yes, and that because of that, they pose a dilemma to the left. Not merely b/c the public might believe that the answers to 1 and 2 are yes, but b/c “yes” to 1 and 2 is the correct answer, and the left would have to, for the sake of preserving its values, suppress the truth (he uses the language of the “Noble Lie”). So I take him to be steering this discussion precisely towards the direction of 1 and 2, and I would very much like to head that off. And if it means we don’t discuss 3, so be it. Let someone else or some other thread discuss it. B/c it seems to be present too enticing and alluring an opportunity for some to engage in the real discussion they want to be having: namely, are black people as smart as white people? And that’s not a discussion for this thread or, frankly, this blog.

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GiT 03.27.14 at 9:12 pm

“How is interpreting the law so that retailers can be sued for selling lad mags notan attempt to censor them?”

Retailers can be brought to court and fined or otherwise penalized for selling alcohol, tobacco, and even packaged foods without the appropriate labels or markings. Is this an attempt to censor them?

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Manta 03.27.14 at 9:15 pm

GiT: so if they passed a law imposed special packages for communists publication you would not deem it censorship?

213

Donald Johnson 03.27.14 at 9:19 pm

Not wanting to discuss it, but it does sound like this Wade book is going to be the “Bell Curve” of the present decade. Not looking forward to it.

But to bring it back to the OP, no, discussion of it when it comes out shouldn’t be suppressed.

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Consumatopia 03.27.14 at 9:35 pm

It’s certainly ridiculous to publicly discuss “what if these anathema theories are true? Should we censor them?” If something is too dangerous to discuss, why would you want to ask us to imagine a hypothetical world in which its true?

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js. 03.27.14 at 9:46 pm

Retailers can be brought to court and fined or otherwise penalized for selling alcohol, tobacco, and even packaged foods without the appropriate labels or markings.

I don’t think this a good analogy. Obviously, sale of tobacco, alcohol, etc. is regulated, but it seems pretty clear that the regulation in question is of the sale (and perhaps marketing) of these products, and it seems not at all plausible that the regulation in these cases is of speech. Whereas if you’re talking about regulating displays of nude (or partially nude) images—which is what the regulation of lad mags is about—then it’s at least somewhat more plausible to suggest that the regulation is of speech. At least, there’s a plenty of precedent for treating this sort of thing as a speech/expression issue.

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js. 03.27.14 at 9:54 pm

Sorry, the thought was that questions of censorship arise when speech is regulated (roughly), so regulation of the sale of tobacco, e.g., doesn’t raise questions of censorship.

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Collin Street 03.27.14 at 10:14 pm

one of the best in the word in this aspect

Yes yes yes. But what are the costs? If freedom-of-speech were also free of consequences, it would be worthless, no?

[you might think that the benefits of freedom-of-speech outweigh the costs. But the costs are very real and can't be ignored entirely: obviously, an insistence on discussing freedom-of-speech without any regard to any other freedoms people might/should have is not going to show up most of the costs and is not productive.]

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Manta 03.27.14 at 10:18 pm

Collin: I did not understand your question: do you agree that the laws and customs in US regarding freedom of speech are better than most existing alternatives (including the hypothetical costs to other people)?
If not, which one you support?

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roy belmont 03.27.14 at 10:18 pm

mdc 03.27.14 at 1:08 pm:

The positive aspects in your illustration are secondary effects, following a primary change in the social context.
I’d be more than willing to take on an explication/criticism of that as well, because I don’t think simply because some act has a sometimes beneficial result it gets an automatic pass, but what you’re replying to was me replying to an assertion that “shaming” was an effective alternative to regulation of hate speech. Not an adjunct bolstering, confirming, but a go-to alternative to regulation.
And that’s what’s hideous, and super-dangerous, because it empowers something that’s a lot less visible, and a lot less ethically clear when it is visible, than just nice people not liking not-nice people, and letting them know that.
The same water-cooler awkwardness was delivered to countless other, other side of the coin, statements, before that use you approve of.
Someone says, in say 1964: “Well, what’s wrong with a Negro marrying someone white, if they love each other?” and there’s discreet coughing, change of subject, and a reputational mark applied to the speaker.
There’s nothing in the general act of social ostracism that moves inevitably toward enlightened behavior, and lot that goes, potentially,the other way.
It’s not _____ if we do it, cause we’re the good guys. And what the good guys do is always right. The nucleus of danger, there.

220

Manta 03.27.14 at 10:25 pm

““shaming” was an effective alternative to regulation of hate speech. Not an adjunct bolstering, confirming, but a go-to alternative to regulation.
And that’s what’s hideous, and super-dangerous,”

Uhm: with the sanction of the law comes also the shaming.
I mean: the alternative is not between shaming OR legal sanction, it’s between shaming OR (legal sanctions AND shaming).

221

Matt 03.27.14 at 10:49 pm

“Manners are the analogue 0f morality”, a wise man once said.

222

GiT 03.27.14 at 10:53 pm

“GiT: so if they passed a law imposed special packages for communists publication you would not deem it censorship”

I’d think the law was inane. I don’t see how it would be censorship, considering that it would have no meaningful material effect on my ability to consume, produce, or disseminate communist literature. (Oh no, my little red book must be sold in a little red bag!).

The issue there is more a matter of government speech, not censorship. Distinguishing commie literature doesn’t censor it. The process of distinguishing could be instrumental for engaging in real persecution and censorship, but how does the act of categorization itself impede expression? (*rhetorical question, I answer it a couple paras down)

I might think that the state ought not speak about certain things, like what is or isn’t morally legitimate political speech, but the state speaking about what it considers to be good and bad forms of speech is only tenuously censorship of that speech. Tacking “Obama disagrees!” on every copy of the Manifesto is chiefly an example of an overreach of state speech, not state censorship. I think the distinction is important.

I guess there is a case to be made that no such act of categorization is devoid of content, and hence such categorization is not immaterial with respect to content. Thus categorization necessarily precludes the expression of some set of expressive content minus the content imparted by its categorization as a set. But this seems to me to get pretty tortured, and would in any case need to be qualified as pertaining to only those contexts in which categorization has been required.

Yes, technically, mandatory classification necessarily forecloses the possibility of speech that has not been qualified as either in or out of that classification for those contexts in which classification is mandated. The problem is to go from that to, therefore, there should never be any categorization and ergo regulation of any speech because the necessary act of classification is always already an act of censorship strikes me as getting into sophistry territory. Very clever speechifying for the assembly (Thrasymachus and Gorgias would be proud) but, really? It proves too much.

Regulating place of sale, or exceptional taxation of sale, would impede expression . And does impede expression, and could rise to the level of censorship. But zoning laws for adult entertainment, for example, don’t appear to have had much of a meaningful effect on the expression of adult content.

If adult content is considered to be “censored” in the US, it’s censorship of a kind that has a pretty minimal effect on my ability to be exposed to expressions of adult content. Internet and satellite TV aside, 30 minutes on the bus and I can find as much adult dancing and porn as I’d care to have, of pretty much any variety not produced by criminal methods. And in the privacy of my own home, so long as I’m actually being private (and with the aforementioned criminal limits), anything goes.

Regulatory hurdles for sale of anything increase costs and delays in engaging in sale, and yet regulation of sale is not prohibition of sale. Any regulatory regime can be raised to the level of de facto prohibition, and yet that does not make every regulatory regime prohibitory. Analagously, when it comes to the sale of expression and the prohibition of speech, not every regulatory regime is censoring. Rather, there is a distinction between, say, censoring/prohibiting, chilling, and plain regulating.

Does “free speech” mean every public and public accommodating venue must everywhere and always be open to any variety of expression? If not, then it seems we’re in “haggling over price” territory. What’s the case for never haggling over the price here – the case for the “free speech absolutist”?

I think having some arrangement of sometimes somewhere, sometimes everywhere, or somewhere everytime is compatible with a society which has seriously protected free expression. Always everywhere seems to me to be overreach on behalf of free speech. The public ought to have the capacity to exercise some qualification of the when and where of expression in spaces which concern it, and further it ought to be able to do so in a fashion that is not always content neutral. It ought not censor, as well, but I see these two “oughts” as compatible, not mutually exclusive.

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GiT 03.27.14 at 11:09 pm

“it seems not at all plausible that the regulation in these cases is of speech. Whereas if you’re talking about regulating displays of nude (or partially nude) images—which is what the regulation of lad mags is about—then it’s at least somewhat more plausible to suggest that the regulation is of speech. At least, there’s a plenty of precedent for treating this sort of thing as a speech/expression issue”

Such regulations compel, and prohibit, particular sets of expressions. Particularly they prohibit the expression of particular things without particular qualifications. If I want to sell tobacco, I cannot express things about tobacco without also expressing the qualification that they have been categorized by the surgeon general as yadda yadda yadda. This clearly prohibits particular expressions in a specific context. What if I want my sale of tobacco products to *not* express the fact that they have been classified as such and such by so and so? Tough shit, I’ve been censored.

Of course, covering up a lad mag does “censor” something, insofar that in a particular situation, part of the content of the lad mag is not immediately publicly accessible. This merely means that the content of the lad mag is not always everywhere accessible. Locally, yes, it has been “censored”. Does that add up to censorship in any larger sense, in a world where that particular content is always accessible somewhere, and somewhere accessible always, for not de minimis definitions of somewhere? If you want to make a mockery of the word censorship, I guess so.

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GiT 03.27.14 at 11:13 pm

“the alternative is not between shaming OR legal sanction, it’s between shaming OR (legal sanctions AND shaming).”

OR legal sanctions AND NOT shaming.

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js. 03.27.14 at 11:22 pm

Oh, I didn’t mean to say that it was or necessarily would be censorship in a meaningful sense–I was being a bit cagey because I frankly don’t have a strong opinion on the matter. But I think I mostly agree with your 222, though I also think you might be underplaying the importance of visibility issues (both literally and metaphorically). E.g., “free speech zones” do seem to me affect exercise of speech rights even though they don’t involve an outright ban on expression. Mutatis mutandis, etc.

226

Jacob McM 03.28.14 at 12:11 am

For the sake of clarification:

1. geo@201 is correct.

2. Wade marshals evidence that human evolution has been “recent, copious, and regional” and explicitly states that “brain genes do not lie in some special category exempt from natural selection. They are as much under evolutionary pressure as any other category of gene.” This is the same line taken by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending in ‘The 10,000 Year Explosion’, in which they argued that agriculture and civilization accelerated human evolution. This accords with what we know about the speed at which evolution can take place: a Russian scientist bred tame foxes in just 40 years — ten generations — by selecting for the proper traits. Wade also seems to accept Cochran’s hypothesis about Ashkenazi intelligence: Cochran argued that since Ashkenazi Jews occupied mentally intensive such as money-lending during the Middle Ages, over the centuries this selected for higher intelligence as the more accomplished Jews had more children.

Intelligence is only one of the differences Wade discusses. His arguments go much further than that and are, IMO, more dangerous as a result. He claims that other socially significant personality traits manifest themselves with different frequencies among difference populations, such as work ethic, impulse control, tribalism, etc. He also suggests that “national character” is genetic.

Some examples he gives: he attributes the failure of liberal democracy to take root in places like Afghanistan to the cousin-marrying, tribalistic culture of the latter, which genetically disposes them to have difficulty trusting others beyond their kin and tribesmen. They have not yet evolved the level of public trust necessary for liberal democracy to properly function.

Another one: he attributes Chinese economic dominance in Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, etc. to genetics. The SE Asians are not genetically capable of copying the habits that make the Chinese successful.

Another: the Chinese have been selected over the centuries, through their meritocratic test-taking culture, for traits such as conformity and rote memorization. He claims that this is the reason the Chinese did not show anywhere near the same interest in exploration and scientific innovation that Europeans did, and thus predicts that Europeans will maintain their creative lead over the Northeast Asians.

3. Gregory Clark’s latest needs to be read of a piece with his previous book ‘A Farewell to Alms’. There he made the case that in the centuries leading up to the Industrial Revolution, the British evolved the traits necessary for a successful capitalist society, such as self-restraint, future time preference, an inclination to save, etc. He suggests that these traits spread through the British population via downward mobility: the rich were more likely to have these traits, and in the age before modern medicine and welfare, the rich were morely to leave progeny than the poor. Gradually, the poor were erased from the gene pool and replaced by the downwardly mobile children of the rich. In other words, a naturally occuring eugenics program.

Clark never states this openly, but the implicit message of his book is that British success is due to changes that were effected in its gene pool over centuries. IF he’s correct, then the logical conclusion is that tampering too much with that gene pool, or drastically changing the demographics of Britain through mass immigration, carries lots of risks for Britain’s future. Some of his readers have certainly taken that interpretation.

It’s worth noting that one of the few specific policy proposals made by both Clark and Wade is an end to financial aid to the Third World.

4. Wade is difficult to dismiss as a crank as not only has he been the NY Times sciene reporter, but his previous books have been praised and promoted by mainstream academics like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. It’s much harder to label him as a far right ideologue like J. Philippe Rushton or Richard Lynn. The only other recent attempt to revive race as a biological reality was the book ‘Race: The Reality of Human Differences’ by Vincent Sarich (a respected anthropologist) and Frank Miele (the senior editor at Skeptic magazine), neither of whom have Wade’s cachet.

5. I laid out the information above and in my previous posts to demonstrate why the usual offered nostrums of “treating people as individuals” and not basing equal rights on biological equality are…inadequate when it comes to profound group differences. I think people who propose those solutions have not fully thought out the implications of this science and what the likely responses of the public are going to be. This is especially true in countries like the U.S., Britain, and France, which have large visible minority populations.

6. I post this here because I trust the commentators on this site are responsible enough to handle this information in a mature fashion. I don’t think the same of the general public. faustusnotes@191 makes a good point that racists will always believe what they want, but the danger of this science is that it could influence lots of people who are not racists. Like it or not, science has obtained the status of a neutral arbiter in partisan discussions. In some circles, it holds the same authority that religion once did.

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Jacob McM 03.28.14 at 12:11 am

I’m also not sure how much this information can be kept secret in the Internet age. I’ll give you one example from earlier this year:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/technology/jamiebartlett/100012093/meet-the-dark-enlightenment-sophisticated-neo-fascism-thats-spreading-fast-on-the-net/

Take a look at the comment section.

Better to be on one’s guard than to be caught unsuspectingly. So…yes, this brings us back to the OP.

228

faustusnotes 03.28.14 at 12:16 am

So basically it’s another book talking about racial stereotypes that doesn’t mention colonialism? Well and good then.

229

David 03.28.14 at 12:18 am

@226 Those theses sound like something from the 1880’s.

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mittelwerk 03.28.14 at 12:24 am

“And if it means we don’t discuss 3, so be it. Let someone else or some other thread discuss it. B/c it seems to present too enticing and alluring an opportunity for some to engage in the real discussion they want to be having: namely, are black people as smart as white people? And that’s not a discussion for this thread or, frankly, this blog.”

from corey robin, the red-herring machine

seems to me this exactly what the thread is supposed to be about — the “left’s” increasing propensity to shut out the unpleasantness, which, in real terms, is coming and is going to come overwhelmingly from the direction of the biological sciences (with a hat tip to anti-jewsh-settler-statism, of course). the official response should be clear from this thread itself: preemptive attacks on the science qualified by the admission that the attacker “doesn’t really know shit” about the science; preemptive weak-tea diffusion of any unpleasant findings; strident projection that, by god, we will not openly discuss racism with racists, nor statistics, nor statistical inferences.

of course (what remains of) the modern left is so fundamentally premised on hypocrisy that it doesn’t notice the antithetical positions re taboo-violation that it’s contorted into: to wit, in the hysterical ucsb sign attack, it sides with science to violate the (religious-humanistic) taboo on murder; in anything racial, it sides with the purely theoretical humanist tradition to defame science.

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faustusnotes 03.28.14 at 12:30 am

you got all that from a discussion about hypothetical discussion of a book that hasn’t been published yet?

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David 03.28.14 at 12:31 am

“in anything racial, it sides with the purely theoretical humanist tradition to defame science”

In the magical world of the Dark Enlightenment, disputing the findings of a book that goes against the established scientific consensus is akin to silencing of racist Galileo.

233

tenzing 03.28.14 at 12:36 am

Why hasn’t the left embraced my research into the phrenelogical aspects of orgone energy travelling through the aether?

Rampant political correctness, that’s why.

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Bruce Baugh 03.28.14 at 12:38 am

Tenzing, ordinarily I’d say that the problem is that your research isn’t sexy enough. In this case, though….

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David 03.28.14 at 12:39 am

Let’s get Welteislehre its proper place in the history books before we worry about phrenology. Priorites.

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mittelwerk 03.28.14 at 12:41 am

perhaps it’s time to have the anti-science “talk” with little Olibel …

237

Bruce Baugh 03.28.14 at 12:45 am

“When a theorem loves a data set very much…”

238

GiT 03.28.14 at 12:49 am

“Oh, I didn’t mean to say that it was or necessarily would be censorship in a meaningful sense–I was being a bit cagey because I frankly don’t have a strong opinion on the matter. But I think I mostly agree with your 222, though I also think you might be underplaying the importance of visibility issues (both literally and metaphorically). E.g., “free speech zones” do seem to me affect exercise of speech rights even though they don’t involve an outright ban on expression. Mutatis mutandis, etc.”

Sure, we can distinguish between the quality of regimes of “sometimes, somewhere” but I don’t see why one should accept that the public has no right to regulate speech in public contexts whatsoever, or else “Censorship!” The trick is the sort of surface level paradox in that one can “censor” without “Censoring” and “ban” without “Banning” brought about by equivocating between the local and the global situation. That’s what my initial ‘is it really censorship’ was evoking.

No sex in the champagne room is not a Ban on sex; no uncovered lad mags in the Tesco is not Censorship of uncovered lad mags.

239

roy belmont 03.28.14 at 1:05 am

Manta 03.27.14 at 10:25 pm, see:
Alot of what counts as “hate speech” has been most effectively stifled by public shaming.
by Matt 03.26.14 at 3:07 pm.
Or Matt, see Manta, either way.

It’s a few timid steps, and a few contextual clicks, from spontaneous public shaming to ad-hoc public stoning, formerly a most effective means of curbing adulterous behavior in wanton wives etc.
Distributed fascism. Because we are right, and we are many.

Wouldn’t Amy Chua, or her fans, have something to contribute to this discussion? Taboo-breaking acknowledgment of racial superiority is not “racism” because … because it’s true, darn it, it’s not irrational fatuous bigotry, it’s just true.
And where does “austerity” function as a motivational boost to the rational and appropriate exclusion of a given, provably genetically-limited, unter-people?

Or could it be that human beings are far more complex and less easily evaluated than in given structures like the current economy and its institutions?
That a few hundred millennia of survival-proven attributes shouldn’t be discarded wholesale because in the present, artificial and very tenuous, situation they aren’t as useful as what it takes to make it to the top of the money-pile.

240

mittelwerk 03.28.14 at 1:15 am

but that’s what the bio-diversitists — oops i mean racists, sorry corey! — have been saying, that (in a completely unrealizable world) a reality-based social policy could replace outmoded and phantasmically corrupted crypto=machiavellianism as the status-quo “liberal” policy regime!

241

David 03.28.14 at 1:20 am

“but that’s what the bio-diversitists — oops i mean racists, sorry corey! — have been saying, that (in a completely unrealizable world) a reality-based social policy could replace outmoded and phantasmically corrupted crypto=machiavellianism as the status-quo “liberal” policy regime!”

All to stave off the Angry White Males (t) that they are doing their best to rile up.

242

js. 03.28.14 at 1:25 am

Orgone Man’s got himself a joker sidekick. Fucking brilliant.

243

mittelwerk 03.28.14 at 1:47 am

i guess this thread’s beat. you probably off organizing a boycott of waves audio and halvah

244

musical mountaineer 03.28.14 at 2:18 am

244? This thread’s over. Thanks for trying, Manta.

245

William Berry 03.28.14 at 2:22 am

David @174: “Racial egalitarianism is no more based on the “equality” of different races than classical liberalism is based on the literal equality of every human being.”

Thanks for that. I’m stealing it at once, and without apology!

This is just the formulation that gets past those inane and interminable “Factor G” discussions that white racists love to drone on about. (Coama Shalizi is good but very tough if you’re not a statistician.)

246

William Berry 03.28.14 at 2:26 am

Well, to be clear, and on reflection, the formulation does allow for variation in intelligence across “racial groups” by implicitly recognizing the concept of “race”, so it is still sort of stuck in that whole can of worms. But it is still a pretty good “just STFU already” kind of comeback.

247

mittelwerk 03.28.14 at 2:27 am

i guess some human beings are more perfectible than others. does this mean that the coming dictatorship of the adjunct professoriate will be universal yet not homogenous? hurry please so i can exhale

248

musical mountaineer 03.28.14 at 2:29 am

‘David @174: “Racial egalitarianism is no more based on the “equality” of different races than classical liberalism is based on the literal equality of every human being.”

Thanks for that. I’m stealing it at once, and without apology!’

Well, William, since you’re here and in case David is reading, I can only second and third that sentiment, if possible.

249

musical mountaineer 03.28.14 at 2:33 am

“more perfectible”

Examine that.

250

Jacob McM 03.28.14 at 2:39 am

…But I explained above why “Racial egalitarianism is no more based on the “equality” of different races than classical liberalism is based on the literal equality of every human being” isn’t a satisfactory response should this science turn out to be correct. The ramifications will go well beyond that.

This response @185 to my remark that classical liberal developed within the context of a racially homogeneous order was also flat out bizarre:

“The Netherlands in the 17th century was not racially homogeneous. Sephardic refugees, Portuguese merchants, Frisian farmers (no, they are not Dutch: look up Pier Gerlofs Donia), Catholics and Protestants all lived together. “

With the *possible* exception of Sephardic Jews — and even they often look phenotypically similar to Europeans — all of these groups belonged to the same race. Since when do Catholic and Protestant refer to different races?

251

Corey Robin 03.28.14 at 3:13 am

This post wasn’t about whether and under what conditions the Left should support censorship, and it sure as shit wasn’t about whether certain kinds of research about race and IQ are racist, and if they are racist, whether they should be discussed, debated, censored, whatever. It was a post about a historical impression or observation: namely, that the left no longer engages in the kinds of systemic critiques of free speech that it used to. It wasn’t making any kind of normative evaluation or recommendation about what the left should do; it was asking a question about whether there has been a change or not.

So please stick to that topic.

252

Lew Dog 03.28.14 at 6:09 am

Thanks Quiggin, for the eloquent defense of a nonsensical policy by an obvious hypocrite. The people I favor censoring are all morons and trolls too. That sure was easy.

253

John Quiggin 03.28.14 at 6:54 am

No problem. The CT police will be around shortly to confiscate your computer.

254

bad Jim 03.28.14 at 6:58 am

I’m a left coast left wing liberal, and it was made clear to me in college (Berkeley) that I wasn’t a leftist because I wasn’t a Marxist. It’s my impression that the folks here are more liberal than leftist, at least under that restriction, so we may be the wrong people to ask. The evidence presented here that we’re all too willing to dive into the cesspool of questions of race and intelligence rather suggests that we’re on the side of debate rather than censorship.

Even if we were credentialed members of the left and favored shutting down certain lines of investigation or debate, we have no way to do that. Even we far more numerous liberals, intrinsically disinclined to do so, are typically so distant from the levers of power that we can’t.

In some matters of public policy, like climate change or vaccination, we’d certainly like to laugh the deniers off the stage and consign them to the lunatic fringes. In others, like gay marriage or contraception, we want to overwhelm the opposition with our numbers, since we’ve already won the battle for public opinion.

255

mdc 03.28.14 at 12:40 pm

“Distributed fascism”

Whoah. Every culture and every subculture includes notions of the shameful. You yourself think certain things are shameful, and others who interact with you can tell (that’s the public part). As far as I know, you are no sort of fascist.

Manners aren’t necessarily conducive to morality, but there’s no getting rid of manners as such, so why not be pleased when they do promote better conduct?

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MPAVictoria 03.28.14 at 1:20 pm

I see roy is trolling again. He spends all of his time being concerned with the feelings of the perpetrators that he has not time left over for the feelings of the victims.

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Manta 03.28.14 at 1:31 pm

I have a slightly different take, mdc: shame is the way the village enforce its norms without resorting to violence.

Contra roy it’s NOT “a few timid steps, and a few contextual clicks, from spontaneous public shaming to ad-hoc public stoning”: the whole point of shaming is to avoid violence and prevarication.
Vice versa, it IS a few timid steps from law to stoning: the force of law comes precisely from the very concrete threat of violence.

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Bruce Baugh 03.28.14 at 1:53 pm

Manta: I’m inclined to agree with the distinction you make. Or at least I’m very willing to agree that focusing on social consequences can lead away from violence, particularly if those doing it know that they want to do so. And I really like it when it happens that way. :)

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Donald Johnson 03.28.14 at 3:16 pm

I think the racial distraction in this thread illustrates one way in which the left could be incorrectly accused of censorship. Someone comes along and in a tone of sweet reasonableness, claims that “science” supports views on race that are similar to those of white South Carolinians circa 1860, and that we need to be mature and discuss the policy implications, which include, it seems, possibly cutting all foreign aid to countries populated by people who marry their cousins and other genetically inferior types, who live in the region population geneticists have apparently dubbed “The Third World”. How does “the left” react? Lefties who happen to have some expertise in the relevant area and who manage to keep their tempers will react by pointing out weaknesses in the position that, we are told without any qualification, “science” supports. The rest of us will express varying levels of anger, disgust, and contempt at what looks like concern trolling.

The result is that the advocate of the racist views can wave the banner of John Stuart Mill simply by adopting a civil tone while making outrageous claims, while those who react with outrage are portrayed as politically correct lefties waving the banner of Lysenko and Stalin.

If on top of the outrage someone actually does propose censorship, that’s just gravy. The “politically correct censoring lefty” label doesn’t need actual censorship in order to stick.

Which is not to say that Freddy is wrong. I don’t know. But I can see where the problem of lefty censorship could easily be exaggerated.

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bianca steele 03.28.14 at 3:26 pm

My experience is more like Bad Jim’s, I think. It’s odd because some of the people here who call themselves “left” seem farther to the right than I would consider a “centrist-liberal” to be (that may be the Marxist influence?). And no one’s mentioned identity politics yet; in my adult lifetime, the left in most places seems to be a conglomeration of issues and not a political or specifically economic ideology. Being on the left means taking the leftmost position on all those issues.

There’s also the idea of “too much sociology”. You tell a high school kid about Bourdieu, and emphasize his conservatism, and suddenly they’re acting (or some subset of them are) like the mandatory national ideology is ultramontanism, so they can be a leftist by simply opposing that. IMHO. And that’s an exaggeration, of course.

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Bruce Baugh 03.28.14 at 3:53 pm

It occurs to me that I’m carrying another bit of familial bias in the form of Mom’s dictum that there are some things you can’t say nicely. I’ve had a bias in favor of substance since childhood, apparently – I think that if you say that someone looking for help controlling tumor growth is an oversexed slut, or that someone is necessarily your intellectual inferior because of their melanin level, or whatever, you’ve already lost the “let’s be nice and calm” ground.

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bianca steele 03.28.14 at 3:54 pm

Moderation? Was it “ultramonanism” that did it? I actually like sociology, really I do.

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William Timberman 03.28.14 at 4:08 pm

Having taken part in some of those battles in the Sixties, pretty much on the side of the Millians, as you call them, I’d really, really like to think that the American left has abandoned its contempt for this particular bourgeois freedom. Right-wing demagoguery about race, class and gender is annoying, yes, and it can be downright scary when there’s enough money driving it. Here in AZ, for example, I sometimes find myself standing in the supermarket line behind some belligerent moron with a smirk on his face and a Glock on his hip. On those occasions, I admit that I entertain fantasies of a watchful and fastidious government deporting the entire staff of the National Rifle Association, with or without their chosen fetish objects, to someplace like Somalia.

Yeah, well…. Critiques of the nefarious uses to which free speech can be put in the hands of the usual hegemonists are one thing, deciding who’s going to run the Department of Propriety, Even-handedness, and Right Thinking is another. Not everyone on the left has gotten the message, especially in Europe, which has always been somewhat contemptuous of absolutist American views on the subject of free speech — British libel laws, German legal shrines to a certain delicacy about the recent past, etc. In America, though, the homeland of oppo research, professional character assassination, and a government which seem to think its responsibilities include knowing everything about everybody, I wouldn’t mind at all if the left put a sock in some of its more egregious analyses of bourgeois hypocrisy.

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Manta 03.28.14 at 4:32 pm

Come on, Donald, Jacob McM is deranged (o a bad troll):
” I post this here because I trust the commentators on this site are responsible enough to handle this information in a mature fashion.”

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bianca steele 03.28.14 at 4:41 pm

My reaction to this–will react by pointing out weaknesses in the position–by Donald Johnson is that to react that way is a mistake. It only draws attention to the “sweet[ly] reasonable” claims and makes them appear to be a serious argument that’s worthy of serious consideration.

That said, @226.3 is pernicious. It isn’t science. It’s speculation based on the idea that what he’s thinking about is “sciency,” and that the first thing that comes into his head is a theory worthy of consideration.

Anyone who’s spent five minutes with SimCity or a similar game will know the guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. What is the point of considering him seriously enough to point out his weaknesses? The only possible answers are, “No, you’re wrong,” and “Well, you’re right insofar as change does happen, lets list out some of the factors and and some of the possible ways they could fit together.” And what’s the point of the latter–unless you also believe that the first thing that comes into your head is a theory worthy of consideration?

To say he doesn’t know what he’s talking about and you don’t want to discuss it further isn’t censorship. What would be censorship is refusing to countenance an answer to certain persons that began, “No, he’s wrong, and here’s why: . . . ,” where the reasons given were internal to science and the reasons for censoring had to do with politics.

If Wade’s argument amounts to, “Current distributions of test scores display racial disparities, therefore there are innate differences of ability between races, which are real,” there’s no scientific reason to take him seriously.

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Ronan(rf) 03.28.14 at 4:43 pm

The initial argument by FDB was, to my mind, banal and too generalised. Is there really something called the ‘social justice left’? Different groups have different norms etc If you find yourself in a group continually shouting you down and that you feel don’t engage your arguments, then leave them and join another. It’s not hard.

The larger point about genes and IQ is interesting though, I think. Unfortunately Jacob is so deeply affected by the parochialism of US politics that he’s missed the bigger point. Clarks’ book *is not* a paen to race based theories of IQ. He rejects the contention outright (as is obvious from the bit I clipped above.) He’s speaking about social mobility within countries (generally racially/ethnically homogeneous afaict). When his case study is racially heterogeneous he finds that mobility between ‘racial groups’ is quite fluid. (afaik) So Jacob is completely ignorant of his sources here.

The surname rule that Clark runs with is interesting to my mind, because this argument makes some sense where I come from ( some surnames *do* disproportionately show up in specific socio-economic categories, there *is* something of a correlation between specific surnames and long term wealth) So that should be of interest to the left. (if they care about ‘social mobility’) My very ignorant, very caveated perspective would have been that the reasons for this are generally enviornmental (family economic resources, social networks, parenting resources etc explain it) But that’s only because I’m even more ignorant of the genetic arguments. Afaict though, any serious explanation is going to have to deal seriously with the arguments of biologists and geneticists. *

That’s my impression anyway, as a layperson. The racial arguments laid out above are obviously idiotic, with a conception of race that is very US centric (for US circa 1950 I’d assume)
The larger question of IQ and intelligence is important though, is it not ? (i know this topic is over, feel free to delete if needs be)

* bear in mind I’m sure these ‘conversations’ have been had and that Ive missed them.

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TM 03.28.14 at 5:41 pm

WT 263: Thanks for letting us know that the left is always to blame for everything! The British libel laws were hardly invented and certainly not supported by the left (ever heard of McLibel?). The German case is more complicated but again these laws were not primarily pushed by the left. And while many Americans may have “absolutist views” on free speech, reality is far less absolutist. It is doubtful whether the factual hurdles to unpopular speech are on balance lower in the US than in most of Europe, in reality it is more that the line is drawn differently but there are definite lines (e. g. think of ag-gag laws).

Darn, I broke my promise. I just can’t help trying to inject some common sense into a hopeless thread that is getting more bizarre by the day. Sorry.

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Dr. Hilarius 03.28.14 at 5:56 pm

The comments on this thread can’t answer Cory Robin’s question about whether left-wing antagonism toward free speech has diminished over the past several decades, but some clearly show that tendency hasn’t disappeared.

David at 138: You read too much into my comment. Nowhere did I state or imply that politics is a parlor game or that issues are to be settled by gentle debate. Your snide comment about being grown up reminds me of attitudes I endured as a youthful member of a radical defense collective during criticism/self criticism sessions. It’s the same self-righteous (“my political analysis style is unbeatable”) tough-guy mentality held in common by many on the far right. If you ever wonder why the left is so marginalized in the US, glance in the mirror for part of the answer.

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William Timberman 03.28.14 at 6:09 pm

TM @ 267

Either you’ve misread, or I’ve been guilty of abbreviating too much of my reasoning, probably the latter. There were two ideas driving the passage you object to, which, at the time, I didn’t think needed unpacking. The first is that Europeans in general have rarely shared the intensity of American concerns about free speech — largely for historical reasons which admittedly have little to do with the left specifically. The second is that the European left reflects European values in this regard more than it does American ones, which shouldn’t be all that surprising even without the echoes of Marxist/Leninist theory, which in my view remain more broadly a part of the relevant discourse there than they ever were in the U.S.

As for ag-gag laws and suchlike, they don’t seem to have much to do with the left’s past and present ambivalences about free speech which are at issue here. (See the OP author’s reminder @ 251.)

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TM 03.28.14 at 6:16 pm

Well you packed the European left’s attitude towards free speech into the same sentence with British libel laws. I see your point on strictly grammatical grounds but then why even mention the libel laws (and chide me for mentioning ag-gag laws).

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William Timberman 03.28.14 at 6:53 pm

TM @ 270

I wasn’t chiding, not intentionally, anyway. Maybe a one sentence quote from the Marcuse essay cited in the OP might help clarify the issue as I see it:

In the firmly established liberal society of England and the United States, freedom of speech and assembly was granted even to the radical enemies of society, provided they did not make the transition from word to deed, from speech to action.

This is the core of the left’s –the Marxist left’s at any rate — traditional ambivalence about the liberal guarantee of free speech. In a one-dimensional society, where the hegemony of certain ideas is presumed, and, if necessary, maintained by a gamut of measures from propaganda to force, freedom of speech becomes a less essential freedom than its liberal defenders would have us believe. That’s the claim.

I’ve never bought that claim entirely. Freedom of speech — in the abstract, at any rate — seems a good thing, in that even in parlous times, it tends to preserve the diversity of ideas. Revolutionaries, on the other hand, should hardly expect a state to protect them as they go about trying to forcibly dismantle it, no matter how great the perceived need. Flip the card over, and you encounter this: if you can’t persuade abortion providers that justice requires them to close up shop, blowing up their clinics is a regrettable necessity. I ask you, are we talking universal principles here, or whose-ox-is-being-gored?

In the past some on the left have hand-waved this sort of contradiction away. Maybe atrocities like the ad-gag laws you mention have indirectly contributed to a rethink of positions like Marcuse’s. In that context, you may have a point, but I still don’t think it’s the central one.

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SamChevre 03.28.14 at 7:01 pm

RE: ag-gag laws

To the extent I’m familiar with them, “ag-gag” laws don’t penalize speech–they penalize crimes (trespass, fraudulent misrepresentation) that either aren’t particularly speech-related or are types of speech (perjury, intentional fraud) that have never been protected by any legal system.

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Donald Johnson 03.28.14 at 7:15 pm

“will react by pointing out weaknesses in the position–by Donald Johnson is that to react that way is a mistake. It only draws attention to the “sweet[ly] reasonable” claims and makes them appear to be a serious argument that’s worthy of serious consideration.”

Someone with relevant expertise could point out the weaknesses and express contempt at the same time. This happens all the time in the creation/evolution pseudo-debates, where a scientist will go into detail about what is wrong with this or that creationist argument, and then express disgust over the intellectual dishonesty.

But anyway, in keeping with what this thread is supposed to be about, I was suggesting that when the left is accused of “censorship”, at least part of the time what people are really talking about istone of voice. Some people put a lot of stock in “civility”. Lefties get openly angry at people like Charles Murray when they claim that “science” demonstrates that blacks are stupid. I’m not suggesting we should change our tone of voice–in fact, I think I let a certain amount of disgust creep into my earlier post.

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TM 03.28.14 at 7:47 pm

272, that’s bogus. If this were about trespass or perjury, they wouldn’t need new laws. What is criminalized is not the trespass but the dissemination of pictures and recordings taken without permission of the facility owner. That is clearly speech related.

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Bruce Baugh 03.28.14 at 7:49 pm

Ronan, about surnames: I’ve seen good discussion of studies about the impact of different kinds of surname on things like hiring out of a pool of equally qualified applicants in recent years, and all of this discussion has been among people who are liberal to left. I only ever see right-wingers drop in to insist that there’s no such discrimination and, often in the next paragraph or the same one, it’s a very sensible discrimination since you know how those people always turn out anyway.

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TM 03.28.14 at 7:56 pm

DJ 273: There was a newspaper cartoon depicting a generic Tea Partier as the guy who speaks up in Rockwell’s “Freedom of Speech” painting, and there is a bubble coming from the left reading “racist”. The implication is clearly that harsh criticism (or really any criticism) of right-wing propaganda amounts to suppression of speech. It is totally lost in that logic – which is deeply entrenched not just on the right but in much of the mainstream – that the criticism itself is an expression of free speech, no less protected than the Tea Partiers’.

But here we are, arguing, in a leftist-liberal forum, apparently totally seriously, to what extent (sic!) the view of the world expressed in that nonsense cartoon is true. And I really shouldn’t be writing this because it’s hopeless and nothing good can come from it. Have a nice weekend y’all.

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SamChevre 03.28.14 at 8:01 pm

TM @ 274

I’m not aware of any laws that prohibit the dissemination of anything; the prohibition is always on the crimes committed in the production process. I’d be happy for a pointer to a law that prohibits dissemination, and I’ll agree I was wrong if you have one.

These laws, generally, are in the same category as hate crime/stalking legislation; nothing is criminal that was not previously criminal.

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TM 03.28.14 at 8:42 pm

Ok from a brief internet search, it seems that the dissemination is not in particular criminalized but the recording is. Obviously there can be no dissemination without recording. Interesting also that the ALEC model bill has the language: “entering an animal or research facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera, or other means with the intent to commit criminal activities or (sic!) defame the facility or its owner”

So the intent (sic!) to speak badly of the facility is a specific trigger of criminal sanctions.

You may disagree but I’m not alone in my characterization of these laws as infringing on free speech, as well as other fundamental rights:

“These bills represent a wholesale assault on many fundamental values shared by all people across the United States. Not only would these bills perpetuate animal abuse on industrial farms, they would also threaten workers’ rights, consumer health and safety, law enforcement investigations and the freedom of journalists, employees and the public at large to share information about something as fundamental as our food supply.” (ACLU et al.)

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TM 03.28.14 at 9:33 pm

Regarding the myth of “free speech absolutism” in the US, for those interested in these matters, I would also point out that in a number of “eco-terrorism” prosecutions – successful prosecutions with serious jail time -, mere speech in the absence of any physical contact was found to constitute the crime of terrorism, for example the publication of the names and addresses of certain individuals (see http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/). Such incidents also exist in islamic terrorism cases (remember Lynne Stewart). Happy week-end.

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GiT 03.29.14 at 7:52 am

“But anyway, in keeping with what this thread is supposed to be about, I was suggesting that when the left is accused of “censorship”, at least part of the time what people are really talking about istone of voice”

What I find amusing about tone policing thing is that tone policing, which dismisses arguments because they are rhetorically demeaning and vulgar, commits the ad hominem fallacy, while poor tone alone, though it involves going “to-the-man,” does not itself do so in a way that is fallacious.

“You’re wrong because you’re mean” is a fallacy. “You’re wrong, you idiot,” is just a couple claims of fact. An amusing irony, to me at least.

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Ronan(rf) 03.30.14 at 5:08 am

Bruce @275 – I hear ya, and don’t doubt that aspect of it. I’ve seen similar studies(though about race in the US – also I remember a friend telling me (which surprised me at the time) back in 2002 or so, when she was working in HR, that it was legal to *officially* refuse someone a job because of their address. This was afaicr and has probably been changed since)
I think Clark’s point was that if it takes 10-15 generations for the wealth of ‘low and high status families’ to regress to the mean (or whatever the term) then more than likely it is *primarily* something else, aswell as the enviornmental factors.

Now I don’t really buy this more than 35%; or personally care as my sympathies politically are redistribute rather ‘than send everyone to grad school’. Provide a good education and then when they turn 18 give everyone 200k. Some will blow it, but who cares, give them a generous dole after.
If at Harvard they find out intelligence = X + 4 < Y -1billion (y-w+ 2244 + ; ( X : ) = yzxs – 1) then this is a reasonably interesting argument within the academy until it's disproven. In the meantime lets just give people money and stop listening to the 'scientists'.

Now, since my ideal isn't politically (or probably economically) feasible, and since everyone is obsessed with 'mobility' these days, in the meantime we should look at the whole fish – social, economic, intelligence whatever, and use 'science' to guide us (because people like using science, rather than just giving people money, houses, booze, healthcare, childcare etc)
Better to do it my way, but who's listening ?

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mittelwerk 03.30.14 at 5:58 am

less repressive tolerance, more giddy tolerance for repression. become the Left you wish to see in the world!

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roy belmont 03.30.14 at 7:11 am

mdc 03.28.14 at 12:40 pm

We’re talking past each other some. I’m not discussing “shame”, it’s the use of “shaming” as it came into the discussion. A tool for suppression of unwanted speech, that was presented as more organically effective than overt regulation. Whose dangers go pretty much unrecognized by those not experiencing them.
Feeling “shame” or “being ashamed” are not at all the same as being the target of an intentional “shaming”.
No problem with me on embarrassment or shame or any of the other emotional reactions that help us recognize and correct mistakes.
-
As to the OP, sort of tangenty but the place where free speech and censorship are operating in the present are synonymous with a still undefined landscape that people now inherit from their machines. The initial was TV-world, now it’ something else, but deeper in, not out.
It’s mediated, yeah, but it’s also where all the stories and songs and pictures of your friends and everything are. And there’s a tacit sense of ownership of that, the way people who own a television think, or rather feel, that they own what’s on that television. Not the artifact, the movie or clip, but the narrative, the sounds, the human faces and bodies, the miniaturized elements of the real, the things within the thing.
So speech, especially political or moral speech, coming out of that landscape is not like speech in previous times coming off the speaker’s podium at a town hall, or from the deck at the back of a railroad car. Or a stump. Or a soap-box.
It comes out of an entertainment machine, and people can’t tell the difference anymore,and people like to be in charge of their entertainment.
Whether this increases or decreases the urge toward censorship of unwanted or offensive speech I don’t know. But it’s definitely had an effect on how personally some people take things, even remote utterances are treated as local and immediate now. And that’s a big change.

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Consumatopia 03.31.14 at 4:20 pm

I waited a while to respond to this because it’s probably off topic. But shaming serves two vital purposes.

The easier to understand (but probably less important) purpose is social cohesion and respect. When people say hurtful and wrong things about a minority group, other people want to make clear that they don’t agree, that those hurtful things aren’t even up for consideration. There’s a lot of people out there spending a lot of mental energy coming up with reasons why some other race is inherently inferior. Those other races shouldn’t have to fear that their fundamental rights and dignity are up for debate–that if we happen to miss the exact spot in which the racist squares the circle in a long chain of deduction, we aren’t going to bring back segregation.

The second reason is that the space of potential arguments is infinite, but the time we all have to spend making and considering arguments is finite. If we have to consider every argument equally, that means that every argument is won by whoever is most willing to waste time on it. In other words, we would live in a world run by paid shills and disingenuous trolls. Life would be worse than a Wikipedia edit war. Someone up above mentioned jamming and DOS as forms of censorship. But flooding an information channel with disinformation is anti-free speech in the same way. The only resistance we have to that disinformation is for each of us to set bounds on the kind of conversation we’re willing to participate in. Moreover, we don’t need to set those boundaries in isolation from each other–if we simply ignore a argument, that could give others the impression it’s because we agree with it. Conversely, if I discuss an argument in a cold, analytic way, that might give others the impression that it’s because I think it merits a response. To avoid both of those, I might point out logical errors or immoral premises of the argument and also signal when I find those errors to be particularly bad. As finite beings trying to navigate potentially unbounded arguments, human beings are going to use the reactions of other human beings to decide how much consideration an argument should be given. Thus shaming.

You might worry that this process leads to groupthink. Sometimes it does, but done properly it should be more like the universal prior probability–not all hypotheses have the same prior probability (which would be impossible, like drawing from a uniform distribution of natural numbers) but every hypotheses has finite probability. Hopefully somebody will consider unpopular-yet-correct arguments, and if they find it makes more sense than they thought, they might convince other people close to them to consider it, and that belief would slowly move towards respectability. Theoretically you might worry about the case in which nobody considers an unpopular-yet-correct argument, or only a tiny minority does but as soon as they do they are absolutely ostracized. In practice, though, there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of socially respectable people on the Internet willing to consider otherwise politically offensive arguments. On an axis with Newspeak and groupthink on the one side, and contrarianism and trolling on the other, the Internet is far closer to the latter extreme than the former. To put that more simply, it is not a problem on the Internet that there isn’t enough space for people to say hateful things, or that not enough time is spent considering the logic of hateful arguments.

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