On liberals, the left, and free speech

by Corey Robin on April 27, 2017

When I was in college and in graduate school (so the 1980s and 1990s), the dividing line on free speech debates was, for the most part, a pretty conventional liberal/left divide. (I’m excluding the right.) That is, self-defined liberals tended to be absolutists on free speech. Self-defined leftists—from radical feminists to radical democrats to critical race theorists to Marxists—tended to be more critical of the idea of free speech.

What’s interesting about the contemporary moment, which I don’t think anyone’s really remarked upon, is that that clean divide has gotten blurry. There were always exceptions to that divide, I know: back in the 1980s and 1990s, some radical feminists were critical of the anti-free speech position within feminism; some liberals, like Cass Sunstein and Owen Fiss, were more sensitive to how power differentials in society constrained speech, and thus were more open to more regulatory approaches to speech; some Marxists were always leery of the critiques of free speech. Even so, there was a divide. That divide hasn’t now reversed, but it’s no longer the case that it maps so easily onto a simple and clear divide between liberalism and the left.

From what I see online, a lot of mainstream liberals today are far less absolutist in their defense of free speech, particularly on campuses; indeed, that absolutist position increasingly seems like the outlier among liberals. And parts of the left are now taking the more absolutist position. Once upon a time, a Jonathan Chait would denounce leftist campus critics of free speech, and it all made sense. Today, when he does that, he seems completely out to lunch: a lot of the people he’s talking about are conventional liberals just like him.

(On a related note, there was a funny moment on Twitter yesterday, when the ACLU defended Ann Coulter’s right to speak at Berkeley. Twitter liberals freaked out in surprise: the ACLU, defending Ann Coulter’s right to speak! How could that be? None of them seemed to remember or realize that once upon a time, back in the late 1970s, the ACLU defended real Nazis—as in members of the American Nazi Party—marching in Skokie, a Chicago suburb whose residents included many Holocaust survivors.)

Just so we’re clear. Nothing in this post is meant to be normative or prescriptive; I’ve tended to stay out of these debates of late, in part because they mostly don’t speak to my experience of campus free speech. Our challenge at Brooklyn College has never really been how to keep speakers off campus; it has almost always been how to get them on campus.

All I’m doing here is making a simple, and I believe non-normative empirical observation: that something new is happening on the divide between liberalism and the left over the question of free speech. Unlike the recent past, the free speech argument now cuts right across that divide. And to that extent, it takes us back to an earlier moment, in the 1930s and 1940s, when American liberals and the left were also in dialogue, and taking a mixture of cross-cutting positions, on the question of free speech.

{ 298 comments }

1

alfredlordbleep 04.27.17 at 4:46 pm

To make a distinction: back in the ’60s very prominent government officials (viz. Robert McNamara) were getting pushback on elite campuses (OK, shouted down). It was a small way of getting publicity for the anti-Vietnam war protest that never made it to mass circulation platforms. The distinction is in the asymmetry and that the hitting back was against government officials.

2

AcademicLurker 04.27.17 at 4:55 pm

The recent Ann Coulter business has been hilarious. She clearly sees that the martyrdom circuit is where it’s at these days. But she couldn’t manage to get banned by Berkeley and so resorted to essentially banning herself and hoping that no one will notice.

For the record, since every discussion among leftists about free speech turns into a dumpster fire, I predict this one will too.

3

NickS 04.27.17 at 5:31 pm

I recognize what you’re talking about. In my own personal intellectual history the two books which represented the left/liberal split that you talk about were Words That Wound (Matsuda 1993):

Whenever we decide that racist hate speech must be tolerated because
of the importance of tolerating unpopular speech, we ask Blacks and
other subordinated groups to bear a burden for the good of society —
to pay the price for the societal benefit of creating more room for
speech. … We must be careful that the ease with which we strike the
balance against the regulation of raciest speech is in no way
influenced by the fact the cost will be born by others. We must be
certain that the individuals who pay the price are fairly represented
in our deliberations and that they are heard.

And Nat Hentoff’s Free Speech For Me — But Not For Thee (1992), a defense of free speech absolutism.

4

engels 04.27.17 at 5:32 pm

That the dividing line between absolutism and regulation of free speech doesn’t coincide with the line between liberalism and socialism doesn’t seem to me to show “the free speech argument now cuts right across that divide” and “American liberals and the left [are] in dialogue, and taking a mixture of cross-cutting positions”. It seems more likely to me that that simple, surface classification of policy prescriptions only tenuously reflects the deeply contested basic issues (values, attitudes to the state, understanding of power and equality, etc) that are at stake.

5

Cassiodorus 04.27.17 at 5:43 pm

I feel the use of public funds is the tricky part here.

For private institutions, I don’t see a good reason why campuses shouldn’t be able to prohibit certain types of speakers. Perhaps my perspective is overly influenced by four-year residential institutions, but a campus is a blend of work and home. After class, you retreat to your dorm, which is still very much part of the campus community. There isn’t the same ability to compartmentalize.

6

tonycpsu 04.27.17 at 5:46 pm

If the “absolutist position” is that offensive speakers have a right to any platform they like, at any time, and that I should not use my own free speech to convince the groups hosting them to reconsider (the Friedersdorf/deBoer/Palin interpretation), then yes, there’s not much support for that among so-called mainstream progressives. Charles Murray, Ann Coulter, and Richard Spencer have no shortage of prominent places where they can have their voices heard. I as someone who works for a university have much less power than they do, but if enough people like me express ourselves, we can make it clear that our institutions need not be in the business of boosting the signal of their reprehensible views. If the tables were turned, I’d support their right to complain about my speech as well. That’s my version of absolutism, and the one that I think a lot of progressives are moving toward nowadays.

7

Omega Centauri 04.27.17 at 6:00 pm

The Coulter thing souns more like rightwing provocation to me. The University changed the date of her speech because they wanted to have a vaue that could be reasonably secured, being that recently any event which can be expected to draw a protest seems to attract anarcists, whose goal seems to be to take advantage to such situations to wreck mayhem. So the University is understanably trying to get sufficient control over controversial events so as to minimze the possibility that violent anarcists can get out of hand.

But, rather than going with the reschedule, the right decided to make it about being denied the right to speak (on the original data).

8

Ted Lemon 04.27.17 at 6:10 pm

The problem is that calling “the right to speak at a campus” free speech is a category error. In principle, every internet troll has a right to free speech. Ann Coulter, who is as far as I can tell no more qualified to speak about the topics on which she speaks as any other internet troll, is also entitled to freedom of speech.

However, this does not mean that she is entitled to be recognized as an authority on the topic. When a university invites a speaker, there is a presumption that the university is saying “what this person has to say is worth thinking about.” It may be that the reason it’s worth thinking about is to understand what’s wrong with their position, but the presumption is that their position is not just noise.

Ann Coulter’s opinion on pretty much any topic on which I’ve heard her speak is just noise. It’s signal jamming. The point is not to have a real, reasoned position, but to say whatever is necessary to maintain the правда (the official truth) on that topic.

It is not only not necessary for a university to grant her the opportunity to speak on that basis, it is actually inappropriate. It is not “denying her her freedom of speech” to not allow her to speak at the university, at a lectern. To say that it is is to say that if I, a complete ignoramus on the topic of particle physics, want to speak about particle physics by the invitation of some student society, the university should have no basis for saying “this guy doesn’t know anything about particle physics, so no, you can’t invite him to speak as an authority on particle physics.”

To compare, there is a movement to de-fund Breitbart right now by getting people to withdraw their advertising, on the basis that Breitbart is a hate rag, and do you really want your brand associated with that? If this is okay to do, and I think it is, how is it different than the university de-inviting Coulter?

9

Patrick 04.27.17 at 6:18 pm

The “absolutist” position is not “any platform any time for anyone.” It’s “public fora exist and have value, and certain private entities have ethically committed to maintaining public fora because of that value, and that value justifies maintaining said public fora in a fair and neutral way. Further, tactics that conflict with the operation of that public fora should not be used, as ample other tactics exist for being heard. The mere fact that someone offensive to you successfully speaks does not mean that your side is losing or otherwise disenfranchised, and does not justify breaking the forum.”

Free speech absolutists generally acknowledge the right of, say, a Christian university to ban a gay speaker. Such a university is not inherently a public forum, has not held itself out as one, and has made no commitment to being one. But they view that as a moral failing, and typically feel that the religious university would be a better place if it did offer itself as a public forum. There’s often a sense that such a university isn’t a “real” university, because it isn’t meeting the standards of academic and social value maintained by universities that maintain more valid public fora.

10

afinetheorem 04.27.17 at 6:24 pm

Is this really true? I would have thought of free speech as one of the big *current* left/liberal divides. The liberals I know are aghast at the idea that someone like Condi Rice or Charles Murray is somehow so offensive that they should be pushed off campuses. In reference to the post, I am shocked that there exists anyone who considered themselves a mainstream liberal, cares about free speech, and doesn’t know about the ACLU neo-Nazi case. It’s like caring about free speech and never having heard of John Stuart Mill!

I worry that Corey runs in a particular circle – I’m not surprised the Jacobin Set isn’t a fan of Chait, but those people are self-described leftists, not liberals.

11

bekabot 04.27.17 at 6:36 pm

FWIW, I’m one of those people who falls between two stools, and the way I chart out the contradiction I carry around with me day in and day out is this: you have every right (every right in the world) to say whatever you want. However, your right to say whatever you want wherever and whenever you want is going to turn out to be subject to negotiation in practice if not in principle. If you feel that you have a duty to take scalps by marching into a specific neighborhood, venue, or site (or whatever) in order to confront anywhere from many to most of the people there with the news that they either shouldn’t be where they are because they’re inferior (or sinful) creatures or that they flat-out shouldn’t exist in the first place…then you are going to have to make it happen on your own. I will not help you. In cases like that one, society does not owe you aid, comfort, or praise.

Being a big-deal iconoclast for real is a dangerous job, and it involves peril. It shouldn’t be given the status of a merry prank on YouTube. People who sign up for iconoclast status should know what that status involves. They shouldn’t be encouraged to take up their vocation lightly. Spokesmodels, male and female, should stay home. Thus opineth the little bot.

12

Harry 04.27.17 at 6:45 pm

Robert Bork was a tentative supporter of hate speech codes, if I remember correctly. He thought that the only speech that merited first amendment protection was bona fide political speech, and was sympathetic to people who wanted to preserve the university as a high quality learning environment. Of course, figuring out what political speech is isn’t easy, and is now even harder that it was then.

I disagree with Charles Murray about lots of things, but lumping him in with Coulter (or Milo) seems bizarre. He’s an academic, who regularly gets invited by academics (including, eg, UW-Madison’s Institute for Research on Poverty, and the Havens Center which is directed by a Marxist sociologist). Coulter is a (third rate) entertainer, who gets invited places for her celebrity and provocation, not because she, or engaging with her, will contribute anything to knowledge, or political deliberation.

What Cassiodorus says about private colleges is true of public residential campuses too, no?

13

Harry 04.27.17 at 6:47 pm

Ted Lemon’s comment posted while I was writing mine — if I’d read it I’d have been more sophisticated in my criticism of Coulter!

14

Yankee 04.27.17 at 6:47 pm

I was at Berkeley in those days and a lot of fun was always throwing the tear gas canisters back at the … cops. In the literal name of political correctness, actually. So it was ever so, in pursuit of one thing or another. Perhaps after the Revolution more people will be more willing to listen to the knocking outside the gate.

15

Cassiodorus 04.27.17 at 6:50 pm

Harry @ 12:

It would apply to public residential colleges, but I can sympathize with the argument that the use of public funds makes it a little different.

FWIW, I don’t see why Murray is different than Coulter because he’s seen as more “serious.”

16

Patrick 04.27.17 at 7:21 pm

I strongly disagree with the contention that speaking at a university (“being invited to speak” is not terminology I always accept, as I’ll explain) implied endorsement, or even that the speaker is within the scope of opinions worth notice.

There are a wide variety of circumstances under which someone might speak at a university.

Some obviously involve endorsement. Making someone a keynote speaker in an art history conference organized and hosted by the university implied that the university acknowledges the speakers expertise.

Some obviously do not, so much so that I hope the people who want to exclude speakers are not intending to refer to them. The typical corner preacher who applies for a publicly issued permit and complains about Jesusto passerbies implies no endorsement from the university to anyone remotely familiar with US culture and campus practice.

But a lot of speaking events involve student input. The university’s “endorsement” isn’t the speaker, it’s the academic and social value in letting the students make their own decisions in inviting speakers, even if sometimes they choose poorly.

It’s the same way that distributing free console doesn’t imply endorsement of literally every individual hookup, just, endorsement of the right of the students to work that out on their own.

When I was in college campus groups rotated in choosing lunchtime speakers for a certain campus building. At one point a conservative group invited a speaker who spoke against affirmative action. The fallout was so severe that they apologized for inviting him.

No one ever assumed that the university was endorsing the speaker. Everyone understood that the university endorsed the idea of student groups inviting people and discussing the speeches of the invites. When one speaker turned out to be offensive everyone recognized that the university didn’t issue the invite, a student group did, and the speakers character was on them. And they responded by saying why they didn’t like the speaker, and winning the argument.

We could use a bit more of that.

17

L2P 04.27.17 at 7:33 pm

“Free speech absolutists generally acknowledge the right of, say, a Christian university to ban a gay speaker.”

And here’s where you lose me. Free speech assumes that all of the different viewpoints are equally available and equally heard, and so the “best” viewpoints can eventually prevail in the marketplace of ideas. But that marketplace is ridiculously one-sided for a lot of ideas.

America provides ample opportunity for pro-business, pro-religious, pro-military speech. There are scads of universities founded by businessmen and religions. Under this argument, they can freely discriminate against speech they don’t like. But where are the atheist schools (I’m a devout Christian, btw; no personal oar here) that can discriminate against pro-religious speech? Where are the anti-business schools that can promote pro-regulatory speech? And so on.

This public/private distinction has lasted long enough. It’s no longer useful in a world where a number of individuals, let alone corporations, are wealthier than entire countries.

18

Ronan(rf) 04.27.17 at 7:54 pm

I dont know if Im a free speech ‘absolutist’, primarily because I dont think I care enough about the question to give it that much thought. In fact I dont really understand what the debate is over half the time.
In this specific case, though, my issue is less with Ann Coulter’s right to speak at US campuses(I mean really, who cares) than the fact that there’s quite clearly a campaign by the Right wing outrage machine to drum up a controversy with these endless stunts. So my question is, why do campus activists keep falling for it?
Also, the more pertinent point (imo) point is how clearly this shows that the US and global media is now little more than an intra elite chattering house. This level of fascination with the behaviour of youths in such a small, insignificant part of the world is comparable in its parochialism to the stereotypical small town paper that freaks out endlessly about stolen bicycles and youths gathering in town getting up to mischief on a Friday night. It’s pathetic and should be beyond the intellectual obsessions of intelligent human beings.

19

milx 04.27.17 at 7:57 pm

I think our meanings for words like ‘liberal,’ and ‘left’ (not to mention ‘progressive’) are so tangled at this point that it’s unclear who Corey is talking about. Is he contrasting Marxist leftists with tumblr identity politics leftists? In that case I think identity politics activists have taken a harder line against free speech. But just because identity politics has been fairly easily coopted by neoliberals (who see diversity as a strong substitute for economic reforms) doesn’t mean that hardcore identity activists are themselves liberal in any meaningful way. Liberal hardliners in the Hentoff sense seem to only exist among pundits and have no real serious “base.” Of course from the perspective of the Right none of these categories are distinguished at all and the Cultural Marxism narrative nonsense is a way to reconcile [in their minds] the Marxist leftists with the identity leftists as one big happy family. It’ll take someone clever I think to untangle all of this.

20

Stephen 04.27.17 at 8:17 pm

I often find it hard to understand politics in the USA, a very strange country. When CR writes “the dividing line on free speech debates was, for the most part, a pretty conventional liberal/left divide. (I’m excluding the right.)” does he mean that the US right are all on one side or other of the dividing line, and if so which; or that they have on this matter no opinions worth considering, and if so why not?

21

Daragh 04.27.17 at 8:41 pm

Ted Lemon @8

“The problem is that calling “the right to speak at a campus” free speech is a category error. “

Just so. And it would seem that CT – a blog where I think it would be fair to say all the main contributors are strong advocates of free speech – also substantively agrees with the position. After all – comments are pre-moderated, and unwelcome commenters banned. Freedom of speech implies neither an obligation to listen or a right to a platform, particularly when the provider of that platform would rather not be associated with you.

22

David Wright 04.27.17 at 8:56 pm

More recently than Skokie, the ACLU filed an amicus brief in support of Citizens United, which tends to shock most of the liberals to whom I have mentioned it. Since that time, rather than proudly proclaim this as a sign of their commitment to principals, they have tended to bury this information.

23

Bruce B. 04.27.17 at 9:21 pm

As nearly as I can tell, a lot of the growing dissent against more or less absolutist stances on free speech follows from growing attention to the voices of those who can sensibly connect things said to and about them as individuals or members of a group and physical harm done to them.

The single biggest group is of course women, who have more experience of verbal harassment being closely connected to physical or sexual assault. Then there’s LGBT people, starting with gay men and spreading out to including lots of other kinds of people and their experience. People of color had been around and recognized as participants in civil rights work longer, but not always given any attention when they talked about connections between verbal attacks and physical ones. And so on.

There have always been free-speech absolutists I respect, as acknowledging the physical harm that can follow and putting themselves at real risk for it. I’ve got time for people who know what the price is they’re proposing others pay and not excluding themselves from it. But a big share of absolutism on the subject has always come from people who are not much at risk for physical harm, and approaching it in way too much of a “let’s you and him fight” spirit.

On the practicalities of university speeches, I really like the point I’ve seen a couple of times lately: we aren’t talking here about people presenting anything new. We’re talking about using the campus as a platform to deliver exactly the message they have already been delivering in the mass media, generally for years. It’s making the campus an adjunct op-ed page.

There may be benefits to doing this, but they are never going to be the benefits of a scholar presenting significant research in progress or just completed, or anything of the sort. Much of what’s said in defense of letting (in particular) right-wing hatemongers use the campus as their platform is pure bullshit, in that regard.

24

oldster 04.27.17 at 9:39 pm

I agree with Ronan(rf) @ 18.

I am less concerned about where to draw the line on free speech, than I am concerned about the alt-right’s very clear attempt to use this issue to discredit and undermine universities.

People like Coulter, Spencer, and Murray–their specialty is trolling, and they are trolling campus leftists into creating an overwhelming climate of anti-university hostility. The right is always trying to destroy the universities, and this campaign is the latest version.

And I want to say to campus leftists (of which I used to be one): DNFTT!

25

Ted Lemon 04.27.17 at 9:42 pm

The problem with Citizen’s United is that, harmful though the decision has been to public discourse, the basis for the decision is well-reasoned and quite difficult to argue with. I know, I’ve tried. I wish it weren’t so, but it’s very clear at this point that “the press” is just another corporation, motivated by profit, not special in any sense.

Of course, there is another “press” that is not this, and what that press does is important, but there needs to be some kind of clear test to differentiate them; it is really not true that Breitbart is more entitled to the protections of “the press” than IBM. Citizens United simply invalidates the test that had been used.

In order to undo it, you have to do more than rule that corporations are not in fact people (clearly they are not). You have to also come up with a test that allows organizations that are entitled to freedom of speech to be differentiated from organizations that are not.

Patrick @ 16, the problem with what you say is that it allows propagandists to game the system. As they are doing. Yes, in principle, it should be okay to invite Ann Coulter for a book-signing party or something, as an author of fiction. But what if the author in question is an avowed Nazi or a Grand Master in the KKK? Are they still entitled to speak? Where do you draw the line? I would suggest that the test should be that they dialecticians, and not mere rhetoriticians or propagandists (same thing). Would Leni Riefenstahl, if she were still alive, be an appropriate guest speaker at UC? She’d certainly be interesting.

26

kidneystones 04.27.17 at 10:16 pm

The discussion of discussions is best understood first without any specific and distracting examples. The questions seems to me to be:
a/ do we want students to be exposed to the broadest range of ideas, or not?
b/ are we to purge libraries of texts of a particular nature, or philosophy.
c/ are we to block websites?
d/ are we to prevent certain people from visiting, attending, or being employed at universities?
e/are we to prevent certain organizations, individuals, or governments from funding universities?

The last question seems to me as least as important as any. Free from specific examples it seems easy to answer most of these questions. Given that all universities worthy of the name have codes of academic conduct etc. and are largely self-policing in this regard, I can’t see why any speaker should be banned from speaking at a university, no matter how controversial.

27

alfredlordbleep 04.27.17 at 10:16 pm

Freedom of speech implies neither an obligation to listen or a right to a platform, particularly when the provider of that platform would rather not be associated with you.
Of course, in America if speech threatens the wrong interests or being more widely circulated, it can get the “Anatole France treatment” in the name of equal treatment for all. Namely, all (political) speech is banned on the platform.

See the D. C. subway advertising case of many years ago (if memory serves Robert Bork was involved). The Israeli-Palestinian ad was so inflammatory that the authorities just chose to ban all advertising. (There are other more recent examples)

28

Yan 04.27.17 at 10:33 pm

Daragh @21: “Freedom of speech implies neither an obligation to listen or a right to a platform”

This is true in practice, but not in principle. In practice, there are no shortages of alternate platforms for these speakers and their isn’t sufficient reason for universities to elevate their platforms in particular. In principle, however, free speech is not an abstract, negative right that consists of nothing but not be actively or forcefully prevented from speaking. Something like having capability, opportunity, and a potential audience must surely be part of any meaningful notion of free speech.

*Morally speaking*, if free speech is valuable, we do have (everything else being equal or on balance!) an obligation to listen to those we disagree with and an obligation to enable them to be heard. In practice, there are lots of circumstances that override that moral obligation.

Example: imagine an outlandish world where we’ve invented a brain implant that will directly edit out of my consciousness any ideas or words I would disagree with. Your protest sign is illegible to me, and your mouth moves noiselessly until you say something I like. Everyone gets the implant and we all live in perfect ideological bubbles.

Surely we wouldn’t have any meaningful sense of free speech in such a world?

29

alfredlordbleep 04.27.17 at 10:33 pm

Detail:

Arab Lobby Puts Anti-Israel Ads in U.S. Subways
August 11, 1988|BRUCE HOROVITZ | Times Staff Writer

With his rifle butt raised, an Israeli soldier appears prepared to strike one of three Palestinian women pictured cowering on the ground. “Israel Putting Your Tax Dollars to Work,” reads the headline above the photograph, which is part of a carefully planned advertising campaign by a Washington-based pro-Arab lobby.

http://articles.latimes.com/1988-08-11/news/mn-394_1_arab-lobby

At a cost of $10,250, the advertisement has been placed in more than 200 Washington-area subway cars during the peak tourist season. The ad, scheduled to run through Aug. 29, says, “Please ask your congressperson to ‘just say no’ to unconditional aid to Israel. Only Congress can stop this madness.”

30

Matt 04.27.17 at 10:46 pm

I have been teaching some free speech cases in the last few weeks, and so have been thinking about these topics. I can’t say that I am completely in agreement with the Matsuda position that NickS cites in 3 above, but in teaching these cases, it was striking to me to see how the U.S. Supreme Court could very often find a cause to limit speech (as a “clear and present danger” of some harm, or whatever test they happened to be using at the time) when the speaker was a left-wing politician or activists (Schenck, Debbs, Gitlow, etc.), despite the fact that, by any reasonable standard, any possible danger was neither clear nor present, but always managed to find a ground for protecting speech when it was right-wing speakers threatening (sometimes literally) minorities (Brandenburg, St. Paul, etc.) This sort of thing gives me some more sympathy for the Matsuda position than I might have had at one time. I guess that these days I no longer feel like I have settled views on these topics, except to note that there tends to be a lack of principle in many discussions.

31

Faustusnotes 04.27.17 at 11:11 pm

Unless a university has enough space to accommodate every single idiot with an opinion in American cultural life, they are always going to have to exclude someone’s speech, and debate then simply turns on what method they should use to do this. The right, being special little crybaby snowflakes with nothing intelligent to say, want special protection for their racism and paedophilia, because they know without affirmative action for snowflakes they would never get invited anywhere to speak. So long as they keep the focus on their “right” to speak they can use the outrage about free speech to distract from the fact that they really desperately need subsidized speech, because their ideas are too stupid to survive in a free market of ideas.

Meanwhile the NYT has just hired another climate change denier. Free speech is very easy in America so long as you are saying something destructive and vile.

32

Ebenezer Scrooge 04.27.17 at 11:59 pm

1. I agree with Corey’s empirical observation that liberals in the past tended to be free-speech absolutists. My memories of this are particularly sharp because I was an exception to this general rule in my law student days. Even back in the 1980’s, I could see that a sufficiently high fence around the First Amendment would end up protecting corporate power. And I was just another garden-variety liberal, albeit perhaps a bit more chary of corporate power than most of my breed.
2. There is a category error in most of this thread: equating academic free speech to First Amendment free speech. I don’t want to police either one of the two, because I frankly don’t care. But they are in fact different things. And most importantly, there is no such thing as free speech for anybody who relies on non-tenured employment to make a living.

33

Berto 04.28.17 at 12:10 am

Never thought I’d live to see Conservatives make the argument there should be a mosque at “ground zero”.

34

bianca steele 04.28.17 at 12:36 am

Something like this–http://bookforum.com/inprint/024_01/17551–would seem to fit the description in the OP. There’s no doubt (except for those for whom all feminism is anti-leftist) that the author both is on the left and defends speech on the leftist ground that it leads to liberation, not the liberal one Chait holds to.

35

Joseph Brenner 04.28.17 at 12:43 am

Is it possible that it’s not a left/liberal flip precisely, but a generational difference? It seems to me that the younger lefties have the idea that the entire world should be a moderated chat room, with safe spaces for all.

36

Ted Lemon 04.28.17 at 2:07 am

Joseph Brenner @35: yes, this is because online harassment is something with which yoots are more familiar than greybeards. Online harassment is the reductio ad absurdum of free speech: it is speech which is easy to make and expensive to hear, and also expensive to not hear.

kidneystones @ 26, Yan @ 28: these are really straw man arguments. At issue is whether someone whose opinions are already well known and widely broadcast, and who is a propagandist, has a right in principle to speak at a university forum. It is not about the other things that kidneystones suggests. It is not about an academic presenting a little-known, possibly controversial theory arrived at in good faith, willing to engage in open discussion.

There is an interesting article on this topic here: http://observer.com/2017/02/i-helped-create-the-milo-trolling-playbook-you-should-stop-playing-right-into-it/

37

faustusnotes 04.28.17 at 2:36 am

Joseph, the entire world has always been a moderated chat room. If you doubt it, try calling your best friend’s wife a slut.

The difference is simply that the moderation rules have changed, and the old moderators aren’t in charge anymore.

38

Bruce B. 04.28.17 at 2:45 am

Disregarding Joseph Brenner’s ignorant little diatribe about “safe spaces for all”, I think he’s onto something with it being a generational difference, at least in part. Those of us in older generations often signed on to expansive claims for the benefits of free speech thanks to arguments about the good it would do in the long term.

But it didn’t. And people in younger generations have the advantage of more decades’ worth of accumulated experience documenting that failure.

Are there ten prominent and/or significant right-wingers whose arguments were demolished and them pushed out of the spotlight in part because of what response they got on college campuses? Five? Two? One?

Charles Murray is still pushing the same swill he did twenty years ago, along with his new swill. All the major players in W’s parade of warmongers and war criminals are there. Newt Gingrich is taken as seriously as ever, and hasn’t had to retract a single thing in shame and humiliation. International law enforcement efforts made Scott Lively quiet down, not vigorous argument in Q&A sessions. Left-wing criticism made no dent in Milo Yiannopoulos’ standing, he ran afoul of his right-wing sources of money and access.

The projected benefit of letting so many people be harassed, abused, and set up for attack, the thing that’s supposed to make it all worth while, doesn’t exist. It is therefore entirely fitting and past time to point that out and say that if there’s justification now for inflicting all that crap on people, it has to be something else. “You, sit there and let your life be trashed and possibly your body battered because someday it might turn out all right in the end” isn’t a rallying cry worth bothering with.

39

J-D 04.28.17 at 3:25 am

40

Bruce B. 04.28.17 at 4:33 am

Oh, heck, I left out something really important in my #38. I’m confident in saying that the absolutist bargain doesn’t work with regard to big names and influential right-wingers. But I have no idea – and no real foundation on which to form one – about whether it works in more local and otherwise less big-time cases. That’d require observations over time from people on the spot in the academic world, and I can’t get ’em. So: does the bargain ever work further from the national limelight? Others will need to tell me, not vice versa. :)

41

J-D 04.28.17 at 5:54 am

The problem with Citizen’s United is that, harmful though the decision has been to public discourse, the basis for the decision is well-reasoned and quite difficult to argue with. I know, I’ve tried.
It seems to me worth pointing out the tacit framing here by US constitutional law. I understand, obviously, that if you’re arguing in a US court you are obliged to argue from within the framework of US constitutional law and that it would be futile to do anything else, but I’ve also seen people adopt the framework of US constitutional law as the unquestioned basis for any discussion of these issues, outside the context of the US courts, and I can’t think of any good reason to do so.

42

faustusnotes 04.28.17 at 5:58 am

Bruce B., a further qualifier: much of the rest of the world has never cared about absolute free speech, and has always been willing to restrict free speech for various temporary reasons. America does this too (see e.g. how quickly Milo disappeared from public life after seeming to support paedophilia) but Americans just pretend that they don’t because of this weird idea that they have that they’re the freest place on earth.

There is no absolute right to free speech anywhere. Everything else just comes down to debates about what speech should be protected and who should be its guardians.

43

David Mendelsohn 04.28.17 at 6:39 am

Ronan(rf) @18:

“So my question is, why do campus activists keep falling for it?”

a) Because they’re young and stupid.
b) Because people of any age seem unable to resist being trolled.
c) At least here in Berkeley, the Black Bloc/AntiFa who really rise to the bait aren’t campus activists at all. They’re mainly local anarchists who are not students.

44

novakant 04.28.17 at 7:31 am

The free speech absolutism in the US has always been intensely hypocritical – there never was and never will be absolutely free speech – and I think that’s a very good thing, as restrictions should be imposed to prevent harm, mostly to vulnerable groups. Speech doesn’t exist in a parallel universe devoid of causality and has very real consequences.

45

SusanC 04.28.17 at 7:54 am

I think the academic freedom cases Corey is thinking about is ones where the invited speaker is saying something that a large portion of the student body thinks is factually wrong and/or morally reprehensible, and a “why are we inviting this idiot?” argument is being made.

There’s another type of academic freedom spat: academic researcher discovers that some commercial product is not as good as its manufacturer would like customers to think, and the manufacturer exerts pressure on the university to supress publication because widespread knowledge of the flaws in their product would reduce sales.

Related to this one is government attempts to supress publication. Now, pretty much everyone agrees that academic freedom does not apply to serving military personnel like Chelsea Manning and contractors like Edward Snowden. For them, going to the press is a serious act of civil disobedience. But, once they’ve let the cat out of the bag, cam journalists like Glen Greenwald and newspapers like the Guardian report the story without also ending up in jail? Can academics like me, who has no military clearance, write about the story without being imprisoned? (Currently, yes, but this is a right worth defending). Can you, the good people of Crooked Timber, read this post without being yourselves imprisoned or fired? (For US citizens with no clearance, probably yes. If you have a US clearance, you may technically speaking get in trouble if you read me saying e.g. that there’s a cryptanalytic flaw in the RC4 cryptosystem that can be mitigated by dropping the first 3072 bytes of the keystream … see Fluhrer Mantin and Shamir 2001, but also recent Wikileaks disclosure. I am confident no-one is going to arrest me for posting this).

46

SusanC 04.28.17 at 9:01 am

At the slight risk of causing this thread to explode by alluding to Ken Livingstone, Corey’s observation does currently seem to hold for the UK left. That is, the right of the Labour party is much in favour of prohibiting party members from saying certain things, whereas the Corbynite left is taking the line that there’s a distinction between criticising the Israeli government or Islamic State for their actions (permitted) vs a diatribe against all Jews/all Muslims (which is contra to policy). Some of the edge cases may be proving problematic… [And many things have been said by lesser ranking people that are much worse than Livingstone amnd totally out of line by both the Corbynite and Blairite versions of what’s acceptable]

47

Daragh 04.28.17 at 9:07 am

faustusnotes @42

“America does this too (see e.g. how quickly Milo disappeared from public life after seeming to support paedophilia)”

I don’t think this is an example of Milo’s free speech being ‘restricted’ so much as it is ‘people being vastly less interested in paying attention to Milo due to his repellent views (in addition to his other repellent views), and media outlets that could make a buck off of him heretofore realising that this is no longer the case’. Milo is still free to say whatever he likes, whenever he likes, however he likes. Its just that media organisations – in an exercise of their own free speech – won’t indulge him by asking him to do it in front of a camera anymore.

48

MFB 04.28.17 at 9:16 am

I remember, very clearly, how we tried to shut down pro-apartheid speakers at the University of Cape Town. It was politically quite problematic, because it mobilised the right wing against the anti-apartheid movement (which was their reason for inviting the speakers in the first place) but I think it was sensible because it was a way of showing solidarity with a movement, and also of arguing against the suppression of free speech which prevailed in South Africa at that time.

The problem with trying to shut down right-wing speakers at American universities is that there isn’t actually a left-wing counter-movement (unless you think of the Democrats in those terms) and the right wing hasn’t so much suppressed the left’s freedom of speech and action, as that the left has abandoned action (and to a large extent speech as well). In other words, there’s no political advantage to shutting down right-wing speakers apart from the notion that you don’t want to hear them spewing their rubbish. But that’s not going to stop the right wing, in itself; other methods are needed, and one danger is that by triumphantly stopping Joe Blow from blathering about how global warming doesn’t exist, you can fool yourself that you’re doing something for the climate.

49

Val 04.28.17 at 9:27 am

Speaking of free speech (or rather, of accountability, which is probably what’s really important, since as others have pointed out, free speech is a bit of a unicorn) I wonder what happened to js.?

I have a feeling he’s been banned or something, which I would be very concerned about. It seems CT has become less open since the change in moderation policy – in the past, people didn’t seem to get banned much and you could kind of see why they did, if they did. Now it seems it’s hard to tell what’s happening.

The new moderation policy has been much better for me personally in some ways, since I’m no longer being repeatedly attacked by a small number of people, particularly one individual. But it bothers me that CT seems less transparent and accountable, perhaps (hard to know by definition).

50

Guano 04.28.17 at 10:12 am

In today’s context, if Universities want to promote free speech they should promote informed debate on key issues. That requires debaters from different points of views, rules that try to ensure that arguments are factual and logical, and thus that there are moderators who are able to ensure that rules of logical argument are enforced. That is probably a tall order, but Universities need to take steps in that direction because there are risks in allowing people who already have an adequate platform for illogical and evidence-free arguments to extend those platforms to Universities.

51

Collin Street 04.28.17 at 10:36 am

b) Because people of any age seem unable to resist being trolled.

Err, no. “unable to resist being trolled” is question-begging, here: it surrenders the issue of the legitimacy/permissableness of “trolling”, the speech acts that caused the offense.

I mean, why shouldn’t nazis be punched?

52

Collin Street 04.28.17 at 11:13 am

But it didn’t. And people in younger generations have the advantage of more decades’ worth of accumulated experience documenting that failure.

Speech, like nuclear power: if not free then too cheap to meter.

53

Ted Lemon 04.28.17 at 12:04 pm

Nazis shouldn’t be punched because punching people you don’t like is precisely what Nazis advocate (among other much worse things). When you punch a Nazi, they get to say “see? We are no worse than they.”

Guano@50: exactly right.

Val@49: you have just cited evidence that moderation is working. What else is it for than discouraging the continued participation of people who think that the way to win an argument is with a personal attack?

54

BBA 04.28.17 at 1:06 pm

I mean, why shouldn’t nazis be punched?

Because they’re enemies of all mankind. Punching them accomplishes nothing. They should be shot. Of course, that is murder, but the greater crime is allowing a Nazi to live.

And if you’re uncomfortable about any of that, well, maybe you should revise your definition of who is or isn’t a Nazi.

55

kidneystones 04.28.17 at 1:54 pm

Just out of curiosity, how exactly are students to know whether a particular speaker is offensive, or not? By reading the Huff Post, watching Fox news, reading a blog, social media?

The basic JS Mill tenet holds – if one does not listen to the arguments of those we believe we oppose, rather than edited second-hand versions provided by equally hostile, bubble-heads of our own ‘tribe,’ we will not only not understand the arguments we think we oppose, we won’t understand our own. For that reason alone Coulter et al need to get to Berkeley and other blinkered safe spaces so students can evaluate for themselves which parts of Coulter’s spiel they find most ridiculous. I don’t suppose it’s occurred to many hear that she uses these bun fights to drive up sales of her latest book. She pumps these volumes at a prodigious rate, many end up on the NYT most read lists, and her marketing ploy very much depends on highly predictable ‘liberal’ knee-jerk hysteria. If you want to minimize her impact let her speak. Her whole sales-pitch is conservatives are being censored.

Showing her the civility she infrequently offers others is the most effective way of refuting her claims. Trump played most of the people here and the entire academic/media elite all the way to the WH. I was glad, btw, that someone with more particular knowledge suggested the ‘anti-fascists’ are actually wannabe anarchists and not affiliate with the university.

Finally, the UC system was audited and the state auditor claims the President interfered with the collection of data, a claim she denies.

We can all do better.

56

Mike Furlan 04.28.17 at 2:18 pm

A small number of billionaires using the corporate form of organization dominate speech. TV including “public” TV, radio, newspapers, and with the end of net neutrality the internet.

I doubt they care about who speaks at college campuses. If anything they are happy that we waste so much time and energy on it.

57

LFC 04.28.17 at 2:37 pm

Val @49
I would be v. surprised if js. had been banned, as there wd have been no reason for it. There could be quite a number of reasons he hasn’t commented lately (for example, people do decide they have better things to do with their time, just to mention one possible reason).

58

bruce wilder 04.28.17 at 3:47 pm

When ideas and their expression seem to have power, some people will want to see those ideas freed to do their work, and others of contrary disposition may wish to contain or suppress those ideas for similar reasons and then you can have a nice clean divide over “principle” to shadow the struggle for power.

When ideas and their expression seem enervated, one might almost wish for suppression as a means of re-animating a meaningful passion.

Isn’t the latter circumstance what we are observing? People with no ideas worth expounding want to be banned to bolster the illusion of having something to say and they find help from other people with nothing to say, who see a passionate denunciation of someone or something as a means to create their own illusions.

Jonathan Chait strikes me as less a philosophical liberal than as an articulate and complacent opportunist. Does he have commitments or well-founded convictions about anything? Of course, not. He’s a journalist and pundit, vending the View of Everyman from Nowhere and Everywhere, while working for billionaires or corporate media (pretty much indistinguishable in the monoculture the Media ecology has become, beneath the appearance of proliferating “platforms” all controlled by the same homogenous classes of oligarchs and apparatchiks). Seriously, it seems to me that his superficiality is more an operative element here than any putative political philosophy or positioning on the proverbial spectrum.

Look at who he takes up as examples, in comparison shopping for rationales: “Milo Yiannopoulos might seem like an easy case. Charles Murray is a harder case.” omilordy, nostalgia for Charles Murray! To his credit, Chait admits he never really read The Bell Curve, but the point seems to be that Charles Murray at least pretends to think, even if Chait cannot be bothered to actually read. The performance art of Anne Coulter or Milo Y — politics as reality teevee, pre-digested into 140 character soundbites — seems to be challenging Chait’s ability to care, and who can blame him.

You speak of a contrast of the present state of controversy to some earlier time, but if I can be excused for drawing close attention to the text, it seems to me that the present state of left-liberal controversy draws nostalgically on the past for models and precedent almost to the exclusion of contemporary sources of discontent, and that is a symptom of its exhaustion and ennui, as well as (just a suspicion) the agenda of the few who are paying for it all.

Chait concludes with a pathetic attempt to rally the troops to condemn the noisy campus left:

. . . noisy minorities — like the cranks and kooks of the far right who had been, 60 years ago, banished to the margins of Republican politics — have a way of developing over time into majorities, unless they meet forceful opposition.

. What’s he saying here? That the left will produce a Left Trump circa 2070 if we don’t nip it in the bud now? That he longs for the days when it was fashionable to rail against the John Birch Society or roll your eyes at Impeach Earl Warren billboards?

First Amendment purism today is a mere pose; there’s no context for anything else. First Amendment principle is honored in the breach, but in our post-modernist age, no one with actual power or vested interest feels a challenge in the offing and so cares to play the censor. Instead, they send out their court jesters to create a reverse-morality play, which has the effect of de-legitimizing or simply confusing any issue. The Dems piously promote the virtue of everyone voting, complain mildly when the Reps steal a Presidential election; the Reps spread outrage about voter fraud and then the Dems mount a fund-raising campaign around voter suppression without actually accomplishing much. And, so it goes.

Some observers have used the distant mirror of Putin’s Russia to hint at the problem. Putin’s propaganda master, Vladislav Surkov, has been accused by the Economist no less (I’m taking this from Wikipedia’s account) of being the engineer of ‘a system of make-believe’, ‘a land of imitation political parties, stage-managed media and fake social movements’. Hmmm.

It is lovely to think of universities taking time out from their main job of reducing the ambitious to debt peonage and packaging research for corporate masters to provide a platform for reasoned debate, but what would be the point, after we have abandoned a politics where reason actually matters? Seriously, if the President we admire has shaped policy not around a reasoned analysis of what furthers the general welfare, but rather has kept his eye on his post-Presidential speaking fees, would anything anyone says contribute an iota to anything but more noise? Was there ever a reason for the wars in the Middle East? Was there any sensible reason to turn the economy over to Goldman Sachs? Power does what it will, we suffer what we must, and it does not matter what anyone says, if no one has the focus or attention-span to listen and discriminate amidst the torrent of tweets and soundbites.

59

bianca steele 04.28.17 at 3:48 pm

It seems to me that the libertarianism of people like Hentoff may have made a lot of left-leaning liberals, like me, super-cautious about supporting absolute free speech. (Even though many of us might also shy away from aligning ourselves with Stanley Fish, whose politics can appear to be similar to Hentoff’s, which makes citing him equally unattractive to this group of liberals.) I’d say the further implications of this are not entirely clear. A kind of unprincipled pragmatism (that is, not even being a principled pragmagist) probably allows for the arguments of someone like Matsuda and for reasonable freedoms and restrictions when appropriate.

60

Sebastian H 04.28.17 at 5:08 pm

“But it didn’t. And people in younger generations have the advantage of more decades’ worth of accumulated experience documenting that failure.”

What they don’t have is decades of experience in how legitimizing speech suppression always turns in to the left getting its speech suppressed.

The ONLY reason they don’t have that in the US is because the liberal free speech protections are as strong though imperfect as they were.

The leftist attacks on free speech are a case of not appreciating the battles already won, and therefore burning through crucial social norms because you’re so focused on the imperfections that you lose track of the large harms being prevented.

Our country is rapidly burning through its social capital. Attacking free speech just accelerates that.

A huge part of this discussion gets lost in abstractions about “the university”. The speakers we talk about almost never get invited by “the university”. They get invited by individual student groups who aren’t “the university”. Statements like “When a university invites a speaker, there is a presumption that the university is saying “what this person has to say is worth thinking about.”” are deeply confused about that. “The university” is saying no such thing.

At most the university is saying something like: we provide a broad forum for students to invite people that seem interesting to them.

There are very few speakers that appeal to all students. There are very many speakers who will piss off some students. Free speech restrictions only seem appealing on campus because so many universities are so much further left than the American public that you can embrace the illusion that free speech restrictions will only hurt those you don’t like.

Destroying free speech norms on campus may give tiny victories in a forum where you have already won, at the expense of doing enormous damage in the rest of public sphere.

61

Bruce B. 04.28.17 at 5:12 pm

Guano@50: Good points! Truth can remain hard to get at, but we can move the odds in our favor (or against it) a lot via format and the practicalities of managing the occasion.

62

Patrick 04.28.17 at 5:54 pm

Nazis shouldn’t be punched because that’s what they want.

I live in the Midwest. Nazis and white supremacists march every so often. They always follow the same script- they behave with discipline in public and on camera while saying offensive things until counterprotesters attack either them or the police standing in between them and the counter protesters. It always works because the people they bring to the march are trained to follow the script, and the counter protesters are a random public assemblage of people who didn’t have to work that day in the invariably majority black neighborhood they chose. Plus they announce their march well in advance in hopes of bringing in weirder people from further away who are there to fight. Then after everything is over they take all the footage and coverage of the incident and cut it into a film arguing that they were behaving lawfully, and the reaction to them shows why whites should fear minorities and how the institutions of society are apologizing for minorities and demonizing white supremacists for gathering together for self defense.

For the particularly daft- summarizing this point of view is not endorsing it.

The “we should punch nazis because they’re evil” crowd reminds me of the “we should depose Saddam because he’s evil” crowd. There’s this extra step they’re not emotionally capable of addressing, which is whether their choices will be productive. And there’s a “disheveled white guy ranting about how he needs a thirty bullet magazine on his favorite gun because there’s no time to reload in a firefight with a dozen home invaders” style toxic machismo to it all. That crime will probably never happen to him, and if it does he’ll find out real fast that he’s not John Wick. Similarly, you are extremely unlikely to ever even encounter the sort of Nazis you’re imagining punching and if you did your fantasies of righteous violence would just get cold water tossed on them, so quit complaining about jack booted Nazis you have to fight off like Indiana Jones and start worrying about normal, boring conservatives who are ironically far more likely to kill you by making health care unaffordable or starting an unnecessary foreign conflict but have to be dealt with using your boring, boring words.

Finally- Ted Lemon- you offered this “game the system” comment but I have no idea what you mean. I see noxious speakers sometimes participate in the system of university discourse, but that’s not gaming it. I do see the Milos and Coulters of the world “game the system” by having student groups invite them and then doing a miniature version of the tactic I described above- throwing out as many bigoted dog whistles as they can until they’re disinvited or protested in ways that would be called “silencing” if they happened to a politically left speaker, and then happily going on a victimgood tour. But that can’t be what you mean because I am at a loss as to how the fact that they can respond to disinvitations by using them to further their propaganda means we should disinvited them more often.

63

Manta 04.28.17 at 6:26 pm

http://news.berkeley.edu/2017/01/26/chancellor-statement-on-yiannopoulos/

Berkeley on campus appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos: “First, from a legal perspective, the U.S. Constitution prohibits UC Berkeley, as a public institution, from banning expression based on its content or viewpoints, even when those viewpoints are hateful or discriminatory… Universities support free speech and condemn censorship for two reasons — to ensure that positive, helpful, illuminating messages can circulate widely, and to expose hateful or dangerous ideas that, if never engaged or rebutted, would gain traction in the darker corners of our society. Hate speech is like mold: Its enemies are bright light and fresh air

64

Stephen 04.28.17 at 7:26 pm

BBA@54: on punching Nazis, “Because they’re enemies of all mankind. Punching them accomplishes nothing. They should be shot. Of course, that is murder, but the greater crime is allowing a Nazi to live.”

Slippery slope. Nazis, Fascists, Islamists, Stalinists, Maoists, Communists, Socialists, Republicans, Conservatives …

65

John Garrett 04.28.17 at 7:28 pm

Free speech matters, and the freer the better. I’d rather listen to Ann Coulter, if I have to, then ban her: are we on the left afraid that she will be persuasive? She is actually even less persuasive herself than when her views are homogenized and summarized by acolytes. We don’t trust ourselves, much less others, to tell shit from shinola.

66

Ted Lemon 04.28.17 at 8:07 pm

Patrick@62 Yes, that’s a good point. What actual harm does it do for the Young Conservatives to invite Ann Coulter to speak?

I think really the harm that it does is to students who are exposed just to the propaganda, and not to the criticism of the propaganda. If there were some way to ensure that students who disagree with Coulter could publicly question her in a way that was formally enforced, so that she couldn’t simply refuse to answer, then it would actually be beneficial.

Unfortunately, that’s not what happens. Instead she gets to stand up and state her best propaganda, and then walk off stage. If audience questions are allowed, they can be ignored with no penalty. If the audience boos her, this winds up working in her favor.

I don’t actually know what the right answer is here. I want to just agree with you that we should just let the chips fall where they may. That feels like the right answer. But if it’s the right answer, then we aren’t asking the right question, because it doesn’t move us in the direction of real public debate.

And it is clearly not the right answer anywhere other than on campus. It’s not the right answer in discussion forums like this: if people aren’t willing to engage in dialectic, then they really do make it difficult to have a conversation, and they really do in many cases successfully suppress viewpoints with which they disagree through harassment. But you are right that this is not the case with a propagandist speaking in a lecture hall, because it’s very easy in that case to let her have her right to free speech all by herself.

67

Bruce B. 04.28.17 at 8:15 pm

Sebastian H: What they don’t have is decades of experience in how legitimizing speech suppression always turns in to the left getting its speech suppressed.

Upon mulling it over, I believe I roll to disbelieve. Particularly when the “suppression” is the particular kind of case I’ve been on about most this thread. How would refusing to pay five or six figures to let right-wing figures repeat the stuff they’ve been saying in op-ed columns, on talk shows, etc., result in suppression of left-wing speech?

68

Mario 04.28.17 at 8:17 pm

Out of curiosity, and perhaps pertinent to this discussion. Why is BBA@54 not disemvowelled or his endorsment of murder not censored?

69

logern 04.28.17 at 9:04 pm

Certain specifics like anti-choice advocates wanting to get right in the face of a woman walking into a Planned Parenthood clinic bug me.

Speech in general, no.

70

bekabot 04.28.17 at 9:06 pm

1. “I don’t suppose it’s occurred to many hear (here) that she (Ann Coulter) uses these bun fights to drive up sales of her latest book.

Of course she does!! She’ll always promote herself, no matter what kind of material she has to work with; and she’ll get away with doing it whichever way she does it because she’s a pro. There’s nothing that says she can’t do tomorrow with smiles and complacency what she can do with food fights today…at least as well, if not better.

2. “And there’s a ‘disheveled white guy ranting about how he needs a thirty bullet magazine on his favorite gun because there’s no time to reload in a firefight with a dozen home invaders’ style toxic machismo to it all. That crime will probably never happen to him, and if it does he’ll find out real fast that he’s not John Wick.

And yet, it’s not unheard-of that a disheveled white guy ranting about how he needs a thirty-bullet magazine (etc.) will not confine himself to ranting but will actually open fire. It’s not usual, but it does happen. You may feel confident enough to invest in the notion that the disheveled white guy’s action(s) have not been underwritten by recent (and not-so-recent) ventures in speech and only in speech WRT a) gun rights, b) POC’s, c) immigrants, illegal and otherwise, d) “feminization,” e) corrupt women, f) corrupt minorities, g) out-of-control women, h) violent minorities, i) gangs, j) sexual nonconformism, k) bathrooms and who should and should not get to use them, and l) so on throughout the rest of the alphabet. You, I repeat, may feel confident in staking your money on that claim…but I don’t feel bold enough to follow your example.

71

Daragh 04.28.17 at 9:49 pm

SusanC @46

Without getting into an argument about whether what the Corbynites consider acceptable speech does or does not constitute anti-semitism (I’ve been pretty clear where I stand there, and Ken Livingstone’s gentle stroke on the wrist for his comments demonstrates pretty clearly where the Corbynites stand). However, this is yet another category error – no-one is disputing Livingstone’s right to engage in noxious speech about ‘Zionists’ as much or as little as he likes. The issue is whether he can do so while remaining associated with an organisation – the Labour party – which is (nominally) opposed to the views he espouses and does not want to be associated with them.

Moving on, I see that Russia and Vladislav Surkov have been mentioned. That brings up (to my mind) a somewhat more problematic free speech case. Russia unquestionably puts significant resources into propaganda and psychological operations aimed at politically influencing or destabilising other countries. Even if one is skeptical of the DNC hacking and collusion with Wikileaks to damage the Clinton campaign, incidents such as the Lisa F case in Germany make this pretty clear. Just today, RT has chosen to headline the rather bland announcement that the EU will use the East German precedent if Ireland ever unifies as “Europe could tempt N. Ireland to leave UK in exchange for EU membership,” which while a minor example is deliberately misleading and clearly provocative. That’s before we get to the various trolling operations.

So how do open societies deal with this? You could ban RT, Sputnik and other ‘official’ media outlets on the grounds that they’re state instruments, but there are plenty of other channels that can be used. Surely the targets of this kind of psy-op have a right to defend themselves, including preventatively. But how do you do it without infringing on genuine free speech? I haven’t seen any good answers yet.

72

BBA 04.28.17 at 10:12 pm

@Stephen: that was more or less the point of my second paragraph. I’ll add that in my book, most of the people who are labeled Nazis aren’t Nazis, nor are most of the people around today who call themselves Nazis.

73

J-D 04.28.17 at 10:46 pm

‘Always punch Nazis’ and ‘Never punch Nazis’ are both bad advice.

74

Collin Street 04.28.17 at 11:19 pm

> Slippery slope. Nazis, Fascists, Islamists, Stalinists, Maoists, Communists, Socialists, Republicans, Conservatives …

Slippery slope arguments, per-se, are bogus. Unless you can articulate some sort of causal mechanism or at the very least tendency all you’ve done is made a blind evidenceless assertion. “X means Y because” is a valid argument worth listening to, “X means Y just ’cause”, in the face of dispute… is invalid-in-form and not worth listening to. Slippery slope arguments are not universally recognised as true and in fact we’ve got some pretty solid evidence that people do distinguish between things.

I asked about nazi-punching. I didn’t ask about anarchist-punching. If you can show me that nazi-punching inevitably or even generally leads to anarchist-punching then we can go with that, but otherwise arguments about anarchist-punching are fundamentally non-sequiturs.

No?

[just as an FYI: “I don’t have an answer for that” -> “nothing I can say demonstrates the possibility of falsity in your point” -> “I have no basis to disagree with your point”.]

75

Ted Lemon 04.29.17 at 12:10 am

It occurs to me that one of the things I’m really objecting to is the use of “reasoned debate” as a reason to allow propagandists to speak at universities. This is because allowing them to do so in no way contributes to reasoned debate. So it’s not that they shouldn’t be allowed to speak. It’s that that is not the reason why they should be allowed to speak.

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J-D 04.29.17 at 12:22 am

SusanC

If I have understood you correctly, you are suggesting that both the right of the Labour Party and the left of the Labour Party hold that there are some things that Labour Party members should not say, but they are not in full agreement about which those things are. What I don’t get is how you suppose that exemplifies Corey Robin’s original observation. But perhaps I have not understood you correctly.

77

kidneystones 04.29.17 at 12:40 am

I doubt very much that those demanding that ‘dangerous speakers’ such as Coulter and Milo be denied the right to speak will be regarded by many future historians as the blue-noses of the 21st century, chasing down the morally impure, chastising the more liberal, and generally posturing as our moral superiors and society’s guardians.

Remember banned in Boston? Protecting the ‘good’ negro from ‘outside’ agents and agitators?

The Bay Psalm Book, of course, is the most valuable and important book in American history – encapsulating the base fears of America’s Puritans – fears that words corrupt the soul of the weak and the wicked. Ban the book, burn the witch, crush all dissent to build a shining city on the 21st century hill.

78

J-D 04.29.17 at 1:40 am

kidneystones

The basic JS Mill tenet holds – if one does not listen to the arguments of those we believe we oppose, rather than edited second-hand versions provided by equally hostile, bubble-heads of our own ‘tribe,’ we will not only not understand the arguments we think we oppose, we won’t understand our own. For that reason alone Coulter et al need to get to Berkeley and other blinkered safe spaces so students can evaluate for themselves which parts of Coulter’s spiel they find most ridiculous.

The clause I have bolded is your own contribution, and attributing it to Mill is a misrepresentation.

For that reason alone Coulter et al need to get to Berkeley and other blinkered safe spaces so students can evaluate for themselves which parts of Coulter’s spiel they find most ridiculous.

If people want to understand her arguments, they can read what she’s written. They don’t need her to speak on campus for that.

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Sebastian H 04.29.17 at 1:43 am

“I asked about nazi-punching. I didn’t ask about anarchist-punching. If you can show me that nazi-punching inevitably or even generally leads to anarchist-punching then we can go with that, but otherwise arguments about anarchist-punching are fundamentally non-sequiturs. “

The problem is that there isn’t a particularly great definition of Nazi that you can use to make sure that anarchists don’t get punched. Or even communists.

80

Yan 04.29.17 at 2:41 am

Man, once you start calling something a slippery slope, you’ll be calling everything a slippery slope.

81

Val 04.29.17 at 3:17 am

LFC @ 57
It was a comment I saw from js that made me think it – can’t remember exact wording but I think it was expressing frustration about going into moderation and saying it wasn’t worth commenting or something like that.

It could have been just because he didn’t understand the new moderation system, but it looked like a bit more than that was going on, as if he had made previous comments and they had never appeared. I don’t suppose I will find out the full story, but it made me a bit uneasy because I wouldn’t like to comment on a blog that was blocking js.

Ted Lemon @ 53 – I am grateful for the new moderation just concerned in case someone who was a valuable commenter had got caught up in it somehow and it was all happening ‘behind the scenes’ (not that I’m saying that’s happened, just that I was a bit uneasy about the possibility)

As a general point, I think some of the rhetoric about free speech comes from groups who haven’t really suffered discrimination. Discrimination actually damages people. Do men have the right to talk about why women are inferior and shouldn’t vote (as they used to do)? Do whites have the right to talk about why blacks are an inferior race and are better of enslaved (as they used to do)?

If so, how long do they have that right? Are they allowed to say it anew in every generation, in every year, even when society has rejected it, and it is known to do harm? Do they have the right to say it in universities, in the media, or in public office? Do people in authority have the right to say it?

There was an example given upthread of someone saying hurtful and discriminatory things, then being shown the error of their ways through reasoned debate and apologising. But how many times does that have to happen? Can someone come along tomorrow and do the same thing? Do women or people of colour have to keep educating people, or can we ever expect to just get on with our lives without having to experience discriminatory speech in public venues?

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Bruce B. 04.29.17 at 4:05 am

Ted Lemon: Thanks, that was a point I was blathering toward, but you said it way better and more compactly. :)

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bad Jim 04.29.17 at 4:39 am

What’s been going on in Berkeley has more to do with theater or sports than discourse. First, the black bloc/antifa types rioted around a Milo Yiannopoulos speech, then last week a right-wing demonstration/provocation brought both sides together at the community park for an informal scrimmage, and yesterday, on the pretext of a visit by la Coulter, they got together and shouted at each other. The involvement of my alma mater was peripheral.

The College Republicans probably wanted to showcase the violence and intolerance of the left; unfortunately for them, the intolerant and violent wing of the right proved just as eager to play.

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js. 04.29.17 at 4:54 am

I wonder what happened to js.?

Hi Val — I have not been banned, at least as far as I know! I’ve mostly come to find CT threads unproductive (sometimes unbearable), so I’ve stayed away. If Belle did more of her music posts, I would totally comment on those :)

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Marc 04.29.17 at 8:05 am

I think that Sebastian’s point about these being invitations from student groups, not the global university, is pretty important. Saying that activists can prevent any group on campus from inviting speakers that they don’t like is rather different from protesting commencement speakers. The logical consequence of the heckler’s veto there is to ensure that all such speeches are bland and inoffensive, but there is at least some argument about the university as a whole endorsing speech. Taken to the logical extreme, every speaker invited to every department for a colloquium could also be vetted on political grounds, and not just by campus liberals; is this really the hill that we want to die on? Absolutes are foolish, of course, but there is a real argument for defining the limits of acceptable invitations quite broadly (e.g. ensuring that there is actually a campus sponsor for a group).

I strongly oppose campus censorship efforts on moral grounds, but it’s pretty apparent in the comments here that a lot of posters here are cheerfully willing to advocate suppressing speech that they don’t like. So there is also a quite practical aspect here. These efforts are intensely unpopular in the broad public and represent an absolute propaganda bonanza for the right. Fox News has a regular running feature on “campus crazies” and these efforts are regular staples on talk radio. Having people on the left endorsing them doesn’t help the effort to counter this propaganda. Basically, it feeds into a perception that the left is intolerant and fanatical; it divides liberals (as you can see here, as in many other political forums and opinion pieces); and it unites conservatives. We don’t need to endorse every foolish move by 18 year olds in a misguided impulse to tribal solidarity.

So, to adopt a phrase, it’s not just a a crime; it’s a mistake.

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Gareth Wilson 04.29.17 at 8:21 am

For one thing, Richard Spencer is not literally the member of a National Socialist party.

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SusanC 04.29.17 at 8:57 am

Ok, so I’m British and “liberal” doesn’t have the same connotations over here. But, in the US sense of the term, isn’t a commitment to free speech a core element of the definition of a liberal?

Maybe the political centrists you’re calling liberals just aren’t actually liberals any more?

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kidneystones 04.29.17 at 10:05 am

Mired in bubble-land: http://harvardmagazine.com/2017/05/harvards-class-gap
The comments are fun.

Impossible to imagine today give and take featuring the Gipper at Yale.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyMt_X6vQGU

Corey, to his great credit, is one of the few here to openly acknowledge that missing Trump isn’t a robust affirmation of the analytical skills of most professional political scientists and those (here) lulled into believing they know best.

There simply isn’t any argument for backing away from a debate. Friday night was film night – Cuban films, Costa-Gravas, movies made by film-makers who risked their lives for their art. The university was the place where anyone could set-up a soap-box and make an argument. We want our own kids to understand the world as it is, not how the local thought police think it should be.

Some folks choose to forget the vitriol they directed at Corey and Holbo for even suggesting Clinton might lose. And the smugness? Jeepers.

I go out of my way to listen to just about anything. Once. The tribalism is increasing, not decreasing, so the odds of anyone randomly encountering the original work of any of the deplorables is remote, to say the least. Indeed, even linking to a Trump speech causes consternation. I go out of my way to have my own research scrutinized by the best in my field. Debate and discussion is how we improve our own arguments. For that we need people who disagree, not a chorus.

Is any of this making sense? Hope so.

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Daragh 04.29.17 at 10:45 am

SusanC @87

I think this is because, in general, the UK political discourse has been a lot more elevated than the US one due to better, for lack of a better term, ‘policing’ by the political leadership. Already in this election campaign we’ve seen two candidates deselected due to engaging in deeply offensive and bigoted speech – Conservative Andrew Turner and Liberal Democrat David Ward. While I can’t say I agree with UK libel laws, they do prevent outright dishonest attacks on other people and their characters. Compare this to the GOP’s indulgence of birtherism, or other racist tropes, and cheerful willingness to lie shamelessly in political debates.

As a fellow liberal, this is my preferred model – free speech, but with strong social norms that mean speech isn’t consequence free, or that the ‘I just said something vile –
aren’t I just such an audacious truth teller? PAY ATTENTION TO ME!!!’ career path pursued by the Milos and Coulters of this world isn’t a viable one. Sadly, I wonder how long this will be the case. The likes of James Delingpole and Katie Hopkins have shown there’s plenty of money to be made in monetising hate speech, and the Daily Mail in the late Dacre era seems to be morphing into some weird amalgam of 1930’s era Pravda and Der Sturmer.

Val @

“Do men have the right to talk about why women are inferior and shouldn’t vote (as they used to do)? Do whites have the right to talk about why blacks are an inferior race and are better of enslaved (as they used to do)?”

Yes, absolutely they do, and I think that they probably should continue to have that right, so long as there are social consequences (see above). I can understand why there are strong arguments for outright legal bans on very specific forms of speech in specific contexts (Germany and Holocaust denial for example), but even then its not problematic. If you’re arguing that certain arguments should be legally prohibited in general (which is the implication I took from your use of the word ‘right’ – please correct me if I’m wrong) then you really are arguing for a thought police. I think that’s not only wrong, but plays into the hands of bigots who make specious arguments about people arguing for basic norms of respect and decency in public discourse are part of an authoritarian ‘PC brigade.’

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Collin Street 04.29.17 at 11:05 am

As a general point, I think some of the rhetoric about free speech comes from groups who haven’t really suffered discrimination.

Free speech is impossible, because speech imposes externalities. That’s why people speak: to change the world. Speech that doesn’t impose externalities is, you know, worthless. Free speech is worth what you paid for it, and all that.

Over-privileged twats like to pretend that the externalities that their actions impose on others aren’t real or aren’t worth accounting for. I mean, nothing limited to speech: see “political correctness” or what-have-you. Marginalised people don’t have the privilege of pretending ignorance.

… so, yeah. It’s the same crowd every time, because the sorts of mistakes that people make are tied closely to their perspective and understanding.

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Sebastian H 04.29.17 at 4:07 pm

“As a general point, I think some of the rhetoric about free speech comes from groups who haven’t really suffered discrimination.”

Of course some of it does, because some of almost anything come from almost anyone.

But it isn’t a useful analytic frame because lots of rhetoric about free speech comes from black people and women and gay people and [don’t be shocked] poor white people. Lots of people who have suffered discrimination are able to notice that restricting speech is a very powerful method of oppressing them. Lots of people who have suffered discrimination notice that when tools like “unacceptable views” get applied, they get applied unfairly to gay men, and women and people of color.

[Many] leftists think it might be a good idea to suppress speech on campus because it is already a friendly place to them, so they don’t have to worry about it being used against them. But they are either dramatically over-estimating the popularity of their ideas, or they are dramatically over-estimating the strength of “universities” as separate entities.

That is frankly stupid, because it won’t be used against them INSIDE the university. It will used as further evidence that the idea of universities is too disconnected from the rest of the country to be allowed to continue without ‘serious government oversight’.

You’re killing your golden goose.

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BBA 04.29.17 at 4:56 pm

I must not write clearly enough. My point is that political violence is a last resort, not a first, that you should be extremely selective about your targets if you choose to go down that road, and that Nazis are not a joke. My great-grandfather, who I got a chance to meet when I was young, emigrated from a town that doesn’t exist anymore because the Nazis rounded up the entire population and shot them right there. That, not idiots like Richard Spencer or the cosplayers who tried to march in Skokie, is what I’m referring to. I only argue for doing to them, which I don’t know if I’d be physically capable of, what they’d do to me without hesitation.

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engels 04.29.17 at 6:11 pm

Do men have the right to talk about why women are inferior and shouldn’t vote (as they used to do)?

How would you teach eg the suffragettes if talking about the reasons women were denied the vote could land you in prison?

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Jeff Guinn 04.29.17 at 7:17 pm

Sebastion H @55 and @79 FTW

The problem boils down to this: collectivists (i.e., the left) presume that they are in possession of absolute truth, and that anyone who disagrees with them is ignorant, stupid, or evil. Therefore, they deserve to be silenced, and, if possible, punched.

Hubris on parade. The arrogance and explicit tyranny is bad enough; worse is the presumption that truth has only one dimension.

(P.S.: please stop abusing the Citizen United decision. It is available on line — read it. The gist is this: people do not lose their first amendment rights when they join together in a corporation.)

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bekabot 04.29.17 at 9:12 pm

How would you teach eg the suffragettes if talking about the reasons women were denied the vote could land you in prison?

The same way the suffragettes taught themselves back in the day when talking about the reasons women had never had (i. e. had always been denied) the vote could land them in prison. That’s how.

There was a first time, engels, you know.

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bekabot 04.29.17 at 9:25 pm

How would you teach eg the suffragettes if talking about the reasons women were denied the vote could land you in prison?

Why is it supposed here that the suffragettes were incapable of teaching themselves, and that they couldn’t do it from the materials at hand? Women were able to figure out that they were denied the vote on their own; they didn’t need anybody to tell them so; and they were also able to organize in order to win the vote on their own. Plus, men (and women) who didn’t believe that women deserved the vote were always at hand and able to make their views known, so if the suffragettes needed any of that kind of help they had access to plenty of it.

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Trampman 04.29.17 at 10:27 pm

I am dumbstruck. In other threads, liberals accusing leftists of “falling for right-wing tropes” whenever leftists point out the militarism, complicity, compromised behavior, or just plain incompetence of whatever poisonous right-winger they need people to hold their nose for and get behind.

Then, in this thread, see some of those same people repeat the bullshit accusation that the anarchists, communists, and working-class communities that come together to keep reactionary shitheads out are, actually, basically the same as those reactionaries. Y’know, the people who show themselves to be Nazis by making the salute and wearing the symbols, bring knives and guns to so-called peaceful gatherings (where is the moral indignation in support of the IWW member that was shot at a Yiannapolous event at University of Washington), call for mass deportation (or worse) of non-whites, pose an active and present thread whenever they gather (remember that Yiannapolous intended to read out a list of undocumented students at that Berkeey event, leaving them open to both private reprisals by reactionary assholes as well as possible deportation). Yeah, according to the liberals, the people that show up to oppose these things are just as bad as that.

And all because of…what? The ugly spectre of violence? And they raise this spectre despite the fact that the ideological fiction they use to support their moralizing about how it’s bad to not listen to reactionaries tell us all about the kinds of people that they hate–that ideological fiction depends, most of all, on the state’s supposed monopoly on violence. That is to say, almost all speech is tolerable because the liberal imagines speech acts to ultimately be neutered, unable to translate into decisive action except in the political world; and if violence does occur it is, if not disconnected, often held to not be causally connected to the speech that precedes it; and this is only possible because the liberals think the state will do the skull-cracking for them.

Of course, these ideological fictions collapse when the reactionaries that come with the speech also come with the violence, and violence the state is largely turning a blind eye to. It’s noticeable that, whenever these gatherings of reactionaries occur, their prominent members aren’t detained on the day, or pulled off buses and planes; that demonstrators aren’t kettled and forcibly dispersed, merely kept “separated”–unlike, you know, what happens whenever there is, say, a BLM mobilization. And if there is anyone wondering​why this is the case, perhaps they should take a closer look at the organization whose main job is to corral the poor and dispossessed, and to brain them if it can’t contain them, and try to guess what kind of the ideological divide this organization is both structurally and probably personally inclined to. Then the conceptual divide that liberals.imagine between speech and violence obscires the fact that these gatherings are the result of the coherent organization of the reactionaries into their own political movement, and that these demonstrations provide the opportunity to show that these organizations are already capable of inflicting violence, therefore furthering their recruitment and organizational goals while cowing those who might oppose them. Thus the liberal’s ideological fiction makes it so that leftists, since they don’t adhere to that ideological fiction, the only ones capable of opposing reactionary mobilization and organization; then it makes so that the leftists are condemned for doing so. It is because of these extraordinary ideological hurdles that self-defense against reactionaries gets labeled as “fascism” and the left suffers a defeat before it even reaches the field–the liberals didn’t even need to call out the freikorps this time.

I also find it funny how so many people here are going to pains to say it’s n external elements showing up at these demonstrations to oppose the reactionaries, as if they are trying to keep their precious alma mater ideologically pure and disconnected from the nasty violence. They whine that the response at these universitie–local communities coming together to oppose reactionaries flying in all their skinhead friends from around the country–is part of a right-wing ploy to separate the university from the community, but to me it looks like the liberals are willing to do that all by themselves.

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J-D 04.29.17 at 10:37 pm

Is any of this making sense?

Since you ask, I will answer: No.

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J-D 04.29.17 at 10:43 pm

bekabot, I am fairly sure (and expect to be corrected if I am mistaken) that what engels meant by ‘teach the suffragettes’ was ‘teach a history course at a university or other educational institution about the suffragettes’.

100

Collin Street 04.29.17 at 11:14 pm

I must not write clearly enough. My point is that political violence is a last resort, not a first, that you should be extremely selective about your targets if you choose to go down that road, and that Nazis are not a joke. My great-grandfather, who I got a chance to meet when I was young, emigrated from a town that doesn’t exist anymore because the Nazis rounded up the entire population and shot them right there. That, not idiots like Richard Spencer or the cosplayers who tried to march in Skokie, is what I’m referring to. I only argue for doing to them, which I don’t know if I’d be physically capable of, what they’d do to me without hesitation.

It’s interesting, innit, how our big fans of slippery-slope arguments never advance “if we let them talk about discriminating against the jews maybe it’ll all end in genocide”.

In the real world, of course, “talking about discriminating against jews is a slippery slope to genocide” has regularly panned out and “stopping them talking about discriminating against the jews is a slippery slope to stopping people talking about anything except what they had for breakfast” by-and-large hasn’t.

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engels 04.29.17 at 11:16 pm

Why is it supposed here that the suffragettes were incapable of teaching themselves, and that they couldn’t do it from the materials at hand?

Sorry I meant how would you teach the history of the suffragette movement if elaborating the kind of views they were opposed to was verboten.

102

Collin Street 04.29.17 at 11:30 pm

The gist is this: people do not lose their first amendment rights when they join together in a corporation.

This is an important point, which Bruce has addressed extensively: the US constitution’s free-speech framework is rooted in an understanding of the nature of public discourse that we now know to be false. You have to remember, the US constitution was written literally hundreds of years ago, before virtually all of our modern understanding of how-societies-work was developed: we know better, now. Much, much better.

Plus, there’s the additional rather important point: the US spent a rather long time as an apartheid state, and maintains legal and constitutional continuity with that time. Which I should point out is still well within living memory, and encompasses the vast majority of the history of the state; by any sane measure, the US constitution is symbolic of that as much as any ideal of liberty.

Both as a symbol and as a practical document the US constitution is riddled with deficiencies.

Which means: noone actually cares what the US constitution does or doesn’t mandate, as such. It’s all strictly instrumental: if the US constitution mandates something, then it’s something that — hopefully — can be mandated for US citizens, but it doesn’t have any moral sway. “Is this legal in the US” simply isn’t a huge part of sensible people’s moral structures, because US law and morality only coincide accidentally.

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Collin Street 04.30.17 at 1:31 am

The problem boils down to this: collectivists (i.e., the left) presume that they are in possession of absolute truth, and that anyone who disagrees with them is ignorant, stupid, or evil.

Pretty much! There’s been a lot of research into the cognitive underpinnings of political thought and it all tends to point this way: we haven’t done comprehensive research, so we’re still at “all the vectors triangulate to somewhere around here” rather than “this is a thing we know”, but as a practical matter I see no reason to not presume that the centre of the scope of possibilities will remain as it is as the scope narrows.

[it’s worth remembering that you’re not actually dealing with independent variables here; a person’s inherent/overall ignorance/stupidity/evilness is a function of the ignorance/stupidity/evilness of their beliefs. If you believe X things, you are X. So to a large degree the argument you’re railing against is axiomatically/syntactically true, unless you want to dispute the classification of right-wing ideas like sexism and racism as ignorant/stupid/evil.]

Therefore, they deserve to be silenced, and, if possible, punched.

But no. The first part yes, the second part no. Or not as you’ve framed it. I’ve stated “nazi-punching is an acceptable outcome” and you’ve taken it to mean “nazi-punching is a desireable outcome”: I believe that you have a language/cognitive problem wrt implication because you just fucking demonstrated it right there, no? In all honesty I can’t really come to any other conclusion.

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Val 04.30.17 at 2:24 am

Thanks js. Glad my fears were unfounded, sorry you’re finding the discussions so bad. Having just had two people above misinterpret my earlier comment (presumably so they could have an argument with their own version of it*) I can see why you might give up, but it’s a pity.

*Sebastian H and engels, it really is hard to understand how you could have genuinely misunderstood my comment the way you apparently did. This kind of thing leads me to think you’re not arguing in good faith. Cf Daragh @ 89, who disagrees with me but allows for the possibility that he may have misunderstood me, which is both polite and allows for clarification and people understanding each other better, which is what these discussions are meant to be about, surely?

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Val 04.30.17 at 3:09 am

Daragh @ 89
I was talking about ‘speech in public venues’ (as per my comment) not what people think, or say in private.

In Australia we do have a law prohibiting acts (including speech) that “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” others on the grounds of “race, colour, or national or ethnic origin” (the relevant section, 18C, is here http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/rda1975202/s18c.html).

There is some controversy over it, but basically it comes from that section of the community and politics generally referred to as ‘right wing nut jobs’ (RWNJs). I realise that is not a polite description in itself, but I think it has a basis in that
– they try to create controversy over things like 18C that most people don’t really care about
– their reasons for doing so are very self righteous but also confused and incoherent (possibly because they can’t admit the real reasons publicly, although they verge on doing so sometimes).

Also, though they might like to ban the whole law altogether, the controversy they try to stir up usually centres around the words “offend” and “insult”, because arguing that people should have the right to humiliate and intimidate others is a step too far, even for them.

In theory, quite a few of the population agree that “offend” is going too far (possibly a majority, when asked, according to polling) but basically most doesn’t really care and, even if they have theoretical concerns about “offend”, certainly don’t object to the law in general and, I would surmise, probably think it’s better left alone than altered.

106

faustusnotes 04.30.17 at 7:48 am

Trampman, I think you’ll find the people here who accused the lefties in the other thread of buying into right wing tropes are here quite comfortably defending restrictions on speech. I know I am, bring it on I say. So is Val. For the record I have absolutely no problem with any University telling Milo Y to fuck off and take his disgusting ideas with him. I had no problem with it before his pro-paedo video came out, and no problem with it after. I’m not personally into punching nazis but I won’t shed a tear about it, and I certainly wouldn’t advocate no one else do it unless I thought it were clearly tactically disadvantageous. I also was going to raise the shooting of the IWW member as an example of who really values free speech and what the consequences of free speech are, but figured it was unnecessary.

I’ll also point out that at least some of the people complaining about the lefties buying into right-wing tropes on the other thread are from non-US countries, where we have no particular philosophy of free speech absolutism and in my opinion a waaaaaay way more civilized polity. Whether speech is free or not, clearly you can have too much of a good thing. And don’t even get me started on how free speech in America enabled the American people to be walked into an illegal and stupid murderous war, or how the NYT uses its much-vaunted free speech rights to hire another fucking climate change denialist to piss into the wind alongside bobo the greasy fuckhead and douchehat the loser.

107

Lee A. Arnold 04.30.17 at 10:21 am

According to several newspapers, Trump just invited Duterte to visit the White House. Summary execution of drug addicts, anyone?

First two paragraphs of Adrian Chen’s piece in The New Yorker, November 21:

“In May, Rodrigo Duterte, the provincial mayor who had just been elected President of the Philippines after promising to rid the country of crime and drugs by killing thousands of criminals, vowed to stop swearing. He told reporters, “Don’t fuck with me.” He called political figures “gay.” When a reporter asked about his health, he replied, “How is your wife’s vagina? Is it smelly? Or not smelly? Give me a report.” In an overwhelmingly Catholic country, he swore at the Pope. At first, he defended his language as a gesture of radical populism. “I am testing the élite in this country,” he said. “Because we are fundamentally a feudal country.” But, the day after the election, he appeared with a popular televangelist and said, “I need to control my mouth.” He compared his forthcoming transformation to that of a caterpillar changing into a butterfly. “If you are the President of the country, you need to be prim and proper,” he said. His inaugural speech, in June, was obscenity-free.

“The resolution didn’t last. Duterte’s war on drugs has resulted in the deaths of more than three thousand people, drawing condemnation from human-rights groups and Western governments. In early September, before the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, in Laos, a journalist asked Duterte what he would say if President Barack Obama raised the issue of human rights. “You know, the Philippines is not a vassal state,” he replied. “We have long ceased to be a colony of the United States.” Alternating between English and Tagalog, and pounding on the lectern, Duterte, it was widely reported, said of Obama, “Son of a whore, I’ll curse you at that forum.”

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/11/21/when-a-populist-demagogue-takes-power

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Jeff Guinn 04.30.17 at 10:26 am

[Collin Street @103] it’s worth remembering that you’re not actually dealing with independent variables here; a person’s inherent/overall ignorance/stupidity/evilness is a function of the ignorance/stupidity/evilness of their beliefs. If you believe X things, you are X. So to a large degree the argument you’re railing against is axiomatically/syntactically true, unless you want to dispute the classification of right-wing ideas like sexism and racism as ignorant/stupid/evil.

Okay. Using Ben Shapiro for an example, please list what he has said that is sexist or racist, and why what he has said is sexist or racist. Or Milo Yiannopoulos, Charles Murray, Ann Coulter, Heather MacDonald.

By all means use direct quotes.

109

Daragh 04.30.17 at 10:27 am

Val @105

Thanks for the background, but I have to say I’m even more convinced such laws are a bad idea after the explainer. Perhaps this is just my professional background. When you say “I was talking about ‘speech in public venues’ (as per my comment) not what people think, or say in private” I cannot but help think of the Soviet-era phrase ‘kitchen talk.’ Under Brezhnev the Soviet government basically adopted the position that citizens were free to think and even say whatever they liked, so long as they didn’t do it too loudly or in public. Its not a precedent I think should be followed.

Similarly, most post-Soviet countries have laws that are worded extremely similarly to 18C and have been used to shut down all manner of speech and political activity that the government in power would rather not be expressed. Now I’ll admit there’s a key difference here in that Australia’s judiciary is much more independent than, say, Kazakhstan. But we’re still in a position that the state is telling people what they cannot and cannot express or believe, based on the notion that an unidentified someone MAY feel offended, insulted, intimidated or humiliated. And how do we evaluate whether the feeling of offence, insult, intimidation or humilation is genuine, rather than opportunistic?

With respect, I would also suggest you take a look at your own speech while defending the proposition that certain speech should be prohibited. In your post, you have branded critics of 18C ‘right wing nut jobs’ whose arguments are ‘self righteous and incoherent’ and claimed their making an issue of things that ‘most people don’t care about.’ Leaving aside that people on the thread with mental health issues could very reasonably find the term ‘nut job’ humiliating and intimidating, a lot of people would very reasonably interpret such language as an attempt to bully 18C critics into silence (intimidation) through ad hominem attacks (humiliation). Nor is this an entirely isolated incident – after the last UK general election you very strongly implied that critics of Natalie Bennett were motivated by sexism, despite admitting you hadn’t actually followed the campaign in any detail. Given the opprobrium that misogyny is – rightly – treated with on the left, that could also very reasonably be interpreted as an attempt to intimidate and humiliate.

As has been pointed above, the argument being made for the regulation of speech is generally made by people arguing for the regulation of other people’s speech, without giving too much thought to how the principle might be applied to them.

110

SusanC 04.30.17 at 10:59 am

Some of this discussion is genuinely puzzling to me as a British person; although we seem to have many of the same issues (e.g. student protests against speakers) in other respects it seems strange and unfamiliar.

Much of the US discussion of “free speech” takes as its starting point the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution and the associated case law. We don’t have the US constitution over here, and any argument based on the 1st amendment is really going to work in a court.

It’s not just that we don’t mean the same thing when we call someone a “liberal”; “free speech” possibly doesn’t mean the same thing either, as the whole body of US jurisprudence on what is or isn’t protected by the 1st Amendment does not form part of the context for the discussion.

Having said that, there’s a certain parallel to “congress shall make no law…” In the extremely unlikely event that Corey gets arrested for allowing me to mention Edward Snowden in the comments to his blog, I imagine the discussion between him and his lawyer might involve the 1st amendment. Although less protected over here (cf. the UK government managing to coerce the Guardian newspapers into destroying the hard disk containing a copy of the Snowden leak), you’ld also see some push back if the British government tried to do that to me. On the other hand, if Corey invites me as a guest speaker and his students protest to him that I shouldn’t be invited because I’m an idiot and a fan of Slavoj Zizek, well, there’s an argument that they have standing to make that argument (and possibly be listened to by the faculty) that might well fky iver here.

111

AcademicLurker 04.30.17 at 12:15 pm

I’m pleased to see that my prediction in 2 has been born out. Carry on.

112

soullite 04.30.17 at 1:54 pm

A lot of people here are coming dangerously close to calling for the banning of any protest or political demonstration by conservatives, calling them ‘provocations’.

Jesus Christ. You people sound like the shit-kicking conservatives talking about long-hairs and college kids in the 1960s and 70s. And somehow, none of you see it. You’re afraid that your established political order is being challenged in a time of economic turmoil, and you’re calling for the system to go the full Bull Connor to deal with the ‘freaks’ and ‘troublemakers’.

This is a big part of what scared normal people away from them, and it’s what’s scaring normal people away from you.

113

soullite 04.30.17 at 2:01 pm

Also, ‘the slippery slope’ is a logical fallacy. I can’t entirely be applied to human behavior, which does not follow some absolute logical system, but is rather a thing cobbled together from instincts that will not map to a philosophical or mathematical notion of ‘logic’.

You can’t apply logical fallacies to human behavior, only to human arguments. Humans will do what their instincts and group dynamics dictate, not what logic dictates.

I don’t know why supposedly educated people need to be told this.

114

Patrick 04.30.17 at 2:49 pm

Citizens United doesn’t stand for the idea that “people don’t lose their right to free speech when they join into a group.” It stands for the idea that the group has a free speech right capable of being asserted independently of the free speech right of its members, and that expenditures of money are acts of speech, both of which are entirely different in the context of electioneering laws. Further, its worth always remembering that electioneering laws cover a limited time, place, and manner, and have a purpose directly connected to voting- a political act in which “groups of people” have no rights independent of their constituent members.

You’re 100% right that the decision is online. Feel free to read it.

115

bruce wilder 04.30.17 at 4:03 pm

I wonder if anyone thinks there is a liberal v left divide with any points of interest, with regard to political contention over Wikileaks, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, the FISA court, NSA surveillance, publicly sponsored disinformation campaigns and so on.

As an American liberal, I used to hold to the doctrine that the government had no authority to prosecute the publication by private parties of true information, absent a clear and present danger of imminent physical harm. Of course, the British have their Official Secrets Act, not to mention blasphemy, lèse-majesté and strict libel. But “First Amendment” doctrine seemed to liberals of my ilk to make Sedition laws and the Espionage Act of 1917 at least in large part, unconstitutional.

But, of course, those ideas belonged to an era, when the New York Times was not a wholly owned subsidiary of the One Corporate Blob that also owns the government and political establishment, and when they were handed the Pentagon Papers, they published.

Now, I wonder. Does the liberal-left end of the political spectrum have an array of views that matter on the regime of secrecy, surveillance, disinformation and corporate paternalism* that has grown up?

“Free speech, free press” were practically inseparable as political issue areas, when I was young. Now, it seems almost as if the noisy campus controversies the OP focuses on have separated the questions. Why?

*I don’t know what to label the prospect of Facebook policing the spread of “fake news”, let alone dependence on the generosity of Jeff Bezos and Pierre Omidyar for independent media.

116

engels 04.30.17 at 4:19 pm

Val, I’m really not following why you think someone asking a simple question implies they believe they can’t possibly have misunderstood you and prevents you from clarifying what you meant.

In Australia we do have a law prohibiting acts (including speech) that “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” others

This sounds a bit like the British law that was used to arrest a student for insulting a police horse:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/oxfordshire/4606022.stm

117

BBA 04.30.17 at 4:55 pm

Oddly, I’m generally pro-free-speech and anti-violence. The recent wave of “fuck yeah, let’s punch Nazis” just rubs me the wrong way. That’s not what you should do with actual Nazis, and punching people is generally not helpful, no matter how loathsome they are.

I do think the anything-goes American model of free speech is unworkable, while the European “reasonable limits” model is prone to become repressive if an Orban type takes power. And universities ought to be free to invite or disinvite whoever they want.

118

nastywoman 04.30.17 at 4:56 pm

here is just a very short list of the main exception to freedom of speech in the US:

– “advocacy of the use of force” is unprotected when it is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and is “likely to incite or produce such action“
– “there is no constitutional value in false statements of fact”.
– “speech is unprotected if (1) “the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the [subject or work in question], taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest” and (2) “depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, contemporary community standards,[14] sexual conduct defined by the applicable state law” and (3) “the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value”.
– “Speech is unprotected if it constitutes “fighting words”. Fighting words, as defined by the Court, is speech that “tend[s] to incite an immediate breach of the peace” by provoking a fight, so long as it is a “personally abusive [word] which, when addressed to the ordinary citizen, is, as a matter of common knowledge, inherently likely to provoke a violent reaction“.
“Threats of violence that are directed at a person or group of persons that has the intent of placing the target at risk of bodily harm or death are generally unprotected.
AND
“diminished protection” is for, false advertising and misleading advertising may be prohibited.’

– which could US bring to the comical conclusion – that most of US speech is NOT ‘lawful‘ -(and for sure nearly everything ever spoken by Von Clownstick) AND – how much more sense make ‘hate speech laws in France’ –
AS –
“those laws protect individuals and groups from being defamed or insulted because they belong or do not belong, in fact or in fancy, to an ethnicity, a nation, a race, a religion, a sex, or a sexual orientation, or because they have a handicap.”

119

JimV 04.30.17 at 5:21 pm

“But the greatest of these is charity.”–Bible

“Y’all need to chill out!”–Love Daddy, “Do the Right Thing” (paraphrased)

The OP was a divisive one which has spawned a lot of divisiveness.

“Lets get together; come on, come on, let’s get together!
Divided we must fall, together we should stand,
Every boy, girl, woman, and a man!”–Canned Heat

120

Yan 04.30.17 at 6:12 pm

Only 5 or 10 years ago, I thought Deleuze and Foucault were beginning to seem rather quaint. But I find myself thinking of Foucault’s preface to Anti-Oedipus a lot these days:
http://richardpayton.pbworks.com/w/page/12580685/Preface%20to%20Anti-Oedipus

“How does one keep from being fascist, even (especially) when one believes oneself to be a revolutionary militant? How do we rid our speech and our acts, our hearts and our pleasures, of fascism? How do we ferret out the fascism that is ingrained in our behavior?

– Free political action from all unitary and totalizing paranoia.
– Withdraw allegiance from the Negative. Prefer what is positive and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements over systems.
– Do not use thought to ground a political practice in Truth; nor political action to discredit, as mere speculation, a line of thought. Use political practice as an intensifier of thought.
– Do not become enamored of power.”

121

Stephen 04.30.17 at 7:17 pm

Collin Street @ 103: you seem to think it is true that “The left presume that they are in possession of absolute truth, and that anyone who disagrees with them is ignorant, stupid, or evil”, and to think that the left are justified in doing so.

Problem: there isn’t a simple left/right dichotomy. If someone far to the left of Collin Street proclaims that they, not you, are in possession of absolute truth, and that since you disagree with them you are by definition ignorant, stupid, or evil: how would you feel then?

I can see two possible solutions. One, Collin Street is so far to the left that nobody can possibly go further. That may be true, though looking at some of the ultra-left characters in history might make you feel a little uneasy.

Two, that not only are people to the right of Colin Street by definition ignorant, stupid, or evil, so are people to the left. Possibly Lenin or Stalin might have felt the same. I do hope you don’t.

Forgive me if I have misunderstood you.

As for slippery slopes: I think you’re failing to distinguish between the cliff-edge argument (go over the edge and you have an irremediable plunge to catastrophe) and the slippery-slope argument (you’re happy taking the first step down it, but where will it end, how do you stop the accelerating descent?). But we could discuss that later.

122

Ted Lemon 04.30.17 at 7:41 pm

Patrick @ 114: it’s frustrating to keep seeing statements like this. What Citizens United turned on was the idea that it’s not possible to make a meaningful distinction between a corporation that is entitled to first amendment protections, and one that is not.

That is, Fox News is no more entitled to first amendment protection than Citizen’s United. It was taken as a given that corporations are entitled to free speech and that money is speech, precisely because it is speech when the New York Times does it or when Fox News does it, and because both of those organizations are corporations.

I suppose the previous chess move in this game was the end of the fairness doctrine, which was what made corporations that report news materially different than other corporations.

123

Jeff Guinn 04.30.17 at 8:01 pm

[Patrick @114:] Citizens United doesn’t stand for the idea that “people don’t lose their right to free speech when they join into a group.”

Here are quotes from the decision:

All speakers, including individuals and the media, use money amassed from the economic marketplace to fund their speech, and the First Amendment protects the resulting speech.

The First Amendment does not permit laws that force speakers to retain a campaign finance attorney, conduct demographic marketing research, or seek declaratory rulings before discussing the most salient political issues of our day.

As a practical matter, however, given the complexity of the regulations and the deference courts show to administrative determinations, a speaker who wants to avoid threats of criminal liability and the heavy costs of defending against FEC enforcement must ask a governmental agency for prior permission to speak.

Premised on mistrust of governmental power, the First Amendment stands against attempts to disfavor certain subjects or viewpoints. See, e.g., United States v. Playboy Entertainment Group, Inc., 529 U. S. 803, 813 (2000) (striking down content-based restriction). Prohibited, too, are restrictions distinguishing among different speakers, allowing speech by some but not others.

If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.

If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.

Yet certain disfavored associations of citizens–those that have taken on the corporate form–are penalized for engaging in the same political speech.     

The dissent attempts this demonstration, however, in splendid isolation from the text of the First Amendment. It never shows why “the freedom of speech” that was the right of Englishmen did not include the freedom to speak in association with other individuals, including association in the corporate form.

The freedom of “the press” was widely understood to protect the publishing activities of individual editors and printers. See McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm’n, 514 U. S. 334, 360 (1995) (THOMAS, J., concurring in judgment); see also McConnell, 540 U. S., at 252-253 (opinion of SCALIA, J.). But these individuals often acted through newspapers, which (much like corporations) had their own names, outlived the individuals who had founded them, could be bought and sold, were sometimes owned by more than one person, and were operated for profit. See generally F. Mott, American Journalism: A History of Newspapers in the United States Through 250 Years 3-164 (1941); J. Smith, Freedom’s Fetters (1956). Their activities were not stripped of First Amendment protection simply because they were carried out under the banner of an artificial legal entity.

 The dissent says that when the Framers “constitutionalized the right to free speech in the First Amendment, it was the free speech of individual Americans that they had in mind.” Post, at 37. That is no doubt true. All the provisions of the Bill of Rights set forth the rights of individual men and women–not, for example, of trees or polar bears. But the individual person’s right to speak includes the right to speak in association with other individual persons.

The Amendment is written in terms of “speech,” not speakers. Its text offers no foothold for excluding any category of speaker, from single individuals to partnerships of individuals, to unincorporated associations of individuals, to incorporated associations of individuals–and the dissent offers no evidence about the original meaning of the text to support any such exclusion.

Emphasis added.

124

Daragh 04.30.17 at 9:33 pm

Interestingly, Trump’s chief-of-staff is now openly musing about changing the First Amendment in order to allow the POTUS to sue individuals and journalists who write stories that displease him, all in the name of ‘responsible’ reporting. I assume this is something that everyone on the thread would find horrifying – certainly I do.

125

Scott P. 04.30.17 at 9:38 pm

“(P.S.: please stop abusing the Citizen United decision. It is available on line — read it. The gist is this: people do not lose their first amendment rights when they join together in a corporation.)”

I am not sure I understand this argument. If I purchase 10000 shares of Pepsi stock, that grants me precisely zero input into their marketing strategy. To say that Pepsi’s First Amendment rights are essentially an extension of my own when I have no input into what the corporation says would seem to undermine your argument.

So the President of Pepsi has certain First Amendment rights, that I’ll grant you. But as a private person. He can even spend on his own dime to put an ad in the newspaper. What right does he have to spend other people’s money to further his own speech?

126

Patrick 04.30.17 at 9:54 pm

Oh look. You tried to quote a section claiming that Citizens United stood for the premise that people don’t lose their free speech rights when they join together, and you accidentally quoted a section saying what I said- that it stands for the independent free speech rights of organizations, separate from the constituent members.

You even highlighted it in bold.

127

Patrick 04.30.17 at 10:00 pm

Ted Lemon- feel free to believe that the dissent that four Supreme Court justices signed was wholly irrational, and that it is irritating to see people find it more compelling than the majority opinion signed by five.

128

Ted Lemon 04.30.17 at 10:08 pm

Jeff @ 122: Yes, that’s the punchline. But I would have emphasized the paragraph two previous to the one you did, which uses the fact that the press are corporations as justification for the conclusion you emphasized.

129

Val 04.30.17 at 10:46 pm

engels

There is a type of exchange that seems to happen with depressing regularity on CT:

Me: X
You: look everyone, Val said Y. Isn’t that stupid? Feminism sucks boo hiss. (Some of this is subtext :) )

130

Val 05.01.17 at 12:00 am

Daragh, you seem to be in danger of confusing two different things:

1. The role of democratically elected government in preventing or penalising discriminatory, harmful or hateful speech by individuals or groups against other individuals or groups
2. The actions of any government (including democratically elected government) in suppressing dissent against the government.

They are quite different things and it is certainly possible to argue for 1 while opposing 2.

131

engels 05.01.17 at 12:02 am

Me: X
You: look everyone, Val said Y. Isn’t that stupid? Feminism sucks boo hiss.

Val: X
Others: Not sure how that applies to Y?
Val: I don’t see how anyone can ask that in good faith. You are impolite and Bad, unlike Daragh who is Good.
Others: ?
Val: Why do you hate feminism?

132

Pavel A 05.01.17 at 12:38 am

I think a fundamental question sort of being avoided in this thread is (although some have touched on the distinction between free and academic speech), what is the mechanism by which free speech leads to better social/philosophical outcomes (i.e. “the truth”/higher quality of discourse/pick a metric) and can modern technology/social contexts swing that balance in one way or another?

There are a lot of assumptions built in to how the marketplace of ideas is assumed to work, namely that:
1. People are generally rational and search for external consistency
2. People are generally convincible through better argument
3. Free speech generally produces valid and invalid arguments
4. Free speech simply has to exist and in conjunction with the above three points lead to eventual enlightenment

I would argue that all four of these assumptions are highly questionable: the brain searches for internal consistency, not external consistency. People are as likely to be convinced through appeals to anything but rational argument. Free speech isn’t fundamentally responsible for producing any kinds of arguments, valid or invalid. The ability to express your ideas freely has no obvious connection to adopting better arguments.

I’m trying to drive at the idea that (some) freedom of speech is a necessary but insufficient requirement to the creation, dissemination and adoption of “good” or “better” or “more accurate” ideas and narratives. There are additional requirements, such as the notion that all parties are actually interested in adopting the better argument (or can even recognize the better argument), that parties are arguing in good faith, that better arguments can gain as much of an audience as the worse ones, and so on.

This is where technology can come in to tip the scales. It is probably easier to generate bad arguments than it is to generate good ones (accuracy requires effort, screaming at a camera Alex Jones or Paul Joseph Watson-style requires a lot less. Making shit up, ala creationism, also requires less effort than real science). Technology allows you to generate and disseminate such ideas at a rapid and increasingly more rapid pace.

The best example of the technological impact is the Twitter troll mobs mobilized by The Daily Stormer white supremacist website. Hundreds or thousands of trolls will pick a (usually Jewish) target, descend on them and basically subject them to psychological abuse until usually they leave Twitter. This is modern Freedom of Speech at work, amplified by technology. The original author is now in a sense denied their own Freedom of Speech on the basis of the expression of someone else’s (and the frailty of the human psyche at being told that “you belong in an oven” and all that jazz).

The normal constraints on acquiring and using a platform for speech when arguments about Freedom of Speech were first being made no longer really apply (much like a semi-automatic weapon isn’t a musket). It is no longer easy to escape those who would hound or persecute you. It is simpler and faster to churn out noise and overwhelm signal in a concerted effort. It is now possible to amplify fringe opinions to the scale of global platforms. Freedom of Speech exists in a new context and can’t really be discussed in a vacuum, separate to how it is actually being implemented today.

133

Pavel A 05.01.17 at 12:54 am

I guess I’ll add that I don’t really have a solution on how you would manage speech in such a way as to make it more resilient to mass-scale trolling. However, the idea that freedom of speech is all that necessary or the is framework most conducive to better intellectual outcomes should at the very least be questioned.

134

Collin Street 05.01.17 at 1:06 am

Interestingly, Trump’s chief-of-staff is now openly musing about changing the First Amendment in order to allow the POTUS to sue individuals and journalists who write stories that displease him, all in the name of ‘responsible’ reporting. I assume this is something that everyone on the thread would find horrifying – certainly I do.

Or in other words two hundred years of letting nazis say whatever shit they like has done precisely jack to stop nazis from trying to gag people-who-don’t-have-cognitive-problems.

135

Ted Lemon 05.01.17 at 1:47 am

Patrick @ 127: I didn’t say that the dissent was irrational. I said that the opinion of the majority is difficult to refute. The dissent for example says that the majority ruled on a topic that wasn’t before the court, which is a legitimate criticism, but does us no good, because what the majority of the court decides to rule on is by definition what the issue was before the court.

136

J-D 05.01.17 at 3:44 am

From The Mill On The Floss, by George Eliot:

… The casuists have become a byword of reproach; but their perverted spirit of minute discrimination was the shadow of a truth to which eyes and hearts are too often fatally sealed,–the truth, that moral judgments must remain false and hollow, unless they are checked and enlightened by a perpetual reference to the special circumstances that mark the individual lot.

All people of broad, strong sense have an instinctive repugnance to the men of maxims; because such people early discern that the mysterious complexity of our life is not to be embraced by maxims, and that to lace ourselves up in formulas of that sort is to repress all the divine promptings and inspirations that spring from growing insight and sympathy. And the man of maxims is the popular representative of the minds that are guided in their moral judgment solely by general rules, thinking that these will lead them to justice by a ready-made patent method, without the trouble of exerting patience, discrimination, impartiality, …

A lot of the discussion here is being conducted at a high level of abstraction. Now, it’s not true that there is nothing useful that can be said at a high level of abstraction; but what can be usefully said at a high level of abstraction is limited to a high level of generality. It is right to say, and it’s an important consideration, that in general it’s a good thing if people are able to express their opinions; but in practical cases there are other considerations which compete with this consideration, and there is no algorithmic procedure (or maxim, in George Eliot’s language) to balance these competing considerations without discussing specific facts of the case.

On the subject of free speech, it’s likely that you and I (whichever ‘you’ you are) have some points of agreement and some points of disagreement, and perhaps not just about specific cases but about more general principles, but the only way we’re likely to find out how we agree or how we disagree about relevant general principles is by discussing the facts of specific cases; otherwise our discussion is likely to be vacuous.

For example:

Lots of people who have suffered discrimination are able to notice that restricting speech is a very powerful method of oppressing them. Lots of people who have suffered discrimination notice that when tools like “unacceptable views” get applied, they get applied unfairly to gay men, and women and people of color.

That’s true, and relevant up to a point, but what’s supposed to be the practical application? that there should never be any restrictions on speech? There would be equal sense in arguing ‘Violence can be a powerful method of oppressing people, therefore violence should never be used in any circumstances’ or ‘Locking people up can be a powerful method of oppressing people, therefore nobody should ever be locked up’ or ‘Restrictions on access to locations can be a powerful method of oppressing people, therefore there should never be any restrictions on anybody’s access to any location’.

But if the practical application is not supposed to be ‘There should never be any restrictions to speech’, what is it supposed to be? Some examples of application to particular cases, with their specific facts, are what’s needed for clarification.

There is a suitably general conclusion, namely, ‘When evaluating possible restrictions on speech, the effect on people who have been targets of oppression or discrimination should be a consideration’, but again there is no algorithmic procedure to balance this with competing considerations without discussing specific facts of the case.

137

J-D 05.01.17 at 5:02 am

Jeff Guinn

The problem boils down to this: collectivists (i.e., the left) presume that they are in possession of absolute truth, and that anyone who disagrees with them is ignorant, stupid, or evil. Therefore, they deserve to be silenced, and, if possible, punched.

The view you describe may be held by some people on the left, but it’s not the view of the left in general; it is also held by some people on the right (Dominionists, for example).

Also, ‘collectivists’ and ‘the left’ are not synonyms.

138

Daragh 05.01.17 at 7:46 am

Val @130

“Daragh, you seem to be in danger of confusing two different things:

1. The role of democratically elected government in preventing or penalising discriminatory, harmful or hateful speech by individuals or groups against other individuals or groups
2. The actions of any government (including democratically elected government) in suppressing dissent against the government.”

No Val, I’m saying that governments doing 2 almost always claim that they are doing 1, and as soon as you concede that they should do 1 you inherently run the risk of 2. This is because what constitutes discriminatory, harmful or hateful speech is inherently somewhat subjective. I pointed out a couple of examples where you could reasonably be accused of having crossed the line. If you’re going to seriously argue for this you need to engage with that.

engels @131

Care to elaborate?

139

engels 05.01.17 at 9:25 am

Care to elaborate?

I was referring to Val’s comment #104 where she held you up an example of a model commenter whom Sebastian and I should try to emulate.

140

nastywoman 05.01.17 at 11:15 am

‘I’m saying that governments doing 2 almost always claim that they are doing 1, and as soon as you concede that they should do 1 you inherently run the risk of 2.’

To prevent such risks we have laws – and the list @118 proves – that the preverbal ‘proof of the pudding’ lies in the interpretation of these laws – it should have very little to do with the so called ‘left’- especially if the Supremes come to the conclusion that:
“speech is unprotected if (1) “the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the [subject or work in question], taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest” and (2) “depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, contemporary community standards,[14] sexual conduct defined by the applicable state law” and (3) “the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value”.

141

kidneystones 05.01.17 at 1:17 pm

The cost of Obama’s ‘free’ speech (from the NYT)
“As a couple and a family, the Obamas brought grace, empathy and high standards to their time in the White House, in stark contrast to the workaday vulgarity of its current occupants.”

If you want to understand the massive problem ‘progressives’ have created for themselves the discerning can hear the ear-splitting scream of class and entitlement smashing into the faces of the poor and plain folks who may have once may have been foolish enough to believe that Dems stood for equality.

The voices allowed and permitted are those of the angry entitled, terrified in 2008 that a former beauty queen might end up sipping out of the finger-bowl at a WH dinner and now mortified that one of the proles who uses expressions like ‘yuge’ and his family are now the first family and public face of America. The rest is just window dressing.

142

Faustusnotes 05.01.17 at 1:32 pm

Daragh, when governments do 2 they almost never claim to be doing 1. What kind of bullshit is this? Did you come down with the last shower? Look at what is happening in turkey now, the justifications are all about nationalism and the state, not protecting anyone’s right to be protected from insults.

Jesus where do people come up with this shit?

143

Jeff Guinn 05.01.17 at 2:28 pm

[Jeff Guinn:] P.S.: please stop abusing the Citizen United decision. It is available on line — read it. The gist is this: people do not lose their first amendment rights when they join together in a corporation.

[Scott P. @ 125, and Patrick @126:] So the President of Pepsi has certain First Amendment rights, that I’ll grant you. But as a private person. He can even spend on his own dime to put an ad in the newspaper. What right does he have to spend other people’s money to further his own speech?

The problem is that you misapprehend the First Amendment (and perhaps the rest of the Bill of Rights). The 1A does not confer any rights; rather, it is a strict barrier to what the government may legitimately do. No matter who the speaker is, or the source of the speech, Congress is barred from prohibiting free exercise. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are predicated upon natural law axioms: only a tyrannical government (or campus leftist fascists) would presume to deprive individuals of their own opinions, conscience, or association with others.

To reiterate: the 1A does not provide rights; those rights are inherent. It prevents Congress (and, after the 14th amendment, the states) from impinging upon rights that people, in whatever way they arrange themselves, already possess.

144

Jeff Guinn 05.01.17 at 2:30 pm

[Patrick @127:] Ted Lemon- feel free to believe that the dissent that four Supreme Court justices signed was wholly irrational, and that it is irritating to see people find it more compelling than the majority opinion signed by five.

IIRC, the dissent somehow managed to get from beginning to end without once mentioning the 1A.

145

Jeff Guinn 05.01.17 at 3:02 pm

[nastywomen:] “speech is unprotected if (1) “the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the [subject or work in question], taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest” and (2) “depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, contemporary community standards,[14] sexual conduct defined by the applicable state law” and (3) “the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value”.

Obscenity restrictions on speech are a dead letter.

Why? Because it is impossible to create an objective standard for obscenity. Which should caution those who think it is possible to apply objective standards for what constitutes racist, sexist, et al speech.

And the rest of your exceptions are so narrow as to practically not exist.

146

Jeff Guinn 05.01.17 at 3:07 pm

[Pavel A @132:] There are a lot of assumptions built in to how the marketplace of ideas is assumed to work, namely that:
1. People are generally rational and search for external consistency
2. People are generally convincible through better argument
3. Free speech generally produces valid and invalid arguments
4. Free speech simply has to exist and in conjunction with the above three points lead to eventual enlightenment

Your assumptions are correct, but are laced through with subjectivity: consistency, the better argument, valid vs. invalid, enlightenment. All are left begging for a deus ex machina.

Which is the problem facing every pretender to deciding what is acceptable speech: that truth and enlightenment are static, unitary, viewpoint independent, and as decidable as the boiling point of water at standard pressure and temperature.

147

Jeff Guinn 05.01.17 at 3:12 pm

[Collin Street @134:] Interestingly, Trump’s chief-of-staff is now openly musing about changing the First Amendment in order to allow the POTUS to sue individuals and journalists who write stories that displease him, all in the name of ‘responsible’ reporting. I assume this is something that everyone on the thread would find horrifying – certainly I do.

Link, please?

It isn’t that I don’t trust you; rather, I wouldn’t expect anyone else to trust something similar I posted.

148

Daragh 05.01.17 at 4:28 pm

faustusnotes @142

As I noted in my post higher up, my background is in Russia and the FSU generally. Turkey may be open in its motives for the ongoing mass crackdown, but I can assure you that day to day speech policing in Russia is couched in terms of fighting extremism, racism and hate speech generally. Pussy Riot were imprisoned for ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’. A young atheist who made a sarcastic video while playing Pokemon Go in a church could be about to go down for 3 1/2 years for ‘inciting religious hatred’. The latest propaganda campaign against Alexei Navalny has been based around calling him an intolerant fascist. The criminal code is full of provisions against extremism, expressing support for terrorism, falsifying history and glorifying Nazism etc. that have been used to dole out demonstrative punishments for dissidents.

I’ll concede that ‘almost always’ was far too broad. I should have simply said ‘frequently.’ But I’d also note that claiming ‘almost never’ and citing precisely one example (and a highly contentious one at that) is pretty broad itself.

engels @139

I don’t think that’s what Val was saying. I think she was saying I showed a basic level of courtesy during this discussion. I’ll fully admit that it is a standard I don’t always meet in all my interactions here, but it sure makes for a more constructive discussion when I do!

149

Daragh 05.01.17 at 11:09 pm

Jeff Guinn @147

The paragraph you quoted was me @124 – link is there.

150

Cranky Observer 05.01.17 at 11:48 pm

= = = Jeff Guinn 05.01.17 at 3:12 pm

[Collin Street @134:] Interestingly, Trump’s chief-of-staff is now openly musing about changing the First Amendment in order to allow the POTUS to sue individuals and journalists who write stories that displease him, all in the name of ‘responsible’ reporting. I assume this is something that everyone on the thread would find horrifying – certainly I do.

Link, please?
It isn’t that I don’t trust you; rather, I wouldn’t expect anyone else to trust something similar I posted. = = =

Josh Marshall provides the links and the transcript:
http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/priebus-trump-considering-amending-or-abolishing-1st-amendment

Confirmed today by Spicer:
https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/05/01/daily-press-briefing-press-secretary-sean-spicer-43
http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/priebus-trump-considering-amending-or-abolishing-1st-amendment

151

J-D 05.02.17 at 12:40 am

Jeff Guinn

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are predicated upon natural law axioms: only a tyrannical government (or campus leftist fascists) would presume to deprive individuals of their own opinions, conscience, or association with others.

It is not the case that interfering with people’s attempts to express their opinions, or to act in accordance with their consciences, or to associate as they wish, are actions which are only ever perpetrated by tyrannical governments; it is not the case that they are actions only ever perpetrated by governments; it is not the case that they are actions only ever perpetrated by governments and by campus leftist fascists.

To reiterate: the 1A does not provide rights; those rights are inherent. It prevents Congress (and, after the 14th amendment, the states) from impinging upon rights that people, in whatever way they arrange themselves, already possess.

What leads you to the conclusion that people have inherent speech rights? That’s not obvious to me.

152

ComradeSabotabby 05.02.17 at 2:23 am

@143

Heh, natural rights. I guess corporations–despite existing in that form only through incorporation by a charter filed with a government–are now wholly natural associations that exist before the state ever enters the picture, and therefore aren’t merely legal entities whose acceptable acts could be defined entirely by the state that confers upon them their legal status.

Oh wait, except in any non-crazy world that would obviously not be the case, and a legal fiction–that’s incorporated for, what, taxation and liability purposes?–wouldn’t be granted rights on top of the rights that already exist for the individuals that make it up (and even then only representing the interests of a few of those individuals).

153

Moz of Yarramulla 05.02.17 at 3:56 am

Val@81: I think it was expressing frustration about going into moderation and saying it wasn’t worth commenting or something like that.

As someone who is moderated for reasons that I don’t understand, in the best case it amounts to a significant delay before my comments appear and means that I can never participate in the conversation while obeying the site rules. By the time my comments appear they are well above the current comments, and it’s very rare for people to reply to them making me think most people simply don’t see them. Or, as often, whatever point I made has since been made by someone who is permitted to post without restriction.

154

Belle Waring 05.02.17 at 4:08 am

No one is permitted to post without restriction, Moz, and everyone’s comments are approved manually, but in a hap-hazard way by whoever happens to be there. I promise you’re not being discriminated against.

155

Moz of Yarramulla 05.02.17 at 4:25 am

Val@105: In theory, quite a few of the population agree that “offend” is going too far

I think it’s as much that many of the people who are concerned with the possibly oppressive nature of the law agree that the person used as the cause célèbre is/was, in fact, deliberately offensive and they don’t like it. Him being convicted seems like a just outcome, so the fine detail of the law isn’t interesting. The fact that there is not a long list of similar examples suggests that the law isn’t a major problem.

My opinion is that Australia’s legal restrictions are appropriate, but as with much British-derived law the enforcement is inconsistent and should be improved. Sadly the legal system reflects the society rather than the converse, which means that social change activism is what’s required for those not in a position to impose their will by fiat. Which group, sadly, includes anyone wanting to mitigate or reduce climate change (to give one example).

156

Moz of Yarramulla 05.02.17 at 4:43 am

Belle@151: everyone’s comments are approved manually

I find it hard to get that reading from the comments policy but vaguely recall it being mentioned. It’s quite likely that the policy simply hasn’t be updated to reflect the change. Me being in Australia does mean that manual moderation is likely to take many hours in most cases, creating the long delays while moderators sleep. But it does make conversation difficult to impossible for me.

157

Magpie 05.02.17 at 9:36 am

I’ve noticed that, as well.

That is, self-defined liberals tended to be absolutists on free speech. Self-defined leftists—from radical feminists to radical democrats to critical race theorists to Marxists—tended to be more critical of the idea of free speech.

In my opinion, this goes to show that self-defined liberals’ absolutism on free speech was skin deep.

I wasn’t so much a matter of principle, but of posturing.

———

Personally, as a Marxist, I’ve always been pro-free speech, although I admit some comrades are much less keen on the idea.

158

engels 05.02.17 at 11:27 am

A Report From the Frontlines of the Free Speech Wars
https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2017/5/1/allen-report-frontline-speech/

159

engels 05.02.17 at 11:31 am

I can’t believe we’re seriously debating whether making it a crime to offend people is a good idea (fwiw I’m far from being a free speech fanatic).

160

SusanC 05.02.17 at 12:46 pm

It’s interesting that the free speech fightswith the govermnent, and the free speech fights over campus speakers, are over a completely different set of things, at least in the UK and the U.S.

Maybe its because – until recently – our governents, of whatever party, were run by small l liberals. E.g. Blair, Cameron, Bill Clinton are “liberals”.

They are really not going to put you in jail for saying that God is dead (cf, Nietzsche) or that some people like to have sex with people of the same gender. They’ll only crack down for more self-serving reasons, such as saying you have evidence that the executive branch of the government is breaking its own laws (cf. Snowden)

161

Pavel A 05.02.17 at 12:48 pm

@146

There are a few issues with this defence of absolutism.

I posited the idea that typical assumption about how the marketplace of ideas works are throughly underpowered in explaining how “better” ideas surface. Your response was to lead us down into the other edge case: the idea that truth and discourse are subjective and any attempt to impose a pattern on them would only lead to tyranny. However, if there are no inherent patterns, if truth and narrative are wholly subjective and compartmentalized, then it’s kind of obvious that the presence or absence of free speech doesn’t provide any value. Certainly you could say that it allows us to pretend that we’re reaching some personal form of truth, but ultimately the difference between a subjectively personal truth and a subjectively imposed truth is just the nature of the subject. If they’re both equally unmoored from the universe, it doesn’t really matter whether the random stream of nonsense was uttered by you or by some totalitarian state on your behalf.

The second issue is that this is basically an argument from complexity. There are too many patterns, so we can’t pick any. However, we know that there are better patterns of discourse that lead roughly to better, more carefully-considered and nuanced theories and ideas. There is a stark difference between academic speech and YouTube comments. They have vastly different outcomes in terms of how productive they are at making sense of the world.

@kidneystones
“The voices allowed and permitted are those of the angry entitled, terrified in 2008 that a former beauty queen might end up sipping out of the finger-bowl at a WH dinner and now mortified that one of the proles who uses expressions like ‘yuge’ and his family are now the first family and public face of America. The rest is just window dressing.”

Is this a real thesis or are you just trolling? This is some spectacular level of dishonesty that implies that people oppose Republicans because they’re representative of the proles. I guess liberal opposition to George W. Bush, McCain, Perry, Santorum, et al. just didn’t exist? Also, is Trump really “one of the proles”? Really? I guess billionaires with no manners are now proles.

162

Sebastian H 05.02.17 at 1:17 pm

“Me being in Australia does mean that manual moderation is likely to take many hours in most cases, creating the long delays while moderators sleep. But it does make conversation difficult to impossible for me.”

Similarly if you miss one round of moderation you may as well give up because the conversation will be a day or two past you.

I see a lot of absolutism the other way–free speech doesn’t always lead to immediate truth finding therefore restrictions to free speech aren’t bad. That doesn’t follow. Posting from phone so quoting is tough, and by the time this gets past moderation it won’t be worth getting into.

163

Sebastian H 05.02.17 at 1:23 pm

It’s interesting to see how this forums change dramatically decreases engagement with each other. For example Val takes misinterpretation as an attack. In the old system I’d ask for clarification about what she meant. In the new one there isn’t any point, she won’t even see the request for probably 24 hours or more, her response will come come after that, and only then can engagement even start. We try to get around that lag by doing more guessing about what was meant, but that gets interpreted as “bad faith” if you guess wrong it poisons things further. Good times.

164

Ted Lemon 05.02.17 at 1:55 pm

Maybe what’s required is patience. Okay, so Val takes something you say as an attack. Well, you might have to wait two days to get that ironed out if things are as pessimal as you describe. Two whole days. Oh, the humanity! :)

165

Daragh 05.02.17 at 2:14 pm

SusanC @160

“They’ll only crack down for more self-serving reasons, such as saying you have evidence that the executive branch of the government is breaking its own laws (cf. Snowden)”

Really? That’s odd. I thought it was because Snowden downloaded a bunch of classified material and brought it with him to the People’s Republic of China, before flying to Russia and delivering himself into the hands of the FSB. Of course, both of those countries are well known for their commitment to individual privacy AND free speech rights.

166

Jeff Guinn 05.02.17 at 3:08 pm

Jeff Guinn @147

[Daragh:] The paragraph you quoted was me @124 – link is there.

[Cranky Observer @149]

Sorry, my mistake.

But your link justifies my skepticism. The headline “Priebus: Trump Considering Amending or Abolishing 1st Amendment” is hysteria on steroids, then gone insane.

There is no possible way to rely upon English grammar and context to arrive at that conclusion.

Volokh sticks far closer to reality: White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on changes to libel law.

As a legal matter, making libel easier to charge does not entail any change to the 1A, so Politico is either trafficking in fear mongering, or is confused by its own ignorance.

Let’s go with the first option: that we should fear any diminution of a virtually absolutist understanding of the 1A. Even though, IMHO, Politico is making a mountain out of a raisin, the motivation is exactly on point. All of us should fear any weakening of the 11A, because, no matter how much we might agree that a speaker is barking mad and should be shut down post haste, that it won’t be very many turns of the wheel before that same reasoning is coming right back at us.

As a practical matter, I think the MSM has been grossly irresponsible in its pushing charges of Trump-Russian collusion in the 2016 election. I strongly suspect that so many journalists were so freaked out that they actively sought to illegitimize his presidency from the git go; they knew they were making stuff up out of whole cloth, and did so anyway. That said, mumblings in the direction of changing libel law (NOT the 1A) are just that, and nothing more.

Why? Because the US has a virtually absolutist approach to free speech. Which progressives should be thankful for, but give scarcely any sign of doing so.

167

Yan 05.02.17 at 3:15 pm

Pavel @161

I think you’re misreading Kidneystones. I took his point to simply be that there are many Democrats who are motivated by class contempt *as well* as by political ideology.

It is perhaps to the point that while liberal opposition to Bush, et. al., did exist, it is in dramatic decline today, where liberals now swoon over his hijinks with a rain jacket and his adorable paintings. It is also worth remembering that when liberals did oppose Bush, they did it in part by emphasizing that he had a Texas drawl and liked to drink beer and got C’s at Yale. It is also worth noting the recent outrage by Democrats against critics of Obama’s Wall St cash-in speech.

Perhaps you remember how the immensely popular meme started by Fran Leibowitz: “Trump is a poor man’s idea of a rich man.” Tackiness and lack of class–i.e. being a prole with money–are not Trump’s only crimes, but for a certain subset of democrats, they are indeed among the highest.

Kidneystones is wrong about a lot of things–his spot-on criticisms of the democratic party lead, I think, to a reactionary overgenerosity toward the right. But he’s surely somewhat right about this. No coincidence, because it’s the reasons the Dems will keep losing, and it’s the reason he was the only person on this blog who was right about the election.

“Poor man’s idea of a rich man.” No, no class element to be found here.

168

Yan 05.02.17 at 3:27 pm

Magpie @57

“In my opinion, this goes to show that self-defined liberals’ absolutism on free speech was skin deep. I wasn’t so much a matter of principle, but of posturing.”

This sounds right to me. And it fits with the way so many liberals have forgiven Obama all the things they complain about when Bush or Trump do it. Liberals are pro their own free speech.

Personally, I’m a socialist–a critical Marxist. I think free speech is extremely but not absolutely valuable, and can be overridden by direct, substantial, and well-evidenced public goods, but not for protection against vaguely conceived merely possible harms to individuals’ sacred consciences and feelings of self-worth.

But it was the liberals, after all, wasn’t it, who set up the teams as absolutist vs anti-free-speech? And all along almost no one really held either strong view.

Perhaps the shift mentioned in the OP isn’t so drastic. The new critics of free speech act out of a desire to protect groups from perceived harmful speech. At the end of the day, their framework is still protecting individuals, identity, and rights from harm, with just an expanded notion of individuality and harm, but one that still pits individual freedoms against social freedoms.

So, it’s still about individuals obsessed with other people violating their personal space. It’s still a prioritizing of abstract individuality over real, socially grounded individuality. So, still liberalism.

169

Jeff Guinn 05.02.17 at 3:28 pm

[J-D @151:] It is not the case that interfering with people’s attempts to express their opinions, or to act in accordance with their consciences, or to associate as they wish, are actions which are only ever perpetrated by tyrannical governments …

Never said they were. In the present context, though, essentially all the presumption to objective truth so arrogant as to justify intellectual tyranny is emanating from progressives.

As a matter of Constitutional law, the bar to government restrictions on speech is very, very high; so high that any entity that could plausibly be considered an agent of the government (e.g., universities receiving federal funding in any form) must also clear that bar: viewpoint discrimination is forbidden.

What leads you to the conclusion that people have inherent speech rights? That’s not obvious to me.

Read the Federalist Papers. Read the Citizens United decision. The 1A strictly proscribes legitimate government power with respect to speech (and religion, too, for that matter). People have inherent rights which legitimate government is instituted to protect — no matter how they may be organized. The repeated assertion on the left that CU gives corporations rights comes from either ignorance, or a willful desire for government to be able to exercise arbitrary power over what you may hear or read.

170

Jeff Guinn 05.02.17 at 3:31 pm

[Belle Waring @154:] No one is permitted to post without restriction, Moz, and everyone’s comments are approved manually, but in a hap-hazard way by whoever happens to be there. I promise you’re not being discriminated against.

Understood. It would be nice, though, that once having established a track record of constructive (or at least not destructive) commenting, that associated email addresses would be given the privilege of presumed approval, until subsequent behavior warrants losing the privilege.

171

Jeff Guinn 05.02.17 at 3:38 pm

[Pavel @161, in reply to my comment @146:] I posited the idea that typical assumption about how the marketplace of ideas works are throughly underpowered in explaining how “better” ideas surface. Your response was to lead us down into the other edge case: the idea that truth and discourse are subjective and any attempt to impose a pattern on them would only lead to tyranny.

Rather than subject myself to your characterization of my response, here it is, in full:

Your assumptions are correct, but are laced through with subjectivity: consistency, the better argument, valid vs. invalid, enlightenment. All are left begging for a deus ex machina.

Which is the problem facing every pretender to deciding what is acceptable speech: that truth and enlightenment are static, unitary, viewpoint independent, and as decidable as the boiling point of water at standard pressure and temperature.

Which part of that did I get wrong?

I am not willing to allow you to impose a standard upon me that neither exists, nor that you would ever agree that I should impose upon you.

172

Jeff Guinn 05.02.17 at 3:40 pm

[Jeff Guinn @108:] Okay. Using Ben Shapiro for an example, please list what he has said that is sexist or racist, and why what he has said is sexist or racist. Or Milo Yiannopoulos, Charles Murray, Ann Coulter, Heather MacDonald.

By all means use direct quotes.

I can’t help but notice this obvious objection has gone completely unanswered.

173

AcademicLurker 05.02.17 at 5:44 pm

Are liberals really prone to being free speech “absolutists”? That seems to me to be more of a libertarian thing.

IME, the liberal positions tends to be that fewer restrictions on the range of views that can be expressed is generally better. But with the caveat of being consistent with the goals of whatever the particular institution or situation happen to be. I can take the position that students should be able to argue for controversial or unpopular views in class without accepting that the classroom should be allowed to become reddit or 4chan.

Of course there are always limits. If you’re teaching about Germany from 1930-1945, you might specify that if some joker thinks it’s clever to troll the class by arguing that the holocaust was justified*, they’re not going to be allowed to waste everyone’s time with that garbage. The liberal position is that it’s better for the number of such out of bounds don’t-waste-my-time-with-this views to be smaller rather than larger.

*as distinct from explaining how the Nazi idealogues themselves justified it, which would presumably be relevant to the course.

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Ogden Wernstrom 05.02.17 at 7:48 pm

@163 Sebastian H 05.02.17 at 1:23 pm:

…[T]his forum[‘]s change dramatically decreases engagement with each other. …
Good times.

I like that the modus of moderation makes post numbering stable, encourages thoughtful writing and discourages personal-level bickering. However, I am disheartened by the appearance of two- or three-word summation-of-judgement at the end of each tweet. So sad.

175

Chris "merian" 05.02.17 at 8:58 pm

Patrick #62:

The “we should punch nazis because they’re evil” crowd reminds me of the “we should depose Saddam because he’s evil” crowd.

That’s quite a false equivalency IMHO. Disclaimer: I’m not making it my life’s work to call for punching nazis but I’m also not going to cry for nazis who get punched. The canonical reference for my pro-nazi-punching friends were the 1936 actions in the London East End (“Battle of Cable Street“) when the working classes clashed with Mosley’s marchers and successfully prevented their march. With the hindsight of 80 years I would very clearly prefer to have been on the side of the nazi-punchers in this particular instance than on the side of those helping genocidal maniacs advertise their abhorrent inhuman ideology, and be it only by washing their hands of the problem via a pious invocation of free speech. Does this mean I don’t value free speech? Not at all! But it does set an upper limit to the value I place on free speech, admittedly. Transposed to a more general situation, if the free speech serves to enact limitations on the basic freedoms of members of the community, then I go with defending B’s right to live without fear to A’s right speak in favor of B’s elimination.

This is why I never really accepted that Milo Y’s campus kerfuffles were about freedom of speech — he exposed disfavored individual members of the communities he visited (trans* I understand) by name to a mob of his admirers. That’s as clear and present a harm as I think is needed to say, nope, this particular nazi isn’t welcome here.

As for Saddam, his evil was against his people, not people I am familiar enough to consider my community, except in a pretty loose sense of community of all humans. This is probably why I tend to favor lending support to local liberation groups and political forces rather than barging in and trying to solve half-understood problems in the name of helping other people (and conveniently obscuring one’s own economic interests).

176

Val 05.02.17 at 10:04 pm

@163
It’s not so much that I take yours and engels’ misinterpretation as “attack”, it’s more that I take it as bad faith arguing.

Eg: engels @ 159 just did a rhetorical move that’s beloved of many Australian shock jocks in this area

– grossly over-simplify a complex issue (eg make it sound as if people are being thrown in jail for merely ‘offending’ somebody, when in fact they, or their publisher, are more likely being required to do something like withdraw a racist statement and apologise for it)

– express shock/horror/disbelief that other people support/accept/believe in your grossly over-simplified version.

engels, if this doesn’t give you pause for thought about the way you argue at times, I don’t know what will!

177

Chris "merian" 05.02.17 at 10:07 pm

After clicking away from this site, I happened to click next on an article in the Jewish Daily Forward entitled Why Linda Sarsour Should Speak — And Sebastian Gorka Should Not.

In the OP’s frame, I’m probably neither a leftist nor a liberal about free speech. The American absolutist position leads to absurd results that are no less absurd for flowing logically from their premises, such as in the Citizen United decision. (So do, by the way, speech-limiting laws in most countries I’m aware of… just different flavors of absurd.) It is obvious that in practice the ability of one party, corporation or not, to secure a larger part of the available opportunities to speak crowds out others’ speech, or even deafens the audience to certain genres of political speech. Quantity & scale matter.

Fundamental rights are always limited by the fundamental rights of other people. What I know as freedom of the person (or liberty & security of the person, in the US, 4th Amendment I believe) is no less of a right than freedom of speech, yet the US manages to incarcerate and arrest comparatively rather large numbers of people, and grosso modo without constitutional objections. Placing speech (and for some of my neighbors, gun ownership) above other rights, or even against exercise of the same right by others in a Leviathan-struggle-of-all-against-all fashion doesn’t derive from the principle of fundamental rights, but is a choice in how to think about and implement them.

The way I see it is that none of these fundamental rights are absolute or can be ordered completely according to objective criteria. There are just too many wrinkles in reality. So what’s left is to start from a default that is set to “freedom” and then, when doubts arise, weigh the freedom in play by the speaker against the freedom potentially lost by another speaker, or a community member who risks to suffer harm as a result of the speech (“here’s the name of a disgusting queer-trans-libtard-communist, just in case you’d like to know…”) or the harm suffered by anonymous bystanders (“fire!”) or victims of a crime (“go, murder X. I’ll pay you $BIGMONEY”). Which is what the author of the Forward article does. I’m not saying I’m agreeing with all the conclusion, but citing it as an example of precisely this principle-guided conversational process.

178

Smass 05.03.17 at 1:31 am

engels @ 159,
FWIW the Australian legislation that Val is talking about is not about individuals feeling offended but is more closely related to defamatory statements about entire ethnic groups and hate speech. So not much like offending a police horse (although there are longstanding laws about offensive language that have been used in that way). Court decisions about this are not about the subjective feelings of an individual but, AFAIK, rely on the “reasonable person” test. There are also a number of provisions and subsequent clauses that limit the application of that particular clause. I don’t really have a fixed option on the wisdom or desirability of that legislation (or its wording) but its meaning and application are often misrepresented in arguments about free speech.

179

Sebastian H 05.03.17 at 2:14 am

180

J-D 05.03.17 at 2:18 am

engels
When I read the article you linked to, it seemed to me to be an example of how people can use their freedom of speech with the effect of restricting other people’s freedom of speech. I’m not clear on whether that was your point.
I can’t believe we’re seriously debating whether making it a crime to offend people is a good idea (fwiw I’m far from being a free speech fanatic).
If you check out the link previously provided by Val, you will find this:

Subsection (1) makes certain acts unlawful. Section 46P of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 allows people to make complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission about unlawful acts. However, an unlawful act is not necessarily a criminal offence. Section 26 says that this Act does not make it an offence to do an act that is unlawful because of this Part, unless Part IV expressly says that the act is an offence.

181

faustusnotes 05.03.17 at 4:00 am

I wonder how the Americans on here square the supposed absolutist free speech ideals of their country with things like the link Sebastian H gives in 179. There is no such thing as free speech in America, just protected speech for rich white people.

182

mclaren 05.03.17 at 6:27 am

To be perfectly fair, this change in the nature of free speech advocacy does not appear to have come entirely out of the blue, like Aphrodite being born from the foam of the sea.

Over the past 30 years, certain words have come to be twisted and distorted in extraordinary ways. Example: “assault.” In the 1980s, everyone was pretty much on the same page that sexual assault meant something in the general orbit of: putting roofies in a girl’s drink, or getting a girl drunk in order to sleep with here, or physically attacking her, or making continued physical unwanted advances, and so on.

Now “assault” has been variously defined as: 1) staring at a girl; 2) asking a girl if she wants to get a cup of coffee; 3) a guy stealthily removing a condom during consensual sex; 4) a girl or a guy who fails to get explicit verbal consent at each stage of a consensual sexual encounter. Be it noted that according to 4), my first girlfriend raped me, since she asked me over “to watch some TV” and wound up taking my hand and putting in her jeans while kissing me. Anyone who believes that is actually rape needs some lessons about the meaning of the English language.

On the other side of the fence, conservatives have deformed the meaning of words like “treason” and “fascism” and “racism” to a point that would violate the laws of algebraic topology. Example: “liberal fascism” = increasing the marginal tax rate on rich people. Example: “Blacks are the real racists” = protesting unpunished police killings of unarmed black kids. Example: “treason” = Barack Obama issuing executive orders to require maternity leaves for federal government employees. This is just batshit crazy.

These kinds of verbal calisthenics put me in mind of the passage in Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War when he remarks:

To fit with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member; to think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward; any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character; ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action. Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man, and to plot against the enemy behind his back was perfectly legitimate self-defence. Anyone who held violent opinions could always be trusted, and anyone who objected to them became a suspect. To plot successfully was a sign of intelligence, but it was still cleverer to see that a plot was hatching …

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Jeff Guinn 05.03.17 at 9:05 am

faustunotes:

Easy. There are rules of decorum during senate testimony, she violated them, and didn’t desist. The Vox article’s claim that [the] federal government is literally prosecuting someone for laughing is either deliberately misleading, or the author failed to comprehend the obvious.

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engels 05.03.17 at 9:53 am

engels, if this doesn’t give you pause for thought about the way you argue at times, I don’t know what will!

No, it doesn’t. What would give me pause would be if you were to rationally engage with the validity of the points I make instead of engaging in endless crude attempts to change my behaviour via shaming/bullying/pompously denouncing my character or motives/saying that I’m a Bad Person or remind you of other Bad People/etc. Btw I didn’t say ‘prison’ but ‘crime’ so your latest lecture is itself based on a ‘misrepresentation’ on your part (if I shared your paranoic interpretations of the motives of others I would presumably call this ‘bad faith arguing’…)

J-D: that’s certainly an important issue but the main reason I linked to the piece is that it is a recent example of someone from a minority population defending free speech (in this case an academic’s right to cause offence), pace the assumption of some ‘progressives’ that it is only of value for Rich White Men.

Smass, thanks for clariying but I’m not sure you can use a ‘reasonable person test’ to assess offence as it’s not clear it’s governed by rational norms.

Btw if anyone cares what I broadly think about the substantive issue I think I’d second Yan’s sentiments:

I think free speech is extremely but not absolutely valuable, and can be overridden by direct, substantial, and well-evidenced public goods, but not for protection against vaguely conceived merely possible harms to individuals’ sacred consciences and feelings of self-worth.

Not sure I’ll have to time to respond further.

185

J-D 05.03.17 at 9:53 am

Jeff Guinn

There are rules of decorum during senate testimony

Yes, there are. But how do you reconcile the existence of those rules with the concept of absolute freedom of speech?

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Collin Street 05.03.17 at 10:15 am

@Jeff@182:

OK. My advice to you is, “seek medical help”.

Please, try to follow this. Here’s your quote.
Easy. There are rules of decorum during senate testimony, she violated them, and didn’t desist. The Vox article’s claim that [the] federal government is literally prosecuting someone for laughing is either deliberately misleading, or the author failed to comprehend the obvious.

So. Your position is that the description “laughed” is a falsehood [… in implication?]

But what’s the “rule of senate decorum” that she broke, and how did she break it? Well… she laughed, no? So “broke rule of senate decorum”, in-context, means “laughed [in a manner that amounts to a breech of the rules of senate decorum]”. And anything describable as “laughed in a manner that amounts to a breech of the rules of senate decorum” is ipso-facto also describable as “laughed”, no? “Breeched the rules of senate decorum” and “laughed” are both supersets of “laughed in a manner that broke the rules of senate decorum”, after all.

We can do this! We can shift between layers-of-abstraction in classification; we can be more precise or less precise, and doing that doesn’t make our statements “true” or “false”. Where do you live? Well, I live in Australia, and I also live in Melbourne. Both these statements are true.

Same thing here. “Breeched rules of senate decorum” and “laughed” are both correct; there’s no falsehood or false implication: noone’s claiming or even implying that the laughter was in accordance with rules of senate decorum, after all [check if you don’t believe me!].

But you’re here, and you’re insisting the equivalent of “because I live in australia I can’t possibly be living in melbourne”.

That’s… not normal. Is abnormal. You’ve probably been doing this all your life, so it’s normal for you, but it’s not normal for people. Just trust me on this one, if you’re going to doubt me.

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Collin Street 05.03.17 at 10:25 am

So.

Not setting up an apparatus of censorship under liberal democracy in the US has bought… what, maybe six months delay before the fascists introduce their apparatus of censorship. Maybe a year or two, they’re pretty incompetent; can’t even build the machinery of oppression ‘less it comes with instructions from Ikea. But still.

Six months, we can say. And that six months delay was bought with blood, people killed when legal incitement slipped the legal bounds, people who would have lived if the US made even a token effort to stop problems before people-started-dying. Dozens, probably? Murdered abortion doctors and gay people and black people, killed by people stewing in the soup of vileness that the first amendment — that thing that protected you for all of six months — said you had to permit.

d’ye reckon they’d think it’d be worth it, that their lives bought six months delay?

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J-D 05.03.17 at 10:56 am

engels

J-D: that’s certainly an important issue but the main reason I linked to the piece is that it is a recent example of someone from a minority population defending free speech (in this case an academic’s right to cause offence), pace the assumption of some ‘progressives’ that it is only of value for Rich White Men.
The proposition ‘Only Rich White Men invoke the label “free speech”‘ is plainly false, but that’s not a guide, one way or the other, to the truth or falsity of the proposition ‘The practice of deference to the label “free speech” advantages Rich White Men’.

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J-D 05.03.17 at 11:05 am

Jeff Guinn
You seem to be arguing that we can know that people have inherent rights because it is a foundational principle of US Constitutional law that people have inherent rights.

If that’s not your argument, how is your argument different from that?

If that is your argument, can you really not grasp how it’s incomplete? I mean, I can spell that out if necessary, but is it really necessary? I have an idea I did already spell it out in an earlier comment, but I don’t mind repeating myself if you’re sure you want me to.

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AcademicLurker 05.03.17 at 12:46 pm

181 & 184: I guess I’ll ask again, where are these absolutists that people are talking about?

“Every form of expression should be permissible in every situation” and “freedom of expression outweighs every other consideration all the time” are not liberal positions WRT free speech. I’m not sure who you’re arguing against, but it’s not liberals.

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Daragh 05.03.17 at 12:50 pm

@179, 181, 185

A woman has been arrested and charged, on ridiculous grounds, by a cop almost certainly exceeding his authority and a prosecutor doing the same. Is this bloody awful and a sign o’ the times? Yes, of course it is. But I would be amazed if the case wasn’t immediately dismissed on first amendment grounds. This is why the Trump admin is noodling with changing the first amendment, even though that would be incredibly difficult both technically and politically – because they know they CAN’T legally punish dissenting speech in this manner. In other words, “not setting up an apparatus of censorship under liberal democracy” has prevented fascists from setting up theirs, not ‘delayed’ it.

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Jeff Guinn 05.03.17 at 12:50 pm

[Collin Street @186:] Not setting up an apparatus of censorship under liberal democracy in the US has bought… what, maybe six months delay before the fascists introduce their apparatus of censorship.

Murdered abortion doctors and gay people and black people, killed by people stewing in the soup of vileness that the first amendment — that thing that protected you for all of six months — said you had to permit.

Thankfully, reality is not confined by your lurid imagination. I’m going to book mark this. I wonder what your reaction will be when, in four, or eight years, speech will be just as free in the US as it is now.

Excluding, of course, college campuses, which are well on their way to strangling free speech.

[Jeff Guinn] You seem to be arguing that we can know that people have inherent rights because it is a foundational principle of US Constitutional law that people have inherent rights.

Well, that would be a good example of circular logic if that was my argument. It isn’t (lots of words on this thread, no one can remember them all). Here is what I said @143:

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are predicated upon natural law axioms …

It is taken as axiomatically true that people have inherent rights; with that as an entering argument, the rest follows.

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Val 05.03.17 at 12:51 pm

@ 183

“What would give me pause would be if you were to rationally engage with the validity of the points I make instead of engaging in endless crude attempts to change my behaviour via shaming/bullying/pompously denouncing my character or motives/saying that I’m a Bad Person or remind you of other Bad People/e”

Make some valid points and I’ll engage with them, instead of engaging in endless (endless!) crude attempts to change your behaviour, which has been the main purpose of my life up to now, and isn’t an exaggeration or misrepresentation at all.

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Val 05.03.17 at 1:00 pm

But seriously this:
“I think free speech is extremely but not absolutely valuable, and can be overridden by direct, substantial, and well-evidenced public goods, but not for protection against vaguely conceived merely possible harms to individuals’ sacred consciences and feelings of self-worth”

I just wish people would stop writing stuff like this! The law we have been discussing does not say it’s a crime (something you can be jailed for) to make ‘vaguely conceived merely possible harms to individuals’ sacred consciences and feelings of self-worth’. Stop exaggerating and making things up! You can’t have serious discussions about issues when people just make stuff up.

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Jeff Guinn 05.03.17 at 1:05 pm

[Collin Streeet @185:] Please, try to follow this. Here’s your quote.

Easy. There are rules of decorum during senate testimony, she violated them, and didn’t desist. The Vox article’s claim that [the] federal government is literally prosecuting someone for laughing is either deliberately misleading, or the author failed to comprehend the obvious.

So. Your position is that the description “laughed” is a falsehood [… in implication?]

No, my position, as should be easily clear enough, is that the word “literally” has been, once again, grossly abused. And further, it is the disruption she caused for which she is being prosecuted, not the manner in which she caused the disruption. I would think that the distinction between means and ends would have been obvious enough.

She would have been prosecuted if she had used an air horn, imitated a whirling dervish, did hand stands. Therefore, the headline and the story are the product of either deception or ignorance.

Just as your previous assertion that Trump’s chief of staff was openly musing about changing the First Amendment wasn’t even glancingly close to reality.

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Jeff Guinn 05.03.17 at 1:11 pm

[J-D @184:] Yes, there are [rules of decorum during senate testimony]. But how do you reconcile the existence of those rules with the concept of absolute freedom of speech?

While this doesn’t directly address rules of decorum, the concepts are close enough.

And, by the way, heckling is not protected speech.

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faustusnotes 05.03.17 at 2:48 pm

Jeff Guin isn’t arguing anything, except that rich white people are always right. It’s not worth engaging with someone who thinks that laughing is a breech of senate rules, especially when there is video evidence that her laugh is barely audible, and on top of that kicking her out and charging her are two entirely different things. Jeff understands that speech is only free for rich white people and their allies, and he’s just here to obfuscate in defense of that position.

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Jeff Guinn 05.03.17 at 3:55 pm

faustusnotes:

Is the senate entitled to determine its own rules?

The video evidence I saw starts with her loudly resisting getting removed. It contains not one second of what garnered attention in the first place. Your characterization that her laugh is barely audible is not based on evidence, but on wishful thinking.

This has nothing to do with race, or wealth. That you insist upon invoking both says a great deal, none of it good.

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engels 05.03.17 at 4:22 pm

Make some valid points and I’ll engage with them,

No you won’t because you don’t do rational engagement, you just do over-the-top outrage/shaming/personal attacks in an effort to coerce people into thinking your way.

200

Chris "merian" 05.03.17 at 4:27 pm

The most salient thing about the laughing-at-Sessions prosecution is that it illustrates that if you want to restrict speech, there are ways to do it. Sometimes they are quaint and vestigial (why do the rules of decorum of the Senate have the force of law? I mean, I once inadvertently broke the rules of decorum in a French court, and a gendarme discretely told me to close my book and pay attention otherwise I’d have to leave); sometimes they don’t stand up to a constitutional challenge; sometimes they are the expression of the insight that you can’t have a functioning justice system without making it illegal to lie under certain circumstances; etc. pp.

Now the way it certainly looks for the outside observer, you also can’t have a functioning political system and/or a “marketplace” of ideas with unlimited funds poured into corporate speech to the detriment of debate among voting citizens. But there is no political will to find a judicial way to remedy this.

201

engels 05.03.17 at 6:06 pm

where are these absolutists that people are talking about?

I suppose in terms of the USian concept of free speech ‘absolutism’ could mean no laws whose purpose was to curtail freedom of expression in any way? (It might be curtailed as a consequence of laws with other purposes e.g. your right to express your contempt for Trump by burning down his hotel is circumscribed by laws against arson…) It does seem to me to be a legitimate liberal position in the classical sense.

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Sebastian H 05.03.17 at 6:56 pm

First, I’m noting that we are 4 days later and still no closer to knowing how I misinterpreted Val, much less how I did so badly enough to be accused of arguing in bad faith.

It seems like quite a few people here seem to be blaming free speech for an entire world of ills, rather than considering that thinking bad things causes talking about them at least as much as the other way around.

Statements like this are emblematic “Murdered abortion doctors and gay people and black people, killed by people stewing in the soup of vileness that the first amendment — that thing that protected you for all of six months — said you had to permit. “

Most of human history involves governments and ruling regimes where free speech as we know it was sharply curtailed. Interestingly enough, in nearly all of those regimes unfavored minorities were killed, gay people were oppressed, and dogs and cats often fought.

Free speech isn’t the cause of those things. But SOMETIMES it fights those things. Not always. Not perfectly. But sometimes.

One thing experience has shown is that when you have vague justice grounded rules, the powerful get to use them against the weak even more easily than they get to use specific justice grounded rules.

Please note that I didn’t suggest for a second that specific rules couldn’t be perverted to ill ends. I just suggested that vague ones get perverted more easily.

Making it a crime to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” people is the kind of crime that is just begging to be perverted to bad use.

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Sebastian H 05.03.17 at 7:00 pm

Or let me put it another way. The right of the powerful to get their message out isn’t an innovation.

The innovation of free speech is that sometimes the weak get to speak too.

A large number of the people who are lining up against free speech imagine that they will get to restrict the right of the powerful to get their message out.

That is a delusion. Attacking free speech will tend to restrict the weak far more.

204

Patrick 05.03.17 at 7:02 pm

I bailed in this thread ages ago but what the hey.

The “laughing at Sessions” thing is actually three questions.

1. Is a prohibition on disrupting the Senates business that includes a prohibition on noises and speech a reasonable time place or manner restriction?

2. Assuming such a prohibition exists, did this lady violate it?

3. Assuming she did, is it ethically appropriate for her to be prosecuted in this way given the extent to which the rule was violated and given the conflict of interest inherent in a governmental body prosecuting someone for an act that mocked it?

I take (1) as a self evident yes- while I won’t endorse this particular statute without reading it, the general sort of rule seems quite fair. If she had simply blasted a bullhorn so loudly that business could not continue I assume we would not be discussing this. Reasonable time place and manner restrictions are necessary to the proper operation of a society, and hypothetical rules like “It is a crime to intentionally and substantively disrupt governmental proceedings” seem very reasonable.

As for (2) and (3), I won’t hazard a response as that’s beyond the scope of a discussion on feee speech, except to say that I hope the government takes the ethical issues involved as seriously as, say, a judge deciding whether hold someone in contempt for disrupting court, versus just asking them to not do it again, or leave.

I don’t see that this case goes further than this, or that it provides much material to us to think about when considering free speech.

The impression I’m getting from this thread is that a lot of people are deeply terrified of the “reasonable time place and manner restrictions are necessary to the functioning of public fora, but content based restrictions should be highly suspect, particularly in academic settings where a university has committed itself to certain values with resoect to discourse, and where there is no obvious reason why distasteful speech cannot simply be answered by superior argument, especially considering the university is supposedly filled with people who are supposedly experts in that.”

So they throw up this smokescreen of a straw man “free speech absolutism,” then attack it. As if proving that since everyone would support requiring people not to heckle in court and including the possibility of criminal punishment if someone insists upon doing so means that the absolutism position was refuted and now universities can implement any content based restrictions on student political activity they like with a clean conscience. Similarly, people rush to say “what about ACTUAL NAZIS, HUH!? Actual Nazis that are actually successfully recruiting on OUR CAMPUS with their propaganda that is definitely not conversational discourse one could answer rationally!” in hopes that this will clear the way for free reign in restricting whatever content they like.

I’m not much of a theorist. When conservatives say that torture ought be legal because what if we had a ticking time bomb under New York and every other method has failed, I’m content to say “that seems incredibly contrived, if that happens let’s let the interrogators plead necessity at trial or something rather than water down our rules against torture that we use on a daily basis in more realistic scenarios.” I don’t have to have a high minded philosophical position there to reject the idea that we should legislate based on contrived scenarios invented to satisfy our political aims. Real life is enough, thank you.

In real life campuses are not actually inundated with unanswerable Nazis sweeping up students in their claw like grasp of propaganda. They’re inundated with Milo Yianopolos making snide remarks about minorities because he wants you to cancel he can tweet about it and his supporters can send him more money. Or they’re inundated with speakers who by any fair reading are utterly mundane on the topic they’re there to discuss, but some student group is enjoying the morality play of protest, essentially acting like reverse Milos, insisting that if a speaker is invited by one campus group to discuss one topic that must mean the administration is endorsing everything the speaker has ever said and some unless the invitation is immediately revoked.

“If you don’t like what they have to say, win the argument. We’ve provided you with the arena in which to do so,” is an entirely valid response.

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Patrick 05.03.17 at 7:12 pm

Edited to add- the other tactic I’m seeing is more of a critical studies type thing. Like, “you say we have free speech but what about this time someone’s speech was illegitimately restricted, that shows free speech is a sham, so my side should just do whatever it likes since it’s all just power anyways.”

Well, that ignores two things. The first is all the times free speech could have been infringed upon but wasn’t, because we have rules and norms against that. The second is all the times it was infringed, and doing so offended people who didn’t necessarily support the speaker but did support the speakers right to speak, inadvertently spreading the speakers message and rallying people against the censoring authority.

Rules and laws are always like that. People are perfect. A rule or norm that says people deserve a fair trial instead of a lynching is going to be broken sometimes, but it’s not worthless if that rule or norm also prevents that from taking place. Screaming that government isn’t perfect so you should just do what you want andvexeecise whatever power you have however you like is a childish response, and one that vastly overestimates your own power, and underestimates the degree to which we all benefit from social rules and norms.

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engels 05.03.17 at 7:17 pm

Topeka — Topeka — The Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday approved a policy that would allow the firing of university employees if they communicated through social media in a way that aversely affects the school. The policy was made in response to the anti-NRA tweet by Kansas University professor David Guth, which caused a national uproar. […]

http://m.ljworld.com/news/2013/dec/18/new-social-media-proposed-wake-guth-tweet/

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engels 05.03.17 at 8:10 pm

Btw I also think this is important and is kind of what I was trying to say about the different approaches of liberals and socialists being clear enough, just beneath the surface.

Perhaps the shift mentioned in the OP isn’t so drastic. The new critics of free speech act out of a desire to protect groups from perceived harmful speech. At the end of the day, their framework is still protecting individuals, identity, and rights from harm, with just an expanded notion of individuality and harm, but one that still pits individual freedoms against social freedoms.

So, it’s still about individuals obsessed with other people violating their personal space. It’s still a prioritizing of abstract individuality over real, socially grounded individuality. So, still liberalism.

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J-D 05.03.17 at 9:11 pm

Jeff Guinn

The fact that you take it as axiomatically true that people have inherent rights is no reason at all why anybody else should take it as axiomatically true that people have inherent rights; so can you offer any reason why anybody else should take it as axiomatically true that people have inherent rights? If you do take it as axiomatically true, and I do not take it as axiomatically true, is there any way we can take the discussion further, or are we at an impasse?

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Ted Lemon 05.03.17 at 9:11 pm

Patrick@203, okay, but in fact they generally don’t offer a forum in which to have that discussion. They just give the guest a podium and call it done. If the guest were actually at risk of having to defend their position, you would be right, but if that were the case, the guest likely wouldn’t be willing to show up.

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J-D 05.03.17 at 9:13 pm

Jeff Guinn

If there is a distinction between ‘protected speech’ and ‘unprotected speech’, then there is not absolute freedom of speech; perhaps there is freedom of protected speech, but no freedom of unprotected speech?

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Collin Street 05.03.17 at 9:23 pm

Jeff understands that speech is only free for rich white people and their allies, and he’s just here to obfuscate in defense of that position.

Well, yes, but the reason he thinks that is because:
+ he has some flavour of empathy-impairment condition [as fairly adequately demonstrated by his language problems]
+ he sees himself as, or having the interests of, rich white people,
+ because of his empathy impairment, he thinks that that is the normal/only-proper way to be.

No real understanding that different people have different and legitimate experiences or conclusions; you can’t slip a knife blade between “what he thinks” and “what is”.

Again: all hard-right activists that I’ve seen display the linguistic signs of empathy impairment. They’re pretty distinctive. Formally inductive reasoning isn’t logically guaranteed, but it works pretty well.

Or: hard-right politics is comic-book-guy absolutism — which we already know is the product of cognitive problems that we know have historically been vastly underdiagnosed — applied to politics and public life. It’s a nice, convenient, easilly-popperian-falsifiable framework that has an awful lot of predictive power, that seems largely borne out in practice.

[I mean: point to me the US republican presidential candidate in the last election who wasn’t obviously disturbed.]

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Val 05.03.17 at 9:46 pm

Sebastian H and engels
I said it appeared to me that some of the rhetoric about free speech came from people who had not suffered discrimination, and then asked a number of questions about whether people had an inherent right to say discriminatory things and under what circumstances.

Sebastian H suggested I would be “shocked” that “poor white people” believe in free speech. engels suggested I thought people should be thrown into jail for teaching the history of female suffrage.

It was impossible for me to see how you logically got that interpretation from what I said, so I suggested you were arguing in bad faith.

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Val 05.03.17 at 10:31 pm

Right on cue, our former PM stands up to defend ‘free speech’

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/may/03/tony-abbott-liberals-must-resist-cultural-cowardice-and-stand-up-for-western-values

This is the kind of person in Australia who attacks 18C – I wouldn’t rush to ally yourselves with that crew

(I’d say ‘surely that must give you pause for thought?’ But I already tried it once)

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J-D 05.04.17 at 12:34 am

Sebastian H

One thing experience has shown is that when you have vague justice grounded rules, the powerful get to use them against the weak even more easily than they get to use specific justice grounded rules.

Please note that I didn’t suggest for a second that specific rules couldn’t be perverted to ill ends. I just suggested that vague ones get perverted more easily.

You have set up a false contrast between ‘vague’ and ‘specific’. These are not antonyms. The antonym of ‘specific’ is ‘general’. The antonym of ‘vague’ might be ‘precise’ or ‘clear’ or ‘exact’.

If the contrast you intend is the contrast between the general and the specific, then I’m not sure it’s correct that general rules are more easily perverted to ill ends than are specific ones; but I am sure that if the comparison is between the First Amendment to the US Constitution, on the one hand, and section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth), on the other, then the First Amendment is the more general of the two; so, if your principle is correct, it appears to follow that the First Amendment is the more easily perverted to ill ends of the two.

Making it a crime to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” people is the kind of crime that is just begging to be perverted to bad use.

Section 18C does not make anything a crime.

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J-D 05.04.17 at 12:52 am

AcademicLurker

181 & 184: I guess I’ll ask again, where are these absolutists that people are talking about?

“Every form of expression should be permissible in every situation” and “freedom of expression outweighs every other consideration all the time” are not liberal positions WRT free speech. I’m not sure who you’re arguing against, but it’s not liberals.

More than one participant in this discussion has construed it as an exchange of views in which people have taken up two sides, one side supporting freedom of speech and the other opposing it. If people state that they are in favour of freedom of speech and that people disagreeing with them are against freedom of speech, it easily predictable that the people who disagree will construe that position as support for absolute freedom of speech.

It’s not my actual opinion that you, or anybody else commenting here, is an advocate of absolute freedom of speech, but it’s difficult to know how else to construe some of the opinions given here without anybody spelling out in detail how their positions are different from endorsement of absolute freedom of speech. I get the impression — although I’d be happy to be corrected — that some commenters are taking the position that the exact current position in US constitutional law is exactly right. If anybody wants to defend that view, I acknowledge that it’s admirably clear and specific — but what’s the case in favour of it? I don’t find mere assertion of it persuasive. Otherwise, if the position is neither ‘freedom of speech should be absolute’ nor ‘US constitutional law is the last word’, what is it?

I have in earlier comments tried to spell out clearly my opinion on the point at issue (as it appears to me), but if anybody’s missed it and wants it repeated, I’m happy to oblige; or if anybody found it hard to understand and would like further clarification, I’m happy to make the attempt.

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kidneystones 05.04.17 at 1:03 am

Inundated by Milo? (and by implication his horde of 1 minion?), or just the drooling majority on college campuses, both faculty and students, who we are to believe are Republicans? I’ve watched several Milo events. He’s dull, relies heavily on props and stunts, and depends almost entirely on over-reaction by critics to attract attention to his arguments. Douglas Murray is much closer to the real deal and uses words, rather than dildos and bleach, to make his case.

Most students couldn’t care less who speaks on campus. Having attended numerous speaker events both as a student and as faculty, I can’t remember attending more than a half dozen with an audience (as in people there to listen) of more than 50.

Coulter and Milo are there to sell books, build brand, and amuse their followers. Protesters are there to build cred, impress key faculty, and annoy, or impress others.

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Faustusnotes 05.04.17 at 1:29 am

The senate interrupting woman is now convicted and faces up to a year in prison. I leave it for the free speech absolutists on here to explain how a year in prison is justifiable, and look forward to their typical moral contortions.
In Australia range laws against vilification and abuse have never to my knowledge been misused to silence the weak. Unless you consider one of Australia’s highest paid and most widely read conservative columnists to be weak. They typically don’t even silence speech, they just put a coat on it – whicb may be a fine or a forced apology. Oh my god, imagine if the state forced a rich white man to speak in such a way!!!

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Sebastian H 05.04.17 at 2:14 am

J-D “The fact that you take it as axiomatically true that people have inherent rights is no reason at all why anybody else should take it as axiomatically true that people have inherent rights; so can you offer any reason why anybody else should take it as axiomatically true that people have inherent rights?”

This seems like a particularly unfruitful area for this topic. We could probably get into useless discussions of what you mean by the limiter ‘inherent’ without ever making progress. In practical reality, people act as if they have ‘rights’ and act as if at least some of them are ‘inherent’. (At the very least most people will agree that adults have a pretty strong inherent right to life). The number and scope of rights are of course subject to endless debate. What happens when rights come in to conflict is also subject to debate. If you don’t believe that any people have any ‘rights’, you are indeed in a vanishingly small minority and derailing the conversation by trying to explore that view seems silly.

“so, if your principle is correct, it appears to follow that the First Amendment is the more easily perverted to ill ends of the two”

That might be true if a definition of a crime and the Constitutional definition of a right were the same thing. But it turns out they aren’t. The vagueness of the First Amendment makes it easier that it might accidentally make the right too broad, the vagueness of speech limiting laws makes it more likely that they might accidentally criminalize speech that shouldn’t be restricted.

Someone who doesn’t believe in inherent rights might see those as symmetric I suppose.

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kidneystones 05.04.17 at 2:35 am

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J-D 05.04.17 at 4:42 am

Sebastian H

This seems like a particularly unfruitful area for this topic. We could probably get into useless discussions of what you mean by the limiter ‘inherent’ without ever making progress. In practical reality, people act as if they have ‘rights’ and act as if at least some of them are ‘inherent’. (At the very least most people will agree that adults have a pretty strong inherent right to life). The number and scope of rights are of course subject to endless debate. What happens when rights come in to conflict is also subject to debate. If you don’t believe that any people have any ‘rights’, you are indeed in a vanishingly small minority and derailing the conversation by trying to explore that view seems silly.

I didn’t introduce the concept of ‘inherent rights’ into this discussion; Jeff Guinn did. So the question isn’t what I mean by adding the qualifier ‘inherent’; the question is what Jeff Guinn means. If you think that it would be better to discuss rights without the qualifier ‘inherent’, then your advice should be directed to Jeff Guinn, not to me.

When Jeff Guinn first used the word rights in this discussion (without, at that point, the qualifier ‘inherent’), it was in the phrase ‘first amendment rights’. I have a sufficiently clear idea of what ‘rights’ means in that context. That wasn’t the first time the word ‘rights’ appeared in this discussion; it first appeared in the phrase ‘civil rights work’. I think I also have a sufficiently clear idea of what ‘rights’ means in that context, but I don’t think it has identical meanings in both contexts. When people use the word ‘rights’, they don’t always mean the same thing. I would like to be clearer about what Jeff Guinn means by ‘rights’ when he invokes the concept in this discussion.

In the alternative, I would be happy to have this discussion without using the word ‘rights’ at all. How would that suit you? (Interestingly, the First Amendment does not use the word ‘right’ or ‘rights’ in relation to freedom of speech: the relevant text is ‘Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech …’ and not ‘Congress shall make no law abridging [or ‘violating’ or ‘interfering with’ or ‘restricting’ or ‘negating’] the right to freedom of speech’.) It sufficiently appears from this discussion that the concept of ‘freedom of speech’ would require some clarification even if not tagged with the additional abstraction ‘right’, but ‘freedom of speech’ is at least less unclear than ‘right to freedom of speech’.

When I ask people for clarification of their meaning and they resist providing it, I can’t help suspecting the possibility that they don’t fully understand their own meaning. I have more than once had the experience of discovering that my own meaning is not clear to me because I have difficulty explaining it to somebody else, and that I need to sharpen my thinking; it is a salutary experience, and I would recommend it to anybody.

That might be true if a definition of a crime and the Constitutional definition of a right were the same thing. But it turns out they aren’t. The vagueness of the First Amendment makes it easier that it might accidentally make the right too broad, the vagueness of speech limiting laws makes it more likely that they might accidentally criminalize speech that shouldn’t be restricted.

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) defines no crimes and criminalises nothing. I mentioned this.

The following is a logically structured argument:
Premise 1: General rules are easier to pervert to ill ends than specific rules;
Premise 2: The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is a more general rule than Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth);
Conclusion: The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is easier to perver to ill ends than Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).

The logical possibilities are:
(A) you accept the conclusion;
(B) you perceive a logical flaw in the structure of the argument;
(C) you reject the second premise;
(D) you reject the first premise.

If it’s (A), I’d be very surprised; it seems clear that you reject the conclusion.
If it’s (B), I would like to know what the logical flaw is, as I perceive none.
If it’s (C), I’d be somewhat surprised; it’s plain on the face of it which of the two is more general and which more specific.
If it’s (D), perhaps I misunderstood you earlier? The first premise is (as I mentioned) a proposition that I doubt myself, but I thought it was the position you were advancing. If not, how is your position different?

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Patrick 05.04.17 at 4:59 am

Ted Lemon- You don’t have to have a face to face debate with a live human opponent for political discourse to occur on a campus. One guy says his piece, somebody else says their piece, people will figure it out.

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mclaren 05.04.17 at 7:03 am

Surely freedom of speech does not apply in the case of invited paid speakers?

May I take it as read that some organization refusing to pay and invite a speaker constitutes an entirely different issue from the same organization refusing to let the same speaker stand on a soapboax in some public are and speak to whomever passes by?

Are we on the same page here? Or have I gotten this altogether wrong?

If the two issues are entirely different, how can a paid invited speaker like Coulter possibly accuse anyone of “censorship” for refusing to pay her? Am I committing censorship against the Church of Scientology when I refuse to purchase L. Ron Hubbard’s book Dianetics? How is this different from refusing to invite & thus pay a paid speaker?

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Jeff Guinn 05.04.17 at 7:33 am

J-D: By natural law and inherent rights, this is what I mean.

I reject both the first premise and the second.

1. General rules are easier to pervert to ill ends than specific rules

In the US Constitution, the 1A says:

Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech …

Your assertion that this is general is mistaken. “No” is actually quite specific. Regardless of whether you agree with that, reading the Citizens United decision will give many examples of how the 1A has created a very nearly absolutist approach to free speech in the US.

And I also reject your second premise. Section 18C is shot through with subjectivity and, therefore, imposes significant prior restraint, through the concern people will undoubtedly have of being subjected to a kangaroo court.

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Jeff Guinn 05.04.17 at 7:40 am

[faustusnotes @217:] The senate interrupting woman is now convicted and faces up to a year in prison. I leave it for the free speech absolutists on here to explain how a year in prison is justifiable …

In the same way the maximum sentence is justifiable anywhere else in the law: it is justified by, among other things, by the severity of the offense, and if it is a repeat offense.

Which means she won’t get anything near a year in prison. Instead (presuming she is a first time offender), she will get a fine, which might very well be suspended.

Also, it isn’t at all clear why free speech absolutists should be uniquely in a position to justify the operation of the judicial system.

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Jeff Guinn 05.04.17 at 7:52 am

[J-D @215: I get the impression — although I’d be happy to be corrected — that some commenters are taking the position that the exact current position in US constitutional law is exactly right. If anybody wants to defend that view, I acknowledge that it’s admirably clear and specific — but what’s the case in favour of it?

I am taking the position that US constitutional law, as it now stands, is darn close to exactly right. The case in favor of it is this: any presumed limitation would invariably introduce subjectivity and therefore impose prior restraint on speech, as well as impose viewpoint discrimination.

In other words, with regard to free speech, the cure is always worse than the disease.

The thuggery on US college campuses is a perfect example of this. (And also a perfect example of the Streisand effect.)

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J-D 05.04.17 at 8:39 am

Jeff Guinn

By natural law and inherent rights, this is what I mean.

Near the beginning of that article, I read this:

In the broadest sense, “natural-law jurisprudence” involves a judge’s resort to a “higher law,” one anterior and superior to the written constitution.

If you hold that there is a ‘higher law’, anterior and superior to the written constitution, what leads you to that conclusion, and, equally importantly, how do you suppose we can discover its content? how can we find out, for example, whether (and, if so, how, and also for what purpose) it distinguishes between protected speech and unprotected speech?
Near the end of that article I read this:

In Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), the Court struck down a state anti-contraceptive law on the basis of the “right to privacy” that was not expressly stated in the Constitution. Justice Douglas claimed that “specific guarantees [in the Bill of Rights] have penumbras, formed by emanations of these guarantees that help give them substance and life.” Justice Black, a longtime opponent of natural-law jurisprudence, vehemently dissented in this case. He wrote, “I cannot rely on the due process clause or the Ninth Amendment or any mysterious and uncertain natural law concept.” He rejected such doctrines, “based on subjective considerations of ‘natural justice,’” even if he approved of the policy ends which they served.

If you side with Justice Douglas’s view on this issue and not with Justice Black’s, can you explain reasons why you do so, or why I should do so?

I reject both the first premise and the second.

If you have been following closely, you will have noticed that the first premise is not mine; it is the position of Sebastian H, at least as far as I understand it, and I have explicitly doubted it.

“No” is actually quite specific.

On the contrary, ‘No’ is one of the most general words there is.

Regardless of whether you agree with that, reading the Citizens United decision will give many examples of how the 1A has created a very nearly absolutist approach to free speech in the US.

I don’t understand how that statement is supposed to connect with the rest of the discussion. Is it supposed to support some other statement already made? or to contradict some other statement already made? or what?

Section 18C is shot through with subjectivity and, therefore, imposes significant prior restraint, through the concern people will undoubtedly have of being subjected to a kangaroo court.

I am unable to form a clear idea of what you mean by that.

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Collin Street 05.04.17 at 9:36 am

I am unable to form a clear idea of what you mean by that.

“I don’t know what it means so I don’t know how to avoid falling afoul of it”, only wrapped in the universalising projection that’s typical of people [who have the cognitive problems that tend to put them] on the Right.

An explanation. “Subjective”, in the circles in question, means “dependent on the state of mind of people other than the actor-inquestion”. That is of course not what subjective means to normal people, but… Perhaps a clear exemplar might be, “A person is sad”. To me or to you, we might not know whether they’re sad or not because we lack information, and they might be on a gradient where there’s a sorites paradox thing happening, but that the person has a consistent state of mind that is at least in principle knowable… yeah?

To Jeff, it’s a phenomenon that exists in a head that’s not Jeff’s, so it’s inaccessable a-priori and “subjective”. And no reasonable basis of any moral or legal rule or guideline: he can’t know, and so can’t act on it.

Or, rules of the form “don’t make people feel this way” are unacceptably vague, because there’s no way to know what other people are thinking short of asking them [and they could lie! and you wouldn’t, couldn’t know!!] and so no way of knowing that you’re within them. You can see it particularly clearly in the rhetoric of issues in sexual consent, but… yeah.

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J-D 05.04.17 at 9:59 am

Jeff Guinn

I am taking the position that US constitutional law, as it now stands, is darn close to exactly right. The case in favor of it is this: any presumed limitation would invariably introduce subjectivity and therefore impose prior restraint on speech, as well as impose viewpoint discrimination.

It’s unpersuasive if you can only make a case in favour of the existing US constitutional-legal position by assuming the validity of concepts drawn from the existing US constitutional-legal analysis.

In other words, with regard to free speech, the cure is always worse than the disease.

I don’t get what you mean. Which disease are you referring to, and which cure?

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engels 05.04.17 at 1:40 pm

engels suggested I thought people should be thrown into jail for teaching the history of female suffrage

No I didn’t, I asked a simple question (how can we teach history if stating views which we now consider bigoted is forbidden). You could have simply answered (if only by saying it you didn’t feel it applied). Instead you went off on a rant which has now lasted almost a week.

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JHW 05.04.17 at 2:20 pm

It’s a mistake, as several other commenters have noted, to think that US free speech law is “absolutist.” What’s true is that US free speech law is generally more permissive than most Western democracies. For example, the constitutional standard for defamation suits against public figures is very high; courts are fairly stringent about requiring speech restrictions to be viewpoint-neutral, which prevents hate speech laws; and campaign finance regulation is constitutionally very difficult. This doesn’t have anything to do with “natural law” or “natural rights” but is a recent political development, a consequence of (1) liberals in the 1960s having good reason to support strong speech protections (to hold in check serious government repression of the social movements that emerged during that era) and (2) conservatives and business interests more recently seeing the utility that free speech arguments have for them (in attacking “political correctness” and in opposing government regulation of business).

That said, there are lots of free speech restrictions that are permissible under US law. I don’t just mean the obvious things like true threats or the wide scope for time, place, and manner restrictions, though those are important and themselves should pose worries for strong advocates of “slippery slope” reasoning. The US doesn’t have hate speech laws, but anti-discrimination laws impose speech norms in workplaces that are somewhat similar. Supposedly, the government can’t restrict speech based on its content, but actually, in forums the government creates like university-sponsored student groups or federal government charitable giving campaigns, it largely can (but not based on its “viewpoint”–not exactly the most straightforward test to apply). And all the rules go out the window when a court classifies the speech in question as “government speech,” speech that carries the endorsement or imprimatur of the government as opposed to its mere toleration–and the test here is confusing and has only gotten more so recently.

There are some specific reasons to worry about hate speech restrictions. Maybe the most important is that it becomes difficult as a political matter to constrain the value judgments underlying them to their original context; witness how conservative Christians now portray themselves as a vulnerable, persecuted minority to see how this can happen with respect to other laws. But a sort of general view that the only way to protect free speech is to have few or no restrictions on it is in practice inconsistent with the law everywhere, not just everywhere but the United States.

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Jeff Guinn 05.04.17 at 2:36 pm

[J-D @226:] Near the beginning of that article, I read this:

In the broadest sense, “natural-law jurisprudence” involves a judge’s resort to a “higher law,” one anterior and superior to the written constitution.

If you hold that there is a ‘higher law’, anterior and superior to the written constitution, what leads you to that conclusion, and, equally importantly, how do you suppose we can discover its content?

Sorry, I couldn’t find on short notice exactly what I was looking for. This link mixed two concepts, natural law as a basis for the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and appealing to natural law in judicial decisions.

Griswold v. Connecticut is the latter, so isn’t relevant here.

The former is what I’m talking about here. And while I might not adequately summarize the argument in a few sentences, the basis is a matter of history.

The First Amendment isn’t jurisprudence, it directs jurisprudence. It an objective principle that strictly limits what the government may do in the realm of speech: any law abridging the people’s freedom of speech is prohibited.

The 1A comes from natural law. Everyone is equal in their creation, part of being human is possessing the faculties of hearing, speech and thought. Given the equality of creation, no one is in the position to impose their speech upon anyone else, or prohibit them speaking. Consequently, neither is the government, since it is instituted to protect the inherent, natural rights of people. That is how the US has a far more absolutist free speech culture than any other country I can think of offhand.

Of course, that begs the question of distinguishing between protected and unprotected speech. There are only two categories of unprotected speech: that which constitutes a threat of immediate violence, or specifically encourages immediate violence; and slander/libel. The US has very strict libel law. It is nearly impossible for a public figure to sustain a successful charge of libel; private figures have an easier time of it, but not a lot. (Compare with the UK).

The result is that virtually all speech is protected — including “hate” speech. (Scare quotes, because that is such a subjective term.) Unless the speech specifically incited violence that actually occurred, or knowingly and egregiously defamed a private figure, then it is all absolutely protected.

Why? Because the government or any of its entities is prohibited from impinging a right that inherently belongs to the people.

I don’t understand how [reading the Citizens United decision] is supposed to connect with the rest of the discussion.

Because it will save me a heck of a lot of typing. CU goes into a fairly detailed discussion about the basis for the 1A and the consequent jurisprudence.

I am unable to form a clear idea of what you mean by [Section 18C is shot through with subjectivity and, therefore, imposes significant prior restraint].

Because the operative terms are all subjective. What is “reasonably likely”; what constitutes “offend”; what decides if the act is done because of some group identity? Who gets to decide if conduct breaching 18C is done “reasonably” and in “good faith”?

Those are scare quotes, by the way.

Because of the pervasive subjectivity, it is nearly impossible to know in advance what might constitute an offense, and since the burden of defense is significant, the result is prior restraint.

Canada is a good example of where this is headed.

Those advocating enlightened restrictions on speech are exposing the circularity that is at the heart of progressivism. People who self identify as progressives do so because they know that they exist on an exalted moral plane; therefore, their progressive thoughts are exalted, and therefore true.

If others do not agree to these exalted moral thoughts, then subjection is required.

Which is exactly what the Mao-ling tyrants at American universities are doing: attempting to impose their presumed dominant moral position on everyone else: too bad about what you think or want to say; shame if anything should happen to you.

This is where I will circle back to natural law: are you happy for me to decide what you will see, hear, and say?

I doubt it. Goes both ways.

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Jeff Guinn 05.04.17 at 2:46 pm

But wait, theres’ more.

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Chris "merian" W. 05.04.17 at 3:33 pm

Patrick above called the use of the term free-speech absolutists a straw man argument. (Huh? For the record, I use it purely descriptively, if I do.) Yet I see a lot of argument-from-straw-people on the side of those who take positions against restrictions of speech beyond the current US situation, Citizens United and all. Whether someone thinks, or feels, or intuits that a foreign country’s speech limitations beg for being abused is beside the point: these things are accessible to empirical inquiry.

The proper way to go about them is to start out by considering a jurisdiction’s legal system as a black box, look at effects and argue back from them to causes and thereby teasing apart which ones of the elements within the black box really matter, and how they are articulated.

The Australian example is clearly more complicated than “OMG, you can be thrown in prison for insulting someone, how awful!”. In Germany, they have laws against insulting someone. Now I don’t actually think they are necessary, or a good use of the legal system’s resources, however, it would be completely erroneous to presume that they mean an intrusion of subjective arbitrariness and have horrible chilling effects. When you look at legal advice pages regarding insults, you’ll first of all finds that what most people are interested in is whether they can be fired (on the spot, or in a regular dismissal, or not at all) when they insult their boss, use insults at work etc, independently of whether the insult is a civil offense. The answer is “it depends”, which means that in practice insulting speech is in some very common situations (at work) more protected in Germany than in the US, where there are no comparable protections against dismissal at all! (My guess is that being called an asshole/Arschloch is more common in Germany than in the US, despite the legal situation.) When it comes to prosecuting the insulting speech (or, famously, gestures), it should come as a surprise to no one that Germans are just as able as anyone else to develop a detailed jurisprudence, with specific tests. Insults are conceptualized as something that infringes on the constitutionally protected value of dignity of the person, which has to be weighed against the constitutionally protected exercise of privacy, the public interest (which protects speech directed at public figures and relating to political debate more than purely private exchanges), and of course freedom of speech (“of the expression of opinion”). Occasionally, as happened recently when Erdogan sued a comedian, a rarely used provision is found outdated, and public Rechtsverständnis (how the public conceptualizes what’s lawful or not) turns against it. Basically, the German ban on insulting speech is just as well-founded in jurisprudence as that on libel and slander, which of course are unlawful in the US as well. So while I don’t actually support it, as far as chilling effects are concerned, it is hard to argue for their existence. Germany of course also has incitement bans, which unlike insults fall under criminal law. Contrary to what Jeff Guinn says, it is by no means clear that “the cure is [always] worse than the disease”. I think it’s the opposite.

Jeff has been particularly hand-wavy, and J-D has been effective at countering his unpersuasive evidence-free arguments-from-principle. (The question of whether more specific laws or more general laws are more ripe for abuse looks like a side path to me, but FWIW, “no” and “all” are the two quantifiers that are 100% unspecific.)

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Chris "merian" W. 05.04.17 at 3:45 pm

(I should add that when I argue that the remedy is NOT worse than the cure, I am referring specifically to German incitement (“hate speech”) laws. Obviously it’s easy to find examples where the remedy historically has been worse than the cure.)

As for the campus situation, as in the OP, occasionally we get the very odd situation where the right of an invited speaker to advocate the exclusion of certain group from the full enjoyment of participation in the community needs to be honored as protected speech, but a group of protesters who advocate for the exclusion of this particular speaker from this particular community is seen as an evil liberticide anti-free-speech position. I think that’s absurd. I WOULD draw the line, most of the time, at attempting to actually removing the speaker physically from the venue, and understand that protesters are frequently unhappy when events take this turn. Still, there are exceptions, too, like if it actually were 1936 and the world’s about to go on fire. Which we sometimes can’t know in advance.

(I am trying to stick to engaging commenter kidneystones only minimally, so I’ll just reiterate re: Milo Y. that it’s not a campus-speech issue with him, it’s that he is or was a leader of harassing mobs targeting women, feminists and advocates of civil rights, apparently out of a nihilistic enjoyment of power and an Ayn Randian revelling in his own superiority as he perceives it. Basically a thug. I came close to his mobs a few times by using a hashtag they were apparently watching, and wasn’t prepared to give a few days of my life to the misery of being hounded, so I retreated. Some free speech, that.)

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Sebastian H 05.04.17 at 3:48 pm

J-D, it is very possible that I wasn’t clear–often what seems obvious to me isn’t actually obvious. Here I think you are missing the distinction between laws which proscribe against things (usually by punishing them somehow either by making them crimes or opening up large avenues for liability) and laws which describe rights (giving permission for things). Technically you can probably force a description of one in the terms of another (are proscriptions against murder really just describing a right to life?) but they tend to function very differently in many (probably most, maybe all) societies.

General laws proscribing things (either by punishment or by introducing huge legal risk) tend to be more open to abuse than specific laws proscribing things. (And again, I’m certainly aware that even specific laws can be abused). If I have a law punishing you for asking someone to kill someone else, that isn’t as open to abuse as a law punishing you for asking someone to embarrass someone else, which isn’t as open to abuse as a law opening up liability to anyone who subjectively becomes embarrassed. The more subjectivity you add to the law, the more likely that someone will be caught up in it.

Generality on rights operates the same way–except that mistakes go in the opposite direction. Now if the law is too general, it is protecting too much. It might allow too much sexual freedom, too much free speech, or too much right to life. These things are harder to exploit in oppressive ways. You’ll note I don’t say IMPOSSIBLE. I say harder.

A powerful corporation that wants to screw you with trespass, copyright or trademark finds it much easier to do so with general proscriptive laws.

A powerful government that wants to screw silence you finds it much easier to do so with general proscriptive laws.

They have much more trouble with general rights protecting laws. The most typical way of perverting them is by ignoring them, or severely limiting them. Which returns me to my strongest point:

The innovation of free speech is that sometimes the weak get to speak too.

A large number of the people who are lining up against free speech imagine that they will get to restrict the right of the powerful to get their message out.

That is a delusion. Attacking free speech will tend to restrict the weak far more.

The progressives who think that they will be able to silence evil are fools. They are crafting tools for their own enslavement.

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Chris "merian" W. 05.04.17 at 3:49 pm

Jeff: “Because the operative terms are all subjective. What is “reasonably likely”; what constitutes “offend”; what decides if the act is done because of some group identity? Who gets to decide if conduct breaching 18C is done “reasonably” and in “good faith”?”

The jurisprudence gets to decide. You are aware that the questions you ask are likely to be nothing a good course in Australian law can’t fix? That all these terms are highly likely to have definitions and tests that are used to determine what’s what, and what isn’t? Your objections sound to me like someone who takes a first look at a physics text and goes all blustery: “What’s this crap about ‘force’ and ‘energy’ and ‘work’? These are all vague, things, and nothing makes sense!”

There is no value in arguing from ignorance.

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Sebastian H 05.04.17 at 4:33 pm

“It’s unpersuasive if you can only make a case in favour of the existing US constitutional-legal position by assuming the validity of concepts drawn from the existing US constitutional-legal analysis.”

Thats only true if you assume that the Constitution isn’t drawing attention to a right rather than creating it and only in the stringently absolutist term “only”. It is perfectly appropriate to draw attention to the categories and considerations applied in US jurisprudence as a rich starting point for examining how free speech ideas have been thought about in a deeper than average for governments way.

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Layman 05.04.17 at 5:09 pm

@ Jeff Guinn

This: “…any law abridging the people’s freedom of speech is prohibited.”

Is directly contradicted by this: “Of course, that begs the question of distinguishing between protected and unprotected speech.”

They can be reconciled by understanding the first to mean “…any law abridging the peoples’ freedom of _protected_ speech is prohibited.”

It’s an important distinction in a discussion about which speech rights are iviolate. It means you can’t simply rely on the plain text of the first amendment, because you also have to establish what kinds of speech are protected by that amendment.

Then there’s this:

“There are only two categories of unprotected speech: that which constitutes a threat of immediate violence, or specifically encourages immediate violence…”

And

“The result is that virtually all speech is protected — including “hate” speech.”

Yet it’s unarguable that hate speech incites violence. That is in fact its purpose, to encourage others to abuse the target of the speech. Now you’ve backed into having do define what kind of threat of violence is ‘immediate’ and what kind isn’t. If I shout “kill the __________ later!”, is that protected speech, or unprotected speech?

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Sebastian H 05.04.17 at 6:40 pm

J-D, just to be clear re Griswold v. Connecticut, do you realize that your question “If you side with Justice Douglas’s view on this issue and not with Justice Black’s” could also be phrased “why do you support the legal underpinnings of Roe v. Wade”?

The way you phrased the question obscures the fact that Justice Black was in the dissent, and that those favoring a natural law/natural rights concepts were those ruling in favor of contraceptive access and later abortion rights.

Now as it happens I don’t agree with their analysis of how to apply those rights or how to balance those rights. But I do agree with them and the majority of the Western world that talking about inherent rights makes sense as a concept. You seem to be setting up Jeff’s view as the minority view, when in fact the idea of inherent rights is well accepted across a wide majority and broad diversity of Western political thought.

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Jeff Guinn 05.04.17 at 6:58 pm

JHW @ 230:

Many points, particularly for noting what I had forgotten: workplace restrictions. It is probably worth noting, however, that actions against hostile work environments, real or otherwise, aren’t undertaken by the government, but rather individuals.

And all the rules go out the window when a court classifies the speech in question as “government speech,” …

Example, please. This leaves me honestly confused: how could the government not particularly protect its own speech?

But a sort of general view that the only way to protect free speech is to have few or no restrictions on it is in practice inconsistent with the law everywhere, not just everywhere but the United States.

This is a non sequitur. The US has, SFAIK, the least restrictive speech environment anywhere (excluding universities and their Mao-lings), while also having the fewest restrictions on speech. That isn’t inconsistent.

Meanwhile, my two links just above show that adding just a few restrictions can make speaking freely threatening to one’s livelihood. In Canada.

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Jeff Guinn 05.04.17 at 8:08 pm

Layman @ 238:

Is directly contradicted by this: “Of course, that begs the question of distinguishing between protected and unprotected speech.”

No, it doesn’t. It is simplistic to demand an absolute. The very expansive wording of the First Amendment created a huge expanse of protected speech. Do you wish to argue against the proposition that in the US almost all speech is protected?

Yet it’s unarguable that hate speech incites violence.

Okay. Give me an example where, in the US, hate speech incited violence. Then, having done that, explain how that speech was still protected. Please, be specific.

Chris @236:

There is no value in arguing from ignorance.

I was not arguing in ignorance about the subjective meaning of words. Nor, if you had followed my links, was I arguing from ignorance where similar laws have led.

Sebastian H @235:

Full disclosure, for those who can’t grasp the readily apparent: I am not a progressive.

That said: thank you.

You have encapsulated in one post the point I have failed to make. Expansive free speech is a cudgel that can’t be used.

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engels 05.04.17 at 10:44 pm

Of possible relevance to OP’s thesis:
millennials have the same attitudes towards free speech as everyone else
https://scatter.wordpress.com/2017/03/30/millennials-have-the-same-attitudes-towards-free-speech-as-everyone-else/amp/

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Chris "merian" 05.04.17 at 11:02 pm

Jeff Guinn #241:

” Give me an example where, in the US, hate speech incited violence. Then, having done that, explain how that speech was still protected. Please, be specific.”

Why only the US? Aren’t you talking about universal principles? I’m just asking because my country has some rather well-documented historical examples to offer. But seriously, asking this question makes me wonder about your experience with, you know, people. You an start at the low end with any gamergate mob directed by a Miloid clone, or by the guy who rips off woman’s headscarf while hissing “go home, this is our country”. But of course these don’t get the specificity of analysis that you require. So go to the more spectacular end. Google is pretty useful. Search terms “how did [name] get radicalized” and plug in any white guy who takes up a gun and shoots up some dark people, or any young Western Muslim man who starts finding the idea of armed jihad romantic, or any misogynist spree shooter. “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev”, “Dylan Roof”, “Elliot Rodger”, all work really well. I really think that asking your interlocutors to do basic internet searches for you doesn’t suggest you’re actually interest in learning and expanding your point of view. And discussing with the goal of winning is… limited in interest.

I did follow your links, btw. Some rather pitiful … I don’t have a good label for this kind of propaganda. Anti-justice? Alt-right would have worked, but it seems to be more anti-feminist than specifically white supremacist. Oh, well. So there are a few Canadian professors who have chosen as a hill to die on, intellectually speaking, not a reasoned argument about transsexuality, gender relations or pronouns, but their privilege to personally demean individuals regarding gender and pronoun use. Oh, well. For the first, they should absolutely enjoy academic protections of speech, even if they’re unappetizing. For the second, well, where do you want to draw the line for censure? Assault? Why assault and not discriminatory behavior? For what benefit?

What I really think about this mess, and similar ones is that going out of your way to create a situation in which someone gets harmed, no one benefits, and the person who’s behind it can construe it as “free speech” makes a mockery of such a valuable thing as freedom of speech.

Last, if your argument is that freedom of speech covers ideas like the one that your protected speech should not endanger your livelihood, then what do you make of my German example, in which regular private employees are way more protected against dismissal than US ones for what they say outside their jobs… not because free speech protection is higher, but because employment protection is.

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Chris "merian" 05.04.17 at 11:24 pm

OK, to turn to something difference from troll-feeding, and to go back to the OP, this just showed up:

Two researchers at the University of Kansas have conducted a study suggesting that “explicit racial prejudice is a reliable predictor of the ‘free speech defense’ of racist expression.”

The paper authored by Mark H. White, a graduate student in psychology, and Christian Crandall, professor of psychology, appears online currently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Now I have no idea if this is a reliable result and am not qualified to assess psychology research. But here’s a thesis: Maybe the less absolutist, or to varying degrees critical, attitudes towards campus free speech by self-defined liberals has something to do with anti-racism having progressed among this group.

(I can’t say I believe this thesis outright, but was wondering about something similar. Whenever someone tells me about how 50 years ago a well-behaved audience would politely listen to the invited racist / misogynist / war-monger and then proceed to destroy his (or her) argument with well-reasoned, elegant, calmly presented intellectual superiority I wonder how many of the audience were female, non-white, or economically disadvantaged. Effective campus and academic free speech, just to make this clear, is IMHO a good that’s highly in need of protection, and the clown circus around some “men’s rights” provocateur whose speech serves no positive purpose obscures the cases where rubber hits road: a member of the campus community being able to speak out against those who hold the institution’s financial or political purse strings, without retaliation.)

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JHW 05.04.17 at 11:35 pm

Jeff Guinn @ 240: The First Amendment also applies to private lawsuits, which invoke the force of the state against the defendant, so I’m not sure what significance it has that suits against workplace harassment are brought by individuals.

The government speech doctrine isn’t about government leaving its own speech unprotected, it’s about the government being allowed to control who speaks on its behalf or with its endorsement, even on viewpoint-based grounds. You obviously need a doctrine like this one, but like most legal doctrines, it causes trouble at its edges. For a recent example, see Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans (2015).

I’m not saying that it’s “inconsistent” to have a laissez-faire free speech policy. What I’m saying is that many people make arguments along the following lines: (1) free speech is really important; (2) legal doctrines are highly manipulable, so permitting exceptions runs a high risk of creating a slippery slope; (3) therefore, there should be no (or very few) exceptions. The point is that US free speech doctrine doesn’t really resemble the sort of absolutism this sort of argument leads to. It is, in principle, totally susceptible to this risk. It doesn’t happen because of politics, not law. (The critical legal theorist in me would say that this is essentially always true, but we needn’t go there.)

Profesor Jordan Peterson’s claims about Bill C-16 are highly misleading: http://torontoist.com/2016/12/are-jordan-petersons-claims-about-bill-c-16-correct/ It’s possible that under Canadian law, it would violate anti-discrimination law (not hate speech law) to deliberately refer to a transgender person using the incorrect pronouns, but exactly the same argument could be made under US law, so the example really doesn’t help you.

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J-D 05.05.17 at 1:41 am

Sebastian H

… Here I think you are missing the distinction between laws which proscribe against things (usually by punishing them somehow either by making them crimes or opening up large avenues for liability) … General laws proscribing things (either by punishment or by introducing huge legal risk) tend to be more open to abuse than specific laws proscribing things. …

I’ve already mentioned that section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) does not make any acts subject to criminal penalty; it is also not the case that it exposes anybody to huge legal liabilities for any acts they perform.

If I have a law punishing you for asking someone to kill someone else, that isn’t as open to abuse as a law punishing you for asking someone to embarrass someone else …

I suppose maybe that’s the case; but then again, maybe it’s not the case. I’m not sure how you reach your conclusion. If you could show me an actual example of a law that could punish me for asking somebody to embarrass somebody else, I would probably be able to form a view about it, but I’m not aware of any such laws. Maybe you find it easy to form unqualified judgements without context, but I seldom do.

A large number of the people who are lining up against free speech imagine that they will get to restrict the right of the powerful to get their message out.

Who are these people who are lining up against free speech? What are they actually saying or writing about free speech? What’s the context?

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J-D 05.05.17 at 3:44 am

Sebastian H

“It’s unpersuasive if you can only make a case in favour of the existing US constitutional-legal position by assuming the validity of concepts drawn from the existing US constitutional-legal analysis.”

Thats only true if you assume that the Constitution isn’t drawing attention to a right rather than creating it and only in the stringently absolutist term “only”. It is perfectly appropriate to draw attention to the categories and considerations applied in US jurisprudence as a rich starting point for examining how free speech ideas have been thought about in a deeper than average for governments way.

I am familiar with the idea that the US Bill of Rights is not to be understood as creating rights but only as protecting rights understood to exists independently of it. That doesn’t answer the questions of how people conclude that these rights exist and, of at least equal importance, how people are supposed to find out what these rights are.

I am also aware that United States judges, particularly Supreme Court justices, have expounded the Bill of Rights at great length (although some parts of it much less so than others — Third Amendment, anybody?). But since they necessarily found all their expositions on the text — which, as you rightly say, simply assumes the independent existence of the rights referred to — that doesn’t seem to me to be a useful place to begin looking for answers to the questions I just mentioned.

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Val 05.05.17 at 5:41 am

@ 229
So it was just a simple, innocent question and you weren’t in any way trying to suggest that I was an over the top feminist who wanted to suppress all free speech on gender, even the teaching of history?

Glad we cleared that up.

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Val 05.05.17 at 5:50 am

@ 229
No, i might be wrong after all – I think I’ve finally worked out what you mean. You mean it might not be possible to teach it because it might upset someone and have to have a trigger warning or something?

Ok then maybe I do owe you an apology – I think it’s far fetched, but possible I guess. But you could just do the warning thing – say to present day students that ‘some of you might find this rhetoric upsetting’ or something. But really I think you are suggesting that female students are ‘snowflakes’, aren’t you?

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J-D 05.05.17 at 6:57 am

Sebastian H

J-D, just to be clear re Griswold v. Connecticut, do you realize that your question “If you side with Justice Douglas’s view on this issue and not with Justice Black’s” could also be phrased “why do you support the legal underpinnings of Roe v. Wade”?

No, I didn’t realise that, but now that you’ve made the suggestion I don’t see what difference it’s supposed to make. I’m not sure that I am aligned with either side, as between Justice Douglas’s view and Justice Black’s, but if I looked it into it and decided I favoured Justice Black’s view, and if that did mean, as you appear to be suggesting, that I don’t agree with the legal underpinnings of the Roe v Wade decision — well then, so what? I am not sure what the legal underpinnings of the Roe v Wade decision are, but if I did, I might not agree with them. I don’t get why that possibility would bother you, or why it should bother me.

The way you phrased the question obscures the fact that Justice Black was in the dissent, and that those favoring a natural law/natural rights concepts were those ruling in favor of contraceptive access and later abortion rights.

Now as it happens I don’t agree with their analysis of how to apply those rights or how to balance those rights. But I do agree with them and the majority of the Western world that talking about inherent rights makes sense as a concept. You seem to be setting up Jeff’s view as the minority view, when in fact the idea of inherent rights is well accepted across a wide majority and broad diversity of Western political thought.

I wasn’t suggesting that it was a minority view. I was asking whether there were reasons why Jeff Guinn holds it, or why anybody else (such as myself) should adhere to it. I would find unpersuasive any suggestion that I should adhere to this view because it is the majority view, even if it is.

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J-D 05.05.17 at 6:59 am

Jeff Guinn
I read through what you wrote, but I can’t find in it any answer to the question ‘What leads you to the conclusion that there is such a thing as natural law?’ or to the at least equally important question ‘How do you suppose that we can discover what the natural law is?’ Telling me that the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the First Amendment are founded on the idea of natural law doesn’t answer either of my questions, and neither does anything else you wrote, as far as I can tell.

CU goes into a fairly detailed discussion about the basis for the 1A and the consequent jurisprudence.

No, it doesn’t — that is, not in a manner relevant to this discussion, or helping to answer my questions. There is detailed discussion about how the First Amendment had been and should be applied, but only a little, without detail, about how it was, is, or could be justified. This is hardly surprising, because the Court is obliged to take the constitutional text as a given. There is a little in the Citizens United decision about how the people who wrote the First Amendment wanted it to remedy problems, as they perceived them, with contemporary English laws which they were reacting against; that seems plausible enough, historically, but it’s not the kind of ‘natural law’ justification you’ve been referring to, and it’s not persuasive to me now.

Because the operative terms are all subjective. What is “reasonably likely”; what constitutes “offend”; what decides if the act is done because of some group identity? Who gets to decide if conduct breaching 18C is done “reasonably” and in “good faith”?

In my experience (please let me know if yours is different), it is common for people to disagree about the interpretation of words, phrases, clauses, sentences,and paragraphs, including when they are found in the text of a law. Therefore, it would not surprise me if people disagreed about the interpretation and application of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth). People often disagree about the interpretation and application of laws, including the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Sometimes those disagreements end up being resolved in court. That is one of the reasons courts exist. If it’s a problem to have laws written in terms about which people disagree, requiring court rulings, then it’s a problem with practically all laws, and certainly the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

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engels 05.05.17 at 10:50 am

you weren’t in any way trying to suggest that I was an over the top feminist who wanted to suppress all free speech on gender, even the teaching of history?

No, I wasn’t (strange but true…)

But really I think you are suggesting that female students are ‘snowflakes’, aren’t you?

Surprisingly: no.

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Layman 05.05.17 at 12:28 pm

Jeff Guinn: “Do you wish to argue against the proposition that in the US almost all speech is protected?”

No, I wish to point out that, in the US, it is judges who decide what the First Amendment means, and that they don’t actually always agree what it means, and that this means you can’t actually point at it as some kind of clear statement with self-evident meaning, and that, in fact, you, personally, don’t even seem believe its meaning is as clear as you say it is, because even in this discussion you’ve introduced a contradiction, saying both that it is an absolute protection of all speech and that it contains an unstated admission that there are different classes of speech, and that some speech enjoys its protection while other speech doesn’t.

And to point out that, once you’ve admitted to that latter bit, you’ve arguably moved the discussion from whether speech can be prohibited at all, to what sort of speech can be prohibited, which I think means you can’t then reject suggested speech restrictions because of the absolute nature of the first amendment; you must argue why or why not that particular type of speech should be protected.

But thanks for playing!

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Collin Street 05.05.17 at 12:54 pm

+ We don’t know exactly what that right is.

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Collin Street 05.05.17 at 12:55 pm

[previous post was made as a result of a slip of the fingers]

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Cranky Observer 05.05.17 at 3:23 pm

I must just be an overly suspicious person to think that I find were to dig all the way down through the turtles to the base of this “natural law” one would find evangelical Christian sharia law stating back.

My reading of the history and population stats of the US colonial and Articles period is that there was more ethnic and religious diversity then than there would be until at least the 1920s and perhaps until the Immugration Act of 1965 ended racial quotas for immigration. USians of the Articles period disagreed on a lot, but the all (mostly) agreed to the text of the Constitution of 1789 and its amendments as published. If one is going to claim that there is a “natural law” that stands above the Constitution [1] one is going to have to present convincing evidence that at least a plurality of the diverse population of 1789 agreed on what that “natural law” was. Which brings us back to my initial suspicion.

[1] yes, English Common Law, Code Napoleon, Indian Nation law can be cited in specific circumstances. Minimal.

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Sebastian H 05.05.17 at 4:35 pm

J-D “I was asking whether there were reasons why Jeff Guinn holds it, or why anybody else (such as myself) should adhere to it. I would find unpersuasive any suggestion that I should adhere to this view because it is the majority view, even if it is.”

This was prompted by the discussion thread started with your: “The fact that you take it as axiomatically true that people have inherent rights is no reason at all why anybody else should take it as axiomatically true that people have inherent rights; so can you offer any reason why anybody else should take it as axiomatically true that people have inherent rights?”

Not every discussion can be an axiom level discussion. The axiom that people have at least some rights is well accepted for essentially any political discussion in the modern West (and in a very large portion of non-Western traditions as well). I’m certainly not going to say that you HAVE to agree with the axiom. If you want to openly start the discussion with “I don’t believe in any human rights at all unless you can prove it to me from first principles” I think most people won’t want to engage in that kind of college armchair philosophy in a discussion about free speech.

I suspect the only reason you get any traction for it at all is because you haven’t tried it on a thread about slavery, or women’s reproductive autonomy, or apartheid–but as a philosophical objection it has just as much force there. Is there any reason for a person who doesn’t axiomatically believe in inherent rights to worry about slavery? Is there any reason for a person who doesn’t axiomatically believe in inherent rights to worry about a woman getting beaten by her husband? Is there any reason for a person who doesn’t axiomatically believe in inherent rights to worry about black people being treated poorly compared to white people? I could ask you those questions–but I won’t, because they aren’t really appropriate for a discussion on free speech. Context is important. You’re asking for the type of answers that would be a waste of time to wrangle over in a thread on free speech.

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J-D 05.05.17 at 9:50 pm

Sebastian H
The impression created by your comment is that you’re interested in a discussion about free speech but you’re not interested in what I think about free speech. If that’s not what you mean, how is it different from what you mean?

Is there any reason for a person who doesn’t axiomatically believe in inherent rights to worry about slavery? Is there any reason for a person who doesn’t axiomatically believe in inherent rights to worry about a woman getting beaten by her husband? Is there any reason for a person who doesn’t axiomatically believe in inherent rights to worry about black people being treated poorly compared to white people? I could ask you those questions–but I won’t …

Too late.

My answers would be along much the same lines as the reason I gave my daughter when she was about two years old for why you shouldn’t bite people: you shouldn’t bite people because it hurts. People shouldn’t be enslaved because people don’t want to be enslaved.

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Sebastian H 05.05.17 at 11:11 pm

“The impression created by your comment is that you’re interested in a discussion about free speech but you’re not interested in what I think about free speech.”

Do you have thoughts on free speech?

I count 25 of your comments on this thread and unlike everyone else on this thread I think I have literally no idea even in the most general outlines what a good free speech policy might look like from your point of view. I might disagree with Val’s, but that is because she bothers to give us hints about what it is. It is almost as if you are a radical skeptic, unwilling to share the slightest hint of what you personally think.

“you shouldn’t bite people because it hurts. People shouldn’t be enslaved because people don’t want to be enslaved.”

Ah, finally a crack into you thought process. These look a lot like a gesture toward inherent rights.

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Collin Street 05.05.17 at 11:40 pm

Just to point out, but “subjective” is being used two different ways here:
+ “subjective” meaning “not subject to agreement because different people use different definitions” and
+ “subjective” meaning “not subject to agreement because it pivots on the individual experience, which is not knowable by others”.

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engels 05.05.17 at 11:42 pm

People shouldn’t be enslaved because people don’t want to be enslaved.

Is that the same reason people shouldn’t dump their boy/girlfriends?

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Marc 05.05.17 at 11:42 pm

So the Golden Rule. Fine: we don’t want others censoring our political speech, so we don’t censor the political speech of others. You have to be willing to live under the rules if your political opponents are the ones implementing them.

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J-D 05.06.17 at 12:55 am

Sebastian H

Do you have thoughts on free speech?

Yes.

I count 25 of your comments on this thread and unlike everyone else on this thread I think I have literally no idea even in the most general outlines what a good free speech policy might look like from your point of view.

Did you read this comment?
If you have, and you’d like more clarification, I am more than happy to make the attempt. May I also draw your attention to part of this comment:

I have in earlier comments tried to spell out clearly my opinion on the point at issue (as it appears to me), but if anybody’s missed it and wants it repeated, I’m happy to oblige; or if anybody found it hard to understand and would like further clarification, I’m happy to make the attempt.

All you had to do was ask.

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J-D 05.06.17 at 9:56 am

Sebastian H

“you shouldn’t bite people because it hurts. People shouldn’t be enslaved because people don’t want to be enslaved.”

Ah, finally a crack into you thought process. These look a lot like a gesture toward inherent rights.

I am interested to learn that you think so, and would be even more interested to see you expand on that remark. It’s not what I would have said, but perhaps we’re at cross purposes.

engels

People shouldn’t be enslaved because people don’t want to be enslaved.

Is that the same reason people shouldn’t dump their boy/girlfriends?

No. Why, did you think it was?

Marc

So the Golden Rule. Fine: we don’t want others censoring our political speech, so we don’t censor the political speech of others. You have to be willing to live under the rules if your political opponents are the ones implementing them.

When people speak, it’s not always true that it affects only the people speaking, and it’s not even always true that it affects only the people speaking and the people spoken to. Likewise, when speech is restricted, it’s not always true that it affects only the speakers and the audience (or potential audience). Depending on what’s being said and in what context, there are various ways it can affect various people, and different cases need to be evaluated on the basis of their different circumstances. (This is, as people can see for themselves, much the same as I said in the earlier comment which I have recently drawn to the attention of Sebastian H.)

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engels 05.06.17 at 11:29 am

No. Why, did you think it was?

*very Socratic gadfly voice* No. Why, did you think I thought it was?

(The structure of your reason for the wrongness of slavery—

People shouldn’t be X’d because people don’t want to be X’d.

—also appears to apply to unilaterally ending relationships, among other things people don’t want to have done to them, so I was hoping for an explanation of why you don’t think they’re also wrong.)

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JimV 05.06.17 at 2:07 pm

I think it may come down to mirror neurons and Prisoner’s Dilemmas and such, not anything mystical – just my opinion. (Like most liberals, I never claimed to have possession of absolute truth. Conservatives on the other hand …)

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steven t johnson 05.06.17 at 2:59 pm

engels@265 “—also appears to apply to unilaterally ending relationships, among other things people don’t want to have done to them, so I was hoping for an explanation of why you don’t think they’re also wrong.)”

People may not want to be dumped, but they sure want the opportunity to dump someone they’ve become dissatisfied with. So, no, this is not the same argument at all.

Equally, people most certainly do not to have people talking shit about them and people like them. And they most certainly do feel injured by such talk. So, no, it’s not enough to say that people want to talk shit about political enemies.

Furthermore, talking shit about billionaires most certainly is nothing like talking shit about African Americans, because pretty much everyone knows that being black isn’t the same kind of thing as being wealthy. One thing is about your kind of being, something not chose, and the other is very much a choice, earned by a lifetime of bad deeds, or random chance of inheritance.

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Sebastian H 05.06.17 at 3:49 pm

J-D, yes I read the comment you linked to and that is precisely the one I was most referring to when I said “I have literally no idea even in the most general outlines what a good free speech policy might look like from your point of view”.

You apparently think that there are some factors which mitigate for free speech and some factors which cut against free speech. You apparently think that these factors need to be weighed against each other in a fact specific way.

Great! Want to give us a hint about what factors you want to use?

As it stands your rubric could be used for a policy which doesn’t restrict speech unless it involves someone ordering people to kill other people when the guns are out, OR it could be used to restrict any speech from anybody who has the slightest disagreement with you.

Your comment doesn’t tell us where you fall on the scale. You seem to think that you have explicated a clear position, when in fact you have given us a position which could be used to defend every single position given on this comment thread so far.

The closest I can find to an actual position anywhere in your comments until about #258 is that you don’t believe in inherent human rights.

But THEN you break out with “you shouldn’t bite people because it hurts. People shouldn’t be enslaved because people don’t want to be enslaved.” This strongly indicates that you actually might believe in inherent human rights–things like people shouldn’t be hurt and people shouldn’t be enslaved. That is encouraging!

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engels 05.06.17 at 5:08 pm

Funny that this thread has devolved into an argument over the philosophical foundations of morality, and that everyone seems to think their preferred view is obviously correct.

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engels 05.06.17 at 5:37 pm

Gardaí launch blasphemy probe into Stephen Fry comments on ‘The Meaning of Life’
http://m.independent.ie/irish-news/news/garda-launch-blasphemy-probe-into-stephen-fry-comments-on-the-meaning-of-life-35684262.html

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engels 05.06.17 at 7:22 pm

talking shit about billionaires most certainly is nothing like talking shit about African Americans, because pretty much everyone knows that being black isn’t the same kind of thing as being wealthy

Some African-Americans are wealthy though. Or what about another marginalised group, women? Seem to remember one wealthy woman running for president not so long ago on a rather right-wing platform and her supporters claiming that criticism of her from a social-democratic perspective was motivated by misogyny…

Anyway the purpose of my comment wasn’t to weigh in on the free speech issue but to suggest that, as foundations of ethics go, ‘the reason it’s wrong to do certain things is that other people don’t like it’ doesn’t strike me as very promising or tenable.

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engels 05.06.17 at 7:25 pm

(Just for the record, I’m not opppsed to hate speech laws, or consider myself a hardline defender of free speech first-amendment style, just think it deserves a bit more respect than some people here are giving it.)

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engels 05.06.17 at 9:31 pm

…A second, and fundamental, law is the 1998 Human Rights Act, which makes it unlawful for a public authority to act incompatibly with rights that include the right of free expression under article 10 of the European Convention. The right is not absolute or unqualified: it can be abrogated or restricted where to do so is lawful, proportionate and necessary for (among other things) public safety, the prevention of disorder or the protection of the rights of others. These qualifications do not include a right not to be offended. …
https://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n09/stephen-sedley/defining-anti-semitism

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J-D 05.06.17 at 10:25 pm

engels

The structure of your reason for the wrongness of slavery—

People shouldn’t be X’d because people don’t want to be X’d.

—also appears to apply to unilaterally ending relationships, among other things people don’t want to have done to them, so I was hoping for an explanation of why you don’t think they’re also wrong.

If there is something that I don’t want to have done to me, that is an argument against your doing it to me, but like most such arguments it is possible for it to be outweighed by other considerations. My desire not to be dumped by you is very easily outweighed by other considerations; my desire not to be enslaved by you, not so. The fact that I don’t want to be enslaved by you is a reason why you shouldn’t enslave me, but that doesn’t change the fact that arguments need to be considered in context and situations can only evaluated on the basis of their specific circumstances. If you had in mind some justification for enslaving me — or some justification for somebody enslaving somebody else in some particular situation — I would be interested in learning about it, but at this time I incline to the view that you don’t have any such justification in mind.

Thank you for helping me to clarify my own thinking on this point.

Sebastian H

You apparently think that there are some factors which mitigate for free speech and some factors which cut against free speech.

In the context of this particular discussion I think that’s a potentially misleading way of expressing my view (and I’m not referring here to the fact that I disagree with the way you’re using the word ‘mitigate’, although I feel impelled to mention that).

I wrote, in the comment cited, that in general it is a good thing if people are able to express their opinions. To write that I think there are factors which cut the other way obscures the fact that what I mean is that in specific cases there will be factors which cut the other way, a point I tried to make in that earlier comment.

You apparently think that these factors need to be weighed against each other in a fact specific way.

Great! Want to give us a hint about what factors you want to use?

Given that any such factors have to be fact-specific, as you’ve noted, I need you to give me some facts of the case before I can answer your question. I think the discussion will be unhelpful otherwise, a point I also tried to make in my earlier comment.

But THEN you break out with “you shouldn’t bite people because it hurts. People shouldn’t be enslaved because people don’t want to be enslaved.” This strongly indicates that you actually might believe in inherent human rights–things like people shouldn’t be hurt and people shouldn’t be enslaved.

I do agree with the general principle that people shouldn’t be hurt, although, like the general principle about freedom of speech, it can be outweighed by other considerations in specific cases, but I still don’t get how you think that’s a statement about inherent rights, although I would like to.

engels
By definition everybody always thinks their views are correct; it would be a contradiction in terms to say ‘This is my view, which I do not think is correct’. By definition I think my views on this particular subject are correct, but it’s not true that I think they’re obviously correct; I don’t think it is obvious how to view this subject correctly. Sometimes discussion might help.

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Chris "merian" W. 05.07.17 at 1:35 am

Much more interesting (forgive me) and far-reaching than the idiotic Irish blasphemy thing (which isn’t going anywhere, and apparently is a law that was supposed to be unenforceable, and hopefully stays that way) is the ban by the French election authorities on spreading the hacked Macron data (insofar as it exists… there are rumors about there being a lot of misinformation). The ban applies to the press and to individual citizens.

In my understanding this would be obviously unconstitutional in the US under the 1st amendment. Yet, I applaud… provisionally, given that this whole new era of cyberpropaganda isn’t something I completely understand or have a good notion of what remedies might be effective in stemming its pernicious effects. (Also, two days of holding your tongue isn’t a huge infringement on speech, given the tradeoffs.)

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engels 05.07.17 at 2:01 am

My desire not to be dumped by you is very easily outweighed by other considerations; my desire not to be enslaved by you, not so.

I wonder what it is about slavery that means your desire not to be enslaved can not be easily outweighed but your desire not to get dumped can? Might it possibly be…that slavery is morally wrong? Which is what you were originslly trying to explain. Oh dear this is starting to look a bit circular isn’t it?

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J-D 05.07.17 at 5:08 am

engels

‘Enslaving people is morally wrong’ and ‘people should not be enslaved’ are equivalent, so if I did argue that the reason why people should not be enslaved is that enslaving people is morally wrong, it would be circular reasoning. That’s why I didn’t make that argument. I draw a distinction because of particular facts; if it’s not clear to you what sort of particular facts might be in this case, please let me know and I’ll enlarge on the subject.

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engels 05.07.17 at 1:29 pm

I draw a distinction because of particular facts; if it’s not clear to you what sort of particular facts might be in this case, please let me know and I’ll enlarge on the subject

Go for it

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Sebastian H 05.07.17 at 2:24 pm

It isn’t clear. Please explain.

It looks like you just push the moral axioms far enough back in the argument that you pretend they aren’t there and then castigate other people for being willing to talk about them openly.

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steven t johnson 05.07.17 at 6:27 pm

engels@271 “Some African-Americans are wealthy though. Or what about another marginalised group, women? Seem to remember one wealthy woman running for president not so long ago on a rather right-wing platform and her supporters claiming that criticism of her from a social-democratic perspective was motivated by misogyny…”

There was no significant criticism of Hilary Clinton from a social-democratic perspective, at least not in respectable circles. Most criticism was from the right. The insistence it was Clinton, instead of Obama/Cameron/Sarkozy who destroyed Libya, wasclearly was about blaming the courtier rather than the king, as witness the concern over Yemen. The bland pretense that Clinton could have supported Zelaya against the coup in Honduras without getting fired for betraying the US national foreign policy, is a claim the US stands for democracy. If this is social-democratic perspective, social-democratic perspective isn’t worth jack shit. Also, any African-American billionaires can die with the rest as far as I’m concerned.

“Anyway the purpose of my comment wasn’t to weigh in on the free speech issue but to suggest that, as foundations of ethics go, ‘the reason it’s wrong to do certain things is that other people don’t like it’ doesn’t strike me as very promising or tenable.”

That’s not the argument. The idea is that there is a deal that some tactics are off the board for both sides because in the long run both sides benefit from it. You don’t take a gun to the pickup basketball game you’re betting, but it’s not because the other guy won’t like it. It’s because you might get shot if a sore loser brought a gun.

What I think about the free speech issue is that the term’s a misnomer, inasmuch as practically all venues are owned, and the rich and powerful have subsidized their hucksters to drown out as many others as possible in the marketplace of ideas. Given the disparity, worrying about the free speech of notorious shills and frauds and provocateurs is like insisting your heroes not just stand for right, but also be either virgins or faithful, with good credit ratings and no outstanding library fines.

The only questions of any import are tactical questions. Given the amazing number of people shameless enough to pretend that Charles Murray or Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopolos are legit, is there enough upside to shutting those assholes down to make putting up with those ninnies worthwhile? For young people who still hope for enough of a life not to bother listening, very likely it’s the only statement they can make loud enough to be heard over the babble of so-called reasonable voices.

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J-D 05.07.17 at 8:16 pm

engels
Slavery is an institution designed for the benefit of masters/owners at the expense of slaves, with masters but not slaves having choices about entry into and exit from the relationship. Depriving slaves of choice without their consent is a defining feature. Slaves don’t want to be in that position, and shouldn’t be. Slavery where masters are not allowed to free slaves is even worse than slavery where they can; slavery where slaves have some realistic prospect of earning or buying their way out of slavery is less bad than slavery where they can’t.

The romantic/intimate couple is an institution designed for the benefit of the people who form the couples, who choose to accept whatever costs may be involved, feeling that the benefits outweigh them. It is, by design, a relationship that people can choose to enter when they feel it’s worth it and can choose to leave when they feel it’s worth it. If people couldn’t leave the couple relationship when they wanted to, it would be like a kind of slavery.

Sebastian H

It looks like you just push the moral axioms far enough back in the argument that you pretend they aren’t there and then castigate other people for being willing to talk about them openly.

I’m not aware of having castigated anybody and would appreciate it if you could indicate the instances for my edification.

I’m not sure that I have any moral axioms, but maybe I do; it’s hard for me to tell without a clearer idea of what you mean by ‘moral axioms’; are you able to give me some examples to illustrate the concept?

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Sebastian H 05.08.17 at 5:15 am

“it’s hard for me to tell without a clearer idea of what you mean by ‘moral axioms’; are you able to give me some examples to illustrate the concept?”

This makes me strongly suspect that you’re trolling. But in case you aren’t let’s look at your discussion of slavery.

“Slavery is an institution designed for the benefit of masters/owners at the expense of slaves, with masters but not slaves having choices about entry into and exit from the relationship. “

Without some sort of moral axioms, this is merely descriptive. (Though without moral axioms “at the expense of” really doesn’t make sense.) You seem to want to say “and this is a bad thing” which would invoke some sort of moral axiom against being stuck in an exploitive relationship.

“Depriving slaves of choice without their consent is a defining feature. Slaves don’t want to be in that position, and shouldn’t be.”

This alludes to some sort of moral axiom about consent. Otherwise it would be “Depriving slaves of choice without their consent is a defining feature. But since we don’t have any moral axioms, why does that matter?”.

“Slavery where masters are not allowed to free slaves is even worse than slavery where they can; slavery where slaves have some realistic prospect of earning or buying their way out of slavery is less bad than slavery where they can’t.”

Again this alludes to some sort of moral axiom about consent.

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J-D 05.08.17 at 6:40 am

Sebastian H
engels suggested that ‘You shouldn’t enslave people because they don’t want to be enslaved’ and ‘You shouldn’t dump people because they don’t want to be dumped’ are structurally similar arguments — which they are, at least superficially. I indicated that I evaluate the two differently because of factual differences between the two kinds of situation. engels asked me to expand on that, which I did by describing the kind of factual differences I had in mind, which still seems to me an appropriate kind of answer.

If what you mean by ‘moral axioms’ is statements like ‘Consent matters’ and ‘People’s preferences matter’ and ‘People’s welfare matters’, then I am happy to identify those particular statements as some of my moral axioms, but I didn’t mention them when describing factual differences between the two situations under discussion, because they aren’t factual differences between those situations.

I suppose perhaps it’s helpful to have ‘Consent matters’ and ‘People’s preferences matter’ and ‘People’s welfare matters’ identified as axioms, but do you think they are propositions that anybody in this discussion would disagree with?

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Sebastian H 05.08.17 at 3:52 pm

Well, at 208, someone disagreed that inherent human rights existed at all, and that person was you. That was apparently an important enough thought to you at the time to raise, and is the whole reason we are talking about the subject.

“I didn’t mention them when describing factual differences between the two situations under discussion, because they aren’t factual differences between those situations.”

You are still being amazingly evasive. On the actual topic at hand (free speech) we still have no idea what kinds of factual differences you think are important. We are now 5 comments past the time when I noted you had made 25 comments without explaining. Your retreat to “factual differences” looks like an attempt to smuggle your moral axioms into the discussion without admitting to them. Here is how.

Factual differences between situations come in all sorts of flavors. Even if you SAY you are treating things on a case by case basis, you are still informed by what kind of factual differences you think are important. For example, I suspect you don’t think that the hair color of the speaker might form an important factual difference. You probably don’t think that the eye color of the listener makes an important factual difference. Even saying things like “the level of harm” isn’t very informative. I’m fairly far on the free speech side of the question, but if you showed me that saying “Hifleift ruejtklkci” caused five people to be killed every time anyone said it, I would outlaw the phrase “Hifleift ruejtklkci”.

If you want to have an informative discussion on free speech, you have to be willing to tell us things like “what level of harm do I think requires free speech restrictions” and “what types of harms am I willing to allow” and “what good do I think free speech gets us” and “what harms do I think restrictions on free speech cause” and “how do I balance the goods and the harms”.

Having a useful discussion about any of those things involves wrestling with the MORAL basis of how we make decisions. When you retreat to “factual differences” you aren’t actually avoiding any of that–you’re just making useful discussion of it impossible.

I recognize the problem because I do it sometimes too, so if you’re really having trouble I empathize. I also recognize that doing so is a weapon of trolls, and I get sucked in by trolls too easily too which makes me suspicious.

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engels 05.08.17 at 6:50 pm

Anti-protest bills would ‘attack right to speak out’ under Donald Trump
https://amp.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/08/donald-trump-anti-protest-bills

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J-D 05.08.17 at 9:07 pm

Sebastian H
Among the kinds of facts that are likely to be relevant in evaluating a situation where the issue of free speech is raised are:
who was the speaker (or who were the speakers), and who was the audience, and who was the person (or who were the people) that interfered or tried to interfere with the speech, and what brought all of them into this situation;
what was it that the speaker (or speakers) said (or tried to say, or wanted to say), and in what context, and in what format, and why;
what were the reasons that some person or persons tried to restrict the speech, and what form of restriction was it that was imposed (or attempted).

Do you think that facts of those kinds can’t make any difference?

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Sebastian H 05.08.17 at 10:46 pm

Of course they do. But the make a difference for everyone. What criteria do YOU use? Which speakers get to speak? Which restrictions are ok? Which reasons for restricting are on? Why?

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J-D 05.09.17 at 12:30 am

Sebastian H
I’ve indicated above the kind of facts that might need to be taken into consideration; I’ve also indicated above, earlier, some of the criteria I might apply. I’m still not sure whether the kind of criteria I indicated are the kind that you would call moral axioms because you haven’t made that clear. Do you think there’s something inadequate about the criteria I mentioned? How would the criteria you would judge by be different?

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Sebastian H 05.09.17 at 2:44 am

I would say it is inadequate because you literally haven’t given the slightest hint how they would apply in even the simplest and most direct of applications, much less in any complicated case.

The best I can guess is that if I could prove that some particular speech would cause zero potential harm, you wouldn’t want to restrict it. I’m having difficulty understanding your difficulty.

You say things like: “who was the speaker (or who were the speakers), and who was the audience, and who was the person (or who were the people) that interfered or tried to interfere with the speech, and what brought all of them into this situation” but seem to realize that it is general enough to fit with almost any approach from very permissive to very restrictive.

Who was the speaker? in some historical settings if the speaker was anyone other than a communist party leader, the speech could be severely restricted. Is that what you advocate?

Who was the person who interfered with the speech? In China, certain government censors have very wide latitude. So if it is one of them, the rest of the question is almost entirely beside the point. Is that what you advocate?

“what were the reasons that some person or persons tried to restrict the speech, and what form of restriction was it that was imposed (or attempted).”

This is completely useless in the form you offer. Are any reasons to restrict speech ok, or are some off limits? Is “this person disagreed with the current iteration of the political order” enough? That is a reason. Is “thrown in prison” an ok form of restriction often, sometimes, rarely, or never? We are now more than 30 of your comments into this thread, and we STILL don’t know even in broad outlines where you stand on any of that.

We don’t know what kinds of harms from speech you are willing to risk. We don’t know what kind of harms you are unwilling to risk. We don’t know which speakers you give license to and which ones you want to watch closely. We don’t know which gatekeepers you want to give broad reach to nor which ones you think should have tight controls.

And by that I don’t mean that we couldn’t perfectly replicate exactly your preferences in each situation. I mean that we don’t have any idea even generally where you fall on the spectrum.

I know generally where Val, or engels or, Jeff, or Chris stand. Not perfectly. But a good general understanding.

You have rather impressively avoided even giving the general impression of where you stand on the substance. The only hint we have is which people you choose to question and which people you choose to leave alone. Other than that you have literally revealed almost nothing about your own thoughts.

It is almost like you don’t really want to have the conversation at all, you just want to muck it up so other people can’t have the conversation.

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J-D 05.09.17 at 3:43 am

Sebastian H
If you really want to find out how I would apply evaluative criteria to a particular case, tell me about the facts of a particular case and I will show you.

I notice that you haven’t responded to my question about how your evaluative criteria would be different from the kind I’ve already mentioned, which you have judged inadequate.

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engels 05.09.17 at 11:59 am

Research shows prejudice, not principle, often underpins ‘free-speech defense’ of racist language
http://news.ku.edu/2017/05/01/research-shows-prejudice-not-principle-often-underpins-free-speech-defense-racist

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Sebastian H 05.09.17 at 11:56 pm

So 290 comments I and J-D still won’t cop to a position. I guess my initial troll fear was right.

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J-D 05.10.17 at 1:23 am

Sebastian H
Apparently the kind of position I am prepared to state is not the kind that you consider useful. But the kind of position you are prepared to state is not the kind that I consider useful, for reasons I have already explained — or rather, I got George Eliot to do it for me.

How is anything you’ve written about your position on free speech clearer than my early statement that ‘in general it’s a good thing if people are able to express their opinions’?

I also notice the asymmetry that I keep answering your questions (although obviously not in the way that you would like me to answer them) and you keep not answering mine (at all). I’m used to that pattern (I mean, not just with you); I’m used to drawing conclusions from it as well.

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Sebastian H 05.10.17 at 2:08 pm

You respond to questions with pure evasion. That isn’t “answering” them. You do what politicians do when they don’t want to talk about something. You want answers in conversations that you won’t give. You’re used to the pattern because people interpret your pattern as trolling. You drawing other conclusions from it may mean that you don’t understand. Maybe you don’t mean it that way. But your complete unwillingness to reveal your side of the conversation makes it look that way.

People on this thread know where I stand on free speech. People on this thread do not know where you stand on free speech. They may not agree with it. They may not fully understand it due to poor explanations on my part. But I’m broad outlines I have put it out there. You have not.

I can’t tell why you have not. I can’t tell if it is part of a trolling game or if it is because you don’t understand the underpinnings of your own positions well enough to describe them. If it is the latter, it may be because you don’t appreciate how you are guided by moral axioms in your exploration of “factual” differences. At least three different people tried to engage you on that level, but it took us more than 200 comments to even get you to admit that you have moral axiom and you still haven’t described yours that are pertinent to free speech. So by now–the end of the conversation–you haven’t even laid the groundwork for the beginning of a conversation about free speech.

I can discuss the issue with Val or Engels and we can try to wrestle with how our various moral axioms interact because we disclose them. We don’t always agree because our moral axioms aren’t identical. But we can see how they interact.

With you, all the time has been spent convincing you that moral axioms pertinent to free speech might exist. So here at the end of the conversation you still haven’t caught up with the place where everyone else in the conversation (including people I disagree with) started.

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J-D 05.10.17 at 8:41 pm

Sebastian H

People on this thread know where I stand on free speech. People on this thread do not know where you stand on free speech.

It’s obvious why you’d want to believe that, but there’s no actual evidence of it.

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Sebastian H 05.10.17 at 11:10 pm

Everyone else can see your responses to 289, J-D. This thread seems to be dead. You’ve apparently clarified exactly as much as you intend to.

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J-D 05.10.17 at 11:32 pm

Everyone else can see your responses, Sebastian H. This thread seems to be dead. You’ve apparently clarified exactly as much as you intend to.

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engels 05.11.17 at 9:59 am

So it’s good night from me and it’s good night from him…

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