How much free speech do you want for free?


The Free Speech Absolutists are in a tizzy again, because Ann Coulter isn’t going to speak at Berkeley. The usual cliches are being deployed.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Very noble.

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” How can anyone oppose liberty?

“One of the problems with defending free speech is you often have to defend people that you find to be outrageous and unpleasant and disgusting.” Definitely the case here.

OK, let’s do it! Absolute, total, complete Free Speech on college campuses! Anyone and everyone can say whatever they want, any time they want, you can have an auditorium of your choice, you can book it for as long as you want!

One catch. You want infinite free speech on campus, you have to give us infinite money, infinite time, infinite resources. Fair enough?

Somehow, I don’t think it’s coming. Especially since the same people who want to see Ann Coulter given a privileged spot on the non-infinite roster of available speaking engagements are the people who under other circumstances complain bitterly about diversity. The rage always seems to rise on behalf of far-right asshats and Nazis, like Coulter or Yiannopoulos, have you noticed?

But even if we could accommodate everyone and every single point of view, the result has a name: it’s called cacophony. I don’t see how that is useful or constructive. Universities have a mission of promoting education; should we, in the name of Free Speech, insist that we also promote ignorance? That would be incoherent.

Universities are not neutral on all issues, nor should they be. We try to encourage open-mindedness; you can’t do that by also opening the door to those who encourage the closing of minds. We try to serve a diverse community; that doesn’t work if you take a disinterested position on purveyors of hate and bigotry. We aim to be selective and teach the best ideas that have the support of an educated, informed group…the antithesis of indiscriminate acceptance of bad, unsupported, rejected falsehoods. Coulter has nothing to contribute.

I know what’s next: Marketplace of ideas! Exposing students to novel points of view! The university should take students out of their comfort zone!

This is true. We do that all the time. I introduced my students to epistasis last week — discomfort and confusion were sown everywhere. It was good. But none of these arguments apply to Ann Coulter.

We, and the students, all know exactly what kind of provocative bullshit she’s going to say. She’s got a syndicated opinion column, she’s written 12 books, she regularly appears on television. I’ve got one of her books, a signed copy, on a shelf in my office because a student brought it back for me. She is a known quantity. That’s why people protest her appearances! They aren’t saying, “please keep me ignorant and unaware of this person and what she has to say”, they are saying “I am already fully aware of Ann Coulter’s perspective, and why are you giving her more money to stand in front of us and babble her hateful drivel?” It’s not as if Ann Coulter has lacked the ability to make her views known.

I mean, if you’re saying we can learn something new and interesting from an Ann Coulter talk, I have to point out that a) she is not a scholar with an insightful, well-researched position, b) we’re already well-steeped in her kind of godawful discourse, and c) I have to question your competence in critically evaluating the world of ideas if you think she has anything worthwhile to contribute.

Further, if you think being a place for education and intelligence and learning means you’re supposed to be wide open and completely neutral on everything, letting every voice through unfiltered, you don’t understand the university. I’ll give you two words: critical analysis. The university will examine your ideas, all right, and it will judge them. Nazis don’t get to come back and demand a do-over and a new grade.

Those protests? Those are students exercising their intelligence, and then going into the public square to exercise their free speech. Why? Did you think free speech meant freedom from criticism?

Comments

  1. Snarki, child of Loki says

    Hey, if Coulter wants to yak from atop a soapbox in the quad, no problem.

    It’s that whole “reserve a fancy auditorium with comfy seats, good lighting, professional sound system” thing that she doesn’t have a right to, because SOMEONE ELSE OWNS THAT STUFF.

    Does soap come in soapboxes any more?

  2. says

    A soapbox in the quad would be fine, except for another problem: she’d also expect campus security to defend her soapbox. That’s not cheap. We keep running into this problem of finite resources, infinite demands.

  3. cartomancer says

    I demand the right to publish my Harry Styles / Harry Potter slash porn stories on the president’s twitter feed. All the presidents’ twitter feeds in fact – Trump, Trudeau, Hollande, Putin, the lot. And I demand that they be made into big-budget Hollywood films, directed by Stephen Fry. And I want the viewing to be compulsory across the globe, so it’ll have to be translated into every known world language, including Welsh, then broadcast every week.

    Anything less is a violation of my freedom of speech and therefore worse than Hitler.

    That is all.

  4. chris61 says

    So if a group of biology students invited PZ to talk on their campus and a group of theology students and faculty protested the invite because they knew what PZ would say and didn’t want to hear it … should PZ be disinvited?

  5. says

    Was she being paid to speak there? I kind of forgot about that, there are definitely people who would probably never open their mouth unless you give them money, because they think money=speech. If she was being paid then the university absolutely has the right to cancel the speech, or otherwise we’ll have to do that infinite money thing you said.

    If she wasn’t being paid… well, actually, they still have the right to cancel the speech, or at least the event.

    I mean maybe there’s some thing involving contracts to give speech in exchange for money but at that point that’s not a free speech issue in any sense of any of those words, it’d just be a standard exchange of goods dispute and nobody should care?

  6. Siobhan says

    @chris61

    The theocrat’s position cannot be rationally justified.

    Not sure what part of the original argument you didn’t understand.

    Should we say it slower for you?

  7. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    Well…
    (shit, I know…)
    There is value to being exposed to a wide variety of opinions. Isn;t it also freedom to chose who to express that variety of opinion. Especially when one is well known to have a strong ideology that is offensive to actual thinking, then allowing them to speak is occupying the time to allow a more rational speaker to contribute.
    Superficially [NB] it does appear it is against academic standards to prevent contrary speakers from presenting. Only superficially, under the surface, allowing Coulter to speak actually damages freethought.
    Also “Free Speech” is a concept disallowing the government from restricting speech through legislation and enforcement. A private institution not paying someone to speak is actually what “free speech” endorses: the right to choose who to listen to.
    Too many Freeze Peach [sic] advocates demand everyone to listen to them, which is the inverse(?) of “freedom to speak”.
    ugh I’m rambling
    ?

  8. Sastra says

    Ann Coulter wasn’t invited by “the university,” she was invited by a student group. Her talk was going to be followed by Q & A. Nobody protests the protests: the problem involves threats of violence — the “heckler’s veto.”

    As for her reprehensible views, they’re shared by a good portion of conservatives. Most people avoid reading things they disagree with. They’ll probably stay and listen to an entire talk, though. Unless you understand the other side — realize what they’re saying, how they’re saying it, and figure out where they’re not completely wrong — you can’t really understand your own position, and where to defend it.

    If Coulter had been asked to talk at the graduation, I’d agree with the OP. As it is, I don’t.

  9. chrislawson says

    chris61@5:

    Yes, any students and faculty opposed to PZ speaking on campus have a right to peaceful protest.

    Whether the university decides to disinvite PZ depends on several factors (some mentioned in the post) that you have cherry-picked.

  10. chrislawson says

    Sastra, did you read the linked article? The original venue was inappropriate according to police, the university offered to change it to a more appropriate venue, and Coulter would not accommodate that change. She could have very good reasons for not accepting the change (she might not have been able to reschedule on such short notice), but it’s wrong to say the university simply shut her down because of threats of violence.

  11. says

    Also, just as a matter of fact, I thought it was not that the campus disinvited her, it was that they couldn’t come to terms on costs at security and she decided not to come.

    I recognize the problem of a heckler’s veto, but I think it still important to note whether both parties tried in good faith to work things out, or whether one side is just grandstanding.

  12. chris61 says

    @10 Sastra

    If Coulter had been asked to talk at the graduation, I’d agree with the OP. As it is, I don’t.

    Exactly.

  13. says

    I’ve read one of Coulter’s books, Godless: The Church of Liberalism. I’ve read several of her columns, and have seen her on TV. I am quite aware of what she is saying, how she is saying it, and know where she is completely wrong. She’s an idiot and a hatemonger. She is not a person who is handicapped by obscurity, even if she deserves it. The argument that she should speak so everyone can be informed about how awful she is fails — we already know this, and I can’t imagine what is to be gained by putting her on another podium.

    Where do we draw the line and say, “you had a chance to make your case (hundreds of chances, actually, on multiple media) and you flopped, so there’s no point to giving you another”?

    As for the fact that she was invited by a student group…so what? It’s not as if being a student somehow makes your choices immune to criticism. Students exhibit a broad range of maturity and judgment, and sometimes their ideas deserve rejection. That does not mean I endorse threats of violence against speakers — that too is a poor choice that deserves rejection.

  14. davidw says

    I respectfully disagree with the OP. The argument seems to be “I don’t like her, she’s said it before, therefore her First Amendment rights can be properly curtailed.” The fact that she can take her speech elsewhere, that she has spoken before, is irrelevant. She was duly invited, and if – IF! – the invitees get wind that there may be protests and they can pay for proper security (which, by the way, holds for any other speaker), then why stop her? This is not a “fire in a crowded theater” situation. But once again, the snowflakes win.

  15. robro says

    I know the university had concerns about public safety…gosh does that matter!?…but I was under the impression that Coulter had disinvited herself, a couple of times. This seems to be the pattern: some conservative campus group invites someone to speak who will surely draw protesters thus raising questions of security and public safety. The initiating organization and/or the speaker then demand that the university ensure the safety of the talk, which the university can’t fully guarantee (limited resources, and the free speech rights of the protesters). So the host organization and/or the speaker cancels the talk loudly proclaiming the abridgment of their free speech. I bet they even get on Fox to do so.

    As for the threat of violence on the Berkeley campus, several people at the protest of the Yiannopoulos speaking engagement where there was some violence insist the violence was not caused by students or people protesting his talk (peacefully), but outsiders and so-called “anarchists.” It’s also been noted that the “violence” seems to have largely been theatrical with little property damage and no one arrested.

    Because of its history, it’s interesting that so much of this has been directed at UC Berkeley. In their effort to rollback America to the halcyon days of its past, it seems the radical-right is ready to re-fight the battles of the late 60s and early 70s. The symbology should not escape our attention.

  16. chris61 says

    Giving Coulter a podium would allow whoever chose to listen to her to see that she doesn’t make a very good argument. Those who don’t feel the need to watch, aren’t compelled to. As Sastra said, it’s not like she was invited to address a graduation.

  17. Saad says

    She has plenty of podiums. It’s very, very easy for anyone genuinely interested in finding out her views and evaluating them to be able to find out her views.

  18. Zeppelin says

    davidw: But people don’t have a First Amendment right to whatever venue they want for their speech, nor to resources to help them spread their speech! That isn’t a thing. They just have a First Amendment right to not be fined or arrested for whatever it is they say.
    We can debate whether Ann Coulter’s speech is distasteful enough to warrant excluding her from speaking at that campus, or whether letting her speak there would have been didactically useful even if we do think her views are worthless, or whatever. But it has nothing to do with her basic right to free speech. That isn’t being curtailed — cf. cartomancer’s post above.

  19. Saad says

    davidw, #16

    This is not a “fire in a crowded theater” situation.

    You’re right. It’s more dangerous. But people who are blind to their privileged position wouldn’t see it. People like Harris, Dawkins, Shermer, etc spout this kind of nonsense justifications too.

    You can choose to look out for unnecessarily amplifying the already loud voices of racist misogynists’ in society. I give much, much more of a shit about the right to exist safely of people who are marginalized by exactly the type of people who listen to Ann Coulter.

  20. chris61 says

    @19 Saad

    She has plenty of podiums. It’s very, very easy for anyone genuinely interested in finding out her views and evaluating them to be able to find out her views.

    And PZ has Pharyngula. Nonetheless, were he to come to my campus I might choose to listen to him even if he were talking on a subject with which I disagree with him. Maybe especially on a subject on which we disagree so I could ask him questions.

  21. Saad says

    Hey guys, we should try to debate and figure out if killing black people, discriminating against Muslims, and prohibiting women from voting really is the wrong thing to do or not.

    I mean it feels wrong but you have to go by rationality and logic, so let’s gather a panel where one side advocates white supremacy, queerphobia and misogyny and is given equal time and space. I’m sure when a LGBTQ person of color notices there’s a group of straight white cis men gathered around a speaker on a podium talking about white supremacy, they’ll totally feel safe and know that they have equal standing in society.

    Fucking privileged Vulcan logicing JAQing off shitheads.

  22. Saad says

    chris61, #22

    And PZ has Pharyngula. Nonetheless, were he to come to my campus I might choose to listen to him even if he were talking on a subject with which I disagree with him.

    It’s not a matter of disagreement, you asshole.

    We’re not talking about a distant detached topic like how to approach a research topic.

    We’re talking about the right to exist with mental and physical safety of human beings.

  23. Saad says

    A creationist’s disagreement with PZ talking about evolution is NOTHING like my disagreement with Ann Coulter or Richard Spencer advocating white supremacy.

    The safety of the creationist and their family is absolutely not under attack by PZ’s lecture on natural selection.

    Crowds gathering around Coulter and Spencer are nightmarish scenarios for marginalized people.

    Good grief, privilege turns otherwise thinking human beings into bullshit-spewing assholes.

  24. Zeppelin says

    chris61:

    “And PZ has Pharyngula. Nonetheless, were he to come to my campus I might choose to listen to him even if he were talking on a subject with which I disagree with him.”

    I wouldn’t expect PZ to be allowed to speak at a Creationist convention or a Republican assembly either, nor would I be outraged if they rejected him if he applied. Same goes for a university and Ann Coulter. Different venues are for different sorts of speech, and that’s fine.

  25. moarscienceplz says

    Chris61 @#5:
    Several years ago, PZ was invited to speak at Stanford by the college’s atheist group. He talked about the evolution of multicellularity. During the Q&A, several people asked questions about atheism. I learned a lot about biology that night, and others learned a lot about atheism. As I recall, there was one rather strident theist in the audience, and some of the atheists tried to shout him down, but PZ quieted everybody and answered the theist’s question.
    A most appropriate way to spend an evening at a great university that I think made everyone attending a little wiser. Do you think any part of an Ann Coulter appearance would fit that description?

  26. mamba says

    Wouldn’t the solution to simply allow her to speak, and literally only that?

    Think of the scenario…the university does nothing to facilitate her arrival…she must provide her own transportation. She PAYS THEM for the use of the theater time. If she has any requirements from security or use of items like printing pamphlets, advertising, or IT support for her presentation, she must provide it herself with her staff. The university allows her to speak as she paid for the time, but they do not have to pretend to support her at all.

    That way she gets her freedom to speak just like everyone else, and the university loses nothing. They don’t OWE her anything, including time, and all expenses for her speech come from her. After all, despite her ego, she’d be NOT an honoured guest, but instead a paying customer renting the space out for a while. Totally different context.

  27. Pierce R. Butler says

    epistasis əˈpistəsis – noun:

    the interaction of genes that are not alleles, in particular the suppression of the effect of one such gene by another.

    A rather apt metaphor for Coulter and her Black Bloc antagonists.

  28. chris61 says

    @27

    A most appropriate way to spend an evening at a great university that I think made everyone attending a little wiser. Do you think any part of an Ann Coulter appearance would fit that description?

    If there were people there questioning Coulter’s views then yes, I think everyone attending might end up a little wiser.

    @31 PZ
    There you go again with the straw man argument. The point isn’t that you or Coulter are entitled to be invited to speak anywhere but that student groups, having been given the right to invite speakers (and assuming said speakers aren’t advocating anything illegal) should have their choices respected.

  29. says

    And PZ has Pharyngula.

    By golly, I do! And who gave it to me?

    Answer: I coded up a website on my own computer, configured it as a server, and started writing. It got popular. ScienceBlogs asked me to join their group, and I did. Sb kinda fell apart (although it lingers on) through neglect & change of ownership, so Ed Brayton and I set up our own server, started writing, recruited other people to join us, and paid for it all with a really crappy ad service (which we need to change).

    This is just me expressing my views in public. It really is free speech.

    Ann Coulter is welcome to do the same. She’s popular with certain people, if she put her columns on her own server, lots of people would read them, and if she monetized it, I’m sure she’d make more money than I do. She can complain about her free speech being infringed when the government cracks down and arrests her for writing offensive shit.

    Same here. If people don’t read what I write, if I don’t get invited to speak at a university, if Bill Maher doesn’t have me on his show, if no one pays me money for my blog, my free speech rights are not being infringed.

  30. says

    #32: Wait, now you’re arguing that this isn’t about free speech, as Coulter claims, but students’ “right to invite speakers”?

    You know, not only is that not in the Constitution, but it’s not even a right at a university. It’s a limited privilege.

  31. Siobhan says

    @Saad

    Hey guys, we should try to debate and figure out if killing black people, discriminating against Muslims, and prohibiting women from voting really is the wrong thing to do or not.

    But how can we be sure unless we ask some non-black, non-Muslim and/or non-women? To do otherwise is SENSE-OR-SHIP!!!

  32. Snarki, child of Loki says

    “I kept waiting for my invitation to speak at CPAC, and it never came. Help, help, I’m being oppressed!”

    Did you offer to provide little red, white & blue (Russian) flags with TRUMP printed on them in gold letters?

  33. ragdish says

    Is there a moral equivalence between banning an arch rightwing religious conservative (like Coulter) from Berkeley and say banning a leftwing atheist progressive (eg. PZ Myers) from speaking at Liberty University in Virginia? To everyone at Liberty, PZ’s views are completely antithetical. They equate his atheism with the revulsion we have of Coulter’s racism and fascism. I don’t think anyone here would be OK with this eye for an eye limits on campus speech. For someone like PZ to potentially win over a few Liberty skydaddy wordshippers to science and reason should we not painfully accept Coulter’s right to speak at Berkeley?

    I’m sure everyone remembers Dawkins saying to the Liberty crowd that students should be educated at a proper university. I’d be disappointed if atheists were prevented from doing that hereafter.

  34. dhabecker says

    I try to imagine if the roles were different; like PZ being invited to speak at Liberty University and then being told ‘no’ because of the violence that may erupt.
    “We all know what his views are, and they are disgusting and not within the bounds of human decency.”

  35. Saad says

    dhabecker, #38

    I try to imagine if the roles were different

    No, you don’t. You’re being dishonest. You know full well what the reaction would be and you know it will be nothing like Coulter’s and her horde of bigots’.

    I love how all the proponents of “free speech” and enablers of bigotry are ignoring this:

    Crowds gathering around Coulter and Spencer are nightmarish scenarios for marginalized people.

    You’re cowards. You’re looking the other way because you’re not the targeted group.

  36. says

    It surprised me how Ann Coulter seemed to get more of a blowback than Milo Yiannopoulos. Milo is way way worse. He has a long history of citing harassment. Coulter is just a hack. You can see this by comparing their respective articles on Rational Wiki.

  37. Saad says

    ragdish, #37

    For someone like PZ to potentially win over a few Liberty skydaddy wordshippers to science and reason should we not painfully accept Coulter’s right to speak at Berkeley?

    For the 837th time:

    This isn’t a harmless theoretical academic exercise. People’s safety is at stake.

    “Evolution is awesome” =/= POC are not welcome among us

    “There is no god” =/= we need ethnic cleansing

    What is wrong with you people? Where does your ability to think fuck off to anytime some white supremacist isn’t able to get a platform they’re not entitled to?

  38. Saad says

    ragdish, #37

    For someone like PZ to potentially win over a few Liberty skydaddy wordshippers to science and reason should we not painfully accept Coulter’s right to speak at Berkeley?

    Also, just who is the “we” here?

    Is it people who can simply choose to ignore her because her message and her audience poses no threat to them and their families?

    Also, Coulter has no “right to speak at Berkeley”. Jesus fuck. At least know what you’re talking about.

  39. mythogen says

    Saad, #40

    Freeze-Peachers operate in a fantasy universe where power imbalances don’t exist or aren’t meaningful.

    They’ve all totally ignored the point in OP about how it’s always the supremacist jackoffs that get the full court press on free speech, rather than marginalized people who’s very humanity (and thus, of course, rights like free speech) is in question by those same supremacists.

  40. says

    ^ *inciting

    I think Coulter should have been allowed to speak (and looking at the story, I’d blame the cancellation on the threat of violent protest), but it’s hard to feel bad about the outcome. Nobody’s giving *me* an opportunity to speak in front of such a large audience, despite me having more valuable things to say than Coulter. And based on my interactions with the student group, I think they already got what they wanted, which was attention at any cost.

  41. mythogen says

    Actually I don’t see anybody on the peach-freezing side of this argument engaging with any of PZ’s substantive points, now that I think about it. It’s the same talking points as ever.

  42. latsot says

    Saad is making a lot more sense today than many people here.

    “Evolution is awesome” =/= POC are not welcome among us
    “There is no god” =/= we need ethnic cleansing

    If things aren’t an abstract intellectual exercise to some, they shouldn’t be an abstract intellectual exercise at all.

  43. mnb0 says

    @5 Chris: if a group of biology students at Biola University or some comparable venue would invite PZ than that university has every right to cancel the invitation. What’s the problem exactly?

  44. pacal says

    I am amused that so many people have ignored the fact that Ann Coulter decided to not speak based on paying for sequrity issues. As such freedom of speech issues don’t seem to be that important in this case. Further people seem to forget that the whole free speech issue is about government suppression of free speech. It does not mean tht everyone is entitled to a platform.

    Basically your free speech is NOT supressed, (At least in first admendment terms.), when a private, non-governmental body, refuses to give you a platform. And I fully agree that the whole free speech hysteria from conservatives that occurs whenever something like this happens is hypocritical. The bottom line is that certain conservative institutions, like Fundamentalist schools, routinely supress speech. Which does not violate the first admendment. This of course gets nary a response from so many so-called conservatives.

    A generation ago Chomsky / Herman wrote about the propaganda model of the media in which the media supresses certain views and opinions by ignoring and marginalizing them. This of course doesn’t apply to Ann Counter whose views are well publicized. Her views are not in fact marginalized or supressed but are instead mainstreamed by the media.

    In fact one could argue with a lot more conviction / accuracy that Chomsky’s views are being “supressed” rather than Ann Counter’s.

    Chomsky once said that if you are in favour of free speech you are in favour of free speech for views, opinions you despise and if you are not you are not in favour of free speech. Of course this does not mean everyone is entitled to a platform it means using state power to suppress opinions you don’t like is wrong.

    To me the recurring flap over certain paleo-conservatives having their free speech curtailed at Universities serves the useful purpose, for many, of defecting attention away from the marginalization of much progressive etc., thought and opinion.

  45. hemidactylus says

    37 and 38-

    A potential problem in comparing UC Berkeley against Liberty University is that Berkeley is a public institution where Liberty University is private. Berkeley is bound by the 1st amendment. Liberty has more leeway. Private universities may feel morally bound to uphold free speech as a matter of principle, but how could they be legally obligated to do so?

    For perspective on public vs private distinction.

    https://acluva.org/325/first-amendment-lessons-when-jerry-falwell-jr-defrocked-the-democrats-at-liberty-university/

  46. says

    My stock response to this sort of thing is “Was [insert odious speaker here] arrested for something they said? No? Then their first amendment rights weren’t violated.” That and, of course, the obligatory xkcd cartoon.

    @Mamba #28 – AFAICT, the problem is that Anne Coulter herself wouldn’t be willing to speak under those conditions. Based on the NYT article, it seems Berkeley really bent over backwards to try and accommodate her, including being willing to pay for the extra security, but she refused to meet them halfway. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was her intention all along: arrange to come speak and then find some pretense to cancel so that she could whine about how her right to free speech is being violated by those hypocritical liberal snowflakes.

  47. says

    Late to the thread, but Saad, you’re so right here it hurts. There is no symmetry possible with a group advocating literal elimination of human beings. Stuff the false equivalencies somewhere uncomfortable, privileged people. Leave them in that uncomfortable spot to remind you.

  48. Ed Seedhouse says

    Ann Coulter should have the right to spew her hate on the Berkley campus. But she does not have the right to demand that Berkley pay their money to defend her from the threats she thinks she will risk by doing so.

    If she fears some people will threaten her with violence, then *she* has a problem and it is up to *her* to deal with that. Which appears to be what she did by cancelling her appearance. But she has some nerve then blaming Berkley for refusing to pay for *her* problem.

    I don’t see any abridgement of “free speech” here at all. Refusing to provide a police force to protect someone is not about free speech, it’s about what one should spend one’s limited monetary resources on.

  49. tomh says

    @ #50
    “Basically your free speech is NOT supressed, (At least in first admendment terms.), when a private, non-governmental body, refuses to give you a platform. ”

    The University of California is NOT a private, non-governmental body, it’s a public university subject to the restrictions of the Constitution like all governmental bodies.

  50. thirdmill says

    Actually, when Falwell Pere was still alive, liberals did speak at Liberty University. Ted Kennedy spoke there. Jesse Jackson spoke there. I believe he drew the line at inviting a gay speaker. Don’t know if Falwell Fils has continued the tradition or not. And nobody protested; at Liberty University a student protest would be unthinkable. The audience was mostly respectful. They asked intelligent questions. Probably nobody’s mind was changed in either direction, but it was a model example of civility on both sides.

    I would have been fine with Coulter not being invited in the first place. But once the invitation had been extended, I really hate that she’s being turned into a free speech martyr, and giving the right lots of ammunition to complain about the “free speech hating left.” My preference would have been let her talk and ignore her. As with Westboro Baptist, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. She thrives on publicity; don’t give it to her.

  51. lotharloo says

    I’m sorry but this post and half of the comments reek of massive shameless hypocrisy. Here’s the important bit:

    “Groups and individuals from the extreme ends of the political spectrum have made clear their readiness and intention to utilize violent tactics in support or in protest of certain speakers at UC Berkeley,” Dirks said. “We cannot wish away or pretend that these threats do not exist.”

    If it is Anita Sarkeesian’s talks that’s been “rescheduled” due to threats of violence, then PZ and the all the commentators here talk about free speech, and condemn harassment. If it is Ann Coulter the argument suddenly changes to “well, you don’t have a right to speak at every University!”. Please, hold a consistent position.

    I’m sorry PZ that you like to miss the point in an effort to be morally superior, but those who hold a consistent position clearly see that the main blame here is those who issue threats of violence. The fact that you chose not to condemn those threats of violence reveals your bias.

  52. nomuse says

    Gah. False equivalence, ignoring real consequences, all the usual crap. Vulcan shit.

    Really, now. Does anyone honestly think this is a presentation of a scientific paper? That novel and potentially useful information is being communicated to an audience? That this talk is part of a structured ongoing debate in which ideas can be compared and tested?

    Like fuck!

    It is grandstanding. The people in the audience already know what she has to say. They are already deeply familiar. This isn’t like going to a brand-new music act to see what they have to offer, this is parrotheads lining up to hear an aging Jimmy go to Margaritaville one more time.

    It is tribalism. It is a rally. It is people sharing a certain set of beliefs/attitudes/opinions who are gathering to show to flag to the rest of us. To say “look how popular these views are; shouldn’t you consider joining the majority?” And to say, “look how many of us there are. Maybe you should reconsider opposing us!”

    And the protests are not a bug. They are a feature. I defy anyone to bring a right-wing hate monger to freaking BERKELEY and not realize there will be protests.

    I live in Berkeley. I spent a lovely day harassed by fucking helicopters shattering the air, vulturing around and around and around driving everyone within earshot to distraction. Unable to go downtown for crowds. Wary of eruption of the same kinds of violences that tore up my very street not so long ago. And at the end of the year, I’ll happily pay my local taxes knowing I paid for all the police overtime and street clean-up and so forth — all the real costs of that “free” speech.

  53. says

    Not much mention of the violence which would have ensued had Coulter followed through with her speaking plans. Imagine if liberal speakers were being shut down by right-wing mobs. Would that be okay? Does the fact that the mob was not organized by the government make it any more okay that they’re using violence to stop someone from speaking?

  54. Zeppelin says

    lotahroo: Ann Coulter’s views and Anita Sarkeesian’s views are not equivalent, and do not warrant equivalent responses.

    Anita Sarkeesian also has no “right” to speak at some particular university, and if a talk of hers got cancelled due to threats of violence the issue would not be a violation of her “free speech”, but a violation of basic decency and proportionality by people threatening violence over something as benign as video game journalism. I would expect the university to stand up to this and provide protection because it’d be the decent thing to do, not because of some abstract commitment to “free speech”. Basically, precisely because this isn’t actually about freedom of speech, it matters that Anita Sarkeesian is sensible and benign while Ann Coulter is toxic and unhinged.

  55. tomh says

    @ #58

    “It is a rally. It is people sharing a certain set of beliefs/attitudes/opinions who are gathering to show to flag to the rest of us”

    So what? That’s how people are heard, whether they march, or make speeches, or whatever.

    “And the protests are not a bug. They are a feature.”

    Really? You applaud the protests, then complain because you are inconvenienced by the results? This is incohenence.

  56. nomuse says

    Also, lotahroo, you useless walrusoid, the post and the ensuing discussion did not cover every aspect of the event. We’ve all spoken out against the use of terror tactics before. You might as well call us out for hypocrisy for mentioning hats in one post-and-discussion but not in another.

  57. Siobhan says

    Man am I ever grateful the actual targets of the hate speech are being considered in this thread.

  58. Saad says

    lotharloo, #57

    If it is Anita Sarkeesian’s talks that’s been “rescheduled” due to threats of violence, then PZ and the all the commentators here talk about free speech, and condemn harassment. If it is Ann Coulter the argument suddenly changes to “well, you don’t have a right to speak at every University!”. Please, hold a consistent position.

    Oh, great. Another one.

    Did you compare the contents of Sarkeesian’s talks and Coulter’s, Spencer’s, and Milo’s talks?

    Did you stop and think what a world would look like where Sarkeesian felt perfectly safe and confident speaking her message and what a world would look like where Coulter and Milo felt perfectly safe and confident speaking their message?

    Did you realize that the audience that would gather to listen to Sarkeesian’s talks do not make people afraid for their safety and that the same cannot be said about Coulter’s or Milo’s or Spencer’s crowds?

    Think. Just think. Stop treating free speech like a religious axiom. Actually think about it in the context of our current society as it exists.

    Anyone who wants their opinion to be taken seriously on this must address these two facts:

    The safety of gamers and their families is not threatened by Sarkeesian’s video game lectures.

    Crowds gathering around Coulter and Spencer, however, are nightmarish scenarios for marginalized people.

    I mean we know how this plays out. We know what a demagogue from the oppressive majority gathering crowds around them to mock and vilify already marginalized people leads to. Why do you want that happening? And why do you think wanting that happening doesn’t make you complicit?

    Just what are you people expecting to find out? Exactly why should we agree to suck it up and suffer through all sorts of fears, anxieties and traumas so that you privileged, calm and composed rational beings can satisfy your free speech fetishes?

  59. nomuse says

    I did not in any way applaud the protests, or even the idea of protests, tomh.

    And you seem confused on the difference between debate and a shouting match. Facts can be debated. Alternative facts belong to whomever has the largest bullhorn.

  60. Zeppelin says

    …that should read “lotharloo” up there in my post, obviously.

    Jessie Foster: I don’t know, that would depend on whether those liberal speakers were as dreadful and had as dangerous an audience as Ann Coulter. If they were, I would be fine with a “mob” telling them to fuck off and physically preventing them from holding their rally, if necessary. The force ought to be strictly proportional to that goal of course, but I couldn’t condemn it in principle.
    This isn’t about some abstract commitment to free speech, and so it matters that Ann Coulter’s views are wrong as well as dangerous and deeply insulting to a large portion of the people who live and work around that campus. As soon as we’re talking about expending time and effort and money to broadcast speech, the quality and intention of that speech becomes relevant.

  61. tomh says

    @ #60
    “Ann Coulter’s views and Anita Sarkeesian’s views are not equivalent, and do not warrant equivalent responses.”

    It depends whether you want to follow the law or not. The First Amendment, and laws derived from it, is designed to prevent the government from regulating speech according to its content, so whether their views are equivalent or not, they do require the same response.

  62. Zeppelin says

    tomh: Oh, that’s easy! I don’t want to follow the law, I want to do what’s right.

  63. Saad says

    tomh, #67

    It depends whether you want to follow the law or not. The First Amendment, and laws derived from it, is designed to prevent the government from regulating speech according to its content, so whether their views are equivalent or not, they do require the same response.

    When your adherence to the First Amendment is leading to increased threats to minorities, it’s time do either edit the law or break it.

  64. nomuse says

    tomh —

    I have to thank you for providing a mouthpiece for the argument PZ began to dissect in his post.

    Ideas and attitudes do not exist in vacuum. Even something as simple as the melting point of steel can have a social context (even if it is relatively simple to drill down to testable fact). No discussion takes place free of context.

    You can freely compare the ideas, and idea of an idea of Sarkeesian and Coulter being presented. You can not, however, ignore the social reality of an actual Sarkkesian or Coulter talking to an audience, whether in a blog, an op-ed post, via twitter or in a lecture hall. In all those venues, context influences and the talk has repercussions.

    It is intellectually amusing to think on the possible parallels of hypothetical talks. but any talk about a real university appearance that attempts to any kind of honesty has to consider the actual event.

  65. tomh says

    @ #65
    “I did not in any way applaud the protests, or even the idea of protests,”

    So when you said, “the protests are not a bug. They are a feature,” you weren’t approving of them?

  66. Saad says

    Siobhan, #63

    Man am I ever grateful the actual targets of the hate speech are being considered in this thread.

    It’s analogous to a panel of men talking about what constitutes sexual harassment, rape, etc.

    Note how they’re all coming to the rescue of a nonexistent abstract concept while ignoring actual living breathing people’s safety and futures are being jeopardized. It’s like religion.

  67. nomuse says

    #71 tomh; I thought that within the total context of the post I was clear that the intent was that of the inviters, not of the locale.

    In fact, I am not sure what twisty road you would have to take to imagine that I am proudly offering up potential violent outbreaks in my town as some sort of badge of honor, or as a useful quality in the communication of ideas. The only way I can even get there from here is by parsing each individual sentence free of any context…..remarkably similar, in fact, of what you see to want to do with the underlying argument.

  68. Michael says

    I have to disagree with you PZ. Regardless of the other background issues, she was invited to speak at the University, as opposed to be demanding a platform. I see little difference in your argument against Coulter speaking (she’s written books, we know her views, etc.) versus Ayaan Hirsi Ali (she’s written books, we know her views, security issues, etc.).

    If someone is invited to speak with whom you disagree, you are welcome to protest, and challenge their views in the Q & A, but you don’t have the right to demand them to be disinvited. Otherwise who gets to decide who is an acceptable speaker and who isn’t?

  69. Saad says

    Michael, #74

    Otherwise who gets to decide who is an acceptable speaker and who isn’t?

    White supremacists, misogynists, peddlers of fear and hatred against minorities are unacceptable speakers.

    Scientists talking about evolution, feminists talking about video games, activists talking about police brutality are acceptable speakers.

    Easy. So easy. Not sure why you couldn’t do it.

  70. says

    @74, Michael

    Otherwise who gets to decide who is an acceptable speaker and who isn’t?

    Are you some kind of pomo relativist? :P

    Anyways, more seriously, can we stop and figure out why you care what the answer to your question is?

  71. thirdmill says

    Siobhan and Saad, sorry to break it to you, but the victims of hate speech are irrelevant for the same reason a crime victim is irrelevant when a judge decides whether to throw out evidence the police gathered illegally, and the criminal walks free as a result. Yes, it’s outrageous when someone spreads racism, and yes, it’s outrageous when someone commits a violent crime and gets away with it, but there are more important principles at stake. Welcome to a world in which nuance and shades of gray exist.

  72. gmcard says

    People aren’t fissile material. Putting people with bad ideas in a room together doesn’t make them more dangerous. But threatening or committing violence against their speakers and attendees, or getting their events shut down, is a great way to legitimize their political concerns in the eyes of disengaged independent voters, and that absolutely makes them more dangerous.

  73. consciousness razor says

    I’m sorry PZ that you like to miss the point in an effort to be morally superior, but those who hold a consistent position clearly see that the main blame here is those who issue threats of violence. The fact that you chose not to condemn those threats of violence reveals your bias.

    What about Coulter’s own threatening speech, which she’s been spewing for decades now? Because, fuck, that shit is seriously terrifying. You chose not to mention that.

  74. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    The argument seems to be “I don’t like her, she’s said it before, therefore her First Amendment rights can be properly curtailed.

    Typical “freeze peach” bullshit. Only the government must no suppress or not listen to her. Nobody else must do that, and any venue may make reasonable rules on allowing her speech.
    A bullhorn in front of a student dorm at midnight is not free speech, it is harassment of the students, and can be shut down.

  75. says

    Imagine if liberal speakers were being shut down by right-wing mobs. Would that be okay?

    Imagining…

    Imagining…

    Imagining…

    Man, that shit sure is hard to imagine.

    Simple answer to a stupid question: No, it would not be okay.

    It’s also not okay for conservative speakers to be shut down by violence from anyone. Where do you guys get the idea that saying that free speech does not entitle you to a speaking position is the same as endorsing violence?

  76. says

    @79, thirdmill

    Your world of shades of grey actually sounds like a world dominated by bizarre black and white thinking (relevant or not relevant, etc.). That you want people to passively accept?

  77. tomh says

    @ #78

    That’s kind of the point of hate speech laws, isn’t it? If you’re going to have the kind of speech laws that some people here are advocating, you have to define the speech allowed. And some committee, probably, is going to have to write those definitions. That’s why the answer to the question matters.

  78. thirdmill says

    Daz, No. 82, how about the principle of not letting other people decide which speech you get to hear? I have zero confidence that it would always be the good guys making that decision. I live in a country that just elected Donald Trump as president; you really think that if free speech were to fall, that it would be leftists who would be deciding what speech gets to be heard? Given the results of last November’s election, this is an excellent time for leftists to support free speech in their own self interest.

  79. says

    Another common twist: suddenly, people are claiming this is about denying a platform to people I “do not like”. Did I say anything about prohibiting people I do not like from speaking? I did not. I couldn’t do that, because there are a hell of a lot of people I do not like at all, but who I’d have a tough time denying them their voice. I absolutely despise David Brooks; but he’s the kind of guy I’d like to see people arguing against, and a public venue for expressing protest would be great.

    But I think we’re done with Nazis, white supremacists, and talk radio hosts. Anyone who encourages hate. If there’s someone on the Left who is preaching that we must murder some group of people, I’d also agree — we’re done with them, too.

    But instead people are reduced to equating Coulter with Sarkeesian? What the fuck is wrong with you?

  80. Saad says

    Ooh, I have an “imagine” scenario!!

    Imagine if the ethnic cleansing apologists’ positions were switched! Imagine if they were the targeted group. Imagine if they had elderly Muslim parents living on their own in a southern state where 15 minutes from their house the KKK was active passing out flyers and throwing a pamphlet into a black woman’s yard.

    Imagine if they were the darker skinned, funny-name-sounding immigrants against whom hate crimes were skyrocketing and who were literally being shot to death on their own properties.

    Ooh!! Imagine! Imagine! I love imagining! Makes me feel all giddy and sunshiny like god damn Spongebob.

    thirdmill, #79

    Yes, it’s outrageous when someone spreads racism, and yes, it’s outrageous when someone commits a violent crime and gets away with it, but there are more important principles at stake.

    I already addressed this drivel up at #72.

  81. nomuse says

    Re-reading, no, I wasn’t as clear as I hoped. I meant that not only are protests something anyone could have expected, I have strong suspicion protests were desired by those that invited Coulter to speak, and welcomes by Coulter herself. I say this not in support but merely with the same tired recognition as knowing if you build in earthquake country, you may have a building collapse on you.

    And, actually, I like the intellectual idea of protests. This particular event unfolded in the way we could only hope; peacefully, with a degree of mutual respect between both sides and even some sharing across the lines. The police were also excellently behaved.

    Of course Coulter was never actually there, and this became a different event, one which should probably be disconnected from her or her specific ideology. But there were costs, entirely predicable costs that unfolded from that first decision to invite a speaker. Just as the March for Science had costs, costs that could largely be predicted from the outset (the size of the eventual crowd being a big variable).

    (And I have to quickly interrupt any attempt at comparison here to touch on the absurdity of a marcher with an XKCD t-shirt and a pistol in concealed carry while her counter-marcher smashes windows and sets fire to cars. There is a big difference between having a bunch of science geeks in town and having a bunch of Coulter supporters.)

  82. says

    @86, tomh

    I’m not sure I get your reply.

    “some committee will write it”, “that’s why it matters”…what?

    Who cares if a committee writes it? I don’t get it.

  83. says

    @PZ

    Where do you guys get the idea that saying that free speech does not entitle you to a speaking position is the same as endorsing violence?

    Because the reason Ann Coulter isn’t speaking at Berkeley is because of violence. This doesn’t have to do with the University deciding that there is nothing to be gained from a critical evaluation of her ideas, this has to do with people dressed like fucking ninjas lighting shit on fire.

    So saying that “free speech does not entitle you to a speaking position” is a way to obfuscate from what is actually happening in the real world.

  84. says

    No, what actually happened with Coulter isn’t violence, or the threat of violence: it’s that the university offered her an alternative venue, and she refused, because actually being allowed to speak has less PR value than being “censored”.

  85. says

    @Saad

    Imagine if they were the targeted group.

    Imagine if you didn’t make assumptions about the racial and ethnic backgrounds of people you’ve never fucking met.

  86. Zeppelin says

    thirdmill: Why is Ann Coulter’s free speech the most important thing in this situation? I mean, free speech is valuable, sure, but it seems ludicrous to suggest that it’s the most important principle to uphold in any given situation just by fiat. When principles come into conflict we have to weigh them against each other, right?

    Not to mention that Ann Coulter’s freedom of speech isn’t actually impinged upon by her not being able to hold a presentation at some specific public venue, so this isn’t a free speech issue to begin with. She is still free to say whatever she wants, whenever she wants, to the same degree as every other ordinary mortal in the country. She’ll just have to look for some other place to broadcast her speech.
    So we can absolutely debate whether the reactions to her announced talk were appropriate and proportionate or not, but this whole thing has nothing to do with the principle of free speech and everything to do with the content and consequences of her particular speech, and the type of audience it attracts.

  87. says

    @93, PZ Myers

    No, what actually happened with Coulter isn’t violence, or the threat of violence: it’s that the university offered her an alternative venue, and she refused […]

    Didn’t both happen? Didn’t the university offered her an alternative venue because of violence, or the threat of violence?

  88. Drew says

    Typical “freeze peach” bullshit. Only the government must no suppress or not listen to her. Nobody else must do that, and any venue may make reasonable rules on allowing her speech.
    A bullhorn in front of a student dorm at midnight is not free speech, it is harassment of the students, and can be shut down.

    In this case, the University is the government. It is a public university and so must act according to the Constitution, including affording “freeze peach”.

    As to the budgetary concerns our host raises in the OP, do you not consider it the responsibility of the state to protect its citizenry against battery? Should not the state (in this case the police and not the University) be the ones responsible for safety and arresting anyone who inflicts violence upon another citizen regardless of what said citizen has said (assuming said person has broken no laws)?

    @Brian #78

    can we stop and figure out why you care what the answer to your question is?

    I’m not the commenter but I have an opinion on the matter, and I’ll defer to Mr. Hitchens on the wording.

    Bear in mind, ladies and gentlemen, that every time you violate or propose to violate the free speech of someone else, in potencia, you’re making a rod for own back.

    @Saad

    White supremacists, misogynists, peddlers of fear and hatred against minorities are unacceptable speakers.

    Scientists talking about evolution, feminists talking about video games, activists talking about police brutality are acceptable speakers.

    Is this list exhaustive? What about if topics overlap? What if a scientist was talking about data that in a certain light might support white supremacists? What if it’s a racist feminist talking about in video games? Are they to be banned too? Are you on call to be the go to for deciding?

    While I have no particular urge to see Anne Coulter, and can’t imagine any situation in which I’d want to, that’s my decision to make, I don’t defer to anyone to decide what is or is not fit for me to hear.

    If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error. -John Stuart Mill On Liberty

  89. says

    @PZ

    what actually happened with Coulter isn’t violence, or the threat of violence

    “Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said in a statement that the campus could not accommodate the speech because the planned venue was deemed inadequately secure by local police”

  90. says

    thirdmill #87:

    Daz, No. 82, how about the principle of not letting other people decide which speech you get to hear? I have zero confidence that it would always be the good guys making that decision. I live in a country that just elected Donald Trump as president; you really think that if free speech were to fall, that it would be leftists who would be deciding what speech gets to be heard? Given the results of last November’s election, this is an excellent time for leftists to support free speech in their own self interest.

    How about speech which specifically targets people or groups with accusations that they are less than fully human, or deserve less than equal rights than the rest of society simply being declared actionable hate-speech. It seems terribly ironic to me that people would defend the equal right to make speech which advocates that others should have less than equal rights.

    Yes, I would agree that provisions against abuse of anti-hate-speech laws should be extremely robust, given the obvious slippery slope, but I don’t understand the idea that people should not have the right to go about their business without having to either constantly stop to debate against or try to ignore the ever-present denials of their right to be considered equal citizens, or even fully human, merely so that we can claim to have clung to a principle which does not protect them.

    As with religion, “freedom from” should be considered, in my opinion, just as important as “freedom of.”

  91. marcoli says

    Well, its clear to me that you are saying college groups should not invite people who have argued for oppressing the vulnerable, or for racist views. And if they have been invited, that we should work to get them uninvited. You are trying to say that speech from the worst of the worst can be shut down.
    There are so many problems with this, I scarcely know where to begin. I will just say the most important thing:
    Instead of letting their reprehensible views be the story of the day, put out there alongside the factual (and I think correct) rebuttals from our side, the story then becomes whatever the far right wants it to be. And of course what they all along wanted it to be is that the snowflakes of the regressive left can’t stand to hear views that they do not agree with. This translates into the minds of the majority that ‘the left’ has become anti-free speech. It does not matter if this is not what was intended, the far right will simply spin it into being the story they wanted all along. This is how the sell books and get on major outlets of social media. And it sells. Sorry, but your opinion just plays into their hands.

  92. thirdmill says

    Saad, No. 89, the drivel is you thinking you get to decide what other people can hear. I will decide for myself what speech I will listen to, and if you think you have a voice in that, you are mistaken.

    Zeppelin, No. 95, I actually agree with PZ that she should not have been invited in the first place, so I’m not quite as much on Coulter’s side in this matter as some here. And I also agree with you that every right, including free speech, has to be balanced against other rights; free speech does not include the right to shout through a bullhorn under your bedroom window at 3AM.

    But the reason, in general, that free speech is arguably the most important right is that it’s the last defense against arbitrary and oppressive government. Once you say that certain points of view can be suppressed, it then falls to someone to decide which points of view they will be, and I don’t trust any authority institution to make that decision. Most of the time when speech is being suppressed it’s authoritarian religion or oppressive governments doing the suppressing. And I think tolerating Ann Coulter is the price we pay for not allowing Donald Trump to make those choices for us.

  93. consciousness razor says

    Because the reason Ann Coulter isn’t speaking at Berkeley is because of violence.

    Is there a reason why this violence (or property damage, or the threat of either) happened? What might motivate people to do that in this situation? Is Coulter responsible at all for her own words and actions, or are only other people responsible for theirs?

    There may be people we’ll never hear about, who also aren’t speaking at Berkeley. Why aren’t those people speaking there? Perhaps because of violence or threats of violence, exactly the kind that Coulter promulgates. Maybe they’re in jail for being black, were shot by a cop, are afraid for their safety and cannot take the risk of speaking out … who the fuck knows? It’s not in a headline somewhere, and Ann Coulter herself may not have directly targeted that specific individual with her hate, because she’s just too fucking hateful to limit it to some identifiable specific person. It’s got to spread around fucking everywhere to fucking everyone, and the rest of us have got to clean up the fucking mess. We have to be responsible for something, anyway, even if she isn’t. But the way we’re being told to do so is to make more of a mess. Could anybody in their right mind think that this kind of “plan” is going to work out well?

  94. thirdmill says

    Daz, No. 99, I guess I’m just not as trusting that whatever government agency would be charged with enforcing hate speech laws would stay within reasonable boundaries.

    Here’s what I would be afraid would happen: As you know, the men’s rights movement considers feminism to be anti-male hate speech. They’re full of shit, but let that pass for the moment. A country that will elect a president who brags about grabbing women by the pussy can’t be trusted to not elect MRAs to public office either. So they then declare feminism to be hate speech and shut down half to two-thirds of the feminist movement. That, I think, is a far more likely scenario than that hate speech laws would be limited to protecting people who actually need protecting. And I think Ann Coulter is the price we pay to ensure that doesn’t happen.

  95. Rich Woods says

    @thirdmill #101:

    And I think tolerating Ann Coulter is the price we pay for not allowing Donald Trump to make those choices for us.

    And would the man who talked about Mexicans immigrants being bad, bad people have become president if the ground hadn’t already been laid by the likes of Ann Coulter?

  96. says

    thirdmill #103:

    Daz, No. 99, I guess I’m just not as trusting that whatever government agency would be charged with enforcing hate speech laws would stay within reasonable boundaries.
    Here’s what I would be afraid would happen: As you know, the men’s rights movement considers feminism to be anti-male hate speech. They’re full of shit, but let that pass for the moment. A country that will elect a president who brags about grabbing women by the pussy can’t be trusted to not elect MRAs to public office either. So they then declare feminism to be hate speech and shut down half to two-thirds of the feminist movement. That, I think, is a far more likely scenario than that hate speech laws would be limited to protecting people who actually need protecting. And I think Ann Coulter is the price we pay to ensure that doesn’t happen.

    Y’know, I agree with all of that to an extent. Which is why I specified extremely robust provisions against abuse of such laws. And no, I don’t think it’s easy to get the balance between “freedom to” and “protection from” right.

    But…

    Police killed at least 102 unarmed black people in 2015, nearly twice each week. (See which police departments were responsible for these deaths)

    Nearly 1 in 3 black people killed by police in 2015 were identified as unarmed, though the actual number is likely higher due to underreporting

    37% of unarmed people killed by police were black in 2015 despite black people being only 13% of the U.S. population
    Unarmed black people were killed at 5x the rate of unarmed whites in 2015
    [Source]

    Ann Coulter is not the price “we” pay. Those deaths are the price, ultimately, and “we” did not pay it. Those murdered people people, their friends and their relations, amongst many others, paid it; and continue to do so.

  97. Zeppelin says

    @thirdmill: Ah, we’re mainly in disagreement on how important free speech is, then.
    I don’t think I’d even put it near my top three most important rights, if I was forced to rank them. It’s great, but something of a luxury compared to, say, physical safety, food and shelter, bodily integrity or even basic legal equality. I’d take a government that provides those but engages in censorship over one that lets me say whatever I want but can’t ensure that I have enough to eat and don’t get murdered by gangs of raiders (or bigots, more relevantly to Ann Coulter’s case).

  98. Drew says

    It seems terribly ironic to me that people would defend the equal right to make speech which advocates that others should have less than equal rights.

    So then your suggestion is to afford less than equal rights to those people on the grounds of equal rights? Because they seek to take away rights from others we should take away theirs? We should become what they seek to become?

    Ironic indeed.

  99. tomh says

    “I actually agree with PZ that she should not have been invited in the first place”

    Well, in order for that to happen you would have to change University rules, since registered student groups can invite speakers. But if you want some background, the Washington Post had a piece yesterday
    titled, “I invited Ann Coulter to speak at UC Berkeley. Here’s why,” by Pranav Jandhyala. His group was hosting a larger debate about immigration, that featured various speakers from all sides, and Coulter was the conservatives’ choice for their side. Jandhyala worked with College Republicans to invite her. It wasn’t just a random choice to stir up trouble, as some here would have people believe.

  100. Zeppelin says

    @tomh: We’re still having a moral argument here, not a legal one. The university rules are irrelevant.

  101. says

    Drew #108:

    It seems terribly ironic to me that people would defend the equal right to make speech which advocates that others should have less than equal rights.

    So then your suggestion is to afford less than equal rights to those people on the grounds of equal rights? Because they seek to take away rights from others we should take away theirs? We should become what they seek to become?

    Would you suggest, then, that we allow a powerful tool to be misused in such a way that it actively harms the very society, not to mention the people, we wish to protect?

    All prohibitory laws are outcomes of a compromise between freedom to and protection from. The only bone of contention here is where we should draw the line.

  102. tomh says

    @ 110
    A moral argument, really? I thought this was all about context and the “real world.” Rules are irrelevant, laws are irrelevant, it’s very confusing.

  103. nomuse says

    The world is complex. There isn’t a simple dichotomy of two opposing teams, each equal in power and each uniform in views among themselves.

  104. hemidactylus says

    Given UC Berkeley is a *public* university this controversy is at least on the surface a 1st amendment freeze peach issue. I would be interested in any arguments that the ACLU could put forward. I find Coulter to be repugnant and seems to enjoy pushing buttons for effect. My disgust with her can’t override the value of people generally being allowed to speak at public institutions when given the opportunity. The general right protects the voices of marginalized groups also. Plus protests and counterspeeches are protected.

    I think the devil is in the details. To me the circumstances of her cancellation make the 1st amendment application murkier than I’m able to decipher, not being an attorney.

    https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/04/26/us/ann-coulter-berkeley-speech.html

    The university switched the venue in a manner not to her liking:

    “Administrators at Berkeley, who say Ms. Coulter is welcome on campus when the university has an indoor, “protectable” venue available, offered a day next week when students are no longer in class, a proposal that Ms. Coulter rejected.”

    And her sponsoring groups backed out citing the hostile environment. So the anticipation of violence had an effect on the cancellation of the event. People had as much right to protest peacefully as Coulter to speak, but anticipated violence would cross the line.

    After the debacle surrounding that twit Milo, the Machiavellian cynic in me wonders if this was a well orchestrated ploy. A comment on Coyne’s blog really struck me about the right being able to manipulate the left into a predictable counter-response whereby after initiating the trainwreck with a provocative invite all they have to do is watch the opposition do all their heavy lifting. I suppose the organizations who invited her were sincere, but either way they win something in return. Now Coulter can write another hateful book about the experience and feign the moral high ground. Liberals don’t apply free speech fairly is the looming narrative. Even if Coulter has no case in the courts she has rhetorical fodder. Oh well.

    And for #74 Michael’s mention of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, she’s something of a pariah and listed by SPLC with some really odious people. Strangely Maajid Nawaz, the inventor of the rather obnoxious label “regressive left” is there too. Coyne, Harris, and Boghossian have broadened and amplified the term.

    https://www.splcenter.org/20161025/journalists-manual-field-guide-anti-muslim-extremists

    I hate the term but it has limited applicability in cases which Nawaz originated it and his being placed on SPLC list is arguably an example.

    I actually found myself agreeing with Coyne more than PZ on this issue previously, but take exception to the way he is now characterizing PZ with the Decider label on a recent post. And recklessly throwing around “regressive left”. Grrrr! That’s not helpful.

    The Machiavellian in me ponders the way the hateful Coulter would enjoy watching two people who despise her get into a conflict over her. And the runaway train left the station with the Berkeley students who invited her.

  105. Zeppelin says

    @tomh: Yes, a discussion about how to behave morally in the real world.
    We’re not confused as to what the legal situation is, we’re asking what people should actually do, in the real world, to achieve desirable results. Laws are a means to an end, not a good in themselves. They don’t come into this except in the sense of which ones should be followed and enforced because they work, and which ones should be ignored or changed because they don’t.

  106. Drew says

    Would you suggest, then, that we allow a powerful tool to be misused in such a way that it actively harms the very society, not to mention the people, we wish to protect?

    All prohibitory laws are outcomes of a compromise between freedom to and protection from. The only bone of contention here is where we should draw the line.

    I’m reminded of A Man For All Seasons

    William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

    Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

    William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

    Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

  107. says

    It is not possible to tolerate intolerance, because those intolerant would automatically steamroll the tolerant. For the same reasons it is not possible to have absolute freedom of speech, because the loud haters and active promoters of violence would steamroll those without voice.

    Absolute free speech is an unattainable ideall, and laws should not be trying to protect an unattainable ideal. I live in a country where promoting fascism, white supremacy and some similar ideas is actually illegal from WW2. No slippery slope towards more and more restrictions on speech did unroll like an avalanche and people are enjoying quite reasonable freedom of speech.

  108. says

    #109: You say “It wasn’t just a random choice to stir up trouble, as some here would have people believe”. But read the article:

    Coulter was the choice of conservative groups on campus to represent their perspective in a larger campus debate about illegal immigration we were hosting. Liberal groups on campus had chosen Maria Echaveste, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton.

    The conservative groups chose an inflammatory provocateur with no expertise on immigration. The liberals chose a daughter of immigrants who had served as the White House Deputy Chief of Staff under Clinton, and who has serious credentials and experience.

    I hope you see the difference.

    But you’re right. The conservatives did not make a random choice to stir up trouble. They made an intentional choice to maximize the amount of conflict they could stir up.

  109. Saad says

    thirdmill, #79

    Yes, it’s outrageous when someone spreads racism, and yes, it’s outrageous when someone commits a violent crime and gets away with it, but there are more important principles at stake.

    It was tough competition, but I think this is the worst post in this thread so far and the one that shows the ugliest aspect of privilege.

    You literally want me to agree that there should be something more important to me than my basic safety and peace of mind.

  110. Saad says

    Jessie Foster, #94

    Imagine if you didn’t make assumptions about the racial and ethnic backgrounds of people you’ve never fucking met.

    1) I’m plenty familiar with your post history on FtB, so “fuck you” is a perfectly appropriate and sufficient response to you on pretty much anything.

    and

    2) There are numerous examples of internalized bigotries out there. Ben Carson’s opinion on Black Lives Matter is a shitty one. So is Sarah Palin’s on abortion.

    Jessie Foster, #98

    “Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said in a statement that the campus could not accommodate the speech because the planned venue was deemed inadequately secure by local police”

    What’s wrong with using threat of violence (or violence if need be) to deter white supremacy and bigotry?

  111. tomh says

    @ #119
    Well, discerning their reasons for choosing her takes some mind reading. The conservatives’ chose Coulter to represent their side – sure, her position is based on racism and hatred, but that’s representative of the Republican side. In a forum representing all sides, I think it should be aired. You don’t. OK.

  112. says

    All of the people hand-wringing about Anne Coulter’s speech being shut down due to “threats of violence” seem to be forgetting that Berkeley was ready to go to considerable expense to provide the needed security (per the NYT article;) it was Coulter herself and the conservative groups who originally sponsored her who backed out because they couldn’t or wouldn’t accommodate Berkeley’s reasonable request that she schedule her speech for a time and place that a) could be secured adequately and b) wouldn’t interfere with classes. Sadly, violence is always a possibility that has to be considered when you get a large group of emotionally charged people together; its not as if its a phenomenon that’s unique to conservative speakers on liberal college campuses.

  113. says

    Drew #117:

    I’m reminded of A Man For All Seasons

    How nice for you. At the risk of repeating myself, I am not talking about “cutting down” the law. I am talking about shifting the point of compromise which already exists (see, for instance, laws regarding slanderous speech) between freedom of action and protection from others’ actions.

  114. KG says

    I see little difference in your argument against Coulter speaking (she’s written books, we know her views, etc.) versus Ayaan Hirsi Ali – Michael@74

    Nor do I: Ayaan Hirsi Ali is about as vile as Coulter. According to her “we” are at war with Islam, which must be “crushed”. How many million people would “we” need to kill in order to “crush” Islam, do you think?

    So then your suggestion is to afford less than equal rights to those people on the grounds of equal rights? Because they seek to take away rights from others we should take away theirs? – Drew@108

    Yes. Why the hell not? Same as we take away some of the rights of (a small minority of ) rapists by imprisoning them.

    It really fucking staggers me to see the stupidity of the freeze peachers here. Saad and others have given excellent responses.

  115. says

    You just admitted that “her position is based on racism and hatred”, yet you “think it should be aired.” You don’t see a problem with that? It’s also obvious from their choice that they intended to be inflammatory, unless you think there is no other conservative who has a less uninformed, ignorant, rabble-rousing position. That’s patently absurd.

    And please, everyone who thinks Coulter should have been given a platform…do you place any limitations on free speech? Even the first amendment is limited and specific: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” It does not say that everyone and anyone gets to say anything they want anywhere, any time.

    I agree that the government should have no ability to criminalize free speech, but that’s a different thing altogether from this religious fetish people have made of free speech absolutism. I swear, you guys sound just like the second amendment absolutists who don’t care what it actually says, but just want guns, guns, guns. And you’re both incredibly dangerous.

  116. Drew says

    I am not talking about “cutting down” the law. I am talking about shifting the point of compromise which already exists (see, for instance, laws regarding slanderous speech) between freedom of action and protection from others’ actions.

    This is a distinction without a difference. What you’re talking about is called prior restraint, and is the very thing that the 1st Amendment was written to deny (The SCOTUS has ruled on this several times). You can’t propose to block someone’s speech because of what you expect they’re going to say. Even if you can show a pattern of saying similar things previously.

    Additionally, there are significant burdens upon someone claiming an injury by slander. How would someone, under the standards you propose, demonstrate injury in the present case? And those laws all require that the thing has already been said.

    What you are proposing is, in fact, cutting down precisely what the 1st Amendment was written for.

  117. Drew says

    And please, everyone who thinks Coulter should have been given a platform…do you place any limitations on free speech? Even the first amendment is limited and specific: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” It does not say that everyone and anyone gets to say anything they want anywhere, any time.

    Just like the Constitution doesn’t say anything about the separation of Church and State, right?

  118. nomuse says

    Hmph. The original intent was laudable. But there’s a difference between presenting an idea as clearly as possible so it can be dissected and compared, and giving that idea the strongest and best stage-managed presentation. Jandhyala’s original purpose would have been served just as well by having any well-informed person explain how the far right views things. There is no need for a well-known, “popular” figure (in the right circles) to explain middle-American fear of the other, any more than you need a similarly major figure to list actual emigration statistics.

    But when he contacted the local Young Republicans club, they saw a chance to move from the academic debate the Vulcans are renting their garments over, to a contest of emotional presentation. One in which Coulter _not_ speaking is as powerful and as useful to their purposes as her speaking is.

  119. says

    Drew #127:

    You can’t propose to block someone’s speech because of what you expect they’re going to say. Even if you can show a pattern of saying similar things previously.

    Why not? And please, do not cite a fucking two-hundred year old document as if it were unchangeable holy scripture. Tell me in your own words, using your own reasoning, why, morally, one should not block a person from performing dangerous actions when one knows that they are going to do so. Then tell me why, for instance, this does not apply to someone who is pointing a gun; after all, you don’t know they’re going to pull the trigger, do you? Or if that’s too extreme an example, try a drunk climbing into the driving-seat of a car, keys in hand.

  120. Drew says

    Morally: punishing speech is punishing thought.

    Practically: if I stifle someone’s speech now, just because I have the ability, someone else will stifle mine when I don’t.

    There’s a major distinction between speech and driving drunk it pointing a gun. I can’t choose not to be on the road when you get into a car to drive drunk. I can’t choose to not be in a public square if the person next to me pulls out a gun and starts threatening me with it. I can choose to avoid a room in which a planned seminar is being held (should i want to). Incidentally, just go ahead and put those goalposts wherever you want, first you weren’t cutting down the law, then it doesn’t matter because it’s just a 200 year old piece of parchment.

    I’m out for several hours

  121. tomh says

    # 126
    “You don’t see a problem with that? ”

    Sorry, I don’t. Just as I didn’t see anything wrong in 1978 when the ACLU defended the Nazis’ right to march in Skokie. Or when they defended civil rights marches when southern cities tried to shut them down over the violence they would cause. If that makes me “dangerous,” I don’t know what to tell you.

    And Coulter wasn’t being “given” a platform. The duly registered Campus Republicans were allowed the same opportunity as others who participated, in choosing a speaker to air their views. Views that are (unfortunately) held by millions of Americans, so many that they elected our current president.

  122. says

    Ah. We’re in the stage of the conversation where the dogmatics are ignoring everything that was previously said.

    See #72.

  123. says

    Drew #131:

    Morally: punishing speech is punishing thought.

    Bullcrap. Thinking that, for instance, homosexuals should not be allowed to marry, is not the same as advocating that the law should be used to deny equal rights to homosexuals. I literally cannot punish you or bar you from speaking harmfully unless you have first moved from thinking to engaging in harmful speech.

    Practically: if I stifle someone’s speech now, just because I have the ability, someone else will stifle mine when I don’t.

    Please note, I was addressing a very specific and easily categorised form of hate-speech. So unless you are planning to advocate that some person or group should be treated as less than human and/or as unworthy of equal rights with the rest of society, what’s your problem?

    There’s a major distinction between speech and driving drunk it pointing a gun. I can’t choose not to be on the road when you get into a car to drive drunk. I can’t choose to not be in a public square if the person next to me pulls out a gun and starts threatening me with it. I can choose to avoid a room in which a planned seminar is being held (should i want to).

    You think a black person, a gay person, a trans person or any other person or group who is regularly the subject of speech which advocates that they should not be accorded equal rights and/or regarded as fully human can choose to not live in the society which surrounds them? And it doesn’t really matter whether that speech is made in a planned seminar or shouted from soap boxes in the public square; it still harms them.

    Incidentally, just go ahead and put those goalposts wherever you want, first you weren’t cutting down the law, then it doesn’t matter because it’s just a 200 year old piece of parchment.

    There’s a difference between “cutting down” (i.e. scrapping) a piece of legislature and changing it in light of two centuries’ worth of experience of its effects.

  124. says

    @Saad
    And I’m kinda familiar with your post history also. You’re a one trick pony. Anyone who differs one iota from your supreme fucking moral intuitions is a racist, bigot, misogynist, etc.

    I’m not exaggerating either. I don’t believe that burning shit down is an appropriate response to a boring right-wing hack giving a speech. That position has been enough for you to imply that I’m defending ethnic cleansing, and that I’m a bigot who has internalized my own oppression.

  125. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Yes, it’s outrageous when someone spreads racism, and yes, it’s outrageous when someone commits a violent crime and gets away with it, but there are more important principles at stake.

    Maybe to you.

    I expect the fact that you don’t belong to a group whose lives are routinely threatened in this manner has something to do with that ranking.

  126. says

    Note how they’re all coming to the rescue of a nonexistent abstract concept while ignoring actual living breathing people’s safety and futures are being jeopardized.

    How, exactly? What’s the scenario here? Ann Coulter gives her speech, and then what? Does the Fourth Fucking Reich mobilize?

  127. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Also, reading this debate on my phone, which won’t accept my login credentials no matter what I fucking do, I kept being reminded of this.

  128. blockhead says

    So, who decides what is hate speech? Who decides the boundaries of the “the very specific and easily categorized” categories?

  129. blockhead says

    Restricting speech and writing is an authoritarian, reactionary behavior whether by the right or the left. And mediocre professors claiming the absolute right to decide who speaks when and where would be incredibly dangerous if said mediocre professor had somehow acquired power.

  130. says

    Alright let’s do this. FUCK FREE SPEECH!

    Now let me explain.

    1) The people I see offering free speech as an absolute or acting like it’s absolute are full of shit, full stop.
    *You can’t libel or slander.
    *You can’t “yell fire in a theater” which I will define as lying to a crowd in order to elicit a mass urge-driven instinctual response with health and safety implications (feel free to pick at it).
    *You can’t intentionally direct a crowd or group to assault or kill someone, at least I think.

    But that last one does not matter because the point is that free speech is not a fucking absolute. At some point in time society needed to care out those exceptions. Who says there will be no more? Do you think the uptick in hate crimes after the election is a fairy tale? Donald Trump is role-modeling behavior! Fucking act like it.

    2) I want to solve the bigotry problem.
    That’s my fucking goal and I’m not going to pretend that free speech absolutists aren’t strategically beneficial to bigots and I seriously doubt that you are at 4chan and Reddit trying to support the free speech of people here. So I’m thinking about this in terms that involve how to get people and groups of people to be overtly and publicly critical of bigotry to the point that the bigotry effectively ends.

    That shit affects other people, creates literal errors in thought, allow bigots to literally act in a social conflict posture overtly and in public, and spreads tons of little patterns that as a mass let the institutional problems keep on drifting forward in time. “PC” is about* characterizing criticism as irrational social force, “white knights” is about preventing their targets from getting help, “funded by Soros” and “violent protestors” is about excusing the fact that they can’t explain what the protestors are protesting about in specific terms, “SJW” is about ignoring the example of social justice they happen to not like, “fake news” is a fucking scapegoat for the fact that fake news was involved in the election of Tdump and the news they consume.

    So you can die for my free speech rights all you want and I’ll keep acting like this is a social conflict to me and stopping the damage done by bigotry is worth the number of people that I drive to a frothing rage that they physically act out on. I’ll walk away with the reality that your actions support the violation of the rights of others so the social contract is already broken with respect to you and I (to a magnitude relative to how much of the above you resemble). This is about conflicting rights and I want to win as well as be correct.

    *In an “effectively about” sense where intent has fuck all to do with de facto effects with respect to social activities of bigot voters.

  131. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Restricting speech and writing is an authoritarian, reactionary behavior whether by the right or the left. And mediocre professors claiming the absolute right to decide who speaks when and where would be incredibly dangerous if said mediocre professor had somehow acquired power.

    If your beliefs fit on a bumper sticker, you need to think harder.

  132. Zeppelin says

    @blockhead: Restricting harmful speech is not morally equivalent to restricting benign speech. Freedom of speech isn’t the only right people have, and not the only principle that needs to be considered.

    When principles conflict, they need to be weighed against each other and some of them are going to have to be compromised. So when a person’s speech threatens the social contract, incites violence, makes people afraid, or whatever, we have to decide whether to compromise our commitment to providing peace and safety and happiness, or our commitment to allowing free speech. If that person already has considerable wealth, safety and influence, and their speech seems likely to result in harm to people who’ve got much less, I’d say the aforementioned person can reasonably be expected to suck it up for the greater good.

  133. says

    @Brony

    Alright let’s do this. FUCK FREE SPEECH!

    Why would I read past this point?

    “FUCK MY RIGHT TO HAVE AN OPINION. Here’s my opinion:”

  134. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Why would I read past this point?

    “FUCK MY RIGHT TO HAVE AN OPINION.

    …”the right to have an opinion” is not the meaning of “free speech” that was used anywhere in the preceding comment thread.

  135. says

    By the way that “at least I think” in #1 has to do with things like stochastic terrorism and abortion. Since that’s a thing I don’t think my country (USA) actually cares about that in a general sense. I try to keep support for violence out of my behavior, but I also won’t pretend that at some point civil unrest is generally agreed to be allowable when society treats you like an enemy. Now there’s a philosophical question worth thinking about and I won’t even pretend that this is just some “random question” without extreme social sensitivities. I’ll admit to wanting society to go in a specific direction.

  136. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Still missing the point, PZ.

    And so are you. Show me where somebody has a right to use Pharyngula as their personal blog by shoving out PZ. Or you are wrong.

  137. jrkrideau says

    @ 15 PZ

    Re Anne Coulter

    She’s an idiot and a hatemonger.

    We have criminal code provisions against hate speech in Canada. It was amusing to see Coulter cancel a presentation at Ottawa U. when the university pointed this out.

    @ 104 Rich Woods

    And would the man who talked about Mexicans immigrants being bad, bad people have become president

    I think he would have been facing legal action, possibly criminal code charges here in Canada.

  138. says

    blockhead #140:

    So, who decides what is hate speech? Who decides the boundaries of the “the very specific and easily categorized” categories?

    Who decides the boundaries of any law? I mean really, is “We might have to put some thought and some work into how to achieve this without leaving it open to abuse” your actual objection?

  139. says

    @Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y

    …”the right to have an opinion” is not the meaning of “free speech” that was used anywhere in the preceding comment thread.

    And Brony wasn’t a part of the preceding comment thread.

  140. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    I mean really, is “We might have to put some thought and some work into how to achieve this without leaving it open to abuse” your actual objection?

    Well, read his* nick.

    *statistically, probably

  141. says

    @Jessie Foster
    Then don’t read any farther.

    It’s a group oriented message after all and I already know one group of people I want to affect will react the way you did, and I assume the presence of some people with less overt bigotry who will react the way that you did (and yet I have not assumed you are a bigot, there are more groups that I consider still).

    So why should I add the group of you to that list that will walk away?

  142. jrkrideau says

    # 118 Charly

    I live in a country where promoting fascism, white supremacy and some similar ideas is actually illegal from WW2.

    OMG, you live in a total dictatorship! :)

    Americans’ attachment to their Constitution and its amendments is not totally rational. There is a “religious’ fervour that we cannot understand.

    I rather like Daz: Uffish”s response And please, do not cite a fucking two-hundred year old document as if it were unchangeable holy scripture.

  143. says

    Shit, in #150 instead of “I try to keep support for violence out of my behavior, but I also won’t pretend that at some point civil unrest is generally agreed to be allowable when society treats you like an enemy.”

    It should have been,
    “I try to keep support for violence out of my behavior, but I will also act like at some point civil unrest is generally agreed to be allowable when society treats you like an enemy.” It’s fascinating how some typos work like little reversals of things with a polarity.

  144. Vivec says

    Never thought I’d see a day where I’d both agree with Jessie and support Ann Coulter, but here we are…

  145. Zeppelin says

    jrkrideau: I can confirm that we spend every waking moment in fear of the PC Thought Police. The few surviving members of the Resistance meet in abandoned subway tunnels, huddling around banked fires as they whisper the Forbidden Words to each other. “The Holocaust never happened…” they murmur while they trace the almost forgotten shapes of swastikas and SS runes in the dust, keeping the memory of Freedom alive.

    They’re not Nazis, of course. It’s purely a matter of principle.

  146. says

    @Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Show me where somebody has a right to use Pharyngula as their personal blog by shoving out PZ. Or you are wrong.

    Sorry, not interested in arguing with you.

  147. says

    mediocre professors

    Mediocre professors…who? Where? What…oh, you’re talking about me. Dang, that was a burn.

    claiming the absolute right to decide who speaks when and where would be incredibly dangerous if said mediocre professor had somehow acquired power.

    Except…I didn’t claim “absolute right” or “power”. Maybe you’re not talking about me after all.

    Oh, you must have come over here from Coyne’s blog to parrot the master’s claims. Nope. I’m saying free speech is not absolute. I’m not claiming I’m the arbiter of who gets to speak. In this case, UC Berkeley (note: I am not affiliated with Berkeley) made that decision. I’m merely agreeing that that was a good call.

    Or, maybe, I am the puppet master pulling the strings at Berkeley — at the entire UC system! And everywhere!

    Or, applying Occam’s Razor, maybe you’re just an idiot.

  148. thirdmill says

    Saad, No. 120, I doubt that Ann Coulter giving a speech would threaten your basic safety, and as for your peace of mind, sorry, but there is no right to not be offended. And Azkyroth, No 137, you don’t know which groups I belong to so chill out.

  149. hemidactylus says

    #148- Jessie

    As much as you might think you can portray Brony’s argument as self-refuting, I think that tactic fails. This blog is a private, non-governmental venue. The 1st amendment doesn’t apply here unless the government steps in for some ungodly reason. So you can’t properly make the transition from brony’s negative views on free speech to brony’s expressing an opinion here thus being self-refuting.

    And if PZ drops a banhammer that is IMO not construable as free speech violation. He has ownership of the blog and is acting in his capacity as a private citizen, not representative capacity of his school.

    At this point free speech has no application here.

  150. nomuse says

    What? How can hate speech NOT threaten basic safety. Am I missing some subtle distinction here?

  151. says

    @PZ

    In this case, UC Berkeley (note: I am not affiliated with Berkeley) made that decision. I’m merely agreeing that that was a good call.

    Yes, and WHY was that call made, PZ?

    Here’s the UC Berkeley Chancellor:

    “This is a university, not a battlefield. We must make every effort to hold events at a time and location that maximizes the chances that First Amendment rights can be successfully exercised and that community members can be protected. While our commitment to freedom of speech and expression remains absolute, we have an obligation to heed our police department’s assessment of how best to hold safe and successful events.

    In relation to the invitation made by a student group for Ann Coulter to speak at Berkeley this week, we have therefore to take seriously the intelligence UCPD has regarding threats of violence that could endanger our students, our community, and perhaps even Ms. Coulter herself. It is specific, significant and real. Yet, despite those threats, we have — and will remain — ready to welcome her to campus, and assume the risks, challenges and expenses that will attend her visit. That is demanded by our commitment to Free Speech. What we will not do is allow our students, other members of the campus community, and the public to be needlessly endangered by permitting an event to be held in a venue that our police force does not believe to be protectable.”

    http://news.berkeley.edu/2017/04/26/new-message-from-the-chancellor-about-possible-coulter-visit/?utm_content=bufferfa415&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

  152. says

    thirdmill #164:

    Saad, No. 120, I doubt that Ann Coulter giving a speech would threaten your basic safety,

    You think there’s causal path from speech to action? Why then, if speech is not a powerful tool which can be used to affect society, is freedom of speech in need of such absolutist protection?

    and as for your peace of mind, sorry, but there is no right to not be offended.

    That’s a very strange definition of “peace of mind.”

  153. chrisdevries says

    If the government, or anything operated by the government, can suppress speech for any reason, who’s to say it won’t be OUR speech that ends up suppressed. That’s why the USA has a First Amendment, and why I wish my country (Canada) did as well. Look at Stephen Harper, a few years ago, directing government scientists not to talk to the media, and suppressing the dissemination of climate change research. When government can tell people what they can and cannot say, and who they can and cannot talk to, it will abuse the power according to the whims of current leaders.

    I hate Coulter and her ilk and she has no redeeming qualities that could make me like what she had to say at any time, ever. Her speech is not educational, her opinions are based on no evidence, and she is not qualified to speak on any issue based on a wealth of personal experience (save narcissism). I don’t think she was discriminated against IN THIS CASE because it was she who decided that the conditions imposed were too odious. But guess what: UC Berkeley probably has pretty good lawyers, and those lawyers are the reason why ultimately, Berkeley decided to allow her to speak, I guarantee it. Public arenas must be available to all people on equal terms. If she wanted to speak at a time when the venue was normally closed, for a cheaper rental price than was normally charged, or at a public location that didn’t allow anyone to organize events (like a park), that would be different.

    I don’t care about the morality of the issue, even though I would submit that it is supremely moral to treat all viewpoints equally, even when we know that will lead to odious opinions being perpetuated, because someone always has to decide what opinions are odious, and there is no real, objective standard that we can all agree on to make that call. American law, as it stands, says Berkeley has to do what it did, in fact, do (as far as I can tell, IANAL). Hate speech and speech that incites others to violence are already illegal because we have all agreed on the standard that makes something qualify as hate speech/incitement (and for the record, I think some of what Milo Yiannopolous has done does qualify as incitement AND hate speech…but Coulter does not meet that threshold, yet). If we’re talking about making stricter hate speech laws that would make Coulter’s speech illegal, that’s another issue altogether (and I may very well be fine with such an effort, depending on the speech protections it left in place…nobody has the right to not be offended, after all). As it stands, Berkeley did the legal thing, Coulter will play up the persecution fantasy to her people, and the people who were responsible for the threat of violence have hurt all of us, a fact which will become obvious the next time Ayaan Hirsi Ali (for example) is invited to speak somewhere and is told that the threat of violent extremists attacking the event is too great to risk allowing it to go forward, barring the hiring of dozens of off-duty police officers as additional security. Are her views too hateful to be aired in a public forum?

  154. Zeppelin says

    @chrisdevries:

    “If the government, or anything operated by the government, can suppress speech for any reason, who’s to say it won’t be OUR speech that ends up suppressed.”

    There’s no way to do this without sounding extremely snide, but here goes:

    “If the government, or anything operated by the government, can lock you up for any reason, who’s to say it won’t be US who end up getting locked up.”

    “If the government, or anything operated by the government, can confiscate your posessions for any reasons, who’s to say it won’t be OUR posessions that end up getting confiscated.”

    “If the government, or anything operated by the government, can take your children away from you for any reason, who’s to say it won’t be OUR children that end up getting taken away.”

    “If the government, or anything operated by the government, can force you to do something against your will, who’s to say it won’t be US who will be forced to do things against or will.”

    “When government can lock people up/confiscate their belongings/take their kids away/use violence against them it will abuse the power according to the whims of current leaders.”

    I don’t think that argument works, frankly, unless you’re trying to advocate some kind of fundamentalist anarchism. Any power you give anyone can be abused, but you still have to give some people some power in order to run a society. The question is how much power they need, and what they should do with it.
    I mean, you even acknowledge that “hate speech and speech that incites others to violence are already illegal because we have all agreed on the standard that makes something qualify as hate speech/incitement”, and that you may be “fine with [an effort to make stricter hate speech laws that cover Coulter’s kind of speech]”. So the argument doesn’t even seem consistent with the rest of your post. You actually seem to agree that we’re just haggling over the degree and manner of the restrictions on speech.

  155. tomh says

    @ 173
    “Hate speech and speech that incites others to violence are already illegal”

    Perhaps in Canada, but not in the US. Speech that might cause imminent violence is restricted, but there are no hate speech laws in the US. “Fighting words” (words which would likely make the person whom they are addressed commit an act of violence) are unprotected, and that might occasionally overlap with hate speech, a racial epithet in the midst of an argument, for instance, but overall there are no hate speech laws. The same epithet on a sign, for instance, would be protected.

  156. says

    @chrisdevries
    I want to see people like Ann Coulter get socially shunned for thier beliefs and behavior as long as we have things like high rates of suicide and victimization in groups targeted by bigots. I do not want to see any carved exceptions in the 1st amendment at this point in time, nor do I believe that the example here is a free speech violation.

    Human beings change group behavior in specific ways. Show me an alternative that avoids you fear, a proven one. I simply do not believe your fear is sound or that you are a person that can deal with bigotry.

  157. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    And Azkyroth, No 137, you don’t know which groups I belong to so chill out

    I can infer with a high degree of certainty from the facile conceits you’re arguing, unless you’d care to offer some counter-evidence.

  158. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Just out of curiosity, knowing the right wing’s habits, have any of those “threats of violence” been independently corroborated?

  159. chrisdevries says

    @ Zeppelin

    I agree basically with what you said. I should qualify my initial statement that when I said “treat all viewpoints equally”, I meant all viewpoints that aren’t hate speech/incitement to violence, equally (initially I thought I had made that obvious by commenting that we already restrict hate speech and incitement, but reading my post again, my point may have been ambiguous). But you seem to have taken my point anyway: we are haggling about where the lines are, and yes, I say that Yiannopolous sometimes crosses them and should be held to account when he does. But so far, I haven’t seen Coulter cross them (though I think she gets close sometimes). But the Berkeley’s cover-your-ass team (lawyers) plainly agree that it would be illegal to prevent her from speaking at all, because Berkeley agreed to allow her speech.

    So yeah, I don’t think we have a disagreement here. Also, I confess that I have not heard everything Coulter has ever uttered so she may have crossed the line in the past, like Yiannopolous does already, in which case I would agree with some here that Berkeley has no obligation to let her speak, and would go so far as to argue for her to be criminally charged. Ultimately though (and this is a flaw with our system more than anything) there is no grey area between illegal speech and legal speech; it’s either worth charging her criminally, or she can speak in public according to the rules and regulations everyone else faces. That black and white line is the price a society pays for freedom, and the law is the only instrument we have to maintain it.

  160. chrisdevries says

    @tomh

    Well then, I would argue that there *should* be some kind of hate speech law. When a person actively denigrates someone else, not because of what they say or believe in but because of who they are biologically or sexually, that crosses the line in my opinion. When you stop talking about good and bad ideas and instead talk about good and bad groups of people, independent of the ideas they hold, that’s hateful.

    So I guess I disagree far less with the commentariat than I initially assumed (I thought the First Amendment was already qualified by these kind of laws…to use an expression I detest: my bad).

  161. hemidactylus says

    #144- Brony

    Funded by Soros is a trope of its own that deserves further scrutiny. Why do people such as Glenn Beck and Alex Jones completely lose their shit over him? I have my own qualms over his being a hedge funder. But I have read a bunch of his stuff. His post-Popperian views on reflexivity are rather monomaniac but fascinating. Last I heard he and Obama are ensconced in a bunker near the White House plotting a revolution. I guess any funding relating Soros by implication to the various women’s marches entirely eliminates the agency of said women and renders them as Sorosian robots. Maybe I’m a Sorosian robot. Where does he fit in the reptoid scheme? Or me? Or the women pink hat marchers? Are we all in cahoots? Have I said too much?

    I also have read books by that other bogeyman Zbigniew Brzezinski. I am a lizard person commanded by Zbig and Soros from Obama’s secret bunker? The fact that I can make this crap up from what I’ve cobbled from the wackos merely shows the Illuminati aren’t very effective suppressors of ideational flow. The theocrat wannabes who perpetuate that myth would be though. And they hate Soros.

  162. says

    OK, I’m going to try to be as polite as I can about this. Fair warning though, I turn political behavior on and off by choice and if I think a particular dispositoin towards you is more socially useful I may become an asshole quite quickly. I actually care about the things I mentioned and so far you only seem interested in talking about things you like. You could at least be polite enough to try to talk about both instead of changing the subject from what I am passionate and analytical about.

    Why do I care about any of that? I want practical applications in social conflict with bigots. That is unhelpful with respect to actually dealing with a situation we are talking about now, and I’m personally unfamiliar with it after about the second sentence. It’s your job to fix that and make it relevant to this situation and solving the bigot problem or as an individual I consider my options and your effect on social justice I care about.

    TL;DR: Make it relevant or you are getting boring to me (and I suspect you are only boring to me because I am white, male, cis, and come from a socially aggressive conservative-leaning background).

  163. says

    Shit I also realized that I confused hemidactylus with chrisdevries. So while I acknowledged the topic and admitted that I was not sure what they were getting at, I also lathered on some rhetoric and social posturing that was not necessary.

    Sorry hemidactylus, I would have approached it a different way tomorrow if I went to bed like I know I need to. The downside of being willing to be an overtly rude/hostile political actor by choice is the mistakes can be personal and odd ways (like moving the rhetoric from one person to the content of another because both avatar icons are pink).

  164. A. Noyd says

    nomuse (#169)

    What? How can hate speech NOT threaten basic safety. Am I missing some subtle distinction here?

    Pretending hate speech does no real harm is a ridiculous defense anyway. “Freedom of speech” is only meaningful if the speech it protects does what it’s meant to. The effects of freedom of speech is what justifies upholding the right to it.

    If hate speech—which, by definition and design, threatens the basic safety of certain groups—turns out not to have that effect, then there’s no fucking point in protecting it in the first place. Nothing is lost by suppressing it. However, if it does have that effect, then harm is done.

    Since most peach-freezers don’t want to advocate for outright harm, they either have to maintain their self-defeating denialism of said harm or dodge into “for the greater good” territory.

    But they open themselves to another problem with the appeal to how “those people” should put their basic safety on the line for the sake of “us all.” Namely, if “we all” were really an “us,” then “we” would discover “we” had already lost our basic safety when “those people” did because “those people” are a part of “us.”

    It’s only when “those people” are not part of “us all” that we can sacrifice their basic safety to safeguard our own. But if you’re a sacrificee, good luck getting the oh-so noble sacrificers to realize how selfish and shitty their position is.

  165. unclefrogy says

    @170

    Yet, despite those threats, we have — and will remain — ready to welcome her to campus, and assume the risks, challenges and expenses that will attend her visit. That is demanded by our commitment to Free Speech. What we will not do is allow our students, other members of the campus community, and the public to be needlessly endangered by permitting an event to be held in a venue that our police force does not believe to be protectable.”

    so I see as usual it is really utter bullshit after all, the right wing including this particular person are just making a scene for political reasons again.
    I suspect with nothing more then a gut reaction that if given the power it is the conservatives who would eliminate equally applied civil rights. No matter how loud they protest their belief in them.
    the question remains would those who defend this person do like wise.
    uncle frogy

  166. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    have any of those “threats of violence” been independently corroborated?

    Is this a serious question?

    Let me rephrase: do we have any independent evidence that threats of violence were actually made, vs. the Coulterites spinning a story to the college police about how horrible those liberal mobs and feral backs of BLM activists are and insisting their lives are in danger a la Alex Jones and Glenn Beck?

    I mean, there might well be some. I’m just thinking it’s worth asking.

  167. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    But they open themselves to another problem with the appeal to how “those people” should put their basic safety on the line for the sake of “us all.”

    Well, of course. Freeze Peach is A More Important Principle than THOSE people’s, if you can even call them that, lives, if you can even call them THAT. Right thirdmill?

  168. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    I hope someday we can all have the courage to be ready to petulantly demand other people be willing to die for our “principles.”

  169. microraptor says

    I have to say, it’s pretty funny watching Ann and her followers complain about being prevented from speaking on a college campus* given the number of times she’s railed against letting various people she didn’t like speak on college campuses.

    * which, as has been pointed out, really isn’t what happened here, she voluntarily chose not to speak.

  170. jefrir says

    Let me rephrase: do we have any independent evidence that threats of violence were actually made, vs. the Coulterites spinning a story to the college police about how horrible those liberal mobs and feral backs of BLM activists are and insisting their lives are in danger a la Alex Jones and Glenn Beck?

    I mean, there might well be some. I’m just thinking it’s worth asking.

    Well, I’ve seen plans for violence from those “defending” Coulter, if that counts?

  171. chrisdevries says

    Brony I am kind of weighing the pros and cons of getting into the social side of this equation here (as opposed to the legal), and I may come to regret engaging here but I think I will anyway (and I’ll just have to hope that what I’m saying isn’t boring to you).

    People like Coulter are quite obviously symptoms of societal malaise in a time of social and economic flux. I don’t say that to excuse the inexcusable – there is no excuse for advocating policies that would (by intention) be emotionally, and perhaps even physically harmful to people you don’t like or disagree with (as Milo Yiannopolous has absolutely done, and Coulter may have done). That is speech I’m not prepared to protect, and people should shun her and avoid spreading her hateful ideas, even if the law can’t touch her.

    The question remains though: why is that kind of rhetoric persuasive to so many people? After all, it’s not like Coulter was banging on Berkeley’s door, demanding to speak. She was invited. The only answer I can come up with is that in times of economic uncertainty, a lot of people (perhaps most people, eventually) are willing to go to great lengths to ensure that THEY have a future, that THEY have the life they want, even if it comes at the expense of people who are not in their in-group. Some people (namely Ayn Rand and her flock) have taken this feature of human social evolution and made it into a virtue, saying that it is only right to look after number one, to be selfish. But I view it more as a weakness in Western society. As long as everything is looking up, as long as economies are growing and unemployment is low, people are more inclined to care about people in out-groups and to realize that they have genetics and geography to thank for their own good life (and that life could have been very different if they were less lucky). But when people fear for their jobs, their status, their ability to pay the mortgage, etc. a good number of them start looking for someone to blame. It doesn’t matter that there is no evidence that immigration hurts economies, or that programs like affirmative action seek to level a very unequal playing field. Privileged people like to stay privileged and many are willing to step on others as they climb the social ladder. And there are quite a few public figures who are making millions telling these individuals that they are right to fear, they are right to discriminate, they are right to want to stay on top. Telling them that they are better, they are hard-working, those coloured people are lazy and undeserving, poor people don’t deserve your compassion. And I needn’t really mention it, but psychologists have found that in times of economic uncertainty, people also prefer more conservative social structures as well, so we have these ludicrous bathroom bills in a few Southern states, and religious protection bills, as a reaction to unwanted change.

    Bigotry can only be solved with equality. That’s an easy thing to say, but really difficult to achieve. I mean, we still have some bigots here in Canada, even though the country is far more socially liberal (and socially equal) than the USA. But compared to the USA, we are looking pretty good, a reality that I attribute largely to our social safety net. And the natural extension of said safety net is the adoption of a universal basic income for all people, regardless of employment status, age, sex, race, etc. If people were less uncertain about their futures, if they knew they could maintain a decent standard of living even if they lost their job, or could only find part-time work, they would be a lot less likely to pay attention to divisive assholes stirring up fear and racial resentment.

    I am happy to say that the province of Ontario is trialing this universal basic income in three small cities, and I think ultimately, if we want equality, if we want to marginalize the bigots, we need to have this happen on a large scale sometime in the very near future, throughout the West. If people knew that no matter what, they could continue having a decent standard of living, there wouldn’t be as great an impulse to fear, hate, and victimize *the Other*.

    The only problem I see with this is that imposing equality on a population is like imposing democracy on a population. If these ideals are not truly desired by the people on whom they are placed, they will fail utterly. So the process of implementation will have to be gradual, and the benefits tangible in the short-term for it to succeed. I mean, you can just imagine what the Ann Coulters of the world would have to say to a politician proposing that we give each citizen an annual, tax-free salary of ~$15,000 dollars, whether they work or not.

    Conservative people seem to revere the recent past, a time when white people could enjoy their privilege without being reminded constantly that it was unearned, a time when inequality was the expected norm, and people just had to deal with it. But we can all do better. Life can be better for everyone. And the best part is that economists studying universal basic income have shown that giving people money actually stimulates the economy; less economic uncertainty means people are more willing to spend money, and more money spent means more products are sold (and services rendered) and thus there will be more jobs available (and a greater tax base, of course).

    So I really hope the pilot programs going on in Ontario yield some very good results. Because if we just let things go as they’ve been going already, eliminating bigotry will be the last thing on most white people’s minds. As climate change rears its head, resources will be reduced, and countries like the US will almost certainly use war and the threat of war to protect their interests, to the detriment of everyone else’s interests. This will lead to more refugees, and greater poverty at home (as governments divert their resources to the military), and massive inequality, locally and especially globally.

    TL;DR – without changing how people think of their society, how they relate to other people, and what they think the role of government should be, a problem like bigotry can never really be solved. Rather than having economic conditions lead to more or less equality, we must accept that increasing equality is non-negotiable, and that economic stability can result from having a better, more equal society. Universal basic income is, in my opinion, the very best way we can create and maintain societies that share and propagate our liberal values.

    Sorry for the essay; you wanted a less trivial, less boring discussion!

  172. lotharloo says

    @Zeppelin, saad, PZ, etc.

    Oh wow, Anita Sarkeesian’s views are totally different from Ann Coulter? Who knew? Or perhaps anyone who is not specializing at missing the point would have already understood that the fact their views are completely opposite was the whole point of using that example.

    Here’s another thought: You don’t get to call Sarkeesian or Coulter the C-word, B-word, or W-word. Shocking, I know, because apparently I just called them “equivalent” again, I guess I never learn.

    I wanted to make a longer post, but then I saw this:

    Saad:

    What’s wrong with using threat of violence (or violence if need be) to deter white supremacy and bigotry?

    That settles it. I really don’t think there can be any reasonable discussion at this point.

  173. lotharloo says

    @Daz:

    Yes, an interesting article and a nice deflection too by ignoring the context in which Saad’s quote was made because we are talking about a specific event rather than having a general discussion of forced resistance versus fascism. But it is good to know that at least you and Saad have no particular problem with using threats of violence against Ann Coulter in this particular case. So discussion has moved on and it has reached its natural conclusion: you are fine with threats of violence or even violence itself in this case, I am not. We can agree to disagree and we can keep it at that because I am not particularly interested in arguing further with you.

  174. says

    I can’t choose not to be on the road when you get into a car to drive drunk.

    I cannot choose to be in a society where fascists gain power. I cannot choose not to participate in life when walking out of the door puts me at risk of harm. I cannot choose to ignore it when my reproductive rights are eroded. I cannot choose to live on a planet where climate change denial lead to increased global warming.

    In order to deny all these consequences you have to deny that speech has an effect, in which case you need to ask why it should be protected like this.

  175. says

    Now, of course the idea that if you let fascists speak they won’t take away your right to freedom of speech is completely wrong* (but since when have facts and stuff ever bothered religious people).

    *I remember reading that Coulter actually demanded this for her own speech, but I cannot back this up right now because I can’t find the link anymore and currently Google is flooded with the “speech cancelled” stuff.

  176. Zeppelin says

    @lotharloo:

    “Oh wow, Anita Sarkeesian’s views are totally different from Ann Coulter? Who knew? Or perhaps anyone who is not specializing at missing the point would have already understood that the fact their views are completely opposite was the whole point of using that example.”

    Then you used the wrong example.

    You were calling us hypocrites for being okay with restricting Coulter’s speech, because we would presumably be opposed to restricting Sarkeesian’s speech. Nevermind that no-one’s speech was actually restricted in this situation, and that I wouldn’t be making a free speech argument but a moral argument against restricting her speech if Sarkeesian had been in Coulter’s place.

    This only makes sense if you think Coulter’s and Sarkeesian’s speech are in fact equivalent. If they’re not equivalent then censoring them is also not equivalent, which means we’re not hypocrites. Restricting a person’s freedom to do a benign thing is not the same as restricting a person’s freedom to do a harmful thing, even if both things fall into the same general category of thing (“speech”, in this case).
    And so we’re not morally inconsistent for accepting one while rejecting the other. We’re not free speech fundamentalists like you, so it’s entirely consistent with our principles to allow speech we think is benign while restricting speech we think is harmful.

  177. Zeppelin says

    Basically, you imagine (and let’s keep in mind that’s all you’re doing, since your Sarkeesian example is entirely made-up) that we’d be demanding that people should allow Sarkeesian to speak even if they think her speech is wrong and harmful, because Free Speech. I wouldn’t. I would argue that they are incorrect in thinking her speech wrong and harmful, and she should be allowed to speak because it’s actually benign.

  178. tomh says

    @ 200
    “it’s entirely consistent with our principles to allow speech we think is benign while restricting speech we think is harmful.”

    And that’s what some people, myself included, object to. That the “we” you refer to, whoever that is, should be in charge of what everyone is allowed to say and hear. Of course, a lot of countries do this. Saudi Arabia comes to mind.

  179. says

    tomh #202:

    Of course, a lot of countries do this. Saudi Arabia comes to mind.

    Countries with anti-hate-speech laws include: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

    Yes, a lot of countries do this. And somehow none of us seem to have become authoritarian hell-holes of censorship.

    The U.S., on the other hand, with its much-vaunted absolute freedom™, murders unarmed black citizens at a rate of roughly two per week, militarises its police force to the point where units are often better equipped (though sadly worse trained) than many regular military units, and elects a president who suggested that “second amendment people” might deal with his political opponents and who proudly encouraged his supporters to beat up hecklers, amongst many, many other extremely authoritarian acts.

    Judging from the evidence which policy toward hate-speech, if either, would appear to be a buffer against authoritarianism?

  180. says

    @Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y

    Let me rephrase: do we have any independent evidence that threats of violence were actually made, vs. the Coulterites spinning a story to the college police about how horrible those liberal mobs and feral backs of BLM activists are and insisting their lives are in danger a la Alex Jones and Glenn Beck?

    Are you aware of what happened when Milo spoke at UC Berkeley a few months ago? Do you know why he had to be escorted out by the police?

  181. tomh says

    @ 203

    “much-vaunted absolute freedom”
    A silly exaggeration.

    And all the reprehensible actions you list you attribute to a lack of hate speech laws? It has nothing to do with unfettered access to guns, wealth inequality, a history of racism, or a myriad of other contributing factors? That seems like a rather blinkered view.

  182. says

    tomh #205:

    And all the reprehensible actions you list you attribute to a lack of hate speech laws? It has nothing to do with unfettered access to guns, wealth inequality, a history of racism, or a myriad of other contributing factors? That seems like a rather blinkered view.

    Please note my “if either” caveat. No, I do not necessarily attribute those actions to a lack of such laws. That wasn’t my point.

    I’ll put the question more directly. Does your implication that anti-hate-speech laws lead to an authoritarian regime hold up in light of evidence that absent anti-hate-speech laws, the U.S. has still managed to produce a regime which is profoundly more authoritarian than many countries with anti-hate-speech laws?

  183. tomh says

    “the U.S. has still managed to produce a regime which is profoundly more authoritarian than many countries with anti-hate-speech laws”

    I don’t know how you come to that conclusion, I certainly don’t accept it. I don’t think any of the countries you mention, nor the US, is authoritarian by any common definition of the word.

  184. says

    tomh #207:

    I don’t know how you come to that conclusion, I certainly don’t accept it. I don’t think any of the countries you mention, nor the US, is authoritarian by any common definition of the word.

    I said “more authoritarian.” It’s a spectrum. And you’re dodging the question.

    Even more simply put: In light of the evidence that many countries have anti-hate-speech laws and are, by your own statement, not authoritarian by any common definition of the word, how well does your earlier implication that such laws must lead to authoritarianism hold up?

  185. tomh says

    “I said “more authoritarian.” It’s a spectrum.”

    Ah, you’re into word games, I see. That’s a fun hobby. Very well, I would say the US is not “more authoritarian” than any of the countries you mention. Just you declaring it doesn’t make it so. As for your silly “question,” I didn’t imply that hate speech laws “must lead to authoritarianism.”

  186. says

    tomh #209:

    I didn’t imply that hate speech laws “must lead to authoritarianism.”

    Really? You said, in a conversation regarding anti-hate-speech laws, “Of course, a lot of countries do this,” and then, without wishing to imply anything about the outcome of such law, pointed to Saudi Arabia, an authoritarian regime?

    As my Dear Old Mater is wont to say; Pull the other one. It’s got bells on it.

  187. tomh says

    Well, as you so sagely pointed out, authoritarianism is a spectrum. As are hate speech laws, from none in the US (and many other countries), to various laws in other countries which prohibit speech which is insulting on subjects such as race, religion, language, political or any other belief, wealth, birth, education, social status or other properties, gender, skin color, nationality or ethnicity or lack thereof, among other things too numerous to mention.

    Punishments range from mild to extreme, such as death. In fact, if the only factor were laws controlling speech, then all the countries you named would be further on the authoritarian spectrum than the US. But it’s not the only factor, and to keep insisting I implied it was, or that hate speech laws lead to death penalties for speech, or even to authoritarian regimes is quite a leap.

  188. says

    Then if “Saudi Arabia” wasn’t meant to imply anything, it was a non sequitur. The name of a random country just happened to jump from your keyboard to the page. Okay. Thanks for wasting my time.

    Since we’ve established that the introduction of anti-hate-speech laws need not lead to that particular bad result, though, do you have any further objections to them?

  189. tomh says

    “do you have any further objections to them?”

    Seriously? I have a lot of objections to them, starting with I don’t want you to decide what I can say or hear.

  190. says

    tomh #214:

    Seriously? I have a lot of objections to them, starting with I don’t want you to decide what I can say or hear.

    That’s either the “authoritarian” argument rehashed—that you don’t trust “me” with the power,” or it’s simply a statement that you don’t want to be made to do/not do something. Well, we’ve already established that the former isn’t an unsolvable problem, so I assume you mean the latter. In which case, tough. There are lots of laws which make us do/not do certain things because doing or not doing those things harms others.

  191. tomh says

    “laws which make us do/not do certain things because doing or not doing those things harms others.”

    More laws restricting speech are not one of them.

  192. says

    tomh #216:

    “laws which make us do/not do certain things because doing or not doing those things harms others.”

    More laws restricting speech are not one of them.

    Okay, but that’s not an objection to the the introduction of such laws. It’s merely a statement that they don’t, at present, exist. Assuming, as seems reasonable, that you aren’t opposed to laws which prohibit certain behaviours, why should they not be one of them?

  193. Zeppelin says

    @tomh, 202: And you’re welcome to object to it. But your specific accusation of hypocrisy was still nonsense, which is what I was pointing out.

  194. lotharloo says

    @Zeppelin:

    It is not about just restricting speech as you put it:

    You were calling us hypocrites for being okay with restricting Coulter’s speech,

    It is about doing it with threats of violence. But hey, I take my accusation of hypocrisy back because it seems you or your side is fine with such vigilante threats of violence (or violence itself if need be) to prevent speakers that you deem “horribly damaging” while at the same time, you reserve the right to decry threats of violence against speakers you agree with because you consider them harmless. (Now, I agree with the last part that Anita is obviously much much harmless.)

  195. says

    Personally, I prefer punching fascists to holding their stirrups. But when the genocide is over you people will claim that you knew it was wrong all along and want a cookie made from sawdust and rabbit droppings.

    BTW, here’s a nice example about the effects of your beloved free speech.
    It is almost as if such a thing was harmful to minorities and actively made their lives harder.

  196. tomh says

    @ 221
    If you want to institute new laws, especially ones that overturn such a basic cornerstone of American law, for instance, that which bars government from banning speech on viewpoint-selective grounds, you should be able to show an overwhelming need for and expected efficacy of such new laws. No one here has come close to doing that.

  197. says

    tomh #222:

    If you want to institute new laws, especially ones that overturn such a basic cornerstone of American law, for instance, that which bars government from banning speech on viewpoint-selective grounds, you should be able to show an overwhelming need for and expected efficacy of such new laws. No one here has come close to doing that.

    Hmm. Previously you were all hot ‘n’ bothered about the very idea of additional restrictions, now all of a sudden you’ve abandoned that line of attack. Am I to understand, then, that if a need can be shown, you no longer have “principled” objections?

    But okay:

    Question for you: is speech a powerful tool?

    If your answer is “no,” then why does the freedom to use it need such drastic protection?

    If your answer is “yes,” then why do you apparently begin with the assumption that it is not able to cause harm?

  198. tomh says

    Ooh, more word games. Speech is speech, it is not a tool. And “drastic” would be banning it, not protecting it. Again, US government is barred from banning speech on the basis of content. There really needs to be some cogent argument why this should change.

  199. says

    tomh #224:

    Ooh, more word games.

    Umm, no. Not games. Questions.

    Speech is speech, it is not a tool.

    What utter bollocks. It can cause change; therefore it is a tool.

    And “drastic” would be banning it, not protecting it.

    Who was complaining about word games?

    Again, US government is barred from banning speech on the basis of content. There really needs to be some cogent argument why this should change.

    So stop dodging and answer the fucking questions I posed in my previous.

  200. says

    Apparently speech is a wonderful thing which can cause all sorts of good stuff like equal rights, anti-pollution laws et bloomin’ cetera and ad infinitum, but cannot possibly cause bad things like the election of dimwit presidents or religious persecutions et bloomin’ cetera and ad infinitum.

    Speech, uniquely, seems to be a form of magical fairy dust which can only be used for the good. This is why we now live in a Utopia.

  201. lotharloo says

    Personally, I prefer punching fascists to holding their stirrups. But when the genocide is over you people will claim that you knew it was wrong all along and want a cookie made from sawdust and rabbit droppings.

    Yes, because the fascists will obviously not punch back. What a brilliantly dimwitted strategy.

  202. Zeppelin says

    @lotharloo, 219:

    Well, how else are you going to restrict someone’s speech in the absence of legal recourse? If they insist on speaking you have to either change their mind (and I don’t think whatever the time was between the announcement of the talk and Coulter’s arrival would have been sufficient to overturn her entire world view) or physically prevent them. All laws are ultimately backed by state force; if there’s no law and you want to enforce a rule, that means the (potential or actual) force has to come from you.

    So yeah, while we can debate whether threats of violence were justified in this particular case, I can’t possibly oppose violence or threats thereof on principle. If you won’t ultimately use force to defend your principles, anyone sufficiently unconcerned with your approval can do whatever they want to you.

    228: THE FASCISTS WILL PUNCH YOU EITHER WAY. They will punch you just for existing. That’s what fascists do, that’s what fascism is for.

  203. tomh says

    @ 225
    “It can cause change; therefore it is a tool.”

    That must sound silly, even to you. Why not just say, “Words can mean whatever I want them to mean.”

    Answer your own dumb questions. You want to make new laws, find a reasonable argument for it.

  204. says

    But okay, linguistics aside…

    You want to make new laws, find a reasonable argument for it.

    Speech may cause harm or good.

    In the absence of a good reason not to do so, we should seek to guard against harm.

    No good reason to guard against harm has so far been produced.

    Therefore we should seek to guard against harm.

  205. tomh says

    Could you be more vague? Speech causes harm and good? You don’t seem to know the difference between ideas and actions.

  206. says

    And, sod it, I shall fill in the argument you, I, or anyone, should be making for the defence of free speech. Because without such an argument, our argument will get nowhere,

    Free speech is the single most important right we have because it underpins our ability to defend and, where we see a need to, strengthen, all our other rights. With free speech we can promote change in society where we think it is needed, and defend the status quo in areas where we think change is bad. (This is what you and I are both doing, using speech as our chosen tool, in this very conversation.) Without it we have no power; not even the power to effectively organise the obvious alternative to speech—violence.

    There are lots of other reasons why speech is good. It’s fun, entertaining, etc. But the above is why free speech is given strong protection under law.

    So yes, I am aware that adding restrictions to people’s ability to speak freely is something which should be done with care. But “should be done with care” is not a synonym for “shouldn’t be done.”

  207. says

    tomh #233:

    Could you be more vague? Speech causes harm and good? You don’t seem to know the difference between ideas and actions.

    What? You think for instance, a racist “just naturally” hates people because their skin colour? That they don’t have the ideas they have because those ideas have been in some form communicated to them?

  208. says

    228: THE FASCISTS WILL PUNCH YOU EITHER WAY. They will punch you just for existing. That’s what fascists do, that’s what fascism is for.

    Quoted for MFT. When the Nazis staged a manhunt for me it wasn’t because I had punched them or threatened them with violence. It was because I had used my speech to protest the distribution of Nazi newspapers.

    You don’t seem to know the difference between ideas and actions.

    Speech is an action, dumbwit.

  209. says

    Sorry, double posting again:

    It is absolutely true that the idea “many black people vote Democrat” is not the same as the speech “We should prevent black people from voting,” which in turn is not the same as the act of suppressing black votes.

    If the thought had not engendered the speech, it could not have led to the action.

    Oh look. Speech causes harm. Who’da thunk it.

  210. consciousness razor says

    tomh:

    Could you be more vague? Speech causes harm and good? You don’t seem to know the difference between ideas and actions.

    Well, there’s vagueness and then there’s … this. Would explain to me what you think the difference is? Lots of questions here.

    Is speech supposed to be a non-act, since it’s merely an idea (whatever that is)? Or is it something you say, write, express, etc., to another person?

    But leaving aside speech…. Is having an idea not a physical act? Pretty sure it doesn’t just consist of Magic Blobs floating around aimlessly in Abstractionland. It’s a thing that people occasionally do, with their brains. I mean, damn, even if we were pretending that people could think telepathically (or communicate that way, if we bring speech back into the picture), that would still be a meaningful form of action. It would not be some kind of inert non-event in the physical world.

    Is anyone proposing that we should try to restrict ideas themselves? And if not, how’s this supposed to be relevant anyway?

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