Signal boosting: The limits of free speech and who gets thrown under the bus

FTB (or, PZ for the most part) periodically wanders into free speech debates that I find intensely frustrating, given that I am a member of several commonly targeted demographics for hate speech. It doesn’t help that avowed ‘pitters are stirring the pot, but even setting aside abusive troglodytes there is the matter of otherwise-liberal people defending the right of someone to incite violence against people like me under the auspice of “free speech.” Part of the problem is that these free speech defenders fail to actually consider speech to be a set of actions, and that Milo has used his speech to publicly call for the sexualized violence against at least one transgender student. Instead of recognizing this, they always fall back to generalizations.

Julia Serano takes it away from there: (emphasis added)

Rather, there is speech that we (as individuals, or as a society) are willing to tolerate, and speech that we deem to be beyond the pale. Every single one of us has a hard limit — a point at which we will exclaim, “I simply cannot tolerate that!” For certain Breitbart employees, the American Conservative Union, Simon & Schuster, and journalist Kurt Eichenwald (whose tweet initially inspired this post), that hard limit is apparently advocating (or seeming to advocate) adult-teen relationships.

I have no problems with any of these groups refusing to tolerate Yiannopoulos’s [pederasty] comment. And I have no qualms with their decisions to “no platform” him over this issue. But I do want to point out that, by drawing the line there, the American Conservative Union, Simon & Schuster, Kurt Eichenwald, and others, are implicitly saying that EVERYTHING ELSE that Yiannopoulos has done up until this point — his long history of blatant racism, misogyny, and transphobia, and his penchant for doxxing, harassing, and intimidating marginalized individuals online and during his talks — all of that is a-okay. Absolutely tolerable. Within the boundaries of normal discourse, in their eyes.

Read more of her here.




  1. apritchard says

    I broadly agree with Julia Serano on this, but I’m not sure her claims of hypocrisy on the part of ‘free speech absolutists’ necessarily stand up in this context. As far as I’m aware, Milo was no-platformed most prominently by the ACU (which rescinded his invitation to CPAC) and by Simon and Schuster, neither of which I would pick as obvious examples of free speech absolutists. Presumably Milo was invited to CPAC because his cocktail of bigotries was more than welcome inside the big Conservative tent, and not because they wished to defend his right to express views which they themselves found repugnant. As for the publishers, their overriding concern is to sell books, so it’s hardly surprising that they ‘hypocritically’ abandoned a professed commitment to ‘free speech’ once Milo’s stock started to plummet.

    Conversely, have noted liberal peach-freezers like Bill Maher and Dave Rubin started arguing that universities and media should now deny Milo a platform? I honestly don’t know, but I would be very surprised if they did. That would indeed be truly hypocritical. Didn’t Bill Maher himself defend a relationship between a 15-year-old boy and his teacher?