Giving You Pause About the ACLU

I remember Kurt Vonnegut cussing about the ACLU on TV once. He didn’t like that they protected the free speech of nazis. They have, in the past, invested their resources in defending the “peaceful assembly” of homicidal racists. I used to be a bit on the fence about that, but then, I’m white and I used to have the luxury of being more politically moderate, to see that bullshit as abstract rather than a personal attack. Now everything I hold dear is being targeted for destruction by the nazis in power, who were given more air time than ever should have been possible.

So good job ACLU for working against the travel ban. I find myself waiting for the other foot to drop, to find you’ve spent donated money helping someone like Yiannazilos. And I remain tired.


  1. Johnny Vector says

    I don’t have any problem with the cases they’ve taken on (that I know of). Also note that it consists of a number of state and local organizations, and (as I understand it) the national org is more of an umbrella group, so there isn’t necessarily “an” ACLU with a completely consistent approach.

    That said, I stopped donating to them after my one donation resulted in a year of biweekly physical letters asking for more money. They then continued to send me “Your membership is about to expire!! OMG!!!” letters once every month or two for the next decade, cementing my decision to give my money to the EFF and MoveOn instead.

  2. Nathanael says

    Gotta remember that the ACLU was founded because *Woodrow Wilson* tried to censor all media in the US and arrest his political opponents. They’re understandably very suspicious of any attempts to censor, even attempts to censor fascists. (Attempts to censor fascists have traditionally been used to make the fascists appear more reasonable to the general public, in practice.)

  3. says

    Johnny @1- Thanks for the suggestions for worthy causes.

    Nathanael @2- I totally used to feel that way, but, y’know, freedom of speech as conducted in the USA in the last decades has been a catastrophic failure. If it’s such a great thing, there must be a better way of doing it, and we’re never going to fucking see it. I don’t mind you supporting them in their mission, I just disagree with it at this point. You do you.

  4. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Great American Satan
    I saw this bumped to the top of the “last 50 posts”. Sorry for zombie-ing the thread, but I have a question. What alternative do you propose? And on what basis do you believe that it would be any better? Look at the historical record, and look at the modern record. Fascism is happening now in large parts of Europe, in spite of many country’s reduced levels of legal free speech. You say it’s failed, which carried the implication that something else could have worked better. I am unconvinced. I want to know what convinced you of this.

    Finally, I would share a point made well by Christopher Hitchens in his famous defense of free speech. The biggest source of hate in this world are the Abrahamic religions. It is also the Abrahamic religions that are the most likely to benefit from hate speech laws. As Christopher Hitchens said in his speech: who is more likely to get punished under the hate speech laws? Muslims who protest with signs that say “Behead those who insult Islam” never get charged, but people like Christopher Hitchens occasionally do get charged. Hate speech laws only serve to protect the actual purveyors of hate. Hate speech laws will invariably be used by the majority in order to silence unorthodox and unpopular views, but they will never be used to silence hate speech that is popular or mainstream. That is why hate speech laws are doomed from the start. Hate speech laws are not only unproductive, they are counter-productive.

  5. says

    EL @4- I have no alternative in mind at this time, probably nothing to convince you. I do find a number of things you mention from your point of view off-putting. Not a fan of Christopher Hitchens and the beheading thing is often trotted out by evil dickweeds of a lighter complexion than the evil dickweeds that do beheadings.

    I wonder if you have a different attitude when it comes to hate crime laws, as opposed to hate speech laws. I’m ambivalent about freedom of speech at this point. Not so much hate crimes. Some people coming from your point of view on the one feel the same about the other – on the idea that punishing motive is punishing “thought crime.” It’s a bit off topic, but what do you think about that?

  6. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I have mixed feelings on hate crime laws, as opposed to hate speech laws.

    In principle, I see nothing wrong with punishing someone more harshly for the same offense if they have different motivations for doing the offense. For example, if one buys that “but it’s an accident” should lessen culpability, and I do, then it seems clear that motivation should have something to do with sentencing. Similarly, if someone is repentant, it also seems clear that this should be relevant at sentencing.

    So, if someone commits a crime with a racial, religious, or sexist motivation, I don’t see anything immediately objectionable about saying that we should punish them more, because it’s not accidental, and because it’s often premeditated, and because they are often not repentant. That’s what you mean by “hate crime” laws, right? Laws that single out particular things that are already crimes, and impose more severe punishments when the perpetrator has a particular motivation?

    That’s the argument for one side of the discussion. I find it pretty persuasive, but I still have a few minor misgivings that make me only moderately lukewarm in favor of the legality of hate crime laws. These misgivings are pretty standard, and the misgivings should already be clear to you.

  7. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Sorry, just remembered:
    There’s another argument that I can get behind. There’s the argument that hate crimes have more impact on society that the same offense in a different context. For example, a lynching of a black man because he’s black, vs a random murder for money that happens to involve hanging. The lynching of the black man because he’s black has a much more negative impact on society. Offhand, I’m partial to the argument that it’s ok to punish these more severely, because of the differing impacts on society at large. It rests on the fundamental assertion that it was already illegal to be begin with, and we’re just talking about changes in sentencing. But again, my position here is lukewarm, and with the same reservations and concerns.

  8. says

    That is what I mean by hate crime laws. And this clarified something about the difference between us: I’m indifferent to luke warm on freedom of speech at this point, depending on the day and how recent discussions have gone. But I’m unreservedly in favor of hate crime laws.

    I’m fine with this level of disagreement. It’s not like we’re arguing as Supreme Court justices.

  9. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    > Iā€™m fine with this level of disagreement.

    heh. I’m not even sure if we’re in disagreement. It seems we’re agreeing – for the moment at least.

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