Organizations have the right to not invite Richard Dawkins — or me — to speak


A talk by Richard Dawkins on his newest book, Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist, was canceled by the radio station that was hosting it, KPFA, a public broadcasting station in Berkeley. Their reason:

We had booked this event based entirely on his excellent new book on science when we didn’t know he had offended and hurt – in his tweets and other comments on Islam, so many people. KPFA does not endorse hurtful speech. While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech. We apologize for not having had broader knowledge of Dawkins views much earlier.

Richard Dawkins complains with, unfortunately, the kind of argument often used by the alt-right:

I am known as a frequent critic of Christianity and have never been de-platformed for that. Why do you give Islam a free pass? Why is it fine to criticise Christianity but not Islam?

Somehow, a minority community in America that is threatened with deportation by the government, is routinely condemned by talk radio and the likes of Breitbart, and that lives in fear of good Christian citizens who vandalize mosques and threaten violence (and sometimes, carry out violence) gets accused of having a “free pass”. That’s precisely the kind of blinkered nonsense that I can understand KPFA objecting to, so Dawkins is not helping his case at all. It’s also denying the fact that the New Atheists have been particularly specific in denunciations of Islam; Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the newest member of the “four horsemen”, has recommended converting Muslims to Christianity, so there clearly is a hierarchy of religions with Islam at the bottom, deserving special contempt. And Sam Harris, of course, is all about anti-Islamic sentiment, going so far as to suggest that using torture and nuclear weapons against them might be justifiable. Let’s not play the wide-eyed innocent, “what, me abuse Muslims?” game. Let’s not pretend that Dawkins has never made any hurtful, regressive comments on his twitter feed, or on my blog.

CFI handles it a little better, pointing out that Dawkins has, for instance, opposed Trump’s Muslim travel ban, and that this particular talk was to be about science, so his other views were irrelevant. I suspect that it would have been a good talk that I would enjoy, since it wouldn’t contain the regressive views I’ve found so exasperating in Dawkins. So, sure, you can make the argument that Dawkins is a speaker of considerable virtue, and that he wouldn’t be flaunting his vices in this talk.

But then they go too far.

“We understand the difference between a people and the beliefs they may hold,” said Blumner, “All of us must be free to debate and criticize Ideas, and harmful ideas must be exposed. It is incredibly disappointing that KPFA does not understand this.”

I am disappointed that CFI does not understand that this is not a free speech issue. Dawkins is free to debate and criticize ideas. He’s the best-selling atheist author in the world! He isn’t oppressed or censored in any way; his books are popular, they get translated into dozens of languages, he gets to appear on television, he doesn’t have to fear that he’ll be ejected out of the country or murdered for his views (people like Maryam Namazi or Taslima Nasrin do). KPFA, as the host of this talk, has the right to decide that they’d rather not.

I’m going to agree completely with Siggy on this matter. That Richard Dawkins has some controversial, even objectionable, views does not, in some weird reversal of free speech concerns, obligate every entity on the planet to host him on demand.

People are always thinking of these issues in terms of the speaker’s free speech, but if anything, it’s about the inviters’ free speech. If speakers have a right to platforms, where are all my speaker invitations, and why isn’t anyone standing up for my free speech?

It wouldn’t even matter if KPFA’s reasons for rejecting Dawkins were totally bogus, so all the spluttering about how he isn’t really anti-Islam is irrelevant. Making it a free speech issue is just using a bullhorn to yell about how you don’t understand free speech.

Dawkins (and I) might not particularly like the idea that this rejection was made so late that it was obvious, but it is within KPFA’s rights, and it does no major harm to Dawkins. This is a case where the appropriate response is to shrug and move on.

There have been two cases in just the past year where conference organizers have contacted me, asked if I’d be willing to speak at their event, and then later written to me and retracted the offer without explanation. I’m sure it was because there are vocal members of those groups who objected vehemently to my appearance, but it was done before the final list of speakers was announced, so the change was not publicized. And that was fine, I didn’t complain, I didn’t announce that my free speech was being violated, I didn’t try to argue that their reasons for cutting me were invalid. Conferences have that right.

Why doesn’t CFI understand this?

Comments

  1. Chuck Stanley says

    People are always thinking of these issues in terms of the speaker’s free speech, but if anything, it’s about the inviters’ free speech. If speakers have a right to platforms, where are all my speaker invitations, and why isn’t anyone standing up for my free speech?

    No, IMO, that is getting it all wrong too. If anything it is about property (resources). They have a right to use their resources any way they want. It is correct people are usually thinking of it it terms of speech rights and that is wrong. Resources are scarce. Decisions must be made upon how to best use them. The owner or administrator of those resources gets to decide how to use them. An institution or radio station or TV station or publisher or lecture hall or newspaper or magazine or any other resource owner or administrator decides how to allocate their scarce resources. Nobody has to provide anybody resources to exercise their free speech. You can use your own resources or get anyone to agree to freely contribute or to sell you resources to exercise your speech, but nobody is obligated to do so.

  2. mickll says

    It’s baffling that there are people who genuinely feel oppressed when they aren’t allowed to use other people’s microphones, megaphones, podiums or platforms as an extension of their speech.

  3. kestrel says

    Yes, I agree: the station has every right to decide who uses their platform and who does not, and are absolutely entitled to cancel speakers for whatever reason they might have. If someone decides not to have you speak, well, they can make that decision and they don’t need an excuse to do so.

    And since the idea of anti-Islam came up in the post: I was listening to a podcast (The Thinking Atheist, “What is ‘Radical Islam’?”) and one of the guests made an excellent point: Islam is an idea, ideas do not have rights; Muslims are human beings, human beings have rights. His point was we need a better word for “anti-Islam” or “Islamaphobia”, so as to distinguish between the idea and the people. This struck me as a good idea. Maybe that would make it easier to discuss this issue. I think sometimes, people do get confused about whether someone is anti-Islam or anti-Muslim.

  4. says

    CFI handles it a little better, pointing out that Dawkins has, for instance, opposed Trump’s Muslim travel ban, and that this particular talk was to be about science, so his other views were irrelevant.

    Somewhere along the line, I stopped buying this argument. If a person is so fuckleheaded that they can’t or won’t fairly characterize arguments outside of science, I don’t have much reason to trust that they’ll do better when trying to explain differences of opinion within science. If they jump at every chance to characterize their political opponents as dogmatic ideologues, the “PC police,” etc., then I ought to expect that they’ll do the same to their scientific opponents. So, when it comes to any developments currently unfolding, they’re not the person I should spend my limited time listening to.

    And as for science that is established, rather than currently developing, well, Dawkins’ record as an expositor is decidedly mixed.

  5. John Harshman says

    Hey, just because you have a right to do something, that doesn’t mean you aren’t an asshole if you do it.

  6. skeptikos says

    @ 3 — ‘His point was we need a better word for “anti-Islam” or “Islamaphobia”, so as to distinguish between the idea and the people.’

    I don’t think that distinction will help. The problem is not that New Atheists are randomly opposed to Muslim people. The problem is that they have hysterically overblown fears about the ideas of Islam, which leads them to be jerks to Muslims. Those overblown fears are aptly described by the term “Islamophobia”.

  7. Bill Buckner says

    You are right, it is not about free speech. It is not about censorship. It is not about their right to cancel the event. Those are all red herrings. It is about the fact that they are fucking cowards for what they did. It is about deservedly impugning the collective character of the managers of KPFA. As #5 wrote, “just because you have a right to do something, that doesn’t mean you aren’t an asshole if you do it.”

  8. says

    You know, there is a legitimate line of criticism buried here: it is kind of an asshole move to cancel a talk a few weeks before. If that was the approach being taken, I would have no objection: I couldn’t, because that’s also the approach I took when was thrown out of a movie theater arbitrarily several years ago.

    You have to concede that they have every right to do that, though, which Dawkins hasn’t done. He’s asking for an apology for KPFA doing something they have every right to do. Jerry Coyne accuses them of violating the first amendment. Steven Pinker wants them to reconsider their decision. These are all absurd requests and contradict the idea that KPFA is full of assholes…because if they were, you wouldn’t be asking concessions of them, and you’d be happy to be under no obligation to grace their stage.

  9. says

    I think local atheist groups should look into hosting Dawkins in the same place and time. I’m not sure how that would work out logistically, but it would be nice if it did. I just suggested it to one of the local groups.

  10. rgmani says

    @PZ

    Somehow, a minority community in America that is threatened with deportation by the government, is routinely condemned by talk radio and the likes of Breitbart, and that lives in fear of good Christian citizens who vandalize mosques and threaten violence (and sometimes, carry out violence) gets accused of having a “free pass”.

    Just because a community is targeted by bigoted members of the right does not make it immune to criticism from liberals. At present we have this prevailing attitude that just because right-wingers target muslims, any criticism from those on the left automatically amounts to bigotry. The problem with leaving all criticism of Islam to right-wingers is that they paint with a very broad brush. They do not differentiate between ordinary muslims and the extremists. Between the extremes of left and right, the people left in the lurch are the minorities within Islam – the liberal muslims, the gay muslims, the reformers, the ex-muslims. Don’t believe me? Please check out the following statements from Maryam Namazie or Sarah Haider or Maajid Nawaz. They are saying pretty much what I just said.

    For the record, I am not saying that you have this attitude. After all, you were the person who threw a Quran in the garbage, along with a communion wafer :-). However, too many on the left do.

    Yes, Dawkins has criticized Islam but he has also criticized Christianity and no one on the left ever deplatformed him due to that. The moment he said something critical about Islam, he was automatically labeled a bigot. Dawkins isn’t saying that his free speech rights have been violated – all he is asking for is some justification for why they cancelled his talk when they were OK with his saying similar things about Christianity. No justification may be forthcoming but he is being perfectly reasonable when he asks for one.

    He isn’t oppressed or censored in any way; his books are popular, they get translated into dozens of languages, he gets to appear on television, he doesn’t have to fear that he’ll be ejected out of the country or murdered for his views (people like Maryam Namazi or Taslima Nasrin do).

    On what basis do you conclude that Richard isn’t in any danger? If he criticizes Islam more often, there is a good chance that he will fall on someone’s hit list. Please remember that it wasn’t Ayaan Hirsi Ali who was killed, it was her collaborator Theo Van Gogh. Being white and non-muslim does not offer you any protection.

    Since you talked about Maryam Namazie, let me quote her back at you. She is no stranger to deplatforming by the left. However, she did object and at least on one occasion, got the decision reversed. Richard is trying to do something similar. No need to object to that.

    – RM

  11. Michael says

    I’m afraid I have to disagree.

    The facts as I understand them are:
    – Richard was invited to give a talk about his new book
    – The event was organized, announced, and tickets were sold
    – Someone claimed about something unrelated to the book
    – The talk was cancelled, tickets were offered to be refunded, BEFORE telling Richard

    You can argue that with free speech, you have the right to speak, but you can’t force someone to listen to you. However this is not the case. Richard was invited to talk, and because someone complained about his comments on Islam being hurtful (Sorry, but does ‘sticks and stones…’ no longer apply, particularly considering fundamentalists actually cut people’s heads off?), the invitation was withdrawn without even letting the speaker know. You left out that the organizers should have researched the background of their speakers before inviting them, as used to be done in the past. If you replace Richard’s name with any other speaker in this story, (eg. J.K. Rowling is invited to talk about her new book, someone complains that she insulted Trump, and the invitation is withdrawn…) then you have censorship.

  12. John Harshman says

    Can we all agree that inviting Dawkins, then disinviting him at the last minute, and for vague reasons at that, was a dick move? Can we agree that he is perfectly reasonable to complain about that? Can we agree that asking for the specifics of his disinvitation was also reasonable? Can we also agree that asking for an apology for making a dick move is reasonable too, even if they had a right to do it? I would hope so.

    Coyne, to my knowledge, never mentioned the First Amendment. And even if KPFA is full of assholes, it doesn’t follow that appeals would be useless. Few people are 100% asshole. You’re making an artificial black/white distinction there.

  13. Vivec says

    Fuck Dawkins, the more organizations that “de-platform him”, the better. I couldn’t really care less if it was last second, Dawkins’ feefees are the last of my concerns.

  14. says

    Of course I agree that it was a rude move. Of course you can complain about it. I disagree that one should ask for an apology — you’ve been cut from the roster, just accept it and move on.

    If you follow the link to the RDF, Coyne is quoted squawking about the first amendment, which makes no sense.

    I’m certainly not making a black/white distinction. I don’t think Dawkins is 100% asshole, and I don’t think KPFA is 100% asshole. But even when dealing in shades of gray, sometimes the decisions you have to make are yes or no. Dawkins got a no.

  15. unclefrogy says

    It seems to me that all the belly aching about free speech rights has more to do with people have to agree with me rather than my right to say what I think.
    free speech means I do not have to tolerate any disagreement and you have to listen to me only.
    uncle frogy

  16. chris61 says

    While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech.

    It would appear that KPFA considered free speech relevant to their actions, so why shouldn’t CFI (and others)?

  17. ragdish says

    When the Ben Steiners expelled you from “Expelled”, was that within their right? If Berkeley can expel Dawkins, then BS can legitimately expel PZ from the Mall of America?

  18. KG says

    Please check out the following statements from Maryam Namazie or Sarah Haider or Maajid Nawaz. – rgmani@11

    Sarah Haider I don’t know, but Nawaz is a fraud, and Namazie is an acolyte of a bizarre Marxoid personality cult (the self-styled “Worker-Communist Party of Iran”), who greeted the al-Sisi military coup in Egypt, which has produced a dictatorship far more brutal than Mubarak’s, with delight.

  19. KG says

    When the Ben Steiners expelled you from “Expelled”, was that within their right? – ragdish@18

    Yes, of course, as PZ already confirmed@9.

  20. Vivec says

    I’d rather have this as a precedent and be able to expel people like Milo or Dawkins, than coddle speakers and be forced to associate with people who I consider morally abhorrent.

  21. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Let’s get it straight. Only the Government is prohibited from censoring an idea. Like Trump trying to censor any attempts to demonstrate his collusion with Russia.
    Any private, and I would include state universities in this, entities are not compelled to provide total free speech. In this case, it is a non-public radio station. While I agree that RD should have been informed earlier than he was, there are no “free speech” arguments that hold water. Only those that politeness would require notification as early as the decision was made. Which I will agree with.

  22. Michael says

    Sorry, typo, that should have been “complained” not “claimed” in my post #12.

  23. blf says

    What is rude here? The bigot is a bigot, and deserves to be punched as much as Richard Spencer. There is nothing at all rude or inappropriate about the station throwing the bigot out on his face.

  24. jefrir says

    Michael,

    Sorry, but does ‘sticks and stones…’ no longer apply

    It never applied. Words can hurt people, can even kill people. Words are powerful.

  25. consciousness razor says

    Let’s get it straight. Only the Government is prohibited from censoring an idea. Like Trump trying to censor any attempts to demonstrate his collusion with Russia.
    Any private, and I would include state universities in this, entities are not compelled to provide total free speech.

    Nerd, you don’t seem to be considering a situation in which a company/organization (or some especially powerful individual) makes it effectively or nearly impossible for someone to speak freely, hence violating their rights (which the government should do something to protect). They could use their influence, resources, etc., in all sorts of ways to do that, just as the government could. The government has scary amounts of power which it could misuse, and it has of course set limits on that in the form of the first amendment. But it isn’t just governments which may seriously threaten a person’s rights, since they’re not the only things that may have scary amounts of power in our society. If that’s what is happening, then it’s wrong either way. If a person (or corporation, etc.) does that, it’s not like it’s not a concern anymore because they happen not to be “the government.” I don’t know what kind of principle that is supposed to be (i.e., only when it’s the big bad gubmint), but it’s not principled and doesn’t look like it’s going to do what we want it to do.

    I know you already understand that we’ve got this bad habit of witlessly handing immense amounts of power over to corporations, so it’s not like this is just an idle paranoid fear that you’d never realistically have to worry about. It’s definitely something we have to worry about, especially in the modern era with giant corporations having so much control over how everybody communicates (or doesn’t communicate, as the case may be).

    You’re of course right that nobody is obliged to provide others a platform. But we shouldn’t confuse that with legitimate violations of free speech, which could be committed by anybody (or a company, organization, etc.) and not just by the government. This isn’t what’s going on when a radio station in California decides not to host Dawkins, but I’ve heard this “only the government” crap before and it’s best if we don’t keep repeating it.

  26. Chuck Stanley says

    @26. Exactly what are the “legitimate violations of free speech” committed by anyone? Something that is not already illegal like violent suppression? Twitter kicking you off? What exactly and what is the *principle* that defines it exactly and not just some vague “my rights are being violated.”. You have only defined it in a negative way “This isn’t what is going on when…”.

  27. says

    Followup to #10, the local group said they couldn’t host Dawkins because they don’t have the money. Well that’s fair…

  28. consciousness razor says

    Chuck Stanley:
    There are too many ways for it to happen to give a very specific definition, but I did attempt a positive description that doing so “makes it effectively or nearly impossible for someone to speak freely.” I’d say something with that kind of effect would count.

    Suppose Google is terrified that I’m going to call their shareholders names and say mean things about their products/services.* So, they do their techno magic and I’m prevented from publicly expressing my thoughts in that way. I might still be able to say it to a person in some private location, if I can somehow get outside of Google’s reach (whatever that might be now or in the future). But they’ve made it so that I can’t do it publicly, which is a problem. I know it sounds a little paranoid, and for record, Google is Totally Good People who wouldn’t ever dream of doing that. I love Big Brother, and I use his search engine regularly. But is the idea clear enough now?

    *Or I may want to talk about something that could get them into legal trouble, so they could use all sorts of nasty methods to try to squelch that speech, which of course I have a right to express. But they could just as well have totally petty reasons for doing it, like me calling them names, since I don’t see how something like that could be relevant.

  29. krsone says

    there clearly is a hierarchy of religions with Islam at the bottom, deserving special contempt.

    Atheists don’t like Islam. We also don’t like Catholicism, Episcopalianism, or whatever jelly-like dribble Karen Armstrong is peddling today. But I would still say that Islam as a religion is nastier and more barbaric than, say, Anglicanism. The Anglicans do not have as a point of doctrine that it is commendable to order the execution of writers or webcomic artists, nor that a reasonable punishment for adultery is to stone the woman to death. That is not islamophobia: that is recognizing the primitive and cruel realities of a particularly vile religion, in the same way that we can condemn Catholicism for its evil policies towards women and its sheltering of pedophile priests. We can place various cults on a relatively objective scale of repugnance for their attitudes towards human rights, education, equality, honesty, etc., and on civil liberties, you know, that stuff we liberals are supposed to care about, Islam as a whole is damnably bad.

  30. rgmani says

    @KG

    Sarah Haider I don’t know, but Nawaz is a fraud, and Namazie is an acolyte of a bizarre Marxoid personality cult who greeted the al-Sisi military coup in Egypt

    The alternet article on Nawaz is nothing short of a hit piece. All that is seems to do is to give a platform to a lot of members of his former organization to rubbish him and accepts their word uncritically. Remember that this is an organization that aims to establish a global Islamic theocracy and views Nawaz as a traitor for having abandoned the cause. A much more balanced article on Nawaz is this one.

    Regarding Namazie’s support of el-Sisi, it was either that or support the Muslim Brotherhood which started to undermine Egypt’s democracy almost immediately after they were elected. This led to the Tamarrod movement and subsequently the military coup. It wasn’t as if there were very many liberal democratic choices on offer.

    Of course, all of this is besides the point. The issue at hand is their criticisms of Islam which are, if you actually look at them, no different than what ex-Christians and Christian reformers say about Christianity. Yet, one group is embraced by liberals and the other ostracized. This isn’t even about Nawaz, Haider and Namazie. This is about the necessity for liberals to embrace the minorities within Islam and give them a platform. I am unable to name a single ex-Muslim or Muslim reformer who has been wholeheartedly embraced by the left. If we don’t give these people a platform, they will run to those who will – who are mostly from the far right.

    – RM

  31. Chuck Stanley says

    consciousness razor

    I just don’t see how that could be done without already being illegal. How can Google stop you from making phone calls or expressing yourself on freethought blogs? I’m just not understanding how. Yeah maybe theoretically but I consider it nothing but pure speculation without realistic example. When you find one I suspect we will find it is illegal based upon some other criteria having nothing to do with “free speech”.

    For the record I’m no friend of giant corporations that have so much power. I just don’t see how they can violate your “free speech” independently of doing something that isn’t already illegal in some other way. Unless you are going to claim that you have the “right” to say anything you want using Google’s resources. But then that just goes back to the whole somebody has to give you a platform and if they don’t they are violating your rights.

    I’ll add that I’m in favor of giant corporations like Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. giving extremely wide latitude to what can be said on their platforms because I don’t believe they *should* try policing anything but the very worst abuses. What one should do with one’s own resources and what one has a legal right to do are not the same thing.

    If you treat free speech as a prohibition on government and you treat it as a resource control issue for everyone else, then to me it seems pretty clear who has the right to say who can say what and where. Otherwise you are going to be in a never-ending mess of people claiming conflicting rights.

  32. JP says

    Dawkins is now on Twitter whining that it’s “not so much a free speech issue as a ‘freedom to listen’ issue.”

    Right, the freedom of people in Berkeley to listen to Richard Dawkins has been stripped of them; it’s not like they can find any audio or video of him anywhere.

  33. consciousness razor says

    Chuck Stanley:

    I just don’t see how that could be done without already being illegal.

    And it could already be illegal, depending on what we’re talking about. In that case, Nerd just wasn’t describing the law accurately. And that’s not my problem, right?

    How can Google stop you from making phone calls or expressing yourself on freethought blogs? I’m just not understanding how.

    I honestly don’t know how they do most of the things they do….

    Yeah maybe theoretically but I consider it nothing but pure speculation without realistic example. When you find one I suspect we will find it is illegal based upon some other criteria having nothing to do with “free speech”.

    So, I’m saying it is or should be illegal. You think maybe that’s correct, “theoretically” (which I guess means actually, since we are talking about the law). But if we ever did come across anything like that, you’re already pretty sure, without knowing anything about it, that whatever it would be is illegal. Okay. The issue is just that it’s going to be illegal “based upon some other criteria.” Like what? You had a fair question in #27, but I’m not seeing how you ended up here. Could you express in a non-negative way what you think those other criteria need to be?

    Let me give something that hopefully sounds more realistic and less extreme than big scary Google-related conspiracies. (That was meant to push things very far in one direction, so that the “impossibility” of expressing yourself becomes more vivid. Maybe not a great approach to the topic, but just use some more imagination, if you think wealthy, powerful, influential companies, with large menageries of lawyer and lobbyist pets, etc., couldn’t “realistically” do such things. There might be some confusion about what a “platform” is, whether or not communicating via the internet is a public activity or is always on somebody’s “platform,” etc. Let’s just leave it aside.)

    So, here’s an example. You’ve got a job somewhere, and the company tells you that you can’t say certain things publicly. It’s not that you can’t say it at the workplace or while representing the company or whatever — they can definitely have lots of very reasonable and not terribly restrictive standards like that. And it’s not that those things are company secrets, which you’ve agreed to keep, or something along those lines. Think of any other arbitrary sort of case, when it should be clear that they really have no right to dictate to you what you’re allowed to say in public. (If you want something concrete, maybe they’re telling you not to discuss geometry or football or the color of sunset or how stupid Donald Trump is. It really makes no difference to me, what they think they can force you not to say.)

    Now, you did say those things, and the company wants to sue you (after firing you probably) or take some other legal action about it, because you violated the company’s orders. Is that legally binding? Do you need to follow their orders? Should the law side with you, on the basis that you have a right to speak publicly, and they have no business infringing it?

    Or the law may say that, yes indeed, the company can make arbitrary decisions about what you are and are not allowed to say, because the principle is that it’s only infringing those rights when the government infringes on them. So if they don’t want you talking about football, the company can legally stop you from doing that (if they’re capable somehow), they can threaten things and hold all sorts of stuff over your head if you don’t comply, even if that doesn’t strictly speaking mean it’s “impossible” for you to do so anyway, etc. And they can do that with the expectation that the government will be on their side.

    What you were apparently suggesting is if they don’t commit some other type of crime in the process (assuming you can imagine this type of scenario, which isn’t too hard I hope), that all sounds like a fair and reasonable justice system that is appropriately protecting/upholding our actual rights as human beings. It doesn’t sound like that me. If it’s anything like that, it really does not sound like you’re free to speak, because other people are allowed to do all sorts of things to stop that.

  34. says

    @consciousness razor

    Funny thing, the place I work for actually does exactly that. I cannot for example operate my own blog in my own name without the company’s permission. Heck if I started one anonymously and they found out I would technically be violating the rules.

  35. Chuck Stanley says

    Like what? You had a fair question in #27, but I’m not seeing how you ended up here. Could you express in a non-negative way what you think those other criteria need to be?

    Well since Google doesn’t own your computer or “the internet” the only way they could somehow block you would be to hack into other people’s networks. So that would already be illegal and have nothing to do with free speech. So all the ways I can even remotely imagine of are illegal already so you are under the burden to identify how. You have the burden of proof without just vaguely claiming Google can stop me. You claim something can happen and then I’m under the burden of proof to come up with an example. Wow.

    So, here’s an example. You’ve got a job somewhere, and the company tells you that you can’t say certain things publicly. It’s not that you can’t say it at the workplace or while representing the company or whatever — they can definitely have lots of very reasonable and not terribly restrictive standards like that. And it’s not that those things are company secrets, which you’ve agreed to keep, or something along those lines. Think of any other arbitrary sort of case, when it should be clear that they really have no right to dictate to you what you’re allowed to say in public.

    Okay now this is realistic and not just some vague claim of somehow. If this is a condition of your employment you can accept it or quit. While I know this actually happens it is relatively rare and companies who engage in it will ultimately lose the best people to their competitors, which is why it is fairly rare. If you say it is not relatively rare then list the large corporations who have this policy. and we will count them up. If it was widespread and created issues for very many people we would have a law. The fact we don’t is an indications it’s not much of a problem. I’ve worked for large corporations for 35 years and my employers have not allowed me to bad mouth them publicly or I can be fired. But that’s the limit. Now while I consider the kind of example you gave a horrible condition of employment, you don’t have to work there. If you choose to you must consider it better than the alternative. You ask me to think of something that they “really have no right to dictate”. I can’t. I can think of a million things they should not but I do think they have that right. And you have the right to quit or never work there.

  36. consciousness razor says

    If this is a condition of your employment you can accept it or quit. While I know this actually happens it is relatively rare and companies who engage in it will ultimately lose the best people to their competitors, which is why it is fairly rare.

    Well, that’s awfully glibertarian of you. What if I already have a job that I really depend on, and one day the boss walks in and decides that (according to them) I don’t have the right to talk now? Since I’m losing this possibly important job and all, which might be how I pay bills and so forth, I don’t think I’d give a shit that the company might ultimately lose the best people to their competitors, assuming it’s a company which has any real competitors. I’m pretty sure the company’s ultimate success or non-success is not my primary concern in that situation. I’m also pretty sure that McDonald’s, let’s say, wouldn’t care a whole fucking lot that they don’t have “the best people” filling up all of their low-wage positions. So it’s not entirely obvious who the fuck is supposed to care about something like that, except for glibertarian economists of course.

    Mostly, I’d just like to hear from you that the government shouldn’t back up what that company is doing, but you’re apparently not willing to say that. If people get fired (or are forced to quit) for all sorts of terrible reasons, then in some cases (certainly not all — discrimination is an obvious example), there may not be much those people can realistically do against the company, meaning they can simply get away with it without facing any consequences. Which is awfully shitty.

    But it’d be even worse if the company can use “company rules” like this in a civil or criminal case, so that legal decisions need to be consistent with those rules or so that they’re cited as being reasonable/acceptable when building up any sort of case about anything. Then they’re not just getting away with it somehow, since maybe it’s deniable that they even did it; instead, it’s clearly being endorsed by the government as a “feature” of how our society ought to function. You seem to think that, as long companies stay in business and can find someone to do their bidding, then that’s what tells us they have a right to operate in this way, which I think is totally bizarre.

    If it was widespread and created issues for very many people we would have a law. The fact we don’t is an indications it’s not much of a problem

    Uh…. Where have you been? I could name tons of widespread problems that create issues for very many many people, and there aren’t in fact laws which are addressing them. The law isn’t infallible, and lawmakers and law enforcement are not always on the ball. Indeed, it wouldn’t make sense to even have legislators, if all of our “real” problems were addressed by some law that already exists. Their whole function in our government is to make new laws if we need them, since unfortunately new laws don’t just pop into existence on their own whenever it would be convenient. (That would be pretty great, since we could retire all of our congresscritters…. But it’s not happening.)

    You ask me to think of something that they “really have no right to dictate”. I can’t. I can think of a million things they should not but I do think they have that right.

    What gives them the right to do that? When and where and how were they legitimately designated as dictators? Did God appoint them to that role? Did we hold an election one time, when I must not have been paying attention, which decided the question? Could I use some kind of magic or perform some kind of counter-ritual, or whatever is they might have done to make it that way, so that I have the right to be their dictator instead? Did you just make this shit up? Was it made up at some other time and place by someone else, and would you tell me something about the source?

  37. Chuck Stanley says

    I’m not going to get into some long drawn out debate on all sorts of things with you. So there have been cases discussed on this blog where an employee has been fired for something non-company related they expressed publicly, such as a bigoted viewpoint.

    It seems to me that when the “free speech” issue is raised that commentators here come down something like this: “You have the right to free speech but not to be free from the consequences of that speech”. That companies in fact can fire people, i.e. make it a condition of employment, what their employees express even if it was not related to their job. This is my position. Now you seem to be saying that doing so in fact violates some kind of general free speech rights. I admit I’m confused about what you believe. Do you believe that is a violation of their free speech rights?

    I have a suspicion that you want people to have what YOU call free speech, but only so long as the CONTENT is what you consider is appropriate. Of course that then is not free speech and companies can fire you for your non-company related speech. Maybe not. Maybe you consistently have disagreed with these firings. I’m not going to spend hours on something I don’t consider a problem and I have a lot of experience with a lot of current and former colleagues in this area. Companies are competing for employees and they are not generally suppressing what they can say outside the company if it is not related to the company. Publicly expressed bigoted viewpoints might be one area where they do sometimes inflict the consequence of firing.

    So to be perfectly clear it is my position that companies can not employee you based upon outside speech. I believe that this view has been expressed many times on this blog by numerous people. You do not have some kind of *right* to be free of consequences of your speech, whether that is fair or not. If you believe people can be fired you hold that position. I do.

  38. Chuck Stanley says

    Let me wrap up my position:

    The right to free speech is a prohibition on government censorship.

    Otherwise what controls who can say what or when or how as I have expressed above is the owner/administrator of the resources used to express that speech.

    Having the right to be free of government censorship and using the resources I own or have been given the use of either freely or by paying for them, I can express my views. However, I do not have the right to be free of the consequences of that speech. A person may choose not to associate with me or a company may decide I won’t be employed by them.

    I hope that makes my views on free speech clear.

  39. KG says

    rgmani@33,

    Your link doesn’t work.

    All that is seems to do is to give a platform to a lot of members of his former organization to rubbish him and accepts their word uncritically.

    And that is simply, and blatantly, false:

    So we spoke with more than a dozen people intimately familiar with the crucial facets of Maajid Nawaz’s life. They told us that many of his most important claims about his transformative journey are dubious. These accounts cross the ideological spectrum, from old friends of Nawaz who were never members of HT to members of his immediate family, from those who spent time in prison with him to activists who knew him in his militant Islamist phase.

    and

    Our sources, who include members of Nawaz’s immediate family, insist that many of the most spectacular episodes of Nawaz’s autobiography—his confrontations with neo-Nazi racists; his firsthand account of what he presented as Britain’s first HT murder; his ideological transformation from Islamist to liberal; and his portrayal of his family—are filled with half-truths, exaggerations and falsehoods.

    The article also points out that Nawaz’s own stories of his youth contain clear signs that they are fantasies:

    The story contains obvious clues as to its fabrication. The idea of undertaking a terrorist attack by exploding a “rucksack bomb” only entered public consciousness after the London bombings of July 7, 2005, when four British Muslims detonated explosives concealed in rucksacks. A decade earlier, such a notion was simply unheard of.

    The cultural indicators of the time are also off-kilter in Nawaz’s story. To anyone familiar with the cultural landscape of mid-1990s England, it would seem absurd for a gang of white racists to package their racism toward Asians in explicitly Islamophobic terms. English racism of the time was a strictly ethnic affair, focused on “Pakis,” “Arabs” and “niggers” and undergirded by virulent anti-Semitism. It took nearly a decade for this particular bigotry to take a religious turn.

    Nawaz now pals around with members of the neocon and racist right such as Douglas Murray.

    As for Namazie, while the Muslim Brotherhood did indeed act in undemocratic ways in Egypt, it was not they who destroyed democracy – the military coup itself makes quite clear that they lacked the ability to do so. The coup was backed by Saudi Arabia as well as the USA, and the al-Sisi regime has destroyed any prospect of democracy, murdered thousands, and imprisoned many more – including many of those democrats and socialists involved in forcing Mubarak out. At best, Namazie was too fucking stupid to recognise a counter-revolution when she saw one.

    I see, BTW, that Haider is a chum of the well-known and respected advocate of torture and racial profiling, Sam Harris.

    The issue at hand is their criticisms of Islam which are, if you actually look at them, no different than what ex-Christians and Christian reformers say about Christianity. Yet, one group is embraced by liberals and the other ostracized.

    This might possibly have something to do with the fact that Christians are immensely privileged in western societies, while Muslims are subject to constant attack. People who care about social justice are wary about associating themselves with such attacks. If you actually want to help Muslim women, for example, who often face both male violence from within their communities and racism from without, you could donate to Southall Black Sisters, as I did regularly until a few months ago, and will do again once my finances are more settled.

    This isn’t even about Nawaz, Haider and Namazie.

    You made it so – it wasn’t me who brought them up. You’re still defending them. That tells me a lot about where you’re coming from.

  40. KG says

    rgmani@33,

    Your link doesn’t work.

    All that is seems to do is to give a platform to a lot of members of his former organization to rubbish him and accepts their word uncritically.

    And that is simply, and blatantly, false:

    So we spoke with more than a dozen people intimately familiar with the crucial facets of Maajid Nawaz’s life. They told us that many of his most important claims about his transformative journey are dubious. These accounts cross the ideological spectrum, from old friends of Nawaz who were never members of HT to members of his immediate family, from those who spent time in prison with him to activists who knew him in his militant Islamist phase.

    and

    Our sources, who include members of Nawaz’s immediate family, insist that many of the most spectacular episodes of Nawaz’s autobiography—his confrontations with neo-Nazi racists; his firsthand account of what he presented as Britain’s first HT murder; his ideological transformation from Islamist to liberal; and his portrayal of his family—are filled with half-truths, exaggerations and falsehoods.

    The article also points out that Nawaz’s own stories of his youth contain clear signs that they are fantasies:

    The story contains obvious clues as to its fabrication. The idea of undertaking a terrorist attack by exploding a “rucksack bomb” only entered public consciousness after the London bombings of July 7, 2005, when four British Muslims detonated explosives concealed in rucksacks. A decade earlier, such a notion was simply unheard of.

    The cultural indicators of the time are also off-kilter in Nawaz’s story. To anyone familiar with the cultural landscape of mid-1990s England, it would seem absurd for a gang of white racists to package their racism toward Asians in explicitly Islamophobic terms. English racism of the time was a strictly ethnic affair, focused on “Pakis,” “Arabs” and “n*****s” and undergirded by virulent anti-Semitism. It took nearly a decade for this particular bigotry to take a religious turn.

    Nawaz now pals around with members of the neocon and racist right such as Douglas Murray.

    As for Namazie, while the Muslim Brotherhood did indeed act in undemocratic ways in Egypt, it was not they who destroyed democracy – the military coup itself makes quite clear that they lacked the ability to do so. The coup was backed by Saudi Arabia as well as the USA, and the al-Sisi regime has destroyed any prospect of democracy, murdered thousands, and imprisoned many more – including many of those democrats and socialists involved in forcing Mubarak out. At best, Namazie was too fucking stupid to recognise a counter-revolution when she saw one.

    I see, BTW, that Haider is a chum of the well-known and respected advocate of torture and racial profiling, Sam Harris.

    The issue at hand is their criticisms of Islam which are, if you actually look at them, no different than what ex-Christians and Christian reformers say about Christianity. Yet, one group is embraced by liberals and the other ostracized.

    This might possibly have something to do with the fact that Christians are immensely privileged in western societies, while Muslims are subject to constant attack. People who care about social justice are wary about associating themselves with such attacks. If you actually want to help Muslim women, for example, who often face both male violence from within their communities and racism from without, you could donate to Southall Black Sisters, as I did regularly until a few months ago, and will do again once my finances are more settled.

    This isn’t even about Nawaz, Haider and Namazie.

    You made it so – it wasn’t me who brought them up. You’re still defending them. That tells me a lot about where you’re coming from.

  41. consciousness razor says

    It seems to me that when the “free speech” issue is raised that commentators here come down something like this: “You have the right to free speech but not to be free from the consequences of that speech”. That companies in fact can fire people, i.e. make it a condition of employment, what their employees express even if it was not related to their job. This is my position. Now you seem to be saying that doing so in fact violates some kind of general free speech rights. I admit I’m confused about what you believe.

    You should read what I said again. First of all, it has zero to do with trying to avoid the social consequences for saying certain things. And I agree that people can fire you, for good an bad reasons. That’s them firing you.

    It’s a different question whether our laws should say they actually do have a right somehow to make sure we can’t use our rights. Where the fuck would something like that come from? If the company (however they may do it) makes it so that I can’t use my rights, that’s a problem for me. Whether or not that ever becomes an economic problem for that company is totally beside the point.

    When furthermore the law steps in and says, “yes, it is the company’s right to do that, so we better have the government enforce this for them and protect that right,” it’s just not fucking about whether the company is violating labor laws or whatever else you’re imagining. We flew way past that question.

    And it’s way way way way past whether other people can speak and criticize what I said, which everybody ought to believe the should be able to do… at least as long as a company (or any person/organization/etc., perhaps me) wants to allow them to criticize me. If you haven’t already fallen off the cliff at this point, do you see it coming up pretty fast?

    No, it’s not that. Now, we’ve entered the realm of the police checking in to make sure I’m doing what the company says I should do (not speaking), because they genuinely have a right to make sure I don’t say those things. Or a judge in a case about anything may decide the law needs to respect the company’s belief (certainly not mine or I bet most people’s) that they have a right to prevent me from exercising my rights. Countless legal and other consequences would follow from that, if it were true that is their right, and as a right, it is something the government needs to protect/guarantee/enforce in one way or another.

    But I mean, fuck, it’s not like these people are dictators/monarchs/whatever, so we have to stay silent in their presence or only say things which appeal to them. No, we’re free to speak, and nobody (in the government or outside of it) gets to make any serious claim to the contrary. And if they do suggest ridiculous shit like that, their ridiculous shit need not be taken seriously and used against us, just because they fucking say so and might have the power to make it happen. Sounds like a decent way to run things, and I have no clue why you’d want it any other way.

  42. Vivec says

    Where the fuck would something like that come from? If the company (however they may do it) makes it so that I can’t use my rights, that’s a problem for me. Whether or not that ever becomes an economic problem for that company is totally beside the point.

    You guys are arguing past each other.

    Strictly speaking, there is no codified right to free speech outside of the first amendment’s protection against government censorship. Under that standard, it is indeed impossible for a private entity to infringe on that right, because it’s defined in a way that specifically targets government entities.

    CR is talking about some sort of deeper right to speak freely (which I don’t personally believe exists), which would apparently include private entities.

  43. Michael says

    @15
    Now I’m confused.
    PZ agrees that what KPFA did was a rude move.
    Richard agrees that what KPFA did was a rude move, and complained about it.
    PZ agrees that he can complain about it.
    It seems most of this thread is arguing about what was rude about it, and/or whether the complaint was justified.
    PZ also says that Richard shouldn’t ask for an apology.
    Isn’t asking for an apology what you normally do when someone is rude to you in a public forum, particularly if you are making a public complaint? Whether you get an apology depends on the other person, and if they recognize that they were being rude.

  44. consciousness razor says

    CR is talking about some sort of deeper right to speak freely (which I don’t personally believe exists)

    What do you mean?

    Do you think no rights exist in any meaningful sense? I don’t know, some people do think that. But this wouldn’t tell me much about your views (if you have any) in this case, only that you think there are no rights of any sort, which is a whole other matter that we may not want to bother with very much here.

    Or do you think that this isn’t one of the existing rights, since there are at least some which exist in a certain sense? I’d take that to mean you disagree with the specific things I’ve been saying about free speech. I’m going to assume that’s at least more correct than the other option.

    So, I guess if I have a lot of money or power or something, I can claim to be some kind of a monarch and treat you like one my subjects, who must remain silent on all of the issues I don’t want discussed. Of course I won’t actually be a literal head of state or any sort of governmental entity in any jurisdiction, but I will use all my money/power/whatever to act like one. But you don’t have a right to speak if I don’t want you to, meaning I can do whatever I like to prevent you from doing so, on the weird technicality that I’m not a governmental entity. Would you really want to agree with that? It sounds awful to me.

    Maybe there’s another position you could be taking…. You think there isn’t currently a written-down law which says so, and you do think we ought to have a right of that sort, so there should be such a law which is written down somewhere. From that location, it would inform us explicitly about the existence of this right, as you would like it to do. The material in that place (paper in an archive maybe) speak the law into existence for us, like God in the Genesis stories, and if it hasn’t done that, then we don’t yet really and morally have them in some sense that you think is important. If it’s not on a piece of paper or carved into stone or something, then you think there’s some significant fact to report to us that actually there is no right, not really, not in the sense that matters most to you. It doesn’t exist. Does that seem like a position you’re comfortable with?

    I don’t know what else to say about any of that, so okay. Maybe at least people (like Nerd above) shouldn’t use this in their arguments against freeze-peachers, because it’s loaded with suspicious-looking ideas that they might not honestly agree with and expect everyone to take seriously? So, they could perhaps just come up with better arguments against those idiots, ones which they do honestly believe and wouldn’t come with all of these complications that they may not be willing to defend. Would you at least agree to that?

  45. Vivec says

    Basically my thoughts on the matter is:

    A: Broadly speaking, rights are either inherent (ie “all people are born with a right to free speech independent of any governing body”) or legal (ie “the First Amendment”)

    B: I don’t think inherent rights exist, or at the very least do not see any evidence of them. If a person in North Korea has no codified right to speak freely, and the government can and will punish them for any dissent, I don’t see how they could be said to have a “right” to free speech. It’s not that the government is violating their right to free speech – they don’t have that right to begin with.

    C: Under this framework, there is no objective, absolute “right to free speech” that a private entity can violate. In US law, the “right to free speech” is defined in such a way that only a public entity can violate it. Twitter can ban you for any reason they want, and it would never amount to a violation of your “right to free speech” under US law.

    D. I’m not saying its morally correct for twitter to ban you or your job to fire you for any reason they want, I’m saying that it’s not a violation of your “right to free speech”, because I don’t think there is actually any “right to free speech” outside of the limited protection granted by US law.

    So, yes, I think your last one is probably closest. If it’s not a codified legal privilege or protection, I don’t think it actually counts as a “right”. It would be immoral if your job fired you for talking about horses or whatever, but it wouldn’t be a freedom of speech violation.

  46. consciousness razor says

    So, yes, I think your last one is probably closest. If it’s not a codified legal privilege or protection, I don’t think it actually counts as a “right”. It would be immoral if your job fired you for talking about horses or whatever, but it wouldn’t be a freedom of speech violation.

    Noted. But I would say that political goods/freedoms/rights/values/etc. are just a certain subset of the larger class of moral ones. You don’t only want to know “how should I act?” You also want to know “how should our society be structured?” or something like that. They’re all just part of the same big messy category.

    So picture a Venn diagram, in which the political-acceptable bubble is sitting inside the larger moral one. If something falls outside of the moral one, then “I shouldn’t” or “we shouldn’t” or “this country shouldn’t” do it, full stop.

    You’re going to say it’s bad, if you’re at least sort of on the right track. And if you’re going to be realistic about it, you’re not just telling me how people actually behave but how you think they ought to behave. Probably, you’d normally mention it when they don’t actually behave that way, because the issue is that it’s a problem that they act that way. I’m sure you think it’s that murder is wrong, for example, and you don’t act in your daily life as if it isn’t true. So there is a bad thing, for real, that we can talk about it seriously, independently of what any particular person/corporation/government/etc. is actually doing. And if that sounds good — you had no problem saying it’s immoral, full stop, since why would you? — then I don’t see the point in taking a totally different stance about political rights and so forth, which are just a different part of that same territory.

  47. Vivec says

    I’m not making a prescriptive case for what should or shouldn’t be illegal, I’m saying that, as a descriptive matter of fact, there is not a “Right to Free Speech” that protects you from private entities.

    Should there be a law against corporate censorship? Sure, why not, but that’s completely irrelevant to my beliefs on whether or not inherent rights exist.

  48. consciousness razor says

    Alright, Vivec. I want to say that you had an odd way of expressing your agreement with me about what you think (prescriptively) is an appropriate view. I mean, I could make the point that murder is wrong, and some awful person might want to debate that point with me. Then you could say, well, CR’s talking about some “deeper” thing having to do with the wrongness of murder (when I’m just flatly saying it is wrong), and you add that you think it “doesn’t exist.” Or the inherence of it doesn’t exist or I don’t what. But at the same time, you’d agree that it should be wrong or would be wrong or something…. It’s not clear what can be taken away from that, and it feels like you’re making things more complicated than they need to be.

    Especially when speaking casually, people will say “it’s my right” or “I’m rightfully able to X,” and so on, and they’re not mistaken about the substantive moral/political question somehow. Those are and should be their rights, assuming they’re correct about them. So if law books somewhere haven’t caught up to some of that, in this place or that place or any place, then of course it’s a problem we should try to address by making the law books say that. But it’s not like, if you showed them some empty pages in those books, such people going to deny that we need to fill them up with the appropriate stuff, because it must already be in there. Instead, it’s more like, whatever the books may say, it is their right, and we should all work to guarantee those things for ourselves, through some practical means or another (forming governments, writing/revising legislation, etc.). They decide that in reality and for sure they do have those rights, or it may not have even been a question to them that they ever had to sit down and make a decision about. And then they join political movements, sign petitions, elect politicians, etc., in order to get those rights put into law and have them protected/enforced by their society. That’s basically how a lot of people behave, at any rate, whether or not it means anything.

    I also don’t want to be in the business of saying things like “the rights of refugees/foreigners/etc. don’t exist,” on the basis that the necessary pieces of paper aren’t doing it for such people at that time/place (although other papers may do it for me and you). I’m pretty sure most people, if they heard statements like that, won’t usually interpret it as describing what’s written on some paper. Probably not a great policy to talk that way, if you want to be understood. And anyway, you could burn up the constitution, destroy all sorts of legal documents, etc. — I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you did, I think that really it wouldn’t change anything important or relevant about what rights we actually have and ought to have.

  49. Vivec says

    And anyway, you could burn up the constitution, destroy all sorts of legal documents, etc. — I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you did, I think that really it wouldn’t change anything important or relevant about what rights we actually have and ought to have.

    That’s kind of the crux of the disagreement, then.

    I think that if the government stopped affording us the legal privileges and protections we have now – let’s say, by repealing the first amendment – I don’t think we could be said to actually have those rights anymore.

    I also think there’s some equivocation going on between “right as an adjective meaning morally good” and “right as a noun meaning a protection or privilege”, but that’s kind of a deeper linguistic problem.

  50. amethal says

    Vivec, thank you for setting out your opinion so clearly.

    It explains what, as a non-American, I had found so baffling about debates on whether Constitutional protections apply to non-Americans. I am used to thinking in terms of them being basic human rights (well, mostly – I am extremely happy to be living in a country which lacks the right to bear arms). In fact it is just an extension of the classic English legal maxim “remedies, not rights” – you don’t have any rights, just a few remedies the government can’t get around very easily.

    Given Americans don’t seem to trust their government very much, even when they are protected by their Constitution, then you make a good argument for unprotected foreigners staying the hell away from that country.

    Fortunately, your opinion doesn’t seem to be universally held.

    For instance, it contradicts what is probably the most famous passage in the US Declaration of Independence. (Assuming the reference to a Creator doesn’t make the whole thing invalid without needing to read any further.)

    A google search brought up President Obama in 2015 condemning human rights abuses in Venezuela. He didn’t feel the need to cite parts of the US (or Venezuelan) Constitution was he referring to. (Or at least I can’t see anywhere that he did so.)

    It also brought up the UN Human Rights Committee in 2014 finding the USA in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (to which the USA is a signatory). The USA could have responded that the (non-American) inmates of Guantanamo Bay didn’t have any civil or political rights, but they didn’t go that far.

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