For years, the most unpleasant characters on the internet have been using the cry of “free speech!” as an unrestricted, unquestioned privilege that must be respected over all others. It’s magic. No compromise is allowed; all you have to do is invoke “free speech”, and you can bulldoze all over other people’s expectations of privacy, or safety, or even of their right of free speech. I think free speech is a good thing, and we shouldn’t tolerate government dictating what we’re allowed to say, and people should be able to freely discuss their opinions and ideas in a participatory democracy, but that needs to be balanced with other rights as well (“what other rights?”, I can imagine the basement-dwelling trolls of the internet asking, “there are no other rights but my right to spew the sewage floating in my brain everywhere.”)
So we should appreciate the free speech that allows someone to say, “I believe I have the right to own an M16,” even though I personally disagree with that and I think there ought to be a heck of a lot more gun control, but that right to free speech ends when they add, “and I think I have the right to track down your address and blow your brains out if you disagree.” That changes everything from a good if annoying discussion to a threat and a danger. Likewise if they try a lesser threat, “and I think I have the right to force you to argue with me and I’m going to harass you until you agree.”
There is an argument going on right now between fascist white nationalists and universities in which administrators and centrists are caving in before the magical mantra of “free speech!” This is what happens when you lose perspective and decide that one right trumps all the others. In the name of Free Speech, people who believe millions of other people should lose all of their rights and be deported, deprived of recourse to legal redress, be kicked out of school, or even imprisoned or murdered, get to further incite these gross violations of liberty on college campuses.
In a grotesque parody of the Berkeley students who stood up for civil rights on Sproul Plaza in 1964, the far right has made free speech on campus a shield for hate groups as it recruits and organizes. College administrators’ knee-jerk defenses for free speech avoid addressing legitimate concerns regarding safety and academic freedom for faculty and students.
UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ quoted John Stuart Mill in defense of free speech, but conspicuously left out the context. Mill firmly believed speech that advocated harm to others is an abuse of the right to speak. In 1969 the Supreme Court agreed, ruling in Brandenburg v. Ohio that there is no free speech right to advocate violence when violence is likely to occur. There are, in fact, solid legal reasons, particularly after Charlottesville, why campuses can and should deny a platform to far-right speakers, precisely because they encourage violence against specific groups and enable situations of imminent danger.
“Free speech” is an all-purpose slogan disingenuously used to mask violent threats and an outright take-over of, ironically enough, the right of free speech. You don’t really believe that Ann Coulter, Steve Bannon, and Milo Yiannopoulos are making a principled defense of socialists, communists, academics, artists, and progressives to discuss their ideas, do you? They hate those guys! They want to intimidate and suppress liberals, and have found that mouthing the words “free speech” are a great way to do it, since moderates tend to cave before it.
The threat of white-supremacist violence is real. Leaked threads from an alt-right message board reveal the sadistic aspirations of self-identified Freikorps who gathered online in hopes that their “Day of the Rope”—referring to a Kristallnacht-inspired mass lynching and genocide depicted in the white-nationalist novel The Turner Diaries—would kick off at Berkeley on April 27 when Ann Coulter had been scheduled to speak.
No altercations materialized that day, but determination to provoke violence and justify a state crackdown on antifascist resistance motivates far-right groups to keep coming back to Berkeley. Breaking this iconic “commie” stronghold, in their eyes, would achieve a major milestone on their path to power.
Right-wing speaking events—including the “Free Speech Week” scheduled for late September at Berkeley, featuring the odious trifecta of Yiannopoulos, Coulter, and Steve Bannon—are part of an increasingly coordinated nationwide effort among far-right groups to recruit on college campuses. Using free speech as a wedge to silence dissent and discredit opposition, they intend to radicalize white youth by waging psychological warfare on academic leftists, social-justice organizations, and minorities. It should be no surprise that Jeremy Christian, white-supremacist murderer of two men in Portland, cried out “Free speech or die!” during his day in court. For white supremacists, the push for free speech is directly connected to their campaigns of terror.
We also mustn’t forget that these “free speech” advocates are using it as a tool to do harm to minorities and women — and behind their strategy is an appeal to the comfortably privileged to sit back and let them do the dirty work of securing their sheltered nice ideals at the expense of the life and liberty of the underclasses.
Tone-deaf campus administrators continue to ignore the warnings of students and faculty, and prioritize making campuses “safe for free speech” by militarizing university spaces with a heavy police presence—unsurprisingly, with disproportionately detrimental effects on students of color. Violent confrontations can be avoided entirely if responsible decision-makers acknowledge that fascist gatherings by their very presence pose a threat to our spaces of work and learning. Trump’s repeal of DACA this week makes this imperative even more urgent; we must not forget that what is being contested at Berkeley is not just “free speech” for racists but the enforcement of sanctuary-campus policies against ICE.
It cannot be the sole responsibility of communities facing white-supremacist violence to be suitably respectable victims for public consumption. Commentators, politicians, and campus administrators must reject the alt-right’s framing of this as a battle over free speech. Regardless of the far right’s strategies to divide us, we must prioritize the safety of students and amplify the voices of the vulnerable—not promote narratives that serve racist ideologies.
Laurie Penny has some vigorous words for the Nazis — and that’s free speech, too. When all you’re fighting for is the right to be a shitlord, you don’t get to claim the mantle of Hero of Free Speech. There is a whole interlinked network of sometimes conflicting rights, and picking the easiest one to defend because it doesn’t compromise your lifestyle of blaming the less privileged for your failings isn’t heroic.
So let’s be clear: getting fired because you hate women is not an equivalent hardship to getting fired because you happen to be one. People who have been disowned by their parents for being gay or transgender aren’t going to have sympathy when your mum and dad find your stash of homophobic murder fantasies and change the locks. Getting attacked for being a racist is not the same as getting attacked because you are black. The definition of oppression is not “failure to see your disgusting opinions about the relative human value of other living breathing people reflected in society at large.” Being shamed, including in public, for holding intolerant, bigoted opinions is not an infringement of your free speech. You are not fighting oppression. You are, at best, fighting criticism. If that’s the hill you really want to die on, fine, but don’t kid yourself it’s the moral high ground. I repeat: You cannot be a rebel for the status quo. It would be physically easier to go and fuck yourself, and I suggest you try.
The fact that some people—the women, people of color, immigrants and queer people you want put back in their proper place—disapprove of you does not make you edgy. A bag of cotton wool is edgier than you lot. Fighting for things to go back to the way they were twenty or thirty or fifty years ago does not constitute a bold resistance movement. It constitutes the militant arm of the Daily Mail comments section. Fighting real oppression involves risk, and before you start, I’m talking about real risk, not some girl on the internet calling you a cowardly subliterate waste of human skin, like I just did.
I’ll support your call for free speech when you stop using it to marginalize the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for everyone else, and when it stops being a proxy for defending the status quo and your privileged status rather than the right that allows the oppressed to have a voice.
I’m sure the heroes of free speech think you should not be allowed to write these things.
lakitha tolbert says
I’m so glad that other people are noticing this and writing about it. I often feel I’m alone in noticing these trends ,and its just good to know other people have seen it. It at least reaffirms that my observational skills are working correctly. Also, don’t forget its not just college campuses where this is happening. Its on any form of social media that attracts the young. I’ve seen this all over places like Tumblr (although I don’t know how successful it is there.)
You have all the right to agree with me you want, disagree with me. Not so much.
Gregory Greenwood says
This paragraph from Laurie Penny covers the core of the issue, and helpfully illuminates a link between the nominally non-religious fascists and the christian Right;
These raging bigots do not and have never cared about any notion of free speech for everyone. This is not about freedom of expression, but instead freedom from criticism for them and their in group specifically – they want the right to publicly engage in bigotry, hatred-mongering and oppression in a consequence free environment, which is why they look back at the fifties as the ‘good old days’ when you could be racist and homophobic and no one in any position of power, authority, or even possession of a public platform of any kind would turn a hair. Women also ‘knew their place’, meaning that they were fully aware that society placed precious little value on them as people, and that if they were raped they would likely face far more social censure than their rapist, leading to a culture of silence that almost infallibly protected sexual predators – so long as they were White at least – which would amount to a de facto charter for the kind of misogynists that make up so much of the membership these vile neo-fascist groups.
The idea that being denied the ability to oppress others with impunity is somehow the same thing as being oppressed oneself instantly puts me in mind of the perpetual Xian persecution complex – it is all the same mindset, just slightly differing circumstances, and it is not as though there isn’t marked overlap in the membership of evangelical christian communities and neo-fascist groups.
Gregory Greenwood says
From the OP;
PZ is right about this in more ways than one – ‘Free Speech’ (or increasingly its toxic construction as envisioned by far right arsehats) has achieved a totemic significance, and unfortunately not just in Far Right circles. It is deployed like a mantra by people whose true agenda is to suppress dissent and exploit the vulnerable with impunity, while holding up the sainted value of an absolutist concept of free speech like garlic against a vampire in old Hammer movies.
It has the quality of magical thinking, as if free speech is always and in all circumstances an unalloyed good, and that invoking it will somehow bring light to even the darkest of topics, and it isn’t the only term or concept that is imbued with that dangerous freight of social significance. Try explaining to most people that the idea of democracy, especially in its direct form, can curdle into a dangerous tyranny of the majority, and can threaten the rights of the marginalised (a situation that is already playing out in many corners of the world with the recent perilous rise of Right wing populist politicians like Trump). A great many people will baulk at the very notion that any form of democracy is ever anything but the ultimate political good, and assume that you are advocating some kind of return to absolutism if you merely suggest that democracy could go wrong in some situations. The faithists feel much the same way about religious belief, as many people here have doubtless discovered many times in their lives, and others similarly fetishize ‘respect’ for differing opinions, privileging an amorphous notion of ‘civility’ over criticism of the opinions of others, no matter how horrifying those opinions may be in terms of their goals for society.
Then there is the perennial scourge of the ‘middle grounders’ (especially familiar to anyone who follows discussions between scientists and anti-intellectual nincompoops in the media) who instantly default to the notion that the ‘truth’ is always to be found at an intermediate point between any two positions, irrespective of the level of understanding and competency of the people holding the two initial positions under discussion, or the relative balance of evidence for those positions. So, a debate between a prominent climate change scientists and a climate change denier (who is likely a paid stooge of the petrochemical industry)? The middle grounder will claim that the truth simply has to be somewhere in the middle – such as the idea that climate change may be happening, but it isn’t being caused by human action, or isn’t as severe as the climate scientists claim, or somehow the environment will adapt to it and everything will work out just fine. An evolutionary scientist versus a creationist fanatic? The middle grounder might argue that evolution does exist…as the method by which god brings forth his intended design… which of course makes no sense, but hey – it is comfortably in the middle.
I honestly think that these free speech absolutists bigots have stumbled on to a corruption of the public and political discourse in the form of the growth of these ideas that have become somehow inviolate in the popular consciousness, and are using them to promote their dangerous delusions and seek power. It is most obvious with regard to the debasement of the ideal of free speech, but I fear the rot goes both far deeper and wider than that.
People really thought I was exaggerating when I summarized the freeze peach position as “if you don’t want to litigate the value of your life then you’re the real fascist.”
Does it not occur to these people that, if they insist on colleges, etc, giving them a platform on the basis of ‘free speech’, that can be used against them? During a speech organised by one of these right-wing hate groups, if someone simply walked up and started giving, basically, a counter-speech, that person cannot be told to shut up, or physically removed, according to the standards set by these right-wing hate groups, as they would then be violating that person’s right of free speech by not giving them a platform to speak. But then, of course, if they tried to have a counter-counter speech, that must be allowed as well, and any attempt at a counter-counter-counter speech, and so on and so forth. That is one reason why the idea that you’re free to say what you like, but no-one is obliged to give you a platform to speak is a very good one – without it, you can just end up with a cacophony of noise as everyone tries to speak over everyone else.
The argument that this most reminds me of is the debate over censorship in school libraries. Even the most ardent opponents of censorship would probably agree that there exists some class of literature — let’s say De Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom, to use the most extreme example — that doesn’t belong in childrens’ libraries. Likewise, even the most vehement protectors of unmitigated free speech probably would agree that colleges shouldn’t be obliged to give a platform to every person that asks for one. Holocaust deniers, Jim Jones cultists, Westboro Baptists — everyone can probably think of a few groups that they don’t think should be given a platform. (Of course, when we think about this, we should also bear in mind that there are plenty of people who don’t think that atheists should be given a platform, either. For many, we are the ones whose ideas pose a clear and present danger.)
The point I’m trying to make is, this debate isn’t really about what kinds of speech should be allowable. Really, the key question is who should be responsible for deciding. In the case of school libraries, should it be the librarians? The teachers? The principal? The school board? Should parents get a veto? If so, how many parents should it take?
The same question should exist for colleges. My understanding is that, at many of these schools, a student group proposes a speaker, and then the administration gets a chance to veto it. Well, “student group” is pretty vague — I was once a founding member of an “Adjectival Society” that we created just to get listed in the yearbook. How few students should be involved in a student group for their request to be considered? Shouldn’t the administration be allowed to take student safety into account? What about the fact that colleges usually have bodies like College Boards composed of government figures, business and community leaders, and others whose interests they supposedly represent — shouldn’t a college weigh those considerations as well when making these decisions? Ultimately, who should decide?
Years ago, I got a kick out of this.
Ann Coulter MARCH 23, 2010
In an unusual move, the University of Ottawa had sent her a warning before her speech, cautioning Ms. Coulter to watch her words lest she face criminal charges for promoting hatred in Canada.
“I hereby encourage you to educate yourself, if need be, as to what is acceptable in Canada and to do so before your planned visit here,” University of Ottawa academic vice-president François Houle wrote.
“Promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges.”
Right-wing antagonist Ann Coulter cancelled a University of Ottawa address last night after organizers decided it wasn’t safe to speak.
The excuse was a chance of violence. Someone, somewhere may have believed it.
“There was a risk there could be physical violence,” said Canadian conservative activist Ezra Levant, who was scheduled to introduce Ms. Coulter.
And Ezra is: https://www.desmogblog.com/ezra-levant though DeSmogBlog is being overly polite.
Jeremy Shaffer says
Siobhan at 6:
And not just that, but it must be done over and over again to the satisfaction of someone with zero interest- if not outright refusal- of ever seeing said value. But that’s the Free Marketplace of Ideas for you and, as we are often told, it’s the only way to determine truth… even though its very construction seems to ensure no conclusion can ever be made, and every “debate”- no matter how absurd or inane- must be hashed out into perpetuity.
I wonder if the fascist far right got the idea for wrapping themselves in “free speech” from looking at the success that the more “mainstream” right has had using a similar strategy, at least in the US. For nearly 30 years, the right in the US has claimed that leftist academics and “liberal media” have been conspiring to suppress the free expression of conservative ideas. This strategy has been enormously successful, creating a narrative that many people in the US believe in which conservatives are persecuted, brave underdogs, in spite of the fact that outside of some narrow academic circles the right has had more power in most of US society for the last 30 years and more. The narrative of being persecuted by the left has also been used to justify the creation of media like Fox News and right-wing radio, in which only right wing views are presented.
Given how successful the whole persecution narrative has been for the right in general, it’s hardly surprising that the far right wants to follow the same strategy.
Gregory in Seattle says
So I’m curious: how could the First Amendment be rewritten to avoid all the many ways it gets subverted? Is there a way to preserve freedom of expression while curbing abuse?
Oh yes, Ezra Levant the fearless Canadian champion of free speech, unless it is criticizes Israel like George Galloway for instance.
Interestingly enough, Ms. Coulter has been railing against college students being able to vote. I wonder if she’ll bring that up at Berkeley?
It occurs to them. But, as PZ wrote above, they do not care about free speech. Instead, they want to escalate the situation and physically attack the counter-protestors and others. Many of them publicly admit this; as PZ noted.
And they’ve tried to kill people before. Two of Yiannopoulos’ supporters shot a counter-protestor de-escalator (who was there to try to prevent violence) outside an event Yiannopoulos was allowed to have at the University of Washington early this year. He lived, thanks to the street medics and the staff of the nearby hospital: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/apr/25/milo-yiannopoulos-event-shooting-couple-charged-seattle .
Cal should not allow Yiannopoulos and the other offending speakers a platform, because of the threat to public safety.
michaelwbusch @ 15
It is not a “heckler’s veto” to deny a platform when it is the speaker’s supporters that are threatening (and have a history of perpetrating) violence.
@militantagnostic @16: Exactly.
Skeptical Partisan says
Universities are places of scholarship so all speakers should be challenged on scholarly grounds. Invited speakers are free to speak but not free of challenge. Every point made by every speaker is fair grounds for scholarly challenge. Where’s the beef [evidence]!
Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says
So well expressed, I won’t bother with a feebler effort. QFMFT.
I would tend to agree, with the caveat that Milo’s “Lol I’m gonna doxx students during my lectures and then wash my hands of any of the consequences of outing students as transgender or undocumented” tactic should be reason enough to bar him from speaking.
Gregory, No. 12, I don’t think there is, for several reasons.
I’m pretty close to an anti-censorship absolutist, and I totally hate that I end up having to defend the likes of the alt-right, Westboro Baptist, and racist thugs, all of whom I find just as loathesome as everyone else here does. But the real problem with forcibly shutting them up, as glorious as that would be, is that the question will always be who gets to decide which speech is acceptable and which speech isn’t. Do not assume people who share your social and political views will be the ones in power. Currently, Donald Trump is in power, and I most certainly do not want him deciding which speech is legal and which is not.
A good, safe rule of thumb, when you’re writing policy, is: Is this a policy I would want to live under if I knew that people who share my views will never win another election. So, would you be willing to have a rule that says the government gets to decide which speech you get to hear, if you knew that Trump and company would be in power forever? Me neither.
And that does not mean that anybody is required to give obnoxious speakers a forum, or that they can’t suffer normal consequences of being asshats if their employers decide that they’re really not good for business. All it means is that the government can’t censor your or prosecute you for what you say.
Martin Shkreli has been exercising his free speech. While he’s been free he has harassed women online. He even offered his Facebook followers $5,000 for grabbing a strand of Clinton’s hair while she’s on her book tour. The judge said, “The fact that he continues to remain unaware of the inappropriateness of his actions or words demonstrates to me that he may be creating ongoing risk to the community…This is a solicitation of assault. That is not protected by the First Amendment.” The judge has revoked his bail, and he is now in custody. He will remain there until his sentencing later this fall.
It’s hardly ambiguous what speech is physically dangerous though. Even in cases where murder isn’t outright ordered, the continuous dehumanization and calls to violence create circumstances where attempts become imminent. Stochastic terrorism.
Free speech needs to be supplemented by some form of protection, even sometimes at the expense of speech, or it becomes completely unenforceable. If God Emperor Trump decides to use Fox News to politely remind his devotees of their 2nd amendment right while harping on a list of documented dissenters every week, your 1st amendment right is gonna count for sweet FA once a disposable puppet blows you away.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. had nothing on this group. So let’s apply these carefully crafted principles.
1. A proposed speaker on a university campus – let’s suppose a mild-mannered professor of biology – hates their opponents and actively desires “to intimidate and suppress” them. Check.
2. There is a clearly expressed desire by supporters of the speaker’s positions to engage in violence. Check.
3. There is a history of actual violence against the speaker’s opponents. Check.
4. Authoritarian suppression of the speaker’s rights is now justified. Idiot leftists embrace tactics that would make odious rightists proud. Check.
Ding, ding, ding, we have a cudgel of oppression winner. “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
I still feel the response is simple: Censorship doesn’t actually make these ideas go away. It takes effort and confrontation to make these ideas go away. I really do believe that censorship is generally unproductive and often counterproductive.
Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says
How’s that working out for you?
@nicola #24, I really don’t know what you’re saying. Antifa is more of an anarchist group than an actual left-wing organization. They have a lot in common with many left-wing groups, and less in common with right-wing groups, but their tactics are totally different. Saying antifa members are against first amendment free speech is disingenuous since, almost by definition, there are no members of antifa in political power so they cannot impinge on the first amendment. I support many of antifa’s ideals, though I don’t support most of their methods.
Richard Spencer was supposed to speak in Gainesville at the University of Florida on September 12th. Various things happened where he was told not to come, then told he could, etc., then Irma came and pretty much everything in Gainesville was closed on Sept. 11, and very few things were open by Sept. 12th. Now they’re saying he’s coming on Oct. 12th or thereabouts, and I really am not looking forward to it. Because I have small children I will be avoiding it, especially because of the antifa protests. I really hope UF charges Spencer the actual cost for the security they are providing, or make sure he provides it himself.
Oh, that one’s easy!
The decision of whether some particular bit of speech is punishable by law wouldn’t lie with some politician, but with the judiciary (which needs to be politically independent, so stop electing judges over there, please). You have clearly framed laws that tell you what qualifies as legally actionable speech, and if you think someone is in violation of that you can go to court, and they’ll check. Doesn’t matter which party is in power — they don’t get to unilaterally declare some bit of speech illegal. That’s not how laws work.
Like, technically “the government” can decide who gets locked up and who gets to be free! Which sounds way scarier than getting to decide what speech is acceptable in public! But this doesn’t mean Donald Trump can have all trans people arrested.
I’m still rather upset that the event is being talked about like Milo and Co are just showing up to give a talk, and totally won’t doxx students or bull bait them into violence like they do literally every time they make a university appearance in recent memory.
Shouting down is not free speech. It is a violation of free speech.
nicola, any thoughts on the OP? What of our other rights? Should we have any expectation of, say, safety as hate organizations recruit and sow the actualization of a white ethnostate? What of threats designed to shut down others’ right to free speech?
call me mark says
If you leave fascists alone, they will hurt and murder innocent people. If you leave antifa alone, they’ll hang out with friends, drink beer, spend time with family, relax, whatever.
They don’t *want* to be out in the streets fighting Nazis, but if they don’t confront these fucks, no-one else will. They hit the streets out of a sense of moral obligation to others. Any attempt to draw false equivalence between genocidal Nazis and those who fight them is despicable.
Zeppelin, No. 28, we would laws written by the Trump administration and interpreted and enforced by Trump-appointed judges. I don’t see how that makes it better.
I’m also not sure that speech laws can be “clearly framed”, as you put it. Is the statement, “I oppose gay marriage,” homophobic hate speech, or legitimate public policy discussion? I can see an argument for either, and the tendency of regulation is to expand.
call me mark
THIS. Exactly this.
There is a new Dutch word: Pimwin, a combination of Pim (Fortuyn, an right-wing politician who was murdered by an animal rights activist) and Godwin. Pimwins are a popular strategy among right-wing commentators to make antifa look bad. Like every antifa action is on a slippery slope to murder.
“Shouting down is not free speech. It is a violation of free speech.”
No it isn’t. Free Speech as defined in the US constitution means that the government can’t arrest you for what you say (With noted exceptions.)
The right to Free Speech gives you the right to say what you want, but it also gives me the right to talk or shout over you. If the free speech in question is white supremacy, you can bet your ass I’m going to tell the speaker how much I disagree with what they’re saying. As loudly and as vehemently as possible.
@ thirdmill, 33:
Oh, that’s right, you would also need to stop letting your politicians appoint judges. Again, you want an independent judiciary.
It’s hypothetically legitimate public policy discussion strongly suggestive of bigotry. It’s definitely not in itself hate speech, and would not fall under any hate speech law currently in existence anywhere.
I believe we’ve talked about this before — you’re doing this thing American free speech absolutists do where they talk about hate speech laws as if they’re some rarefied philosophical abstract, rather than part of the nitty-gritty practical rules for how to run society. Those laws already exist, all over the world. You can go look at them if you’re interested in seeing how they’re framed, and you can look up what their effects have been. There is no need for hypothetical slippery slope arguments. We have data.
Imagine if someone talked about parking regulation the way you talk about speech laws.
“Yes, people parking in the middle of the road and on sidewalks is inconvenient and causes deadly accidents. But if we give THE GOVERNMENT the power to regulate parking, what if they decide to ban all parking? What if they decide to ban people who voted for the wrong party from parking? We’ll be stuck in our cars, driving until we run out of gas, then getting arrested for parking illegally. The only way to be safe from despotism is to allow people to park anywhere they like, any time they like.”
You would presumably point out that while a sufficiently despotic government could theoretically pass such laws, this would in fact never happen in the real world and if it did, those laws would be completely unenforcable. Same with your hypothetical concerns about hate speech laws. If a government has sufficient despotic power and motivation to suppress dissent the way you fear, they don’t need hate speech laws, they’ll just do it.
I beg to differ. Rights are not only to be respected by governments but by all of us. If you think that shouting down is freedom of speech, while in fact it is limiting someone else’s freedom of speech, you have a paradox at least.
What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says
Do you really want a neo-nazi “providing security”?
Question for the freeze peach defenders (who want minorities to live in fear because preventing someone from saying something is worse than the welfare of random innocent families):
Who is being oppressed by German laws against Nazi speech/gatherings/marches/etc?
“I beg to differ. Rights are not only to be respected by governments but by all of us. If you think that shouting down is freedom of speech, while in fact it is limiting someone else’s freedom of speech, you have a paradox at least.”
No, I don’t have a paradox. So long as it isn’t the state or its instruments violating the right to Free Speech, then your legal right to free speech isn’t being supressed.
Just because you have the legal right to do something doesn’t always mean that you have the ability or capacity to. A highway might give you the legal right to travel at 70mph, but if there’s a traffic jam in front of you, you can’t sue the other drivers for violating your right to travel at 70. Likewise, you have the legal right to say whatever you want. I have the legal right to shout you down.
mesh (31): “nicola, any thoughts on the OP?”
Stupid, counterproductive and spectacularly ill-informed.
It’s hardly a coincidence that while hundreds of American colleges and universities adopted hate speech codes in the early 1990s, every single one that was challenged in court was held unconstitutional. The great irony of the OP is that its author could readily be prevented from speaking at a public university by invoking its principles. Happily for him and for us, his monumentally silly “proposal” is obviously unconstitutional.
Driving 70 mph is not a human right. Safety is a human right, and traffic regulations are meant to keep you safe on the highway. Shouting someone down is like insisting you may travel 70 mph even where it is not possible to do so safely.
We’re not discussing human rights in an abstract sense. We’re discussing the rights as set out by the US 1st amendment.
‘Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…’
Shuoting down someone using their FoS isn’t in violation of that because you’re not congress, and your counter-speech is not a law.
voidhawk (43): “Shuoting [sic] down someone using their FoS isn’t in violation of that because you’re not congress, and your counter-speech is not a law.”
The stupid. It burns.
“Shouting down or drowning out speakers is not an exercise is free speech. No ideas are exchanged when the speech from one party or group is simply designed to inhibit the speech of another.” Link.
call me mark says
nicola #44: Your link doesn’t actually back that opinion up with anything. In fact it states the opposite, agreeing with voidhawk:
Ignoring the fact that your article carries no legal weight whatsoever and cites no legal cases…
From your own article:
” The insults are protected by the First Amendment,. But denying Killian or anyone else the right to speak and be heard, and tromping on the rights of others to hear him because you disagree, is just wrong.”
It might be ‘wrong’ but if the insults are protected speech (as admitted) then what grounds would the state have to intervene?
The implications of your interpretation would be absurd. it would follow that someone who stood up during a funeral to deliver a scathing rant about the deceased couldn’t be told to ‘shut up’ by the other mourners. It would, effectively, give total filibuster rights to whoever starts speaking first.
I see that odious (to me, at any rate) arch hypocrite Jerry Coyne has went after you in regard to this post of yours. Quite rude, nasty and objectionable, into the bargain. That bloke becomes more of an arsehole with every entry he makes on his blog.
call me mark (45): “Your link doesn’t actually back that opinion up with anything. In fact it states the opposite, agreeing with voidhawk”
You must have reading comprehension problems. “Heckling” and “shouting down” are quite different things.
voidhawk (46): ” Ignoring the fact that your article carries no legal weight whatsoever and cites no legal cases…”
The many instances where those looking to shout down speech they didn’t like on public property are removed and/or arrested without hindrance at the time or by courts later are not cases?
voidhawk (46): “The implications of your interpretation would be absurd. it would follow that someone who stood up during a funeral to deliver a scathing rant about the deceased couldn’t be told to ‘shut up’ by the other mourners. It would, effectively, give total filibuster rights to whoever starts speaking first.”
In your example, the scheduled giver of the eulogy is entitled to speak and anyone trying to shout down the eulogy could be forcibly removed, even if the funeral were on government property and irrespective of who speaks first. That’s hardly “absurd.”
Your thinking would grant Ken Ham and his minions the absolute right to shout down teachers in public university evolution classes. Please, I beg you, don’t go to law school.
You should reply to Coyne. He includes your name in his heading for the post, and is quite dismissive of and aggressive towards you personally.
chigau (違う) says
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It makes comments with quotes easier to read.
“Your thinking would grant Ken Ham and his minions the absolute right to shout down teachers in public university evolution classes. ”
They have the legal right to say what they like. The teacher or the university is within their rights to ask them to leave. Your interpretation would mean that, so long as the minions started their rants before the teacher started, the teacher couldn’t interrupt them.
If a white supremacist started to make a speech, I’d refuse to give them an uninterrupted platform, but the venue who owned that platform could ask me to leave
Not in this or any other universe.
The law is really pretty simple in this area generally. Suppose Prof. Myers were invited to give a talk about evolution at UMM. Ham and his minions would be free to protest outside the venue, to picket and the try to convince people not to attend. They could not block entry or shout Myers down when he tried to speak, irrespective of who speaks first. Some (very limited) heckling may be protected speech (UMM’s rules about this will matter here), but those insisting upon preventing the audience from hearing Myers may be forcibly removed.
John Harshman says
First they came for the Nazis, and I said nothing because I was not a Nazi. Then they came for the KKK, and I said nothing because I was not a Klansman. Then they came for the right-wing nut jobs, and I said nothing because I was not a right-wing nut job. I forget how that ends.
Zeppelin, No. 36, you’re right that there’s precedent — blasphemy laws, in force in much of the entire world, that make it dangerous to talk, even in the abstract, about the damage that religion does, and even in some cases to even deny the existence of God. Those laws do exist, and people do get prosecuted under them.
But hovering over all of this is that you seem to think that such laws will be interpreted and enforced by reasonable people who share your enlightened social and political views. I have no such confidence. At least in the US, you are far more likely to see such laws used against progressives than used by progressives, and I don’t see a fix that is actually politically likely. Go back and read the story of Emma Goldman, the early 20th century anarchist, whose speeches were routinely shut down by the police. Or the measures taken against Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and other religious minorities. Or the censorship of books and magazines that kept James Joyce from being published in the United States for years because the censors considered his work prurient. Or the vicious police harassment of labor organizers, whose meetings were shut down by the police and the organizers taken to jail. Or how early gay rights organizers had their newsletters banned from the mail. Yes, we do have precedent in the US for restricting speech; we certainly do. And it’s almost all bad.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
That’s the rub of it, the extent of your free speech in any venue, such as UMM, is up to the operators of that venue. If UMM had a policy that people can jeer and heckle speakers to their heart’s content then you are allowed to do so, regardless of the invited speakers’ claims to Free Speech.
John Harshman says
#55. So, didn’t end well, then.
I find it hard to believe that any public entity would craft regulations allowing speakers to be shouted down, particularly because they would would have to be content neutral. Such regulations, if adopted, would allow every “speaker” to be shouted down, from Richard Dawkins to Barrack Obama to Noam Chomsky to the school symphony to graduation speakers. Why would any entity put itself in that situation and why would any speaker accept such a gig if it did?
They almost certainly wouldn’t.
My argument is the Right to Free Speech means only that the government can’t (in general) pass laws to restrict free speech. It does not mean that everyone else is obliged to give everyone unfettered free speech due to the contradictions that would arise as you have pointed out.
Tabby Lavalamp says
I’m looking forward to this Freeze Peach event with Bannon, Coulter, and whatshisface! When they stand up and denounce the attacks against Colin Kaepernick, it’s going to be glorious!
Then they’ll be joined by a choir of PewDiePie fans who will sing an angelic song about how Janele Hill shouldn’t lose her livelihood because of just words, and tears of unbridled joy will be streaming down my face!
So, if free speech allows you to shout me down, than bodily autonomy allows me to take your kidney.
Boy, law is easy.
John Harshman, #53
Yup. Just look at modern German society. It’s a nightmare for white people.
John Harshman says
Just curious: why “white people” in that sentence?
We could discuss why German laws against Nazi references are problematic, or we could discuss why ant-Nazi laws are different from what PZ was talking about. Or we could not.
Ze Madmax says
Saad @ 39:
Besides people like Jan Böhmermann, you mean? The guy who was criminally charged (but thankfully, not convicted) over a satirical poem criticizing Turkey’s Erdogan. And sure, technically denazification laws weren’t involved here, but the general concept of government policing of speech content was. Allowing government control over speech content would certainly not help minorities not live in fear, when it would be the easiest thing in the world to suppress, say, pro-DACA marches under the belief that they promote unlawful acts. Or suppress pro-choice speakers because they support “killing babies.”
More relevant to PZ’s point: college administrators in public schools aren’t known for their extreme progressivism. Particularly those admins whose jobs involve securing donations from alumni. Grant them more power to regulate who gets to say what on campus, and I can bet any amount of money you want that College Republicans won’t be the ones finding themselves without a platform. Student groups like Students Against Sweatshops and pro-immigrant groups would me far more likely targets of suppression.
Why would him being falsely charged and later having charges dropped prove that there is a problem with the law, rather than the law enforcement?
Does, for example, the fact that people of color are falsely brought up on criminal charges prove that anti-theft laws are a dumb idea?
Blasphemy laws are not the same thing as hate speech laws just because both involve legislating the same area of human activity. Their intent is different, and so is the philosophy behind why they exist. To stay with my car analogy, this is like claiming that traffic rules equivalent to a military curfew because both restrict where you can drive your car. You are trying to drag the argument towards your hypothetical slippery slope again.
I think that such laws, if properly written, cannot be abused by unreasonable people to the degree you imagine they will be. And that if those people actually have the power to implement the despotism you envision, they’ll do so regardless of what the law says, because they don’t care about rule of law to begin with. So you might as well have a hate speech law on the books to give reasonable people who do care the legal tools.
Again, can you show me a country where hate speech legislation — not political censorship, not blasphemy laws: hate speech legislation of the type commenters here are advocating — has led to the sort of oppression you envision? One that has even made a credible step in that direction? Has the rest of the world just had an uninterrupted string of reasonable governments for the past several decades? Has Germany had nothing but enlightened leftist governments since 1945? Because we’ve had antifascist hate speech laws for 70+ years now, and I’m not seeing that slope yet.
Kinda reminds me of a person I know, who insists that the government assistance and lack of a death penalty in northern europe would just encourage people into mass murder in order to have a cushy life in jail
And yet like, as of yet, Northern Europe seems to have avoided devolving into an orgy of violence as of yet.
@Ze Madmax, 65:
He was charged under a 150 year-old Prussian libel law against insulting foreign potentates that hadn’t been relevant in decades until one of Erdogan’s lawyers stumbled across it. Pretty much everybody agreed that it was stupid, nothing happened to Böhmermann. and we have now gotten rid of it.
So not only was he not convicted under the law as it stood, even the possibility of him getting convicted convinced people (who had previously been unaware the law even existed, and therefore felt no restriction of their freedom to speak ill of foreign potentates) that it was time to drop said law. Sounds like an all-around success to me.
John Harshman, #64
Sorry. I should have replied to your post without silly sarcasm.
Why are you comparing coming for Nazis with coming for trade unionists?
Moreover, what do you mean by “coming for” Klansmen? Are you sure that’s the same as the “coming for” that happened to Jews?
White supremacist and Nazi speech/assembly/symbolism are threats. When a white supremacist gathers a crowd around them to discuss ethnic cleansing, that is a threat. They’re a real threat to society and to the minorities in the community (whose right to feel safe in THEIR city trumps the ever-loving fuck out of a racist’s right to
If a gang of men who believe in molesting children march through a neighborhood shouting about molesting children, is that free speech? Should the people wait to see if they actually touch a child? Should they be okay with the police standing there with folded arms? Or should they do what is necessary to put an end to the march?
I would largely just sum it up as:
If you’re the kind of person that the Nazis, KKK, and Alt-Right would speak for, I don’t really care if they “come for you”
You may think so as a matter of policy. That’s your right. But unless the words would reasonably be construed as making a threat of immediate violence (discussing ethnic cleansing isn’t nearly enough), you’ll need to amend the Constitution if you want to enforce it as a matter of law in the USA.
Now you’re getting it!
Also, you didn’t even address the real point:
1) Would you say the government should intervene and stop the march?
2) Would you support people taking action to put an end to that march (with violence if necessary)?
If yes, then you’ve got the really challenging task of explaining why your answer(s) are different for the Nazis.
Wait, you guys are defending Nazis, KKK, and proponents of ethnic cleansing.
I keep making the mistake of engaging with your kind.
Just to clarify, I was agreeing with you, I’m on team “shut that shit down by legal means and go beyond those legal means if the law won’t do shit to shut down said Nazis/KKK/etc”
Oh, no need for clarification.
I was talking about nicola and John Harshman (if you use “first they came for…” to defend Nazis, you’ve missed the point in a very comical way).
Laugh all you want, but you’re still clearly and obviously wrong. The case is Brandenburg v. Ohio.
The marchers have to go through the same bureaucratic process to get a permit as anyone else, but the government cannot prohibit it. Google “ACLU Skokie KKK.”
Doing so would violate the law. Those who engage in violence (on all sides) can and should go to jail.
I’m doing nothing of the sort. But I am defending the Constitution.
I keep making the mistake of expecting your kind not to act like fascists.
I’m willing to endure such comparisons, if the end result is cracking nazi skulls rather than kowtowing to them for the sake of free speech.
Sure. You can do the exact stuff they can’t because you’re right and they’re wrong. Brilliant legal reasoning.
And I’m sure you have the political clout to enforce your views and will never lose it so that it can’t be turned against you. Because the Left has never had more power in American political life. So brilliant strategy too.
I don’t recall ever advocating for ethnic cleansing, so like, nice hyperbole. That being said, I never claimed it was legal. As mentioned, I’m very much okay with circumventing the law when it gets in the way of doing the right thing. Legality is a terrible stand-in for morality.
You don’t need political clout to punch nazis, nor do you need it to make a university an unpleasant place to be for conservative speakers.
Gamergate was educational in this regard, they “free speech” as a rallying cry while literally demanding that Quinn, Sarkeesian and reviewers who picked on their tidday gaemz STFU, or else.
Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says
“First they came for the Nazis, and…actually that pretty much solved the problem.”
Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says
Actually, a non-perverse interpretation of the constitution as written would do fine.
chigau (違う) says
The USA is a most peculiar place.
No see WWII was a bad thing, killing nazis makes you just as bad as them. We should have engaged them in rational debate while they murdered millions because something something marketplace of ideas something freeze peach something
call me mark says
Fuck you. Just throw the insults because it’s all you’ve got. Nicola lives in bizarro-world where two things with almost the same meaning are “quite different things”.
The Fascists aren’t just discussing genocide they’re threatening it.
I’m still curious to hear the explanation for why Germany hasn’t devolved into horrific nu-fascism despite having had significant limitations on free speech for decades.
Since the “perverse interpretation” of which you speak is a unanimous opinion of the SCOTUS, it seems that you have a long way to go to build any real support for your viewpoint (which probably explains the advocacy of violence and speech repression — poor Binky wants action now.).
That “bizarro-world” is American law because it makes such distinctions. Heckling — yelling an insult at a speaker. Shouting down — Middlebury (where the students were disciplined, and properly so).
It’s irrelevant. Unless and until the U.S. Constitution is amended, you can complain and compare all you want. It simply doesn’t matter.
call me mark says
If you’re going to quote “American Law” at me:
1) I don’t care, I’m not American.
2) Provide a link that actually cites caselaw rather than a school disciplinary matter where the students concerned had their first amendment rights to protest infringed by the school
“It’s the law, that settles it” is completely ignoring the morality of the situation
John Harshman says
As far as I can tell, nobody here has defended Nazis, KKK, or proponents of ethnic cleansing, so just what do you mean by “your kind”? What some people are doing here is defending the first amendment, which applies as much to Nazis, etc., as much as it does to you. If it didn’t, that would be a problem. Equal treatment under the laws applies to Nazis, etc., as much as it does to you. If it didn’t, that would be a problem.
I don’t know all that much about German law, but I think that in general laws against Nazi symbols and publications are counterproductive. Maybe not very much, but some. And that if those laws were done away with, it wouldn’t hurt anything and might help a bit. If you’re allowed to read Mein Kampf, I think it would be more likely to convince you that Nazis are wackos than that they have good ideas.
Now, if we had laws against Nazis speaking, wouldn’t those laws also prevent Vivek from speaking? He’s made threats, after all.
Because Germany already went through its own fascist period, is thoroughly ashamed of it and uses that shame to self regulate?
America doesn’t have that. Hell, we as a nation are still in denial about slavery and the confederacy. Adding restrictions to speech in a country where a proto fascist is in charge will get abused and we all know whose voices will actually be silenced. And it won’t be the Nazis.
Fine by me, as mentioned, I’m more than fine with protesters circumventing the law to shut down Nazis.
How do you figure? They tangibly don’t have the problem with Nazism and White Nationalism that other nations have, so what is in need of “improving” when they’re already very, very far above average?
Then why are you commenting on a post about free speech in America under American law citing American cases by an American in America?
Cases collected here.
No. It simply recognizes reality.
“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
If you think that Animal Farm line remotely describes the relation between fascists and antifascists, I think you might have missed the point of the book.
Alternatively, you think I’m literally engaged in the same behaviors as nazis, in which case, gonna need the citation on me advocating genocide and ethnic cleansing.
The part you seem to be missing is that the Nazi side is ‘discussing ethnic cleansing’ by going ‘ethnic cleansing is a really, really, really good idea and we should start doing it.’ This means they are advocating killing people, and, quite often, are actually doing this quite specifically, against specific groups – in much the same way as the Nazi Party of Germany did so in the 1920s and 30s. If, as you assert, the Constitution protects such speech, then all that means is that the Constitution badly needs amended.
The anti-fascist groups are saying the aims of fascist and Nazi organisations, including this ethnic cleansing, is wrong, and fight against them – literally, using actual violence, if necessary. About the only criticism I can level at them is that it has sometimes been questionable whether violence has been necessary when they have employed it. And that’s about it. To actually criticise their stated aims is basically saying that, if we had the opportunity to travel back in time to, say, 1920, and act against Hitler and the DAP, which would later become the Nazi Party, it would be wrong to do so, as, at that time, all they were doing is discussing and holding speeches about the ‘Jewish question’.
(For the record, the irony comes from the fact that Orwell was a revolutionary socialist and an anti-fascist that was highly contemptuous of pacifism, and would probably not look too kindly on equating Nazis and the people who fight them)
call me mark says
Vivec you are spot on. I can’t put it any better than your #96
Do you plan on banning the Christian bible? Do you plan on criminalizing speech like “gay marriage and gay sex should be legally banned, and it is an act of evil and sin to have gay sex”? Does Germany prosecute Christian priests for owning Bibles, and preaching from Bibles? I’m guessing not. Why does the biggest source of hatred in Western society – the Abrahamic religions – get a pass on these hate speech laws?
False. The constitution, and the independent judiciary, and the big accumulation of relevant case law, is doing quite well to hold Trump in check. Thankfully.
I guess I’m late to the discussion again, but I do want to poke a few more holes into nicola’s bullshit.
Milo doesn’t just say things at his rallies; he doxxes people and encourages harassment of them. Outing transgender students and accusing them of being sexual predators has consequences beyond simply expressing an opinion. Doxxing undocumented students and encouraging people to call ICE on them does too. When students voiced their opposition to this sort of behavior on Milo’s part in the past, his followers harassed them and sent them death threats.
This is what we’re saying when we talk about the fascists’ calls for “free speech” being used to trample on other people’s rights. These alt-Reich speakers come onto these campuses specifically to shit all over certain groups of students and to advocate policies that are hostile to those groups of students.
As for equating the fascists with antifa or social justice groups in general, fuck off. It’s like what other people on this thread have already said. The fascists want to kill people or otherwise ruin their lives no matter what happens. A good number of Nazis actually have murdered people in the past few months. Antifa just opposes Nazis. If antifa and other opposition to Nazis just disappeared, the Nazis would keep trying to commit ethnic cleansing. If the Nazis disappeared, antifa would just say “job’s done” and go back to living their lives.
With all that in mind, it’s breathtakingly idiotic to think that the university would also have grounds to ban left wing social justice rallies using the standards PZ advocates. Fascist rallies intrinsically dehumanize people and advocate discrimination. Social justice rallies exist to show solidarity with marginalized groups and encourage compassion for them. Even if I were to buy into the idea that anti-fascist violence is just as severe, or even more severe than fascist violence (it isn’t), that doesn’t change the fact that fascist goals are intrinsically violent and hateful while social justice goals aren’t.
Also, even if anyone can legally say anything they want, that doesn’t mean they’re entitled to a platform. It wouldn’t be a free speech issue if Berkeley simply refused to let Milo hold his rally on their campus. They’re fully within their rights to show some discretion in who they hand a megaphone to. I’d argue that they have a moral imperative to deny a platform to assholes who’re speaking on campus to encourage discrimination against a good number of students and faculty members.