KKK < Nazis?


A small-town newspaper in Linden, Alabama, the Democrat-Reporter, published a little editorial calling for the return of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s badly written and rather incoherent.

It’s also grossly ahistorical. The author seems to think the Klan was made up of ex-slaves galloping about in costumes, killing rich people.

Slaves, just freed after the Civil War, were not stupid. At times, they borrowed their former masters’ robes and horses and rode through the night to frighten some evil doer. Sometimes they had to kill one or two of them, but so what.

The author, Goodloe Sutton, is notorious for writing inflammatory garbage. He’s a good ol’ boy who is leaning heavily into the stereotype.

Other editorials have disparaged women with crude comments about their weight: Michelle Obama was labeled “a chubby chick” by the Democrat-Reporter, while Hillary Clinton was a “little fat oinker.” In January 2017, an editorial predicting that Clinton would be sent to prison stated, “Fat women are more stupid than trim women. Hillary wasn’t trim.”

This is Goodloe Sutton.

He seems to have written a lot of nonsense for publication in his paper (written poorly if the above sample is representative).

When Sutton’s comments on the Klan began getting attention on Monday, longtime readers pointed out that it wasn’t the first time that the paper’s editorial page had endorsed extreme or openly racist views. In May 2015, an editorial stated that the mayor of a city “up north” had “displayed her African heritage by not enforcing civilized law.” Another, published in June of that year, called for drug dealers, kidnappers, rapists, thieves, and murderers to be hung “on the courthouse lawn where the public can watch.”

“Dope heads know how to grow marijuana but not cotton,” one August 2014 editorial read. “They don’t pay sales taxes on what they grow so this doesn’t register with the economists who compile the statistics about jobs and employment. This market is dominated by blacks.” That same month, President Barack Obama was described by the paper as a “Kenyan orphan president” who was elected because Americans thought “it would be cool to have a colored man” in the White House. Later, amid the national controversy over football players kneeling during the national anthem, the Democrat-Reporter declared, “That’s what black folks were taught to do two hundred years ago, kneel before a white man.”

But now something has changed. Major newspapers are writing about this backwards hick in Alabama, and people are calling for his resignation. Uh, he owns the newspaper, he gets to write what he wants, and his only limitation is keeping his subscriber base. This is pure “Free Speech!” + “CAPITALISM!”

You don’t oppose limitless free speech and unfettered capitalism, do you? That would be unamerican.

OK, I’ll assume you’re an intelligent person who recognizes that otherwise good principles can be carried to an extreme — that maybe there should be some limits, that, for instance, a newspaper publisher calling for vigilante justice, declaring that a little murder is no problem, and inciting a notorious hate group to lynch and kill and burn is a bit over the line. There is a line, right? We may disagree on precisely where to draw it, but reasonable people will agree that there ought to be some constraint on what you can publish. If nothing else, I’ve noticed that the Libertarian alt-right love to sue people for libel, so there’s that restriction.

Another thing I’m noticing is that the shock-horror expressed so strongly is a clear indication that most people consider promoting the Ku Klux Klan is clearly crossing that unstated, fuzzy line (it could also be that people enjoy mocking Southern redneck attitudes, making it easier to move the line to their detriment). In general, though, we can say that civilized people agree that the KKK is an evil, hateful organization and that endorsing it is bad.

I agree that the disgust with the editorial is entirely appropriate. But then I’m curious: why don’t we see an equivalent degree of revulsion from the media at people who celebrate Nazis or eugenics or the Confederacy? Do Nazis have better PR? Nazis and the Confederacy (the KKK is only part of the ongoing damage dealt by the Civil War) killed far more people than the Klan. Why doesn’t the media, or the American people, express the same outrage at groups throwing Nazi salutes and wearing swastika arm bands, or congress people with rebel flags in their office, that we do to some podunk dipshit racist in Alabama?

Humans are really bad at assessing risk.

Comments

  1. says

    But then I’m curious: why don’t we see an equivalent degree of revulsion from the media at people who celebrate Nazis or eugenics or the Confederacy?

    This is a good question.

    I think the Nazi one is significantly a function of the Nazis doing their worst crimes somewhere else while the KKK did significantly smaller crimes here in the US. Since the KKK once was murdering here, we fear they might murder here again & take that threat seriously.

    But there’s also something else: Nazism, slavery and the confederacy are imagined to be whole-society enterprises. There’s no appreciation of the fact that 80% of people go on with their work as normal, only 4-12% own slaves and the others involved in the slave trade have a great power of self-deception and compartmentalization, e.g. “I don’t support the slave trade, but if I don’t do this job someone else will and I need the money.” People can vote to secede from the North the way that the UK voted to secede from the EU, not knowing really what the consequences were and not really caring either, but then suddenly ending up in a country that’s fucked itself to hell and gone. Yet even while watching the simultaneous spectacles of the Brexit implosion and the Trump implosion, we do not accept this truth.

    We end up with people thinking like this:

    Small groups of like-minded terrorists banding together to do murder? Sure. That can happen because it can happen even when the folks in the surrounding community are entirely good. Industrial-scale slavery? That could only happen if everyone in the country were evil, evil, evil, and there’s at least one good person left – me! So why worry about the return of slavery and the confederacy?

    The rationales are similar for failing to worry about Nazism and some other high-profile evils. Yet, weirdly, they seem perfectly capable of believing that communism can somehow take over a country and its adherents begin to murder indiscriminately without universal support. Why can’t they apply the same thought process to these others?

    I’m not sure of the answer to that next question, but just what we have so far confirms your initial observation: Humans are really bad at assessing risk.

  2. Akira MacKenzie says

    If nothing else, I’ve noticed that the Libertarian alt-right love to sue people for libel, so there’s that restriction.

    That’s a switch. During my post-college flirtation with libertarianism I had read that they were opposed to libel/defamation laws on “FREEZE PEACH” grounds. “No one owns their reputation!” was the line, and it was up to the Free Market of Ideas (blessed be it’s holy name) to determine the validity of an accusation or claim.

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

    Let’em ride to round them up in a corral, in distant Siberia where they can spend the endless winter, with crumbs and Flint Water.

  4. DonDueed says

    If the Klan was made up of ex-slaves galloping about in costumes killing rich people, maybe we wouldn’t have so many people like Goodloe Sutton around these days.

  5. anxionnat says

    Interesting. This paper reminds me of the local rag (the Richmond, CA Independent) during the 1960s. It’s now thankfully extinct.The paper routinely used racial slurs, published first page (above the fold) attacks on my high school, and was delivered free to white areas of town. My high school teachers brought copies of the paper to class and used the copies to teach about propaganda (in English class) and history of racism (in History class.) One of the paper’s favorite headlines was “RIOT AT JFK HIGH!”–yes, that’s exactly what it said. The paper’s owner had it in for my high school because it was the first integrated high school in the district. I happened to be present at two of the “riots”. One was two girls screaming and pulling each other’s hair–over a boy. Teachers broke this up after about 30 seconds–yet the headline appeared the next day. The other was the school’s quiet, dignified memorial to Dr King, when he was assassinated in 1968. The paper’s front page consisted of the headline and how that memorial in the quad was a “riot.” Dr King’s assassination was buried on page 17, or thereabouts. The article was titled, “N*****r Communist killed.” Richmond, Calif is now considered a beacon of hope and progressivism in the SF Bay Area. Residents got rid of this rag, in the process of taking back their city.

  6. whheydt says

    Question for him about the tax issue…. How much money does Alabama pay in Federal taxes? How much Federal money is spent in/on Alabama? Why should the the tax payers in the rest of the county subsidize Alabama instead of Alabama paying its own way?

  7. says

    socialist-communist idealogy sounds good to the ignorant, the uneducated…

    Well, dude, how do I break it to you? Welcome to the party then…

    When Sutton’s comments on the Klan began getting attention on Monday, longtime readers pointed out that it wasn’t the first time that the paper’s editorial page had endorsed extreme or openly racist views.

    So why aren’t they former longtime readers?

  8. nomdeplume says

    I have never understood why Americans think turning on a tap of racist, fascist, mysoginist, homophobic sewerage in the name of “free speech” is a good thing.

  9. unclefrogy says

    Industrial-scale slavery?
    well yes it does exist, industrialists have learned a lot about how to make money in the least expensive way. In the industrial countries they have learned to disguise what they do by exporting some the slavery to contract suppliers in country that as a rule have little public participation in government who often use what is in essence so close to slavery as to make no difference the biggest difference being they do not have any responsibility of ownership,
    That responsibility has been jettisoned along with any concern for the welfare of any employees their only concern now is how little they can pay thereby reducing their costs owning slaves is just too expensive, much easier and cheaper to just discard used up workers and get more, in a way it is closer to thinking of “workers” like just another expendable commodity like coal to be burned to produce the money that is the goal. That organizations and ideologies like like the KKK, fascism and racism are tolerated because they keep the workers fighting amongst them selves for what crumbs they are allowed. I would also add ideologies like libertarianism to the same list because it is a big benefit to keep people arguing over stupid ideas. the whole system depends on order enforced by someone if you can shift the expense of enforcing to the general populations and off of themselves so much the better.
    thanks for the tolerance I’ll put the red flag away now
    uncle frogy

  10. monad says

    A guess: the Nazis and Confederacy were governments, the KKK were a popular terrorist movement. So people who like white supremacy but prefer it be done through proper state channels means will be more inclined to excuse the former than the latter. You hear enough calls to keep politics civil, and that means uniformed officers rather than hooded mobs, never mind whether they are doing the same things.

  11. bryanfeir says

    @Akira MacKenzie:
    It’s not really a switch necessarily. After all, “You need to shut up!” and “You can’t tell me to shut up!” are perfectly consistent with each other. They’re just not consistent with an actual dedication to ‘free speech’ as a principle.

  12. says

    “But then I’m curious: why don’t we see an equivalent degree of revulsion from the media at people who celebrate Nazis or eugenics or the Confederacy?”

    Why? Because on some level, society still hates disabled people and black people.

  13. numerobis says

    Giliell: So why aren’t they former longtime readers?

    Presumably to get news about what’s going on at town hall.

  14. says

    @#9, nomdeplume

    I have never understood why Americans think turning on a tap of racist, fascist, mysoginist, homophobic sewerage in the name of “free speech” is a good thing.

    Well, racists, fascists, misogynists, and homophobes think it’s a good thing inherently. Most of the rest of us are smart enough to second-guess ourselves and say “just because I do not agree with a position does not mean that that position should be illegal to hold” but not smart enough to third-guess it and say “a position which advocates legal penalties, physical harm, and often death to groups of people who cannot voluntarily leave that group is a position which is necessarily against the intention of the explicit principles of our government (see the Declaration of Independence, ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ etc.) and therefore these positions are against the law as constituted.”

    (It’s related to, and built upon, the difference between Antifa and Nazis. If you are a target of Antifa, you can ensure that Antifa will leave you alone; just stop being a fascist! They may not suddenly like you, but they won’t bother you any more. Nazis, on the other hand, hate various ethnic groups — among others — and the members of those groups have no way out; ultimately either the Nazis lose, or the ethnic groups die.)

  15. nomdeplume says

    @15 Vicar Yep, there should be more third-guessing. But your second guess seems to me a problem. Not “agreeing with a position” say on medicare, or the best approach to climate change, or how infrastructure should be funded, or which movie should win an Oscar, or the best way to express patriotism, or, indeed, who should be President, to choose some random examples, are exactly the kind of thing, I guess, that freedom of speech was intended to protect. But it was not intended to protect, nor indeed could it have been thought of as protecting in the future, the kind of vile nastiness that spews from the mouths and pens of the modern equivalent of the Nazis. The idea that vile things should be expressed openly in order to let them be countered didn’t work very well in Nazi Germany in the 1930s or in any other totalitarian states since. Indeed the ability to express vile things openly, unchallenged, is one of the techniques for building totalitarian states.

  16. John Morales says

    The Vicar, you’ve just asserted that “racists, fascists, misogynists, and homophobes think it’s a good thing”, rather than offered an answer to nomdeplume’s bewilderment as to why they think thus. Clearly, you are either doltish or imagine it was a sufficient pretext on which to expound.

    (But hey, no Hillary condemnation here, so you’re progressing!)

    Where you fail in your analysis is imagining that those who think it’s a good thing inherently perforce aren’t similarly seeking “‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ etc.”

    Also, “the difference between Antifa and Nazis”? Heh.

    (So very comparable, otherwise!)

  17. John Morales says

    nomdeplume:

    The idea that vile things should be expressed openly in order to let them be countered didn’t work very well in Nazi Germany in the 1930s or in any other totalitarian states since. Indeed the ability to express vile things openly, unchallenged, is one of the techniques for building totalitarian states.

    Um, there’s this thing called the ‘Internet’ around, which wasn’t around in Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

    More to the point, either you have free speech or you don’t. You’re waffling, but if I get you, you too think true free speech is too pernicious, and that society should censor where appropriate.

    (It’s a matter of where the line goes, not whether it exists)

    But it was not intended to protect, nor indeed could it have been thought of as protecting in the future, the kind of vile nastiness that spews from the mouths and pens of the modern equivalent of the Nazis.

    You call it nastiness, they call it wholesome.

    (But you did well in this: you refer to “the modern equivalent of the Nazis”)

    Indeed the ability to express vile things openly, unchallenged, is one of the techniques for building totalitarian states.

    I am amused you felt the need to qualify with “unchallenged”; are you then happy to settle for the ability to express vile things openly but challenged?

    (If so, here you are!)

  18. nomdeplume says

    @18 Do you seriously think the internet would have helped in 1930s Germany?

    Does “calling it wholesome” affect the reality of what it is?

    By unchallenged I meant that it is legal to say what you like. The idea that verbal challenges undo or prevent the damage this stuff causes is naive.

    (So, there you are!)

  19. says

    @#16, nomdeplume:

    That was kind of my point. It isn’t enough to say “I must tolerate things I disagree with (and protect the people saying them)” because “things I disagree with” is way too big of a category in 99.99% of cases. It pays to be more selective.

    @#17, John Morales:

    I know from your exchanges with other people that you like to lay claim to an obtuseness which makes you indistinguishable from a troll, but obviously a racist will think that “opening a tap of racist sewerage in the name of ‘free speech’” is a good thing, and so forth with the other categories named. IIRC, the evidence shows that discourse alters our opinions even when we disagree with it — being exposed to racism (to continue with that category) not only normalizes racism within society by taking the perspective seriously (which is a thing racists like) but also subtly alters the discussion of racism by forcing everybody else to use their terms and answer their arguments. The whole idea of the Overton Window is built out of this stuff. If racists don’t get a platform, nobody hears the racism; but in order to disprove, say, The Bell Curve the audience first has to know what’s in the book, which means they’ve been exposed to the ideas, and furthermore exposed to them before the contradiction, which psychologists say means the ideas have a stronger internal grounding than the contradiction does.

    It is for this reason, among others, that — these days, at least — I always try to support the most radical left-wing speech possible. Compromise with the right wing is something to do after you’ve pushed as far as possible without them, not something to hobble yourself with beforehand.

    Oh, and re:Hillary Clinton: go sit on a spike, you disingenuous JAQ-off.

  20. John Morales says

    The Vicar:

    @#17, John Morales:
    I know from your exchanges with other people that you like to lay claim to an obtuseness which makes you indistinguishable from a troll, but obviously a racist will think that “opening a tap of racist sewerage in the name of ‘free speech’” is a good thing, and so forth with the other categories named.

    So, you as much as accuse me of disingenuity, but you think racist people are at least honest in their cluelessness.

    (Worse than them, I? Heh)

    IIRC, the evidence shows that discourse alters our opinions even when we disagree with it — being exposed to racism (to continue with that category) not only normalizes racism within society by taking the perspective seriously (which is a thing racists like) but also subtly alters the discussion of racism by forcing everybody else to use their terms and answer their arguments. The whole idea of the Overton Window is built out of this stuff. If racists don’t get a platform, nobody hears the racism; but in order to disprove, say, The Bell Curve the audience first has to know what’s in the book, which means they’ve been exposed to the ideas, and furthermore exposed to them before the contradiction, which psychologists say means the ideas have a stronger internal grounding than the contradiction does.

    Wow, but you’re turgid!

    (Abyss, gazing)

    It is for this reason, among others, that — these days, at least — I always try to support the most radical left-wing speech possible.

    Well, you are feeble at it. I’ve heard heaps more radical left-wing speech than that which you espouse.

    Compromise with the right wing is something to do after you’ve pushed as far as possible without them, not something to hobble yourself with beforehand.

    Consider that maybe not everyone is an ideologue such as you; policies are what matter, not magical intent. A more pragmatic person than you might argue with right-wingers in right-winger terms.

    Oh, and re:Hillary Clinton: go sit on a spike, you disingenuous JAQ-off.

    I’m Just Asking Questions, am I?

    (Heh)

    Your plea is taken into due consideration.

  21. John Morales says

    nomdeplume:

    @18 Do you seriously think the internet would have helped in 1930s Germany?

    I have no idea, but that is not of relevance. Point being, circumstances are different.

    (You do realise when you talk about this ‘free speech’ thingy, that’s basically a USAnian perspective, right?)

    Does “calling it wholesome” affect the reality of what it is?

    No more than calling it “vile”.

    (Relax, I personally call it “wrong”)

    By unchallenged I meant that it is legal to say what you like. The idea that verbal challenges undo or prevent the damage this stuff causes is naive.

    Well, yes. Thus I wrote that you’d intimated that you too draw a line.

    So, here we are. True free speech is for suckers.

  22. paulparnell says

    It continues to astound me how liberals allow conservatives to troll them into abandoning basic principles.

    Free speech is a negative liberty. It is not a right granted by the government. It is a right created by a limitation of government. Remove that limit on government at your peril.

    Research the alien and sedition acts to see how ugly it gets when politicians get that kind of power.

  23. Akira MacKenzie says

    I have never understood why Americans think turning on a tap of racist, fascist, mysoginist, [sic] homophobic sewerage in the name of “free speech” is a good thing.

    Because far too many labor under the delusion that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” and exposing these beliefs to the public will result in them being rejected by the fair, decent, and intelligent American people.

    Of course, since the American people are greedy, cruel, and too stupid to wipe their own asses. they are more likely to embrace the comforting narratives of these odious ideologies than reject them.

    Like “democracy” and “self-government,” the “Marketplace of Ideas” was always a self-defeating sham.

  24. thirdmill301 says

    “I have never understood why Americans think turning on a tap of racist, fascist, mysoginist, homophobic sewerage in the name of “free speech” is a good thing.”

    I don’t think any of that is a good thing. I think it’s a terrible thing. I just think the alternative — the government getting to decide which ideas can be expressed — is an even worse thing.

    People who advocate for abolishing free speech assume that speech decisions will be made by enlightened liberals, and it ain’t necessarily so. Imagine what the Southern racists who enforced Jim Crow could have done with laws allowing speech to be criminalized. Imagine how much fun Donald Trump would have prosecuting people for saying nasty things about him. Imagine how many states in which evangelical Christians hold political power would just love to shut down advocacy for anything they find offensive. Just look at what happens with blasphemy laws in countries that have them.

    Enlightened liberals have historically held political power far less frequently than have fascists and tyrants. Advocating the suppression of free speech is the equivalent of turkeys demanding that every day be Thanksgiving.

  25. monad says

    Wait, do people still imagine that ensuring free speech to Nazis has anything to do with ensuring free speech for progressive causes? You would have thought the fate of the American communists would make it clear – tyrants have always been happy to pick and choose. If you let them take power, whatever options you suffered to keep from their hands will just be recreated anyway.

    Meanwhile countries like modern Germany have chosen not to let the Nazis have so much air time, and so far seem rather less tyrannical for the decision.

  26. paulparnell says

    Yes of course free speech is a bad thing. Most people would do the world a favor if they would just shut up.

    The only thing worse is giving government the power to make you shut up. Try this:

    People need to remember that we just elected Donald Trump. If our freedoms are dependent on always electing good rational people then we are all screwed.

  27. thirdmill301 says

    Monad, yes, people are inconsistent, hypocritical and tribal when it comes to applying principles. Encouraging them to be consistent is a far better cure for that than simply encouraging them to be inconsistent, tribal and hypocritical. And the fate of the American communists happened at a time when the courts simply didn’t respect free speech as they do today; I very much doubt you would get that result from the current Supreme Court.

    Never give the government power, while your side holds political control, that you wouldn’t want it to have when your side is in the political minority.

  28. monad says

    @30: But we have to do that all the time. For instance we let governments pass laws making things like murder and theft illegal, knowing full well that means they could also pass laws making things like homosexuality or remixing music illegal. But most people have decided to approach those laws as separate issues – what is good to make legal and make illegal – rather than rejecting the very notion of a government passing laws.

    Instead of supposing speech as a uniform thing, many countries approach it the same way. They treat whether you should be able to ask people to kill minorities as one issue, and whether you should be able to tell someone of the same sex you love them as a different issue, just like how different laws are considered different issues in the USA. Are they doing any worse than America in avoiding tyranny these days? It doesn’t look like it to me.

  29. jrkrideau says

    What is the status of that Bill in the Congress forbidding criticism of Israel?

    Oh, BTW the SS uniforms were much snazzier than pillow cases and bed sheets. They did not show stains like a white sheet. So why not endorse the biggest F#@-ups of the 20th C.

    -ups

  30. says

    @jrkrideau:

    What bill are you talking about? There are, weirdly, I admit, many state laws that require contractors to agree to to participate in the BDS movement, which becomes not merely bad but outrageous when the contractors are individual persons. Enforced against corporations this requires the entity not to use corporate profits to purchase corporate equipment or raw materials in a manner that does not give Israeli corporations a fair shake at the contract – which I think is bad and wrong. Enforced against individuals it’s downright tyrannical.

    I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to see something like that proposed in the US congress, but it still wouldn’t make it a general prohibition of criticizing Israel. It would force the federal government to include an anti-BDS clause in the contracts it signs with suppliers of goods & services.

    Again, I’m completely opposed to those contract clauses – whether in contracts with business or with individual human beings – but it is different from a general ban on criticism of Israel. If you could pin down what you’re talking about more precisely, that would be helpful. I’d want to know if they’re proposing something even worse than what has already been enacted at the state level.

  31. thirdmill says

    Monad, I did not say that the government should be precluded from passing laws. What I would say is that regulating speech is an inherently dangerous proposition because you then need to decide some objective basis for determining which speech is permissible and which is not. And that objective basis does not exist. It will always come down to the subjective opinion of whoever is making the law, so the safe thing to do is to take laws regulating speech off the table altogether.

    You believe, and I agree with you, that it’s bad to advocate genocide and good to encourage people who love each other to be open about it. But in most places at most times you would find that the majority believed just the opposite, which means that for most people at most times and places, it’s the bad guys who would be writing the speech laws and not the good guys.

    And no, Europe has not slipped into fascism just yet. Given its historical track record — the current progressive governance there being a huge historical anomaly — I would not count on that being the case forever.

  32. says

    @thirdmill:

    Monad, I did not say that the government should be precluded from passing laws. What I would say is that regulating speech is an inherently dangerous proposition because you then need to decide some objective basis for determining which speech is permissible and which is not. And that objective basis does not exist. It will always come down to the subjective opinion of whoever is making the law, so the safe thing to do is to take laws regulating speech off the table altogether.

    I think you misunderstand Monad’s point. Monad’s point is that criminal laws are a useful analog to laws prohibiting speech (whether criminal or otherwise).

    Once you decide that the government has the power to criminalize behavior, you run the risk of the government outlawing benign behavior and assigning horrible penalties to that new crime. And yet, we haven’t used this slippery slope argument to end governments’ power to criminalize behavior.

    Similarly, Monad argues, once you give the government power to outlaw certain speech, you run the risk of the government outlawing benign speech and assigning unconscionable penalties for violations. But why should this potential slippery slope stop us from permitting the government leeway to ban certain types of speech when the same argument did not stop us from permitting the government leeway to criminalize certain types of behavior?

    Moreover, this argument is entirely naive: the government already bans or punishes certain types of speech. If I ask you to kill Donald Trump, and then you kill Donald Trump, I can be prosecuted for mere speech under conspiracy statutes. There are quite a number of other ways in which speech is regulated in the US, and though these restrictions primarily fall in certain categories – time/place/manner restrictions, commercial speech restrictions, conspiracy restrictions – not all of them do. Moreover, the mere fact that we’ve been able to create stable categories like “conspiracy restrictions” suggest that we should be able to create other stable categories such as “advocacy of genocide or hateful violence” if we had the political will to do so.

    In short, the acceptability of the criminalization of behavior combined with the presence of stable categories of restrictions on expression suggest that we have the necessary cultural and legal structures to ban, say, advocacy of genocide, without falling into tyranny. This is not to say that tyranny won’t come. Rather it is to say that it’s possible to add to our existing restrictions on free expression without those new extensions having any causal relationship to future tyranny.

    Your concerns are a reason to think carefully about adding to the USA’s restrictions on expression, but not a reason to avoid such additions altogether…

    …at least according to Monad, if I understand Monad correctly, and according to me, if I understand Me correctly.

  33. DLC says

    No Nazis here in America ? Allow me to introduce you to the Deutsche-Amerika bund. They were the Nazis. yes, those Nazis. The National Socialists Workers Party. (it was neither socialist nor a worker’s party) The Bund in the USA were in fact Nazis, well before George Lincoln Rockwell re-started the American Nazi Party in 1959. But the Klan, at their zenith, were not a small group of whackos, but a nation-wide organization who actually were the power structure in some states, and not unofficially either. The Klan put forth candidates for office. The endorsement of The Klan was much sought-after by political candidates. They held parades in Washington DC. This was not just some small bunch of white southern crackers. So, invoking the Klan has a much bigger impact, because they used to be a pervasive menace across the country.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ku_Klux_Klan

  34. monad says

    @35 Crip Dyke: Yeah, you got my point exactly, and said it better than me.

    @34 thirdmill: Ok, despite saying the treatment of communism was different times, you’re now dismissing the last half century of Europe as anomalous? Fine, but then you should also consider America’s record – an extermination of indigenous people that helped inspire the Nazis, slavery until the 1860s, segregation until the 1960s, and today the world’s largest prison population and now thousands of children in tent camps, both on very definite racial lines. Progressive governance looks pretty anomalous there too.

    All I can do is look at those anomalies and see what sets them apart. Tyranny is a struggle to hold off long term. It’s not at all plain to me that the US approach is the one working the best for that.

  35. paulparnell says

    @35 Crip Dyke:

    ” If I ask you to kill Donald Trump, and then you kill Donald Trump, I can be prosecuted for mere speech under conspiracy statutes. ”

    Um, no. Not on your words alone. Conspiracy requires several elements. First, there must be a valid agreement. Your words may be evidence of this but not always. If I ask you to kill Trump and you agree, I’m probably in the clear because I don’t know you, have no reason to believe that you would do such a thing or was in a position to do such a thing. Trolling people on the internet is not a crime. The crime would be entering into an agreement to kill trump. Sure you need to use words to do this but that does not make it a free speech issue.

    Contrast this with the man who taught his dog to do the nazi salute. He was found guilty despite clearly not being a nazi and was clearly just trolling his girlfriend. The act itself is the crime irrespective of any intent or motive.

    I really really can’t get over the fact that some people think we should lock up this crazy old man. I think most of us have uncles as crazy as this. Trying to lock him up would just make him a martyr and give him a bigger audience.

    You need to put down the authoritarian tactics. They will backfire on you. They are the dark side of the force. They are… seductive.

  36. thirdmill301 says

    Monad, No. 37, progressive governance anywhere on the planet is an historical anomaly. Going back the entire history of human civilization I would be surprised if more than about 2 or 3% of the world’s population got to enjoy progressive governance. That’s true of Europe and it’s true of the US and it’s true of just about everywhere else.

    And my reluctance to allow the government to regulate speech is founded largely on that recognition. Humans just don’t do progressive government well at all. So there are some things I simply don’t trust government with. The ability to regulate speech is one of them.

  37. says

    @PaulParnell:

    I’m familiar with conspiracy, at least in as much as I’ve been taught it in law school – I’ve never prosecuted or defended a conspiracy case. (I don’t do criminal law at all, actually.)

    However, when you say

    The crime would be entering into an agreement to kill trump. Sure you need to use words to do this but that does not make it a free speech issue.

    My point is that the agreement on the part of one person in the hypothetical accomplished the criminal act and committed all the elements of the crime solely through the use of language. The hypothetical person doesn’t “do” anything criminal except speak.

    And while you can say that it’s not a free speech issue, and neither the 1st amendment of the US constitution nor s7 of the CCRF provide protections against criminal prosecution for conspiracy, it is only not a free speech issue because we as a society have decided it is not a free speech issue.

    If we decided (and enacted appropriate law as necessary) that some other act accomplished by linguistic communication was in fact not free speech and was instead criminal behavior, then it would be so. We already do this for certain types of fraud (securities fraud, for instance, can be accomplished without forging any particular instrument -at least in Canada), but conspiracy is the easiest example for non-lawyers to understand that a communicative act might be someone’s only participation in a felony. Certainly in the hypothetical if there is no communication between the first person and the killer, then there is no conspiracy. If the communication to establish the agreement is entirely verbal and linguistic (say, communication via old-school telephone with no additional communication like texts), then the underlying conduct that provides the basis for the prosecution is mere linguistic expression.

    And yet, as you say, it’s not considered an issue of free expression.

    If we can do this with conspiracy laws, then we can also do this with other laws. If conspiracy laws do not so threaten tyranny as to render them per se unacceptable, then there’s no reason to believe that other criminal laws that constrain speech acts would inevitably be per se unacceptable.

    This is the point.

    The people who believe that once we start imposing penalties for speech we inevitably live under tyranny have simply not come to grips with the fact that criminalization of speech already exists. We can say all we wish that we’re not criminalizing the speech we’re criminalizing the agreement (or the attempted fraud where money is not actually received, or whatever), but if without the speech there could be no agreement, and if nothing other than the speech is required – in other words, if speech is both necessary and sufficient – then in criminalizing the agreement the necessary & sufficient speech is de facto criminalized, no matter what we might formally agree in a court of law removes these facts from the realm of 1st amendment (or CCRF) protections.

    Remember that all this is in response to Thirdmill, who said:

    What I would say is that regulating speech is an inherently dangerous proposition because you then need to decide some objective basis for determining which speech is permissible and which is not. And that objective basis does not exist. It will always come down to the subjective opinion of whoever is making the law, so the safe thing to do is to take laws regulating speech off the table altogether.

    This argument, in light of conspiracy statutes, in light of defamation law, in light of commercial speech regulation, must fail. We cannot, will not, and should not take laws regulating speech off the table altogether.

  38. thirdmill301 says

    Crip Dyke, conspiracy requires speech plus an overt act, so it’s not a regulation of speech. If a bunch of people get together to talk about kidnapping children and making a snuff video, there is no conspiracy until one of them actually does something about it — purchases supplies, researches how to do it on the internet, scopes out a park where children gather, something. But until there’s an overt act, there’s no conspiracy; they can talk about it as much as they want.

    As far as defamation is concerned, I would be willing to carve out an exception for factual falsehood. If someone says “Obama was a terrible president,” that’s opinion and it’s protected. If someone says “Obama was born in Kenya” that’s a specific factual claim that can be verified. But that’s not going to help much in this discussion because the overwhelming majority of hate speech is opinion rather than specific, concrete facts that can be proven or disproven.

    Commercial speech is a fairly broad topic that I’m not going to cover in a single paragraph here, but the regulation of commercial speech has sometimes been shut down by the courts on First Amendment grounds. However, those are seen as economic regulation rather than speech regulation. If I’m a grocer, I cannot tell you that I’m selling you a gallon of milk if in fact it’s three quarts of flavored water, even though that is speech, but the primary focus is on regulating markets, and the speech aspect is the tail wagging the dog.

  39. says

    @thirdmill301:

    As far as defamation is concerned, I would be willing to carve out an exception for factual falsehood. …
    If I’m a grocer, I cannot tell you that I’m selling you a gallon of milk if in fact it’s three quarts of flavored water, even though that is speech,

    Ok, so when you said:

    What I would say is that regulating speech is an inherently dangerous proposition … so the safe thing to do is to take laws regulating speech off the table altogether.

    you were lying? or were you just mouthing off about a stupid position without thinking it through?

  40. thirdmill301 says

    Crip Dyke, neither one. Saying “X is the safe thing to do” and saying “X should be the law at all times and all places and under all circumstances” are not exactly the same thing.

    PZ, not to be disrespectful, but accusing someone of “splaining” is nothing more than an ad hominem, and I have far more respect for you than to think you really believe that responds to the substance of the argument.

  41. thirdmill301 says

    And by the way, no one here has responded to my central concern that it’s mostly the bad guys who write the laws, so if there are to be speech codes, it’s far more likely to be the bad guys writing them.

  42. says

    @thirdmill:

    So do we become “safer” if defamation law does not exist?

    Do we become “safer” if it is made impossible to prosecute someone for conspiracy if their only contribution to the conspiracy is talking to people on the phone? Do we become “safer” if we can be sold something that the grocer tells us is milk when in fact it’s Carolene Products bullshit sweetened with propylene glycol?

    In order for your statement to be true, you have to show me that grocers selling propylene glycol sweetened products as “milk” make’s me safer. Can you do that? Are you even going to try to do that?

    Moreover, your original argument was that we can’t have laws against “hate speech” or whatever, because bans on speech are just too dangerous and will lead to tyranny. Are you going to support THAT contention? Do you have a single example of laws like Canada’s law against advocacy of genocide actually causing tyranny? How did you establish the causal relationship?

    In short: you’re asserting a causal relationship you haven’t proved and using a slippery slope argument to argue against some regulations against expression which you aren’t willing to apply to other regulations against expression.

    Why are you doing this? Do you have any honest evidence for your proposition that societies become less safe when advocacy of genocide is banned?

    To other people your naive avoidance of the fact that speech is already regulated undercuts your argument that we can’t have hate speech laws b/c 2DANGEROUS. If you took your own position seriously then you would have attempted to distinguish hate speech laws from other regulations on expression from the beginning. But you didn’t. You argued as if regulation of expression does not exist and only, reluctantly, admitted these other regulations have been here all along – or at least predate your argument here by, oh, hundreds of years.

    Yet even now you make no effort to demonstrate that society accepting e.g. defamation law is less risky than society accepting laws banning the advocacy of genocide.

    Do you have any argument at all other than the slippery slope argument that is falsified by your tolerance of criminalization of conduct when benign conduct exists that might be impinged, or the criminalization/regulation of speech through laws other than what we now call “hate speech” laws?

    If you have any argument at all, it might be useful to actually present it.

  43. monad says

    @45: I did, actually. I pointed out that the same is true for literally all laws, and so it’s specious to apply that argument to laws about speech when you don’t to laws about action. Those are much worse, you know, to have written by bad guys – a law against speech for equality is not nearly as bad as a law against equality. As appears more likely to happen when speech against equality is popularly accepted.

    But then Crip Dyke did, too, with more detail and many more examples of the inconsistencies in your position. Like how we do have speech codes and you accept them when it’s a grocer lying about milk, just not when it’s a grocer saying other races are evil, even though your “but then bad guys can regulate speech too” principle would apply to both. And you haven’t really recognized anything they said, either, so why would more people try?

  44. thirdmill301 says

    Crip Dyke, please don’t bring a lighted match anywhere near all those strawmen you erected; the arguments you’ve imputed to me bear little resemblance to what I actually believe or the arguments I actually made.

    Safety is an important concern, but it’s not the only concern. If it were, we would have 10-mile-per-hour speed limits on the freeway (if cars were even legal) and skydiving would be a crime. So when laws are being written, the legislature has to balance competing interests. How much individual freedom can we have before the stakes become too high and there needs to be regulation. You and I both draw that line, although we draw it in different places. I don’t think it’s protected speech for a bank robber to hand the teller a note that says give me the money in your drawer or I’ll shoot you; you don’t think (if I understand you position correctly) that hate speech should be protected speech. We both agree that not all speech is protected all of the time; we disagree on the details. And I think it’s an issue on which reasonable people can disagree; I would hope you would agree with that; and if you don’t, then we have nothing to talk about.

    Most of the examples you give of regulated or criminalized speech are not pure speech. Conspiracy requires an overt act. It’s the act of selling mislabeled Carolene products that’s illegal; not the speech itself. And handing a note to the bank teller contains a specific threat of violence, which isn’t pure speech either. Examples of pure speech regulations are mighty few and far between, and most of them involve time, place and manner rather than content. I can’t shout under your bedroom window with a bullhorn at midnight either, but that’s a time, place and manner restriction rather than content-based.

    If you want to use Canada as an example, did you know that Canada used its speech regulations to prevent protesters from protesting a visit by the President of China because of China’s human rights violations? Or that Angela Merkel used German speech laws to silence one of her political opponents in the last election? Or that in England, a schoolgirl was actually arrested for saying she had a hard time understanding the accent of one of the other students in her study group? Promise me that abolishing free speech won’t result in stuff like that and I might reconsider. The problem is, that sort of stuff seems to happen with depressing regularity in places that don’t protect free speech.

  45. Kagehi says

    This must have been percolating through my head last night, since my last dream before waking was one where a town was “self censoring” themselves, by changing a bunch of stuff so it didn’t “contain violence”, including some or the towns history, and I was staring around thinking, “What the F is wrong with you people.” Thinking it over, after the dream ended, I came to what “should be” a reasonable conclusion – things need to balance.

    It serves no more purpose to, in effect, lie about something to make it less offensive, then it does to revel in the offense. A law, behavior, or any other act which is intended to curtail undesirable actions can, if one gets in a habit of employing the same tactic in every single case, without thought or consideration, and with nothing but your, or some group of government bigots, doing it purely to, “Make people obey.”, will eventually become, “You will obey, or pay the price, because I say so. I don’t need a reason for telling you what to do!” But, the opposite extreme of this is passively allowing those very people to rise to power, because you will do nothing to curtail their actions, or present them consequences for crossing the line. Because the natural effect of, “We don’t want someone to grow up thinking this is the right way to solve problems.”, is not going to ever be, “And everyone else will happily follow this rule and they will never learn that its OK to do such things.” And, by the same token, the logical result of telling people, “You should be allowed to say anything you like.”, isn’t, “Everyone will naturally learn to only say things that are founding on facts, non-harmful, and productive to society.” On the contrary, taking to the extreme both of these become, “I won’t risk using my own power to stop someone else abusing their own, lest I become the bully.”

    This is a very convenient stance for people that are not, and may never be, a target of the offense they refuse to protect someone else from. Its also bloody stupid, because, seriously, how can anyone look at the train wreck that “allowing” the bullies to rise to power has created of the current government and not see how, if somehow its left you untouched today, it can’t/won’t screw you over tomorrow?

    No, not having laws is bloody absurd. All it does is leave the door open for unfettered action by the very people that the proposed law is intended to check. Its doesn’t “prevent” them happening. The trick, and one we are often almost as bad at as we are judging risk (and that may be the key reason it happens), is making sure the law can only do what it was intended, and we don’t allow the bullies to change/twist it to serve their own purposes, while possibly failing to accomplish anything that it was intended to.

    Things do not get better by not risking. Someone else will simply take inevitable advantage of that refusal to risk, to do something that is likely far, far, far, worse, and already has, in many cases. Because, when no one is trying to curtail problems which there is clear evidence are dangerous, and will hurt people, someone else won’t have any problem at all (and the GOP does this all the time), making up imaginary threats, fake evidence, and hypothetical “harms”, for which they, being without any compassion for the people that will be prey to their actions, will be more than happy to impose real tyranny. But, heh, maybe the people in this thread claiming we can’t risk passing speech laws will be keep being really lucky and avoid falling into which ever group the bullies have no problem trying, and sometimes succeeding, to pass the exact same sort of anti-speech laws against. They can continue to argue, from safety, that the risk of trying to curtail such things is “too great”, and the misuse of such things too tempting.

  46. KG says

    thirdmill301@49

    If you want to use Canada as an example, did you know that Canada used its speech regulations to prevent protesters from protesting a visit by the President of China because of China’s human rights violations? Or that Angela Merkel used German speech laws to silence one of her political opponents in the last election? Or that in England, a schoolgirl was actually arrested for saying she had a hard time understanding the accent of one of the other students in her study group?

    Let’s have some references for those claims. Because without those, no-one can see whether the events are as you describe them.

    Promise me that abolishing free speech won’t result in stuff like that and I might reconsider. The problem is, that sort of stuff seems to happen with depressing regularity in places that don’t protect free speech.

    Describing the position of those arguing against you as “abolishing free speech” is deeply dishonest. You have already conceded that there are legal restrictions on speech that you agree with, so the argument is over just which such restrictions are acceptable. If any such restrictions count as “abolishing free speech”, then that’s what you are in favour of.

  47. says

    @thirdmill:

    Crip Dyke, please don’t bring a lighted match anywhere near all those strawmen you erected; the arguments you’ve imputed to me bear little resemblance to what I actually believe or the arguments I actually made.

    [As an aside before I get going, I’d love to see you actually quote anything you believe is a straw man of your position. I don’t think I’ve done such, but maybe I’m wrong.]

    The argument you actually made is that you don’t need to oppose “hate speech” specifically because you have a general opposition to speech codes. You think we should ditch speech regulation “altogether”. Given this, no specific opposition to hate speech codes appears to be forthcoming, and you appear to believe no specific opposition is necessary.

    However, a) you don’t have a general opposition to speech regulation, or b) you have a general opposition to speech regulation but it is insufficient to negate the positive arguments for speech regulation in a number of areas.

    In either case, you cannot rely on a general opposition to speech regulation to defeat any particular proposed new regulation, you must – as you have not done – argue that the cost/benefit ratio of that particular regulation specifically. If you do, in fact, have some minor general opposition that does not automatically defeat speech regulation this can, of course, be included in the calculation. However, the statement:

    the safe thing to do is to take laws regulating speech off the table altogether

    is clearly false and/or entirely insufficient to explain how and when we should or shouldn’t be enacting speech regulation.

    You try to say,

    Saying “X is the safe thing to do” and saying “X should be the law at all times and all places and under all circumstances” are not exactly the same thing

    but in doing so you completely omit the fact that in the first formulation you use the word I have emphasized: altogether. “Altogether” absolutely does imply “X should be the law at all times and all places and under all circumstances.” “Altogether” is an absolutist statement, not a conditional/specific statement.

    If you’d like to admit that you don’t actually believe in the original statement, then we can get somewhere. But you’ve been frustratingly evasive in the way you pretend that we can rely on a general argument that doesn’t defeat other speech regulation to defeat any proposed new speech regulation and in your bait-and-switch here between your absolutist statement and your new formulation which emphasizes a non-absolutist formulation.

    You’re in direct conflict with yourself here. Do we need to scrap speech regulation “altogether” or not?

    Further, I think the statement is a bit ridiculous on its face. We are not “safer” with grocers free to sell propylene glycol sweetened sports drinks that they say are sweetened with aspartame or corn syrup merely because it’s legal to sell propylene glycol-water mixes when properly labeled (typically as car anti-freeze) and the government regulating the accuracy of statements of ingredients is regulation of speech.

    So is it true that it is “safer” to scrap speech regulation altogether? It’s not entirely clear since neither of us has presented any empirical evidence on this point, although I highly doubt it. Yes, there are legal risks, but absent speech regulation we run other risks. Net “safety” is probably not increased by scrapping speech regulation “altogether” – but that’s my opinion, not something I’ve proved.

    If you want to prove your statement, please feel free.

    But let’s move on to the crux of the matter:

    when laws are being written, the legislature has to balance competing interests. How much individual freedom can we have before the stakes become too high and there needs to be regulation. You and I both draw that line, although we draw it in different places. I don’t think it’s protected speech for a bank robber to hand the teller a note that says give me the money in your drawer or I’ll shoot you; you don’t think (if I understand you position correctly) that hate speech should be protected speech. We both agree that not all speech is protected all of the time; we disagree on the details.

    The second bolded statement is irrelevant and possibly not even true. I think what you mean to say is that we both agree that speech should not be protected all the time but that we disagree on the details of when it should be protected and when it should not be. Your 2nd statement makes it appear as if we disagree on what the law actually says. I don’t think that’s true. I think we very probably disagree on what the law, ideally, should say. These are two very different things and I believe you have confused them here.

    Back to the first statement which more accurately sums up the important disagreement: You say here that when enacting laws we should balance interests to find the best social policies. Yet your argument above, advocating dismissing speech regulation altogether is an argument that no balancing need be done because tyranny.

    Now that you’ve admitted that there are actually interests to balance, do you have an argument that some specific hate speech law is bad on balance?

    Can you articulate the values or goals you’re trying to balance?

    Can you convince anyone else that the point of balance you’ve chosen – e.g. that advocacy of genocide should be legal or whatever would represent the absence of the specific laws you oppose – is the right balance point?

    How would you go about doing that convincing?

    Because your initial slippery-slope argument doesn’t work. Governments that are able to criminalize conduct routinely criminalize abortion and consensual queer sex between adults and all sorts of other things. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have any criminalization of conduct. Likewise governments that are able to criminalize or otherwise regulate expression can create “free speech zones” specifically designed to defeat the political messages of persons who opposed George W Bush’s wars and other policies. Does that mean we shouldn’t have the “time, place, & manner” restrictions which were used by Bush to suppress political speech?

    That’s an honest question by the way. Do you stand by TPM restrictions knowing that they are used to suppress political speech? The Canadian suppression of political speech during foreign dignitary’s speech was also considered, more or less, TPM restriction – it had nothing to do with regulation of hate speech.

    The hate speech regulations in Canada have not, in fact, led to more abuse than other speech restrictions. In fact, AFAICT, they haven’t led to any abuse: prosecutions under 318/9 seem to have targeted only the narrow expression the statutes were designed to combat. Yet anti-pornography and TPM restrictions have. Given that, are you more opposed to TPM laws than laws that bar the advocacy of genocide? Why or why not?

    The real frustrating thing here is that you made an absolutist statement then danced away from defending it without ever putting up anything other than the absolutist statement as an objection to hate speech regulation.

    Do you have an actual argument against hate speech regulation?

    Is it an argument that doesn’t apply equally to other areas of law you support?

    If yes, you haven’t presented it.

    If no, stop with the special pleading and actually tell us why your generalized opposition defeats hate speech regulation but not other speech regulation.

  48. thirdmill says

    This is going to be my last comment on this thread because I just had a work related emergency drop in my lap and it has to be brief, so I’m only going to say one thing, and we can talk more on a future thread if the subject comes up again.

    My argument against hate speech regulation is two-fold. First, it’s mostly not about genocide; it’s about silencing those with unpopular opinions, and that’s not someplace I think the government should go. I’m not talking about actual incitement to violence, which I agree isn’t protected; I’m talking about garden-variety hate speech that may be annoying and infuriating but causes no immediate tangible harm. Most of the time, we’re really talking about hurt feelings, and I simply disagree that there should be a legal right to not have your feelings hurt. And I say that as someone who is doubly a minority, and whose feelings have been hurt plenty over the years, but even having been on the receiving end of it I still don’t think hurt feelings should be actionable.

    Second, I see too much potential for abuse. It’s my understanding, for example, that under Canadian law, truth isn’t a defense to hate speech and the issue arose when someone said that the prophet Mohammed was a pedophile. In point of historical fact, Mohammed was a pedophile, and the notion that you can’t say so because it will upset some of his followers strikes me as a complete abuse of whatever legitimate purpose hate speech laws might otherwise serve. I just don’t trust the government to not be abusive with that kind of power, especially that suppressing speech is frequently beneficial to those in power.

    OK, I’m now officially off line. Thanks for the conservation.

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