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[personal profile] jack

Almost everything Scott posts is interesting, even when I disagree with it. Sometimes I decide I absorbed an important idea anyway despite superficial disagreements. Sometimes I decide he's just wrong, but said interesting things along the way.

Here he describes a case where a student group invited a couple of deliberately controversial speakers as a pro-free-speech point. This is probably a bad idea for a variety of reasons, whether it was well meant or not. But he and I were thinking of the details about *why* it was a bad idea.

Was that effectively pro free speech whether or not it caused harm in other ways?

His point was, separate to which ideas *should* be covered under free speech, deliberately choosing controversial ones uses up people's tolerance and moves us a notch closer to associating free speech with mostly being used for horrible things and make everyone dislike it.

And I'm sort of torn. Because on the one hand, that sounds completely true. Things that are sufficiently harmful are NOT covered under free speech (morally or legally depending on culture or country), and this is deliberately expanding that category by making potentially-harmful things a lot more of a problem.

On the other hand, defending horrible things as legal if undesirable feels like it sets a standard for free speech: we know other speech is ok, because we allow this.

Did it cause harm in other ways?

Everything above is true whether you chose speakers you personally sympathise with but don't want to say so, or speakers you massively disagree with but want to engage with. However, there's definitely an awful trend that when talk about free speech, they don't mean "lets invite some communists" or "lets burn some american flags". No. They mean, "lets find some supposedly-intellectual research which has been seized on by a rallying cry by the alt-right".

People attacked by the alt-right have done MORE THAN THEIR FUCKING SHARE of being attacked with little recourse. If you're convinced that inviting speakers who are incredibly threatening to a certain proportion of people on campus is necessary, can you at least choose some DIFFERENT subset? Invite some revolutionaries who want to guillotine people with inherited wealth. Invite some over-the-top animal rights types who want to bomb all non-vegans. Or, preferably, find views which are *controversial* but not *immediately threatening* to make your point with.

I originally tried to list some views which were very controversial to the point I can easily imagine protests etc about them, but (a) from all over the political spectrum and (b) not personally threatening. Some of which I secretly agreed with, some of which I hated. But I decided that would just cause a worse argument right now.

No we actually want to hear them, we're not just being controversial for the sake of it, honest

Scott talked about, if you actually *want* to hear a speaker, you should use different criteria than if you're trying to air controversial views. If you're being controversial on purpose, I feel you need a greater weight on "not harming people" in addition to "does this help or hurt freedom of speech".

But if you really want to hear a speaker, even one I find vile, I generally don't think banning them is that useful -- provided you do sensible things like, advertise to people who actually want to hear them, and for fuck's sake don't try to make it at some mandatory event, or even some organisation-wide event, to show you just want to have a speaker, not that you want to force a speaker on people who will be harmed by it. Most of the "bans" have been because people have been deliberately bullying people they expect to object, not because they were genuinely trying to have a quiet meeting and then got invaded by protesters.
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