jack: (Default)
[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.

Date: 2017-05-10 12:10 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] ewt
But "free speech" and "we are obligated to give nasty people a platform" aren't the same.

Deliberately offering a platform to controversial speakers, especially those who are in the habit of threatening others, strikes me more as clickbait than anything else. Usually these are people who already have a platform, or they wouldn't be known as controversial.

Date: 2017-05-10 01:03 pm (UTC)
gerald_duck: (loadsaducks)
From: [personal profile] gerald_duck
I have no coherent overarching point to make. But I do have plenty of minor observations.

Firstly, I saw it said a few weeks ago that the political right in the USA have weaponized free speech. That seems to be true.

Secondly, the right to free speech is not the right to a platform, still less the right to be heard. The USA seems to have evolved the right to a platform: on my last visit I was startled to see a few square metres fenced off and designated "first amendment protest area" in a nature reserve. Intentionally inviting controversial speakers to pursue a free-speech agenda seems to take that further in the direction of pretending there is a right to be heard.

Conversely, it is good to listen to people with wildly opposing views. But we should be clear we're doing that in a spirit of broad-minded intellectual enquiry for our own sakes, not as a service to our opponent. We can stop whenever we like, if it is no longer fruitful for us.

A group that ostracising liberals seem to find especially challenging is those who don't believe in free speech. Should it be OK to say, for example, "repeal the First Amendment"? That is almost paradoxical in the same way as a referendum to abolish democracy. And yet to a certain extent this creates a prisoner's-dilemma-style situation in which it is best for society if we co-operate even when the other person is defecting.

The notion of free speech is an artefact of the Age of Enlightenment, which presaged the American War of Independence and French Revolution and informed the thinking of those delineating the subsequent nations. To me it seems it rightly forms part of a social contract (pp Rousseau, Voltaire's contemporary): we accept as individuals in society that the right to express our views is more valuable to us than the right to silence others. That seems a good and useful social contract, but a bad thing to enshrine in constitutional law. It doesn't to me have the feel of an axiomatic truth-we-hold-to-be-self-evident.

The Age of Enlightenment was the cradle of what we now call the liberal intellectual elite. Though Voltaire is famous for pithily encapsulating the principle of free speech, we have to remember that "defend to the death" was not hyperbole. Much of his own work had to be published anonymously in his lifetime for fear of reprisals from the authorities. Thus began a battle between the Enlightened and the entrenched views of the theocrats, monarchists and dynasts.

In some sense, Enlightenment "won", in the form of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of "liberal Western democracy". Both of those are very good in a lot of ways, of course. However:
  • There is now a widespread perception amongst both atheist scientists and non-scientific theists that science and religion are in opposition and science is in the ascendence.
  • People forget the Christian roots of Enlightenment thinking, especially when dealing with non-Christian cultures. How would we justify the concept of free speech to an unconvinced Chinese official, for example?
  • Most commentators feel we've now moved from the Industrial Age into the Information Age. Some even feel the technological singularity is imminent. What we're seeing now may be a sign that the transition will be as disruptive to socio-political thought as the Industrial Revolution was before it. We should be very clear what principles we want to hold inviolable and on what basis we justify that.

Meanwhile, the Christian outlook on this mess places a lot more emphasis on love, respect and right discernment than on trying to create a framework in which political discourse can work when none of the participants love or respect one another, and everybody is more concerned with winning than with working out what's right.

Date: 2017-05-10 03:06 pm (UTC)
aldabra: (Default)
From: [personal profile] aldabra
I think the first amendment protest areas aren't about giving a platform; they're about defining everywhere else as somewhere you can be moved on from if you're protesting.

Date: 2017-05-10 03:20 pm (UTC)
gerald_duck: (female-mallard-frontal)
From: [personal profile] gerald_duck
Indeed. But in the UK, where we take a slightly more nuanced, common-sense view, we have no trouble with the distinction between a public place and a government-owned place.

Date: 2017-05-10 03:21 pm (UTC)
aldabra: (Default)
From: [personal profile] aldabra
These articles resonated very strongly with me. I am increasingly fed up with being required to affirm free speech when it's being deliberately used to do harm. [Checks access settings and decides against citing examples.]

I think it's entirely clear that there are things which I have the legal right to say which I nevertheless ought not to say. I think there's a subset of those things which I ought not to facilitate other people saying either. I think the oughting-not-to-say derives from objective conditions, and so applies to everyone else to the same extent as it applies to me (with exceptions for people who are personally affected by issues in a way that I'm not), and so I'm justified in disapproving of people who say things that they ought not to, even if they're "within their rights".

I think the protests are increasingly counter-productive, because the speakers are being invited in order to generate protests that can be faced down.

In a different context, in his latest link-post, he quotes someone saying: “selling nukes to ISIS in order to raise awareness of the risk of someone selling nukes to ISIS.” I'm sure this is a direct parallel, but I had a vodka martini for lunch and now I can't quite put my finger on how.