"Your Speech Silences Me:" A Trope The Kids Learned From Us

As befits an old fart, I spend a lot of time ranting about how young people today are just terrible, particularly about freedom of expression. If I avoid being a cloud-shouting caricature, it's because I admit this is my generation's fault: young people are just adopting the awful values that we taught them.

Today's example is the notion that speech silences us.

Yesterday I mentioned a free speech tumult at Wesleyan University, where a student op-ed criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement led to controversy. Scott Greenfield wrote about the dispute as well, and we both picked on one particular student for saying that the op-ed ought to be censored because it "silenced" speech:

The biggest problem with treating this as a freedom of speech issue is that this speech actively silences other speech.

This proposition — "this isn't free speech, it's silencing speech" — is simply an iteration of Trope Six: "this isn't free speech, it's [other invented category]."

It's also something the student could have picked up from us — and by "us" I mean the community of adults who talk about politics and free speech. The student has applied the lesson to complain about "conservative speech," but could have picked it up from listening to people complain about "liberal speech." Our student has listed to people saying "you called me a racist and that stifles my free speech" and simply reworked it a bit to "you spoke like a racist and that stifles my free speech."

This shouldn't be a surprise. For years we've been indulging in the "Speech Is Tyranny!" and "criticism is censorship" tropes. We complain that "you can't say [x] any more," where [X] is some conservative viewpoint. What we mean is that we cannot say [x] without being criticized, perhaps in very harsh terms. We call it things like "systematic silencing":

Powers revealed that in "The Silencing," she focuses on the attack on free speech from the media and on college campuses.

"It's a systematic silencing that is going on," Powers said. "And they use the same tactics. I also am not talking about disagreement. I'm not talking about people being civil. I'm talking about these are people who will not have a debate. They will attack you: 'You are racist. You are misogynist.' It's never about what the actual issue is."

"And it's really impinging people's ability to debate issues, because there is no debate. They tell you there is no debate because you're a racist."

So. How can we really blame our angry Wesleyan student for using a rhetorical trope we have taught him?

I look forward to the protestations that's different. Surely not every cry "you're silencing me" is the same. But just as we should use critical thinking to evaluate this student's claim that speech silences him, shouldn't we also think critically about our own claims to be silenced by criticism and what we term "call-out culture"?

I may not buy the argument that the Black Lives Matter critique silences anyone (though I do find it nauseatingly bootlicking). But neither do I buy that it silences the author to tell him that it's ignorant, or racist. Rejecting the former but buying the latter seems to depend on a magical view of speech: that most speech encourages more speech except for a set of magically debilitating words (like "racist" and "sexist" and so forth) that destroy it. That purported dichotomy deserves scrutiny.

Imagine some examples. If I tell a gay person that they are outside of God's love and going to Hell unless they repent, and they call me a bigot, have I encouraged speech and they silenced it? If you're an HBD fan and tell black people that they are inherently intellectually inferior and they call you racist, have you encouraged speech and they've suppressed it?

To put it rudely, are we really buying the premise that being a dick encourages speech but calling someone a dick suppresses it?

I find that unpersuasive.

Fascism Is Not "That Which Hurts My Feelings"

American social and political culture has shifted rather abruptly towards support for same-sex marriage. Many opponents of same-sex marriage have shifted their rhetoric with it. They have changed focus from increasingly unpersuasive primary arguments (such as appeals to religious norms) to arguments that same sex marriage will have unintended consequences threatening the rights of others. They argue that legalizing same-sex marriage will have the effect of oppressing people who wish to exercise First Amendment rights to dissent from it, whether by speech or association.

Here's the problem: in doing so, some opponents of same sex marriage ("SSM" from here on out, because I am lazy) are promoting ignorance and confusion about basic rights by conflating government action, private action, suppression, and response speech. Ignorance — and I know I am going out on a limb here — is bad.

[Read more…]

A Few Words On Reddit, Gawker, and Anonymity

Perhaps you've heard of neither Gawker nor Reddit. That would make you (a) isolated from internet culture and (b) quite arguably lucky.

But if you've heard of either of them, then you've probably heard about the internet-drama swirling around them in the last week. Here's the bullet: Reddit is a content-sharing site that's a microcosm of the internet. It has everything from funny cat pictures to the President of the United States answering political questions to bitter arguments about video game characters. Like the internet it mirrors, it also has a lot of crazy and creepy people and sub-forums devoted to their tastes. In the past, Reddit has been criticized for hosting child pornography and various "creeper" forums devoted to pictures of unwitting women and children taken in public.

Recently the Gawker family of blogs has started to report on and criticize Reddit's creeper subculture and Reddit's inconsistently tolerant attitude towards it. This criticism culminated in a Gawker post revealing the real-world name of a Reddit figure known as Violentacrez, a self-described troll associated with what Gawker calls "an unending fountain of racism, porn, gore, misogyny, incest, and exotic abominations," and with subforums like "Jailbait," which was about what you'd expect.

Gawker's actions — and the actions of some Reddit subcultures that oppose the creepers — has created substantial internet drama, including — and I'm not making this up — a broad movement by many Reddit moderators to ban links to Gawker.

I have a few criticisms of the ensuing drama.

[Read more…]

The Right Not To Be Criticized: John Rocker Edition

Sometimes people accuse me of making up, or at least exaggerating, the speech tropes I talk about here.

If only.

In today's example, WND conclusively refutes critics who say "WND can't stoop any lower" by running a think piece by former baseball player John Rocker. Rocker, you may recall, was less known for competence and more known for running his mouth about people who irritated him, a group that seemed to include everyone who didn't closely resemble John Rocker.

Rocker begins his piece by thanking a fallen solider. Tastes differ, but when the topic of your post is not our soldiers, it strikes me as disrespectful and self-indulgent to invoke their sacrifices to launch an unrelated screed. It seems almost as if you're invoking them to insulate yourself from criticism — but big strong manly John Rocker can't possibly be overly sensitive to criticism, can he?

Over recent years, it seems the term “free speech” has become more of an oxymoron than an absolute in our society. Technically, as our Founding Fathers intended, we are all given the undeniable right to voice our thoughts and opinions freely without fear of scorn and/or ridicule derived from non-agreement. I supposedly have the same right to express myself as you do. In a perfect world, my rights should be no different from yours. I’m quite certain that given the current stage of the world’s social climate, however, anyone ascribing to the ridiculous notion that our world is perfect is kidding himself. Our “perfect” world was replaced many moons ago by the defective reality in which we are all forced to reside – and one of the most blatant areas to view the erosion of perfection is seen in the lack of ability many in this great country have to speak freely without fear of chastisement.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am a reader. I started to teach myself to read when I was supposed to be napping. I read instead of interacting with my peers. I read to the exclusion of many other things I should have done. I read things I loved and things I hated. I read the words of the incomprehensibly brilliant and the words of drooling idiots. I've read YouTube comments. But I can say, with complete confidence, that I cannot recall reading anything so completely fucking stupid as that paragraph and its spew of cliches. There is not, and never has been a right to be free of scorn or ridicule or chastisement in response to our speech. In fact, the prospect of scorn and ridicule and chastisement is the only reason America has free speech — because we believe that ignorant or offensive speech is better handled by the marketplace of ideas than by government intrusion. Nothing in law or in history supports Rocker's imagined "right." Only weaklings, cowards, and fools seek protection from criticism of their speech. Yet this moronic trope — this idea that critical speech is censorship, and that the assholes of the world have some sort of protected right not be to called assholes — persists. It persists because of sub-normals like John Rocker. Thanks, John.

There is without a doubt an unwritten but staunchly understood “pecking order” when considering who has the right to freely voice thought without the fear of public scorn and who must tread very lightly on certain obvious topics of socially sensitive subject matter. Media, along with a brainwashed segment of the American populace, grant asylum to different degrees according to what segment of society one belongs. The seemingly more oppressed an individual and that individual’s group is the better. Let’s face it, some have the ability to wage verbal holocaust and go virtually unscathed in the court of public opinion, while similar thoughts or opinions voiced by one whose existence does not grant them immunity will most likely be subjected to scorn and public rebuke from all sides until penance has supposedly been paid. Undoubtedly, the conservative, heterosexual, white male gets and most likely will continue to get the proverbial short end of the stick when it comes to speaking freely. Those who fall into this unfortunate category had better watch their backsides with both eyes when discussing any topic with a script of politically correct verbiage that must be followed.

To the extent that I can understand this hideous paragraph — which is not so much writing as it is putting out lit cigarettes on the exposed tender flesh of the English language — Rocker is complaining that the media promotes selective outrage about what some people say. Given Rocker's history, his view of "selectiveness" and "treading lightly" may differ from ours. But that's irrelevant. Nobody promised you a marketplace of ideas run by aggressive kindergarten teachers making sure that everyone shares and shares alike and plays nice. It's a brawl. Different speech gets valued differently. Different media outlets — motivated by their own values, and by making money — are no more neutral than any other participant. For all the whining of the Right, its values have had extraordinary success in this marketplace through talk radio and Fox News and other outlets. The marketplace is ever-changing, and some ideas are widely despised and ridiculed. Tough shit. Put on your big-boy pants and go speak your mind and, if that's what pleases you, promote and patronize the media outlets that tell you what you want to hear. But if you start whinging about how the marketplace isn't fair because your views are not valued highly enough, don't expect to be taken seriously. If you start talking about a "right to freely voice thought without the fear of public scorn," expect nothing but contempt.

For God's sake, man. Summon an ounce of self-respect.

Hat Tip: Nobel Dynamite.

The Right Not To Be Criticized Rears Its Cringing Head

As we approach Popehat's fifth anniversary (in this incarnation), I've realized that sooner or later, everything is reruns.

This morning I was about to write a post criticizing this very silly Dennis Prager Townhall column about "liberal intimidation," in which he bemoaned David Blankenhorn switching from a fervent opponent of gay marriage to a supporter. Prager suggests that Blankenhorn switched sides because of being vilified as a bigot, and goes on to imply that John Roberts' vote on Obamacare may also be the product of "ridicule, demonization, and character assassination."

At the risk of distorting American jurisprudence for a few decades, I have to ask how any self-respecting conservative could be such a sniveller about criticism. It's one thing to complain that the media, or academia, or any other segment of society is in the tank for one side of a debate or the other. It's quite another to shout from the rooftops that they are hurting your side's feelings and making your allies withdraw from the field.

I had launched into this discussion when I realized: I already wrote this post, in 2010, about Bruce Walker of American Thinker suggesting that conservatives are bullied into submission by meanie liberals.

Is this a thing now? I sure hope not. Some ideas I cherish are classified as "conservative," and I am going to be very annoyed if conservatives start to think that it's okay to back off of supporting them just because they draw condemnation and invective from the left. It's bad enough that we have to fight an imagined and unprincipled right not to be offended too often coming from the left; if we have to fight an imagined and unprincipled right not to be criticized from the right, nothing will ever get done.

Prager, in decrying liberal rhetoric, begins like this:

Given how many more Americans define themselves as conservative rather than as liberal, let alone than as left, how does one explain the success of left-wing policies?

I would respond as follows: Dennis Prager, given how many more Americans define themselves as conservative rather than liberal, why can't you grow a fucking spine, stop trying to make conservatives sound like weaklings, and stop being such a big girl's blouse about criticism?

"Speech is Tyranny" Is Kind of Gay, Really

Well, of course the fatuous notion that speech is tyranny — that accusations of bigotry "break the marketplace of ideas", and intimidate poor, hapless victims into silence — can be applied to whine about vigorous discussion of gay rights. How could we think otherwise?

Thanks to Kip for identifying a specimen in the wild, by Sven Wilson at Pileous:

The so-called gay rights movement is not, fundamentally, about civil rights (though gays certainly have had their civil rights violated in the past). It is about the complete normalization of homosexuality. Advocates want to obliterate any notion that homosexuality is outside the bounds of what is considered normal, acceptable, or desirable in society.

So-called blogger Sven (I like that he went with so-called rather than with scare quotes; those are so last year) wants you to understand that the gays don't merely want to get married on the City Hall steps. They want to "obliterate" entire normative concepts. From our minds. This probably seemed like a much more terrifying idea if you recently watched Inception. I don't want some gay Leonardo DiCaprio traipsing around my prefrontal cortext assaulting my tendency towards snark and preference for limited government. At first blush the gay agenda imagined by Sven seems rather ambitious, but bear in mind that we've been at war with social phenomena and concepts (War on Drugs, War on Poverty, War on Terror) for decades, so obliterating notions is a logical next step. The future holds epistemelogical wars, in which some future interests groups attempt to carpet-bomb the concept of whether or not it is possible to know whether or not they are or are not discriminated against.

But I digress. Sven is deeply concerned that gays and their fellow-travelers pose threats to freedom of speech and expression through their sheer hair-pulling nastiness:

What opponents of normalization fear most, I think, is not that gay marriage will damage the institution of marriage, but that their own rights and abilities to stand up against normalization will be further infringed. Those who oppose normalization do so on a variety of grounds: cultural traditions, historical precedent, religion, instinct, science, moral reasoning, emotion, even love. Certainly, these different grounds can all be contested, but many gay advocates want to paint the opposition as motivated only by ignorance, bigotry and fear. Such a characterization can be as hateful and damaging as any other kind of bigotry. Sadly, calling someone a hater (like calling someone a racist) merely degrades one’s opponents and stops civil discussion.

Oh my God! Advocates of one interest group want to argue against strawmen, mischaracterize and misinterpret their opponents' arguments, and treat extremists among their opponents as representative of all opponents? Say it isn't so! This is unprecedented in politics and Western thought!

Or, you know, maybe it's characteristic of every political dispute there ever was. Perhaps anti-gay folks are especially sensitive to offense? I don't know.

Notice how Sven subtly conflates "rights and abilities to stand against normalization" (suggesting some actual legal restriction on free expression) with being painted as a bigot. Sven thus pushes the "speech is tyranny" narrative that suggests being criticized — even roughly, even unfairly — is the equivalent of being censored. This is, as I've argued so many times before, an entirely incoherent approach to freedom of expression. But lying about the incidence of actual conflicts between anti-discrimination law and free speech, characterizing protests as assaults, and mixing up criticism and censorship are characteristic rhetorical devices of some elements of anti-same-sex-marriage movement.

Sven pushes the "speech is tyranny" button harder in the next paragraph:

Should we completely normalize homosexuality? Given our short sense of history, many forget that this is a radical question, not even conceivable in nearly all societies and times. Many say the answer is yes. But those who say no fear that their ability to peaceably espouse their views and to try to shape social institutions according to their beliefs are under serious threat.

Once again, Sven is smuggling bullshit — he's asserting, in effect, that vigorous pro-gay advocacy impairs the right to "peaceably espouse views." To the extent that any jurisdictions use the Prop 8 ruling as an opportunity to promote hate speech laws, or to the extent federal courts use it to further their Harper v. Poway style use of anti-discrimination principles to undermine free speech principles, he'd be right. Freedom of expression is under constant assault from both "liberal" and "conservative" directions, and ought to be defended vigorously. But that's rather clearly not the limit of what he is saying. He's suggesting that accusations of bigotry somehow impair actual rights.

But that's not the way the marketplace of ideas works. It's tough. Wear a cup. Cowboy up. Hell, from listening to the bigots I thought that it was the gays who were supposed to be unmanly and limp-wristed. But this "halp, halp, we can't express our disgust at gays without people expressing disgust at us" is just embarrassing. Should opponents of "normalization" of homosexuality have the unimpaired right to express their views, however nauseating they are? Absolutely. But under what rational or coherent theory of free expression should that right be cherished or defended more vigorously than the right of supporters of gay rights to criticize, ridicule, and belittle anti-gay views?

Laws outlawing gay marriage? Those may or may not be tyranny, depending on your interpretation of state and federal constitutions. But uttering controversial and sometimes pungent views, and being subjected to controversial and sometimes pungent criticism in return? That is not, by any stretch of the imagination, tyranny.

Speech Is Tyranny!

Let's be clear — the right to free speech is the right to express oneself without state retaliation. It is not a right to speak without social retaliation. Speech has consequences. Among those consequences are condemnation, vituperation, scorn, ridicule, and pariah status. Those consequences represent other people exercising their free speech rights. That's a feature of the marketplace of ideas, not a bug.

Yet too many people seem to think that free speech includes not only a right to be free of consequences imposed by the state, but a right to be free of consequences imposed by other people. Therefore they attempt to portray criticism as a violation of their rights. This, of course, finds no support in the law, and is patently unsustainable as a philosophy besides — it nonsensically elevates the rights of the first person to talk over the rights of the second person to talk.

This noxious concept is now sufficiently widespread to warrant its own tag here: Speech is Tyranny! Often the argument involves portraying speech as violence, as when thin-skinned speakers complain that criticism of their speech is "terrorism" or "abuse", or claim that it is "chilling," thus misappropriating a term used to describe the effect of government restrictions on speech.   To that extent the argument  is related to, but not identical to, the European/Canadian/UN concept that "hate speech" is a violation of the rights of others.  Examples of this noxious trend:

  • California Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, who thinks that it is a "terrorist threat" for conservative commentators to tell Republican legislators that they will be voted out of office if they vote for new taxes.
  • Canadian Censor-In-Chief Jennifer Lynch, who thinks that free speech advocates are guilty of "reverse chill" when they criticize government censorship.
  • Clint Eastwood, who thinks he ought to have a right to tell ethnic jokes without having to fear someone might call him a racist.
  • The endless parade of morons who think that companies are violating entertainers' free speech rights if the companies cease paying the entertainers to promote products after the entertainers say something obnoxious (In the linked examples, David Letterman being dumped by Olive Garden for being a dick to Sarah Palin's daughter, and Whopi Goldbreg criticizing George Bush and losing SlimFast).
  • The parade of idiots from both sides of the spectrum who decry boycotts as violating the free speech rights of the boycotted (see, e.g., "this boycott violates the Dixie Chicks' right to free speech!!").
  • Rick Moran of RightWingNutHouse, a representative instance of the view that calling somebody or something racist breaks the marketplace of ideas because it goes "beyond critiquing the work and enter[s] the world of pure politics."
  • Prop 8 supporters who conflate actual violence and vandalism with harsh criticism by calling it all "intimidation."
  • Michael Savage, who thinks that people criticizing him and displaying clips of his show for comment are violating his free speech rights.

Now, some marketplace responses — some criticism and consequences for speech — display a fundamental intolerance for dissenting views.  Some marketplace responses are premised on ignorance or prejudice.  The proper way to deal with that is with more speech, trying to win more in the marketplace over to your view.  If I criticize President Obama or Governor Palin, and twenty blogs link to me calling me a fascist idiot who should be bombed with nasty comments and shunned from decent society, it's completely reasonable for me to respond by saying that fans of Obama/Palin are thin skinned weenies whose dramatic overreaction to critique demonstrates the bankruptcy of their ideas.  But if I respond by crying that my free speech rights have been violated by the response, I'm being an ass and willfully promoting ignorance of the fundamental nature of freedom of expression, perhaps our most important democratic value.  Someone ought to call me out on that.  Nobody promised the marketplace of ideas would be a fragrant rose garden.  Suck it up, or shut up.

Karen Bass Should Dissolve The Terrorists And Elect Another

In the course of a wide-ranging interview with the Los Angeles Times, California State Assembly speaker Karen Bass laments that her fellow Californians enjoy the right to vote, to speak, and to petition their government for the redress of grievances:

How do you think conservative talk radio has affected the Legislature's work?

The Republicans were essentially threatened and terrorized against voting for revenue. Now [some] are facing recalls. They operate under a terrorist threat: "You vote for revenue and your career is over." I don't know why we allow that kind of terrorism to exist. I guess it's about free speech, but it's extremely unfair.

What Bass, a Democrat, calls "terrorist threats" against her Republican colleagues is what most Americans call the exercise of First Amendment rights.  It's one of those outdated traditions in American politics that any drooling troglodyte can communicate his displeasure to elected representatives.

In fact, I understand that under federal and California law, Bass herself might be subject to "terrorist threats" from her own constituents, people like my friend Ezra, who enjoys the freedom to call her office and say, "You vote to cut spending on the Greater Los Angeles Area Pacific Islander Parade subsidy and county calligraphy budgets, and your career is over."

Now a charitable person, a very charitable person, might assume that Bass is referring only to talk radio hosts as "terrorists" here, and that she actually meant to make some incredibly inept argument for the return of the "fairness doctrine" in radio.  Unfortunately Republican talk radio hosts also enjoy the right to engage in terrorism as Bass defines it.  A less charitable person might say that Bass was referring to Republican voters, whom everyone knows are poorly educated and lack understanding of the importance of tax increases in an economic crisis, or something, and that …

No I'm stumped.  There's no way to be charitable to Bass, the elected speaker of the California assembly, who just called voters who dare to complain to their representatives terrorists.  Her statement positively drips with contempt for the rubes she was elected to serve.  If only she could lock them up…

Well, maybe she can.  Buried deeper in the interview is this fascinating tidbit.

I do think that some fundamental reforms need to take place. I would be concerned about a constitutional convention, only because, as I understand it, if you open that door up, all kinds of things can be put on the agenda, like [abortion rights]. While we're trying to solve this budget crisis, we are also figuring out how to launch reforms that would address some of it.

But why not hold a constitutional convention Ms. Bass?  Sure, it might open up the door to things you don't like, but you're the California Assembly speaker.  You're one of the most powerful people in the state.  I'm sure you can finesse it, and get a brand-spanking new constitution which finally allows you to lock up those terrorists who dare to complain to the State.

And it would work too, if only it weren't for that meddling United States constitution.

Via Patterico.

Oh, Yeah? Well, You're Guilty of DOUBLE SECRET REVERSE CHILL!!!

I keep thinking that Canada's champions of censorship can't get any more ludicrous and offensive. And they keep coming back and saying "Oh, Ken, ye of little faith." Well, they don't actually talk to me. Except in my head. You know, I think I'm straying from the point.

Canada's appalling Human Rights Commissions — which we have frequently criticized here for their tendency and capacity to punish unpopular speech through bureaucracy without due process or remedy — have been under heavy political fire in Canada recently, as the public starts to grasp their illiberal censorious nature and the politicians sense the way the wind is blowing. But the Human Rights Commissions and their apologists are not going down without a fight. And a new hero has emerged — Richard Warman need no longer shoulder the mantle of nanny-state wiffle-life censorship alone. No, Chief Commissioner Jennifer Lynch has stepped up.

Sort of.

[Read more…]

Any Which Way But Politically Correct

There is no right to be free of offense. At least not in America. (In Canada, who knows.) Certainly there are people who think they ought to have a right not to be offended. Such people are morally cowardly ninnies worthy of scorn.

These seem to be propositions widely accepted among conservatives and libertarians.

Yet bizarrely, there also seems to be an insidious sentiment that people who occasionally give offense ought to have some nebulously defined right to be free of being branded as racists or assholes as a result. Case in point: the venerable and on most occasions awesome Clint Eastwood:

Acting legend Clint Eastwood , 79, apparently believes that political correctness has rendered modern society humourless, for he accuses younger generations of spending too much time trying to avoid being offensive.

The Dirty Harry star insists that he should be able to tell harmless jokes about nationality without fearing that people may brand him "a racist".

"People have lost their sense of humour. In former times we constantly made jokes about different races. You can only tell them today with one hand over your mouth or you will be insulted as a racist," the Daily Express quoted him as saying.

"I find that ridiculous. In those earlier days every friendly clique had a 'Sam the Jew' or 'Jose the Mexican' – but we didn't think anything of it or have a racist thought. It was just normal that we made jokes based on our nationality or ethnicity. That was never a problem. I don't want to be politically correct."

Clint merely makes explicit a premise that lurks behind many a gripe about "political correctness": people ought to suck it up and not be offended when I tell racial or religious jokes or make comments that they don't like, but if they call me a dick or a bigot in response, why that's just over the line, and in a decent society I ought not to have to endure it. It's a proposition that manages to be simultaneously narcissistic and hypocritical. And it's increasingly prevalent. Some "thinkers" work themselves up into such a lather that they convince themselves that being called a racist is somehow a structural flaw in the marketplace of ideas from which society must protect them.

But it's all bogus. Clint is free to continue to tell hilarious Mexican jokes. And anyone who thinks this makes him sound like an asshole is free to tell him so. If Clint doesn't like to be called a racist, that distaste is no more profound or worthy of respect or protection than the distaste of Jews or Mexicans who don't like Clint's jokes. For Clint to suggest otherwise is silly, whiny, and frankly embarrassing.

There is genuine, objectionable political correctness in our society, which we enjoy skewering here. But, as I have argued before, there is also a lot of unbecoming whining about political correctness that amounts to little more than "boo hoo, I acted like an asshat and now people are calling me an asshat." Man up, for Christ's sake. If you want to revel in the right to be offensive, grow a thicker skin about being called offensive, if you ever want to be taken seriously.