01 September 2010

A debate over free speech.

I had to borrow this. Because it's just too long, but a debate over free speech ensued over the trouble with the mosque and the related subsequent acts of violence reported recently against Muslims. There was more before this, but I don't think it as relevant to the actual debate. (the "opposing" remarks are italicized, though my remarks are heavily quoted in them)

.....

I would guess this logic would lead us to conclude that they have some kind of strong anti-Muslim bias. In fact, often times they do. I don't see how this is different simply because some random white guy did it versus some random Taliban member."

Because one act is done for the purpose of intimidating and terrorizing an entire group of people, not just the individual. The individual victim is just the vehicle used to attack the group. That is why hate crime laws are important. Hate crimes have broader social implications than just the individual act - they can and have resulted in explosions of race based violence.

I don't understand the meme of 'reverse racism'. But then again most attempts to stamp out hate through regulations of speech and so forth have been met with cries of victimhood from the those who engage in hate speech. The sneering about the "PC police" has become widespread, it seems.


Hate crimes have resulted in race based violence, but explosions of this happen largely against a background of much more severe biases than are present. It's possible that a series of progressive laws restricting things like lynching and broader hate crimes penalties are partly responsible for this. Or its possible that expansive civil rights protections and the ability to aggressively protect them in the courts are as well. I'd push for much stronger civil rights equality (a reward centered approach) than a stronger penalty mandated by law, which could be exploited by prosecutorial powers.

More over, as with the example, I think it's pretty easy to make a case that there are hate crimes propagated within "groups", in order to dominate group agendas or create conformity rather than simply things motivated out of bias against that group itself.

I disagree completely with using speech codes and official regulations to tamp out of existence things that we disagree with. I prefer our social disapproval. It should offend us that we have to persist in making the argument that no, these are not sub-human animals or evil people because of superficial characteristics so much so that we argue vociferously when people poke their heads out to say something completely ridiculous, motivated largely by their prejudicial biases. That is hardly "PC" however.

"but explosions of this happen largely against a background of much more severe biases than are present."

I'm not sure what this means. Are you saying there is not sufficient anti-Muslim sentiment out there to unleash a race riot? I think there is, especially when aided by manipulators in the media who have much to gain by fanning the flames of ethnic and religious strife in the country. We've seen in just the past month or so - an attempted pipe bombing of a Mosque; this taxi attack; another incident in which a drunk went into a mosque shouting slurs and pissed on the prayer rugs, and numerous demonstrations against the building of Muslim versions of YMCAs. But even if we weren't quite "there" in terms of ethnic and cultural suspicion, I don't think we should complacently wait until we are before using the law to strike at hate crimes. It didn't take much to set off a cascade of violence in Oldham, UK, for example.

"(a reward centered approach) than a stronger penalty mandated by law, which could be exploited by prosecutorial powers."

I don't know what a rewards centered approach would involve. But communities that refuse to punish hate crimes do so at their own peril. This is how small scale ethnic cleansing occurs and becomes a fait accompli.

"I think it's pretty easy to make a case that there are hate crimes propagated within "groups""

I'm still puzzled at the idea of being biased against your own group. Still more at how an attack within a group can have the same effect as pitting one ethnic or religious group against another or making a particular group feel completely intimidated into continuing to live in the community. If you could give an example, maybe I'd have some clarity. I think it's a false equivalence.

"I disagree completely with using speech codes and official regulations to tamp out of existence things that we disagree with."

Hate is not political speech. It's not part of the 'debate'. You can disagree about the optimal tax rate, not about whether certain groups of people - because of their racial or cultural identity - are subhuman barbarians who deserve to be locked up or attacked. If allowed to persist, it will become mainstream. I don't have a lot of faith in 'social shaming' - because history has demonstrated it doesn't work.


The major, and enormous problem with this logic is that it suggests we should use legal force to compel speech and thought. I have an enormous qualm with that logic. There are several flaws I see immediately with it.
1) People who are in power can use that power however they want. Not simply for goals which we, you and I, might find politically and culturally appealing (such as minimizing hate speech). Once you apportion this power to government it is not guaranteed that it will maintain itself only on an approved plan of action.
2) I suspect it is far more likely to freeze cultural attitudes into place by burying some issues and removing discourse of a more polite but controversial nature (such as biological differences or things like educational policy, which I tend to side against biological explanations, but at least want to see if they could explain anything), and by more likely, making speech against unpopular groups entrenched through legal processes and lobbying. In a democracy, making speech up for politically determined protections would mean that you would often find unpopular statements, some of which might be true and inoffensive in time, buried behind popular control. I don't think this is what you want done.
3) Social shaming by contrast, does work. It's very possible to restrict violence and physical action against life and property right along side allowing people to use their freedom of speech to say and express offensive things. Their freedom extends until their fist hits something in other words.

I do agree there are people fanning flames against Muslims somewhat more so in the past few weeks especially. But again, it's not necessary to penalize idiotic speech by making it illegal. It should be confronted, publicly, and called out as irresponsible, reckless, or ignorant. Powerful liberal figures have largely shirked this fight and powerful conservative figures have stoked it, both for irresponsible political reasons. If they will not use minimal social coercion to accomplish this end, what makes you think they would use legal force to do so either?

It's very easy to be biased against your own group, or perhaps, more accurately, it is very easy for a perceived group from the outside to develop very strong divisions within its stratification. Islam is hardly monolithic, in the same way that Christianity or secularity are not, but in the parlance of American speech and possibly even its legal code, it is easily perceived as such.

The "reward-centered" approach was precisely what I described. Provide very strong equal rights protections and guarantee them. This is the primary thing that was missing from the Jim Crow south was the guarantee of equal property and civil rights regardless of race. Guaranteeing it took a very strong and aggressive stance, but it was done. Similar legal inequalities still persist in our current system and are low hanging fruit in removing social stigmas of particular groups:
1) Cocaine sentencing disparities or the general war on drugs and its pernicious effects on low income/minority communities, both through violence and crime and the methods employed by police to police. (this also has a ton to do with the immigration "problem" in this country)
2) Access to basic legal rights also willingness to stand up for them or afford reasonable representation
3) Civil forfeiture law and eminent domain abuses are common against minorities or the poor, the classes perceived as "disenfranchised".
Etc.

Ending a lot of civil abuses by government against the poor or unpopular minorities is to me a lot more important and probably effective in the long run than using government to police thought.

Essentially, the problem I am having with the logic of using government to police speech rather than action is that in the Jim Crow south, it was the government which ignored action and policed "speech" by enforcing a segregationist legal code. Same with South Africa. These were still "democratically" elected systems, which used political power to strip further powers away from unpopular groups and did little or nothing to stop violence within or against those groups.

A further problem is that it is often easy enough to engage people who infuse their speech with racist or racial overtones with facts to gnaw away at their ignorance. I much prefer doing this and in so doing, determine whether they are in fact racist, perhaps even violently racist, or if I am mistaken in that presumption of their character immediately than to proceed through a process of proving their racist intentions in a court of law. It is far easier to introduce their racist statements alongside an action of violence that correlates with that racist dimension than to presume that racist statements will someday correlate with overt and pernicious action. They will largely not so long as overt action is equally punished.

I agree with **** that hate crime laws are necessary and that it would be a dangerous leap of faith to rely on social shaming to curb population-specific violent crime. The problem is prejudice and hate are not so accommodating to 'equal protections' (Queue the trope that 'formal equality is not enough'). As far as shaming is concerned, hate crimes often go unnoticed by the larger public, or at worst is condoned by a faction thereof. Today's Islamophobia is a case in point. This type of atmosphere is 'permissive' of violence against Muslims, and I sure as shit don't want to rely on public opinion to curb violence against Muslims.

Also to be clear, and I think I can speak for **** here, we agree that the structural racism that you (**) describe (such as sentencing disparities) need to be rectified. No argument there. (For a great argument about how the war on drugs and the criminal justice system has created legalized discrimination against poor people of color look up Michelle Alexander's work on "the New Jim Crow")


I'm skeptical of hate crime laws and their actual efficacy and enforcement but I think the major disagreement was over hate speech laws or expressions of PC/racial prejudice being policed or their perceived necessity to curb actual violent acts against unpopular minorities.

That I think you should be able to rely more on social approbation or rejection to police than violence, which I am fully in agreement should be met with swift judicial action.

The social shaming argument was used by those who opposed federal intervention in the Jim Crow south, claiming that it interfered with property rights and was a gross government overstretch. Not to imply you're a segregationist, but essentially the same arguments were made. That if we hand the government this kind of power over property it will be abused. Instead if people just avoid segregated establishments they will be 'shamed' into submission. That obviously didn't work.

I disagree about this idea that there is a sharp dichotomy between speech and action. Speech can be and often is violent and intimidating or very often leads to violence and intimidation. We regulate such speech all the time - for example sexual harassment laws. We also regulate so-called 'speech' in order to preserve social peace - for example noise ordinances. Claiming we have no right to regulate socially disruptive speech and can only intervene when an actual violent act occurs is the equivalent of saying we can only put out fires, we can't actually do anything to prevent them.

This is a rather extreme example - but if the Hutu power radio stations had been shut down as soon as they began preaching ethnic hatred and paranoia, the horrific Rwandan massacres might not have happened. At the very least, the community absolutely has a right to shut down that kind of thing. If a vulnerable group is constantly being attacked in the media and by preachers of hate, and because of this they feel too uncomfortable to live in the community, that is a severe violation of their rights that government has the obligation to protect.

I also am skeptical that hate can be debated and discussed in a kind of Athenian forum or that ridiculous and retrograde views fall by the wayside once they're 'exposed' by well-meaning people. If true, why do so many people believe Obama is a Muslim and that he wasn't born in the US, and why do a significant portion of the American people believe the earth is flat? In the age of the internet, where people just read information that agrees with their beliefs, it's even harder to sit down and have 'conversations' with inciters of hate.

In short, I'm much more afraid of nativist populism than I am of the government. Legal protections of 'free speech' were meant to protect political speech, not every self-indulgent and asinine comment under the sun. Hate is not political speech.


Speech is not merely protected for political reasons. Ideas too are protected. Even bad ones. You're going to have to make a very compelling argument indeed that the government should be in the business of policing ideas for me to think that's a good idea. I might be able to accept an argument for policing violent action and activity. I'm not very interested in policing stupidity and thought with legal force, even if it would indeed greatly benefit us by ridding us of a great many stupid debates like "is Obama a secret Muslim". The problem with that is who gets to determine which debates are stupid will change over time. It will not simply be good and decent liberals like ourselves. I too fear populists. But one major protection against them is to prevent them from having too much power over us by not establishing a principle of limited free speech in the first place. If this costs us precious time arguing over evolutionary theory or the religious practices of the President with morons, so be it. It will also mean they can't force us to pray or teach creationism in school (and ideally, it would mean the FCC doesn't get to control what you watch on TV or on the Internet). Part of that freedom is putting up with people who use it irresponsibly and in ways that you won't agree with. So long as they do not ACT upon those idiotic rants in violent ways, I fail to see what legal precedent would be good to use to stop them from believing ridiculous things because you're effectively establishing a precedent that will terminate your own ability to express ideas. Populists may be dumb, but if you give them a power, they're damn well going to use the thing.

The major glaring flaw with your jim crow problem is that it was the GOVERNMENT, the state and local governments that enforced segregation. There were strict legal codes of separation and discrimination. The same was true in South Africa. When the government gets involved in determining objectives like discrimination, I find it hard to say that we've empirically determined that social or market pressures are ineffective. The end result was that it was the government had to step in and guarantee equal access true. But the government was already involved. It's hardly enough to say that this was a social pressure by itself and that therefore social pressure must obviously fail. It was given legal force and what legal force was intended to work in the opposite direction was not properly enforced, both of those things cut against the ability to use markets and social pressure.

I'm also skeptical that the idea that the Internet further segregates information flows. Go read some newspapers from the 18th or 19th century from different parts of the country. You will find sectional differences in the accounts of various stories to be remarkably obvious. There is a disadvantage in people sitting in their homes selecting what news they read yes, and this does lead to some odd effects like the number of people thinking Obama is a Muslim increasing, but those people still have to eventually interact and try to form groups publicly on the internet. Occasionally, their bigotry and stupidity expresses itself and is assailed not merely by a random few strangers, but by thousands of active people trolling about from all over the world. We did not previously have this ability to organise and resist ideas, or form those of our own.

I don't see how this presents a problem to the Athenian forum model so long as people are persistent about engaging opposing ideas and especially those perceived as the most pernicious, like racism. When they stop doing this, as I perceive many major and influential Democrats to have done on this mosque flap, that's a far bigger problem because it allows the conversation to become dominated and determined by idiots. (health care debate had several similar issues, "death panels", etc)

I'm extremely skeptical that introducing extreme examples like Nazis propaganda or the Rwandan genocide/civil war into the equation are going to be very productive at all. We have our own history of religious and racial violence and intolerance. It's very ugly. But we also have a history of reforming rules of law which restrict that violence. There is a vast difference between restricting violence by private (and public) parties and restricting speech. That gap has not been bridged by claiming that speech has incited violence in places with either official state sanction for that violence or very weak states.

By contrast, we do have an imminent danger standard for restrictions on speech. It is very likely that in a case like Rwanda, should one arise, we would have shut down the radio stations instructing people to kill: "A function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea. That is why freedom of speech, though not absolute, . . . is nevertheless protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest..... Rioting is a substantive evil, which I take it no one will deny that the State and the City have the right and the duty to prevent and punish". I do not question the ability of the state to preside over violent acts, and the acts which deliberately and immediately incite others to those acts.

But this regulation is distinct from the forms of hate speech you seem to want to regulate. Not all such speech incites violence against life or property. Most of it is merely ignorant ranting.

Also: sexual harassment laws constitute equal protections because they govern workplace environments, in the same way that forcing business owners to serve black customers was perfectly legitimate override of their property rights because it guaranteed equal access to market participation.

We do not generally have a sexual harassment law for governing speech for public places. There's a big difference. Even if I agree that there are plenty of times where such a law might be useful, and that rape laws are still in dire need of stronger enforcement.

I have one rather significant question then. What about academic research? Is that not protected by free speech? Or artistic expression?

If the only thing protected is explicit political policy views, it would seem to me that the natural response of this is to make ALL views politically determined and approved of, including empirical research or the creations of artists.

Noise ordinances are also regulated on a different principle than speech as they do not object to the content of speech but rather how it is delivered, in reference to volume mostly. They make no account of what people say.

"Part of that freedom is putting up with people who use it irresponsibly and in ways that you won't agree with. So long as they do not ACT upon those idiotic rants in violent ways, I fail to see what legal precedent would be good to use to stop them from believing ridiculous things because you're effectively establishing a precedent that will terminate your own ability to express ideas."

Once again, this is not a matter of 'agreement' or 'disagreement'. The gulf between speech and action is not as great as you imply. Today - Aug. 31 - shots were fired outside a Rochester area mosque after the people who go to that mosque were harassed over a period of several days - honking horns, shouting insults, etc. What was the line between speech and action when Fox News repeatedly spouted off nonsense about George Tiller? Do they bear no responsibility for that assassination because they didn't explicitly call for his death? Speech has consequences and does not exist in a vacuum.

http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/boy_accused_of_firing_shots_near_kFh2pSbBqmdmJ2p2tT976I

Under your rules, the community would have to wait until people or property gets attacked in order to intervene to stop these hooligans. The right to worship would not include the right to worship free of harassment under conditions of peace and security.

"I'm not very interested in policing stupidity and thought with legal force, even if it would indeed greatly benefit us by ridding us of a great many stupid debates like "is Obama a secret Muslim"."

But your policy of non-intervention relies on this idea that social shaming works or would 'expose' such views, leading them to fade away because they're obviously wrong, illogical, etc. This doesn't appear to be happening, and like ****, I have zero hope that if the general public is left to itself, it would take care of the anti-Muslim harassment issue.

"It's hardly enough to say that this was a social pressure by itself and that therefore social pressure must obviously fail."

What law mandated that private establishments refuse service to African Americans? What law mandated covenant housing and housing discrimination? To my knowledge, none did. So you can't just heap blame on the government for this since it went far beyond government services and education. If left to themselves, the white property owners in the south wouldn't serve people who weren't white. The market is notoriously slow in fixing social wrongs. Social shaming didn't work in this case, or any other case to my knowledge.

"By contrast, we do have an imminent danger standard for restrictions on speech."

I'm surprised you concede to an imminent danger standard. For a while I thought you'd have opposed such a thing.
So my question is - how many mosques have to be attacked before we recognize an imminent danger stemming from anti-Muslim hate speech? How many lynchings have to occur? How many cross burnings? How many church bombings?


" function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger."

In what way does 'hate' invite 'dispute' or serve free speech's 'high purpose'? It poisons the environment and stirs people to act on that hate.

"s nevertheless protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest"

The link I sent you shows that this speech presents a 'clear and present danger' and a 'substantive evil'. It's not just a matter of 'inconvenience' to be harassed while you're trying to attend prayer services. It is a affront to public peace and people's rights to worship. It is attack on these people's existence as full and equal members of the community. It is aimed at expelling them from the community or shutting down their religious freedom. It is speech that is meant to take away the rights of others.

"Not all such speech incites violence against life or property"

I disagree. All hate speech incites violence. I can't think of any incident of hate speech that does not.

"I have one rather significant question then. What about academic research? Is that not protected by free speech? Or artistic expression?"

It's quite clear that academic research is not protected. There is a reason why tenure processes were created - and the tenure process has routinely been highly 'politicized' - meaning people were denied tenure for political reasons, not due to the inadequacy of their research. Heck, in academia political speech is highly regulated. Ohio law makes you sign a statement saying you can't say anything remotely sympathetic to groups like the Tamil Tigers, even though such a group has nothing to do with US security. Nor can you espouse your political views in any real way as an instructor. So as to your point that if populists ever take power they'd restrict my speech or impose their views on curricula, they already do this and get away with it. They're the ones who compile blacklists and organize campaigns to oust left of center professors. They're the ones who have successfully manipulated school boards and state governments to submit to their distorted vision of what education should be. They're quite capable of stifling dissent without controlling every aspect of government.

But the bigger point is, if these people ever do control every aspect of government, we'll have a lot more to worry about than free speech.


"What law mandated that private establishments refuse service to African Americans? What law mandated covenant housing and housing discrimination?"

Go look them up, both of those were laws written and passed by state or local governments. PRECISELY the examples you claim do not exist.

"It shall be unlawful to conduct a restaurant or other place for the serving of food in the city, at which white and colored people are served in the same room, unless such white and colored persons are effectually separated by a solid partition extending from the floor upward to a distance of seven feet or higher, and unless a separate entrance from the street is provided for each compartment. " - State of Alabama.

"All persons licensed to conduct a restaurant, shall serve either white people exclusively or colored people exclusively and shall not sell to the two races within the same room or serve the two races anywhere under the same license." - State of Georgia.

"Any person...who shall rent any part of any such building to a negro person or a negro family when such building is already in whole or in part in occupancy by a white person or white family, or vice versa when the building is in occupancy by a negro person or negro family, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine of not less than twenty-five ($25.00) nor more than one hundred ($100.00) dollars or be imprisoned not less than 10, or more than 60 days, or both such fine and imprisonment in the discretion of the court. " - State of Louisiana

The LAW required restaurants and local businesses to establish separate accommodations. I am not making this up. The original separate but equal case was brought by a private business (Pullman cars) who wanted not to have to follow state discrimination laws. This was imposed by legal force. I am in agreement that there were (and are) powerful social forces, but to claim that these were the only features of the Jim Crow South is incorrect. They were not. The basis for intervention by the federal government was that the state/local governments were not adequately granting federal rights of citizenship.

Tenure processes and hiring and firing decisions based on speech are made by public or private owners of colleges. The same can be true of radio hosts or TV advertisers. These speech codes do not need to be passed by, and indeed, are not enforced by governments. The actual right protected by government is the ability to say things. It is not protected that people must listen to them or find them agreeable. That's on you to convince them that what you have to say is sensible or correct.

I find it incredibly suspect that you would trust the government over a diverse body politic and its various institutions to decide academic "freedom". This is an incredibly naive position.

My general point about populists and free speech and things like education is that if want to further politicize these as issues, then you virtually guarantee further restrictions on your liberties. My contention on education for instance would be to have fewer standards determined by state or local school boards, not more, as it seems to be your general contention. I am not in agreement that for example, expressing support for the Tamil Tigers should be an automatically fire-able offense. But I think you should have to back it up, just as you would with any other statement of academic research.

My suspicion is that you are chafing about the exact kinds of laws that you are essentially saying you want passed, that is, laws governing speech, on this point, only the speech that you want governed is the kind you don't approve of. THAT IS THE POINT OF FREE SPEECH. You shouldn't get to legally say what people cannot say. PERIOD. That it happens already should tell you that it's a bad idea, not that you should want more of it for your own side.

Acts of violence such as acts of harassment are things which we have legal penalties for or private parties can seek redress for through civil penalties. Acts of speech are not. There's a line there because the one is plainly and directly harmful and the other is not (even if it is stupid). It is not "speech" to stand around with a gun menacing people as they enter a mosque or a place of business. It's called "menacing". There's a law against that.

I think the general disagreement is on the boundaries between action and speech. I think, from observing most people and finding that most of them hold often very xenophobic or racist or objectionable sentiments, that the overwhelming majority of people do and will not act aggressively upon them. It is possible that this action creates a permissive atmosphere for negative actions against Muslims or gays and so on. But this is not limited to simple violent crimes, you could also say it feeds heavily into political decisions such as wars of aggression in Iraq or drone strikes in Pakistan or Yemen. Under your logic of protected political speech, the latter is justified, the former is not. I see the latter as a guaranteed action taken in the course of bad and counter productive foreign policy (which kills potentially hundreds of thousands of people), while the former is a possibility (which kills some hundreds of people per year at best) and still has to contend with the fact that we have equal laws, if a person's life or property is violated. Yes we have assholes too. But I would rather that we have them openly among us and freely combat them in the realm of ideas the better that their ideas be defeated as the ridiculous nonsense they are.

As an example the "Obama is a secret Muslim" trope. This consists of 18% of the population at last count (many of them Republicans). In truth, many, if not most of those people you could ask "Is Obama a secret werewolf" and they would say yes. Some of this is pure stupidity. Some people would think it's a good thing (yes, some do). Some is partisanship heuristics, and some is a latent fear and disaffection with Islam. This last is the only real problem. Yes, and it is very possible that the populist anxieties with Islam since at least 9-11 and certainly in the last couple of months have emboldened action by a few. But it's a problem that will not go away if we do not talk and challenge people based upon it, to prove their ridiculous assertions. I am not seeing people do so, generally. That's why it does not go away. It persists publicly in large part because we allow it persist publicly. A strong defence of the freedom of worship (Mayor Bloomberg's speeches on this for instance have gotten into this) would also explain why it is necessary to tolerate other faiths and creeds and customs, it would not simply state that we have a freedom of worship protection.

As for your faith that bad ideas won't die, two things
1) Most people are pretty dumb and unaware and do not have much meaningful world experience. This means that a percentage of people will always hold some ridiculous belief, the world is flat, all black people are stupid, the holocaust did not happen, and so on. Legislating against expressing this this will achieve nothing (see German laws on holocaust denial). I have no faith it will go away either, but the difference is that I don't see how a law is going to help. If anything it makes people lazy about the topic in my opinion because they don't have to think about it. Most people do not for instance consider the implications of freedom of speech or freedom of religion actively, we have laws for this, and clearly, people don't understand them or find these laws inconvenient.
I would probably see that they would not say to themselves, yes obviously people are equal and here's why. Perhaps it would be better if we lived in a world where such thoughts did not occur to anyone. But I don't think that world exists in a world with different nations and different cultures and different experiences for different people. There are all manner of political and complex ideas that require something of a counter-intuitive logic to that of a simple observation; global warming for instance is repeatedly combated with these idiotic "but it snowed" stories. Part of this is best addressed by fixing primary education policies, particularly science education or adding instruction in philosophy at an early time. I agree it's an issue since we haven't passed a Pigovian carbon tax or hiked the gasoline tax because people are kind of dumb and don't understand price externalities of pollution. But the proper place to fight this lunacy is not by controlling speech, but by teaching more people how to think and be able to absorb complex issues and make some sense of them. And to able to distinguish between action and violence. In general, it is my opinion that our good ideas must be understood in order to be practiced at their best and they will not be understood if they go untested or unchallenged, even by the very weakest counterarguments like those advanced by hate speech.

2) Most bad ideas will lose popular support if people fight against them. Social pressures against interracial marriage or homosexuals were previously FAR higher than they are now, and far higher than they were as the equality of those causes became manifest through the legal process. There are still people who hold those ideas and prejudices (a justice of the peace declined to marry a couple in Louisiana for example last year, and he was summarily fired). They are free to hold these opinions and agitate for them. But they are not free to act upon them in a discriminatory manner. Write laws for the one, don't worry about the speech. The reason I have a great deal of faith in this process is the demographics of things like legalisation for marijuana or support for gay marriage. The arguments are far more appealing to younger people, who have been raised around them and see the arguments against as increasingly ridiculous.

One final point and I'll leave it lie. Don't fuck with a free speech absolutist in the Mill tradition in a debate over free speech. You will not move me very easily from the position that ideas, even good ones, should have to fight to survive.

You might have made some ground up by talking about violent crimes committed with a prejudicial motivation. I'm skeptical there about the laws and their effects, but I at least recognize that some crimes do carry such motivations and some penalty might be necessary for the protection of citizens (who happen to be of a particular at risk group), in the same way that say, paedophiles, carry a particular legal penalty, racially motivated murders might make sense to penalise differently. I think, unlike paedophilia, we have other resources that would advance the same social end in a far less invasive way which also address structural inequalities caused by governments than to try to ascertain the motivations of a particular criminal actor through government legal processes. It's pretty obvious when a someone has a sexual encounter with a child what they were up to and what their motivations were. It is less obvious when a white male Christian assaults a Muslim (or when an Afghani citizen is brutally disfigured by another Muslim), though it is certainly plausible there's a hate and terrorizing element to it, it could simply be random noise as was brought up originally in this thread.

I think we have a good case that these particular incidents are not random noise and that some of our citizens require legal protection as a consequence. I'm not sure that we require additional legal protection so much as calling out the racism and bigotry and condemning it with our social rejection of it and the requirement that laws against arson and menacing and assaults and threats and so on are enforced and investigated. Even if the force of numbers is against us in terms of unspoken tolerance of violent reprisals against Muslims, there are still very few influential people willing to publicly advance the most pernicious slanders against Islam in this country (Gingrich being in my mind the most prominent politically, probably Beck and the other idiot talking heads being another source, I haven't paid much attention to right-wing radio head cases except for what Stewart shows me to mock them).

The idea is not to convince idiots that they are wrong and don't know what they are talking about, which is impossible and a thankless task (believe me, I've tried). It is to convince other people who aren't convinced they are idiots that they are in fact idiots who don't know what they are talking about.

as for conceding the legal exceptions to free speech, such as clear and present danger, these are established legal precedents from the Supreme Court. They are far weaker I think than you intend them to be or believe they are I think.

They must represent imminent danger to individual lives and property. People in the midst of a riot saying "get him" have some culpability when other people go forward and kill or attack that person or others like him. People standing up in a church or a town hall meeting saying "Muslims are evil, and we should kill them all" do not (in the same manner, saying "I think Rush Limbaugh should die or choke on his steak" or whatever, is protected). The latter is still irresponsible and dumb and I do not condone or endorse it as a good idea, I would in fact call it "hate speech". But it is legally and constitutionally protected, and it should be as people do not typically leave such meetings in order to seek out and commence the slaughter of innocent Muslims. There's a gap between action and expression that does not automatically suggest premeditation or the condoning of the views being expressed, or that the views were not already shared and that the expression was often milder (I look upon the George Tiller murder in this way, the murder seems to have had extreme radical views already well beyond those expressed by Faux news talking heads. Faux was irresponsible, but not legally culpable).

It does not have to be socially or culturally protected. In fact it should not be. It should shame us that people think this way and we should look for ways to disabuse them of these notions, or at least make it less possible to spread them by inoculating others with useful facts or analysis and manners of thought which give them greater tolerance for ideas but a greater intolerance for violent and offensive actions.

The specific case I know of, the assault of the cab driver, it might represent "a clear and present danger" because his anti-Islamic statements immediately or very nearly so precede the assault, as an example.



So yeah. To summarize. I think free speech is pretty fucking sweet. I don't think it is at all smart to assume that allowing even partial powers over its limitations to government would work the way people think it would (that is, to object only to things they think are offensive or pernicious opinions), particularly in a democratic society where norms and political parties could change over time. I don't see how hate speech is not or should not be Constitutionally protected or that there is somehow no class of hate speech which is not "a clear and present danger" to the functional workings of society. Such attitudes are not healthy and should be discouraged, and indeed there are many avenues of legal anti-discrimination laws which seem sensible to guarantee market participation (ending Jim Crow). But it is unlikely to be successful through enforcing thought police activities (abolishing portions of the 1st amendment).

I really don't understand how someone can arrive at these two views:
1) That academics and others would not propagate free speech and research better when they are unfettered by government controls rather than the opposite, that is that political processes should not determine what research is carried out. Markets for higher education and research might be a reasonable guide here instead.
2) That if there are already legal constraints on free exercise of speech, how did they get there (and not merely employer codes like sexual harassment laws or anti-discrimination)? What makes you think that there would be a permanent power source that would protect views that you approve of and remove precisely those views which are not? How would that be decided, by what mechanism? It would have to be through the political process. All views, including academic freedom, are far more threatened by making them subject to government standards of approval than they are by private and populist lunacy.

Be afraid of populists seizing power, yes, for lots of reasons, but don't give them more bullets for fuck's sake when they do (and they sometimes will and do). That's just stupid.
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