The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

A Quick Note On Free Speech

| 60 Comments

First of all, to be clear, I’m not a free speech absolutist.  As I’ve said elsewhere, free speech is an important weapon for the working class, but it is not some sort of holy principle that rises above the class struggle.

Second, what I’m talking about here has nothing to do with the First Amendment.  While I am a great supporter of that amendment, it has, as we all know, to do with the State, not with individuals or private organizations.

What does have a great deal to do with individuals or private organizations is suppression of speech.  And many people who self-identify as Leftists are at least as guilty of this as those who openly and honestly declare their support of oppression.

I’m going to keep this short: If you are attempting to prevent others from expressing an opinion, you are acting against the free and open exchange of ideas.  It’s really that simple.  If you are saying, “You have expressed an opinion that I find abhorrent, therefore I am going to try to get you fired or keep you from getting work or have you shunned,” you are taking a stand against freedom and in favor of oppression, however well-meaning you might be.

And, seriously, don’t even start with the pettifogging.  “Don’t I have the right to not buy something if I dislike the author?”  Of course you do, it’s a non-issue, and it is utter bullshit and you know it.  No one is trying to tell you whose work you should or shouldn’t buy.  But if you try to tell me you can’t see the difference between not buying something, and making an active effort to harm someone’s livelihood, I’ll call you a liar to your face.

A simple, public declaration, such as,”I will not buy books from this publisher because [they publish someone I disapprove of] [they have failed to sufficiently chastise someone who said something I hate]” is putting you on the side of those who are against freedom, of those who benefit from oppression.  Stop it.

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

60 Comments

  1. And yet, if you would like someone whose behavior you object to to modify their behavior, and at present do not feel you can support them with your money, it seems like a useful data point to tell them so, in the hopes that they will see the error of their ways. I think there’s a big difference between a public statement and a boycott.

    I also think there’s a big difference between boycotting anyone you disagree with, and boycotting someone specifically quite well-off who fundraises for causes you abhor. The last discussion I saw on this subject here was on Orson Scott Card, who will not be greatly harmed by a reduction in his income at this late date, and I still feel that given his use of his soapbox to specifically speak out against gay rights, and his financial support for opposition to gay rights, supporters of gay rights organizing a boycott of his work is different than, say, organizing a boycott of John C. Wright, whose virulence is similar or greater but whose platform, influence, and presumably personal wealth is more limited. Does that make sense?

  2. skzb

    Matt: I don’t know. Let me ask you this: Are you trying to modify his behavior? In other words, is your endgame to prevent him from stating abhorrent positions? If he is afraid to speak his mind for fear of economic consequences, will you feel like that’s a victory?

  3. Matt Doyle: It’s okay to boycott someone if he is rich and has a lot of influence but it’s not okay if they don’t? Can you quantify that for me?

    Because no, it does not make sense. Either you think it’s okay to campaign against free speech or you don’t. I may not agree with you, I may not buy your book, but you have the right to publish anything you want.

    The line for me is the difference between saying, “I will not buy this book,” and “I will not buy from this publisher.”

    Specifically, I’ve told people that there’s no way in hell I’m ever going to buy a book by Glenn Beck because I think he’s a nutjob. I didn’t organize a boycott of Fox News or whoever publishes his books.

  4. I intended the two paragraphs as two different cases; looks like that was unclear. But that’s still a good question.

    In the case of Orson Scott Card, I feel that his words, and his use of his income, harm people. I’m not trying to modify his behavior, I’m trying to minimize the harm he’s able to do. Any effect on the man himself is incidental. Or, hypothetically, anyway. I’m not buying his works any more but I’m not personally organizing a boycott or taking part in any coordinated political effort. But I feel that the principle is sound? I’d expect any persons participating in such a boycott to be putting their money where their mouth is elsewhere, supporting gay rights and opposing homophobic organizations in material and substantive ways, or it’s just a grudge match and an intimidation effort, which is a different matter.

    In the case of my first paragraph, more generally… no, I guess I wouldn’t want anyone to be afraid to speak their mind. If that was the effect of my actions I’d regret it, and I’d be ashamed of myself. But I also think there’s room for nuance: I wouldn’t mind if they recognized that their words had an impact on their sales, and that an intemperate or insulting remark would cost them, so that they could make an informed decision about whether voicing their views was…

    Huh. I’ve sat here for a couple minutes now trying to find an ending to that sentence that I don’t find repugnant, and I can’t locate it. I think I have to concede the point. I do want even assholes and bigots to feel free to state their views, and I don’t think scaring them into silence serves much good purpose. Is it consistent if I say I don’t want to scare them, but I do want to shame them? Or that I’m happy when assholes who mistreat and verbally abuse others lose money as a result of their actions? But no, I don’t want to have a chilling effect on public expression of honestly held beliefs.

    I don’t know. Struggling with this one a bit.

  5. skzb

    Matt: Yeah, well, on reflection, I guess my statement that “it’s that simple” isn’t entirely true. There are tough cases buried in there.

  6. Seth: if I boycott someone who’s got enough money to live comfortably for the rest of his life, the impact of my actions is *wildly* different than if I boycott someone who’s struggling to pay his bills. Context matters.

    When it comes to influence, if I see someone whom millions listen to and look up to, and this person is guiding others to do hateful things, my response should be proportional: the kinds of actions with which it is ethical for me to oppose this person are not the same as the kinds of actions with which it’s reasonable to oppose a man on a streetcorner with nothing more than a literal soapbox. The harm they can do varies, and the harm I can do varies.

    In either case, it is not reasonable for me to do serious harm, just as it is not reasonable for them to do serious harm.

    And I don’t in the least disagree that someone has the right to publish whatever they want. But I think it’s reasonable for me to oppose its publication, too.

  7. Matt: That’s why I asked you to quantify it. At what level is it okay to organize a boycott because of someone’s opinion? If they have a million in the bank it’s okay, but less than that you should leave them alone?

    What level of personal wealth means it’s okay to try and silence them is what I’m asking you for.

    The appropriate response is not to boycott them, or try to keep them from being published, but to use opposite organizations to counter their message of hate and intolerance with increased education.

    I agree that his actions are hurtful to people by the way.

  8. And can we talk about what tor screwed up on last night? It seems to me that by throwing Irene under the bus, they’ve sent a damn clear message to all their employees about how much they better shut up online. That’s kinda chilling, especially considering the things they haven’t made statements or apologies for.

  9. There is a difference between organising a boycott of OSC and calling the cops on him. The second involves the power of the bourgeois State, while the first is aimed at mobilising those who disagree with his stated ideas to publicly distance themselves from him. I dislike e.g. Tom Kratman much more than I do Card. I’ve read Mike Williamson and enjoy some of his stuff. Neither of them, so far as I know, has lent himself and whatever prestige he has as a writer to arguing against the rights of other people in “real life”.

    That said, I think the boycott campaign is a bad idea and a bad precedent … I watched in horror as the same sort of thing destroyed what remained of the editing career of William Sanders, who is neither a racist nor a homophobe, as is well known by those of us who know him. (If he thinks of Islam as a reactionary religion and calls its most reactionary preachers “sheet heads”, I’ve got the same opinion about all religions, and their practitioners.)

    I disagree with you and Eric Flint and China Mieville about the nature of Trotskyism and its message to/strategy for the working class, but I read all of your stuff anyway and enjoy it. Anybody calling for a literary boycott of Northites, Barnesites and/or ISOers will get short shrift from me.

  10. Jen: agreed, I found Doherty’s statement alarming, annoying, and plain wrongheaded in a number of ways.

    Seth: I don’t think it can be boiled down to a specific number, but I don’t think that changes things. As I said, I’d expect anyone taking part in a boycott to be partaking in other forms of activism. But frequently, no comparable powerbase exists. I don’t think “appropriate” action is always going to take the same form, and I think that the situation is going to be subjective. The answer to the question “what are the best actions I can take to reduce harm and heighten awareness in this situation?” will depend on many factors, which, if they are reducible to a specific algorithm in which personal wealth is one variable, are certainly not reducible by *me*.

    Collective action at a grassroots level is one of the ONLY answers by which concentrations of wealth and influence can be countered, and threatening that wealth and influence is one effective means of doing so. I would neither nor reject a boycott of any wealthy person doing a despicable thing without specific context. I just don’t think it’s that easy to say whether a given activist tool is right or wrong. I *do* think that boycotts are *generally* better deployed when a large organization’s business practices are being opposed than when an individual or spokesperson is expressing virulent opinions. But I *don’t* think they’re *always* inappropriate.

  11. skzb

    Jen: Yes, exactly. It will do nothing but harm to our community if those in publishing are afraid to speak their minds about controversial issues.

  12. I feel like there’s some context to this conversation that I am missing.

    My own experiences working for a game developer that grew in size gradually for many years (until suddenly imploding) may be a relevant case. My employer at first encouraged employees to interact with the fan base, but just to follow a few common-sense rules to avoid damaging the company. These rules got more and more restrictive over time, until by the end, if you were not explicitly part of the PR engine, we were almost completely silenced. We were not allowed to say *anything* about our own company. We were allowed to comment on other games or game companies *only* in a “100% positive” manner. And finally, this “100% positive or nothing” rule was extended to any discussion of game *journalism*! (This was before the phrase “ethics in game journalism” became a thing.)

  13. I personally like the stand that free speech is a positive good and should be maintained as a right. I like the idea that we should have a society where people are free to say whatever ideas pop into their heads.

    However, this can work against other important goals. If you are fighting a war that’s worth winning, why would you let malcontents, pacifists, and spokesmen for the enemy speak out against the war? To the extent they can hurt morale, they hurt the war effort resulting in a longer war, more casualties, possibly even defeat. It makes perfect sense that they must be silenced by any means necessary.

    And doesn’t that idea extrapolate? If you fight a war at sea, you try to sink the enemy’s ships. If you fight a war in space, you try to destroy his spacecraft. When you fight a war in memespace, of course you try to keep the enemy’s memes from propagating. There might be some sort of ethical imperative to let everybody’s memes spread as well as they can, and let the best meme win. But stopping the enemy memes is at least as valid a method to win as killing enemy soldiers.

    So, how much is it a reasoned discourse of polite ideas, and how much is it a war? If someone is speaking out against gay rights (for example) do you want to have a polite debate respecting everybody’s opinions, or do you want to win?

    If you believe that all ideas have an equal right to be expressed, that racists and sexists etc have just as much right to say whatever bigoted smears they want as you do to tell your own heartfelt convictions, then great! I’m with you.

    But if you’re being practical in following your goals, it seems like it would be better to come out 100% for free speech while your side is likely to be the one getting suppressed. But then when you get some power, then hit your enemies as hard as you can! Deny them jobs. Jail them if possible. (Frame them for rape or child molestation or something.) Find reasonable excuses for capital punishment. In some rare cases, when an enemy is a particularly effective spokesman, it may make sense to just kill him. Better if you can make it look like a traffic accident or a drug overdose or something, don’t make a martyr. War is hell, and the quicker and more thoroughly you can get a complete victory the less suffering it will cause.

    Of course it’s best if the enemy leaders are persuaded and join you willingly. And failing that, it’s pretty good if you can torture and brainwash them to the point that they publicly admit you are right and they were wrong. But if someone is more threat to the cause alive than dead, how can you justify letting him live? Unless he’s just too well-guarded to reach.

    So if we’re going to have a tea party, then it’s fine to let everybody say anything, however outrageous, and we all nod our heads and allow he may have a point and argue about just how much point there is there. I like that. I think potentially we may find more truth that way than otherwise.

    But if you’re serious, if you have a cause that you are devoted to, that you might if need be bet your life on, then it only makes sense to stamp out every alternative idea as thoroughly as you can. If the enemy has as much right to his opinion as you do, what are you fighting for? Of course he doesn’t have as much right to hurt people as you do to help them. He doesn’t have as much right to enslave people as you do to liberate them. He is evil and you are good. He is wrong and you are right. If you can’t get him to join you, you should stamp him out.

  14. I’m also bothered by Doherty’s throwing Ms. Gallo under the bus, but I’m more bothered by the morons who are calling for her to be fired.

    Even if Ms. Gallo had said something truly horrific (and I don’t think she did; she didn’t even call all the authors involved “neo-nazis,” the specific wording means SOME of them are that extreme but not all of them), this idea in American society that people ought to lose their jobs because they said something stupid (again, I don’t think she did; just making a point here), or that CEOs should resign immediately because their corporation made a mistake, or political appointees should resign because their department screwed up, is dangerous in the long run. What happened the idea of forgiveness and growth? You can’t learn from your mistake if you’re fired because of it. It ought to take more than one screwup to lose one’s livelihood.

  15. Words are tools and tools can be weapons. I don’t think word control will ever be less thorny than gun control, for much the same reasons.

  16. Disclaimer: I’m going to vastly overstate my opposition to this in a way that I don’t personally believe because I think it might strike a resonant chord with your way of thinking:

    —Start—
    Why are you shielding oppressive corporations from the consequences of actions that they take? You’re opening up an opportunity for them to exploit the labor of their authors in order to make speech that, if they did it openly themselves, would expose them to rightful disapprobation.

    Why should we let Fox News get away with hiring Rush Limbaugh to weigh in against the rightful class struggle of the workers? Why should we not take his message as coming from them, through a paid lackey, and act accordingly?
    —End—

    In most cases (aside from unmoderated forums), publishing someone is an editorial choice. The editor is just as much responsible as the author. The editor, as an agent of the publisher, can be reliably assumed to not choose to publish material that the corporation disagrees with. If there are specific examples which are otherwise, that doesn’t disprove the basic thesis.

    Holding a corporation accountable for publishing statements you strongly disagree with is no more wrong than simply withholding your custom from a specific author whose views you disagree with.

    Publication is an action. They are not obligated to choose to spread any particular words. They choose to.

    If it were to go further, to attempting to restrain someone from finding *any* platform on which they could speak, then I would agree that it crosses the line.

  17. skzb

    “Why are you shielding oppressive corporations from the consequences of actions that they take? ”

    Corporations have nothing to fear from such things, only individuals do. The fight against corporations involves mobilizing the working class. Putting pressure on corporations lets them come off as heroes either by caving in to the pressure or not caving in to the pressure, but doesn’t hurt them either way. The only thing you can accomplish is to intimidate someone into refusing so speak for fear of economic consequences. That is a shameful thing to do.

  18. “As I’ve said elsewhere, free speech is an important weapon for the working class, but it is not some sort of holy principle that rises above the class struggle.”

    Do you have a link for this elsewhere? If it’s a whole post, I suspect whatever I’m thinking was at least touched on in it, and I see no point asking you to repeat.

    About the idea of having thrown someone under a bus:

    “It will do nothing but harm to our community if those in publishing are afraid to speak their minds about controversial issues.”

    I really don’t understand the consternation about the post on Tor. According to Mr. Doherty, Ms. Gallo posted uncomplimentary remarks about authors on the same page she identified herself as working for a publisher, without “mak[ing] it clear that her comments were hers alone”. Unless the general consensus is that Tor should be blasting the puppy concept and all the authors and readers related to it, I don’t see why his statement is considered harmful instead of perfectly reasonable. Neither social convention nor legal opinion support someone who gives the impression she’s speaking for a group who hasn’t given her permission to do so. Could someone explain why his post is ominous?

  19. skzb

    “Do you have a link for this elsewhere?” I believe it was a Facebook post.

    As for the Tor issue, my specific comments on that were posted there. If this link works, it should be: http://www.tor.com/2015/06/08/a-message-from-tom-doherty-to-our-readers-and-authors/#comment-526454

  20. I used to think free speech was a goal. I’ve only recently realized it’s a tactic. Just as the Geneva Conventions established that certain tactics were simply wrong, believers in free speech believe that silencing people is wrong, whether they do it or the enemy does it.

  21. Oh, I don’t have any way of reading Facebook posts, so my apologies if you’ve answered this one.

    “I’m going to keep this short: If you are attempting to prevent others from expressing an opinion, you are acting against the free and open exchange of ideas. It’s really that simple.

    A simple, public declaration, such as,’I will not buy books from this publisher because [they publish someone I disapprove of] [they have failed to sufficiently chastise someone who said something I hate]’ is putting you on the side of those who are against freedom, of those who benefit from oppression. Stop it.”

    If a simple public declaration, i.e. speech without action, is oppression, how is ordering someone not to do it not oppressive? And how is that not “attempting to prevent others from expressing an opinion”? The distinction escapes me.

    RE: Doherty/Gallo

    I had read the comments at Tor, but I really don’t get the anger directed at them here (and elsewhere). Mr. Doherty posted a perfectly reasonable statement, pointing out Ms. Gallo doesn’t speak for Tor and not in any way suggesting she was going to be disciplined or that her job was in jeopardy. I don’t see any under-bus-throwing, so I was just curious about that aspect.

  22. skzb

    “If a simple public declaration, i.e. speech without action, is oppression, how is ordering someone not to do it not oppressive?”

    There you go. Your method in a nutshell. Perfect.

  23. “If a simple public declaration, i.e. speech without action, is oppression, how is ordering someone not to do it not oppressive?”

    The rationale is that when bad people stop good people from doing good things, that’s bad.

    But when good people stop bad people from doing bad things, that’s good.

    So when people who aren’t racists stop racists from doing racist things, you could say the racists are being oppressed. But they’re racists so they deserve to be oppressed.

    If sexists are prevented from saying sexist things in the presence of women who are victims, who are damaged by hearing people say sexist things, that’s right and proper. But if sexists manage to prevent feminists from saying liberating things, that’s wrong.

    I want to believe that everybody should have the same rights. But why should bad people have the same rights as good people? In some contexts it might make more sense for the good people to have all the rights, and for the bad people to have none.

    Steven might agree with this. Freedom of speech is an important weapon for the working class which tends to get censored. But once the working class wins, why should they allow freedom of speech for their former oppressors? Why should they give that important weapon to their implacable enemies?

  24. Doherty’s statement isn’t reasonable because it is a very extreme reaction to publicly excoriate an employee for a personal social media post. But of course it’s also objectionable because it defends SP/RP-ers who may perhaps not be neo-nazis (well one of them at least is certainly a fascist and even worse than that), but whose behavior has been demonstrably repugnant in the extreme.

    Moreover, surely it is generally understood that when the boss of a firm calls out an employee in public that employee’s job is usually hanging by a thread, if they are not already on their way out the door. Never will the employee rehabilitate themselves in the boss’s eyes if he’s taken such an extreme step as to shame them in public.

  25. Skzb

    Thank you for thinking about this. Thought seems to be in short supply at the moment.

  26. “There you go. Your method in a nutshell. Perfect.”

    I don’t understand this reference. I find your position confusing, and I was really trying to avoid the word hypocritical. Because that is exactly how this post comes across, as pure hypocrisy.

    I hadn’t wanted to put it as bluntly as that, but apparently I have to. One of the lawyers whose blog I enjoy reading has written over and over and over again that the way to deal with offensive speech is more speech. That does not include telling people whose speech you dislike to shut up because they’re anti-freedom oppressors. And I agree with him, with the provision one also asks questions and tries to understand a position before disapproving of it.

  27. skzb

    I’m trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. The trouble is, I don’t know if the benefit of the doubt means assuming you are being disingenuous in order to score debate points, or if it means assuming you truly do not understand how saying, “Do not prevent others from speaking” is different from preventing others from speaking. But, whichever it is, I can see no further value in continuing.

  28. “If a simple public declaration, i.e. speech without action, is oppression, how is ordering someone not to do it not oppressive?”

    “… you truly do not understand how saying, “Do not prevent others from speaking” is different from preventing others from speaking.”

    I’m missing something here too. Can you prevent others from speaking just by your own speech, without action?

    Sure. Employers do it easily, they don’t have to ever come out and say that employees’ standing with them depends on them not saying things the employers find distasteful. It goes without saying. Everybody already assumes it.

    Men do it without noticing. Many women are raised to be submissive, and when they hear mansplaining they just shut up because it’s in the culture that they aren’t supposed to disagree.

    Women do it without noticing too. As if they don’t notice that for many men, any conversation with a woman is also a flirtation, and a man who says something that disgusts a woman loses any hypothetical chance to have sex with her. Sometimes some women definitely do notice that, though. A man who disagrees with them is implicitly saying that he thinks he’s so dominant that he can disagree and have sex with them anyway, which is a tremendous insult. Unless he’s gay.

    Everybody knows not to speak freely in front of the police.

    Of course people speak more freely when they are anonymous. I remember going to a trade show where some IBM salesmen tried to interest me in an internal company-only message board. Their big selling point was that when you made a comment, nobody at any privilege level could tell who did it. They said it had been invaluable for IBM. Like, somebody could say “If you think this deadline is going to be met you’re crazy!” which no one would dare to say otherwise, and then they could look into the problems.

    So OK, I guess if you say “Do not prevent others from speaking” it is not oppressive provided that you can’t do anything to stop them, and you can’t punish them for it, and particularly if you can’t tell whether they’re preventing others from speaking or not.

    But if you have more power over them than they do over you, then any time you give them orders you are implicitly threatening them.

    In that case, if you want people to speak freely you must get them to believe you will not punish them if it turns out that you don’t like what they say. And it will not be very easy to get them to believe that.

  29. L.Raymond – Re: Doherty/Gallo. It was an awful thing to post because Gallo didn’t deserve the public shaming. No one else at Tor deserves the message that ‘if you piss off the wrong fascist dickhead, we will chastise you instead of supporting you as a valued part of the team’. Numerous Tor employees and authors have posted the same things Gallo said, and more and worse. All over the place. Doherty hasn’t posted apologies – not even vacuous, forced ones – for anyone else who has insulted the puppies online. Nor has he made public apologies for Tor people who have been harassers. If their policy is to deal with things in-house, then it should stay that way. That apology got posted because Vox Day screencapped a thing and then held it for month to create a controversy to overshadow the Nebulas, and Doherty fell for it and now here we are.

    [THIS COMMENT REFLECTS MY VIEWS AND NOT NECESSARILY THOSE OF DREAMCAFE OR STEVE OR MY CAT OR THE COMPANY I’M DOING CONTRACT WORK FOR OR THE LADY ON THE WAY WITH MY THAI FOOD OR DAVID BOWIE, WHOSE FINE WORK I AM LISTENING TO CURRENTLY]

  30. As round-ups go, this is pretty frickin long, but I’ll post a link since File770 reproduced Steve’s comment: http://file770.com/?p=23054

  31. skzb

    Jen: I think you’re not being entirely truthful. You know very well that your comment reflects the views of David Bowie.

  32. Grim has informed me that she mostly agrees with my comment as well.

  33. Given some more thought to this, and found an exception case, in my view.

    Hate speech is listed as one of the major contributing factors in the high suicide rates among gay teenagers. This is an example where such speech ought to be considered like shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater, but it’s harder to point to any single offense that drives someone over the line to self-harm. It’s tricky and controversial to prosecute, but it’s hard to deny that this speech, taken as a whole, kills teenagers.

    So when it comes to hate speech directed at minors, or designed to shame or terrify minors… yeah, I want to frighten the speakers. Yeah, I want them to lose their jobs and be unable to pay their rent. Yeah, I think that any harm we do them by shutting them up is less than the harm that they do to children, so I’m pretty at peace with the idea. And given that, hypothetically, such speech is NOT protected by the First Amendment, I feel secure in my principles, too. Maybe a little vindictive, but not unwontedly.

  34. Matt, I think it’s better to teach everyone that there are crazy people out there who will say hateful things, but they’re a minority that should be pitied or ignored. Otherwise, where do we stop protecting people? So long as your standard for censorship is “this upset me”, there will always be upset people demanding that the world conform to their idea of comfort.

    Hate speech presents constant challenges because you cannot legislate context; you can only legislate words, Ban one, and haters will always find a new insult. As the internet demonstrates every day.

  35. Without responding in any way to things said above.

    It’s well within … let’s call it expected behavior… for an officer of a corporation to publicly avow that statements made by an employee in a context that may appear to be official are in fact not official statements. In fact, in the context of the state, there are legal reasons for doing so.

    It’s not *outside* of expected behavior for that officer to include personal indictments against said employee. But it’s shitty behavior, generally.

    I personally find the rule on limiting free speech to start and end with shitty statements or statements that fall under the umbrella of shitty behavior.

    I.e. Don’t Be An Asshole.

    This can be a tricky thing to identify. And is part of the necessary work of the working class to define and clarify and encourage and enforce within their community. You don’t unify by offending.

  36. Will: I agree that it’s better! And “more speech” like the It Gets Better campaign, that’s *also* better than boycotts and intimidation. But until such time as I can see the positive effect of that actively reducing suicide rates among gay and transgendered teenagers, I’m not willing to say that we limit the toolbox to only our best efforts.

    I’m not asking for hate crimes legislation; I agree that it’s either unenforceable or draconian. And I’m not asking to whistle up a crusade every time someone gets upset. But while context may be too thorny to legislate, it’s recognizable, and I have no qualms about organizing to combat it. Not when people are upset. When direct verbal attacks threaten lives.

  37. “Hate speech is listed as one of the major contributing factors in the high suicide rates among gay teenagers. This is an example where such speech ought to be considered like shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater, but it’s harder to point to any single offense that drives someone over the line to self-harm. It’s tricky and controversial to prosecute, but it’s hard to deny that this speech, taken as a whole, kills teenagers.”

    Is it better to try to make the whole world safe for people who are in danger of killing themselves because of what other people say? Or is it better to restrict those people to safe places until they are strong enough to handle the dangers of the rest of the world?

    It just seems to me impractical to try to limit everybody’s free speech everywhere because a suicidal person might hear them.

  38. Matt, do we have any data on suicide rates among gay teenagers today and, say, ten years ago? And I’ll note that gay teenagers are not the only people who cite hate as a reason for suicide, so if you’ll accept that as a reason, why not include any hateful language that appears to have provoked a suicide?

    I’m reminded of this bit of commentary: http://www.clickhole.com/article/justice-last-when-girl-was-cyberbullied-classmate–2219

  39. J Thomas: why impose restrictions on those attacked, and not the attackers? Even if such a solution was practical to enact, it’s mis-aimed. And nobody is trying to restrict “everybody’s free speech everywhere.” I am speaking of targeting those who attack others.

    Will: I’m happy to target any hateful language that appears to provoke suicide! People’s lives are far more important than the right of others to spew bile at them.

    Again, I’m not talking about legislation or legal restrictions.

  40. “Will: I’m happy to target any hateful language that appears to provoke suicide! People’s lives are far more important than the right of others to spew bile at them.

    Again, I’m not talking about legislation or legal restrictions.”

    And I’ll go out here and say that refusing to give my money to an organization that supports this kind of speech is not an “attack”. It’s my right to support whatever and whoever I want to support.

    It’s further my free speech right to say that I’m doing it. People trying to stifle my free speech to say things like this are just as problematic as people trying to stifle any other speech.

    If I start firebombing their headquarters, or directly threatening them with any action that isn’t purely my rightful free choice to take with respect to anyone, feel free to come after me.

  41. Matt, no, you’re not talking about legislation or legal restrictions, but you seem to be assuming people are always right about what inspires their outrage. Whether there’s a purely objective version of this story, I don’t know, but the basic details seem to be accurate: http://toprightnews.com/maryland-teacher-knocked-out-bloodied-by-black-student-who-misinterpreted-a-word-as-racist/

    You might also google “Genesis Hernandez”.

  42. Will: I’m not advocating violence, either.

    No, I’m not assuming people will always be right. But that’s going to be true *in any situation.* If “sometimes we get it wrong” disqualifies a course of action, it disqualifies almost any course of action. We all have to try harder to get it right.

    And, frankly, I’d rather be overzealous than lackluster in defense.

  43. Matt, it’s a tricky line to walk. I oppose the death penalty because I don’t think it’s good to be overzealous. Mobbing, in extreme cases, drives people to suicide, and victims commonly have problems with depression. What’s done by zealots cannot be undone. Ultimately, I’m with those who say it’s better for the guilty to go free than for the innocent to suffer.

  44. Augh, edited my comment to add to it, but I took to long and the reply got eaten. It addressed some of that – let me try a trick with my software here to see if I can recover the full comment, otherwise I will try to recall my remarks.

    Here we go:

    I say this despite knowing that this can be kind of personal for you: you’ve caught a lot of flack over the last several years that were vast over-reactions and misinterpretations to your actual words and actions.

    That’s one of the reasons why I’m NOT advocating boycotts or informing employers in any case of “outrage.” I’m being as specific as I can here in trying to target direct, obvious bullying and vilification, not careless remarks, not disliked opinions.

    I’m talking about “all you (whatever) should burn in hell” or “go kill yourself” or “f off and die” and things of that sort, vitriol which is spewed on a regular basis. I’d like to act against ANYONE who targets people with such language, but especially at-risk populations being targeted on the basis of identity, not actions.

  45. My only disagreement here is that I do think free speech is pretty damn close to a holy principle. Because there is more than one principle, and principles come into conflict it can’t be absolute. But in my opinion exceptions are damn far and few between. Criminal conspiracy, death threats. There are people who go even further and oppose slander and libel laws which I don’t agree with. But I think freedom of speech is fundamental to be able live fully. Yes it is essential to the working class , but I really think it is essential beyond that. My late father lost his job during the Truman-McCarthy era. And many of his old union buddies cut him out of their lives so as not to face guilt by association. He finally got a job working for a company headed by a right winger who didn’t give a damn about my dads Marxist politics as long as he could do the job right. Besides, the right winger added, if they can destroy you economically for your opinions someone might be able to do the same to me later. Not, of course a common opinion by a right winger in 1955. But a far-sighted one. My dad always told me that story, and I never forgot that – and always made a point of defending free speech rights of people I disagreed with, not because I loved what they stood for, but as a way to defend my own rights. And I think that a socialist society has the same obligation to respect free speech. If a socialist society is actually to be socialist, or communist that it is governed (in the early stages) by the working class , which is almost everybody, or by everybody in later stages following the elimination of class. But how can such a body constitute the goverment if they can’t debate freely? That is also true of any society that is anything short of an absolute dictarship. There has to be freedom of speech for all members of the ruling class, or else they don’t really constitute a rurling class, but are ruled by a smaller group within that class. An aristocracy need not give free speech to the “lower orders”; but the aristocrats damn well better be able to debate freely among themselves. It often does not happen. And every time that lack of free speech proves a weakness for that aristocracy. Capitalism flourishes best under bourgeoisie democracy. Otherthrowing bourgeoisie democracy, or vilating the rights given under it is both sign of and a source of weakness in a capitalist state.

    If a socialist state ever came to exist, it would face the same choice. Abolishing free speech would prevent it from being socialist. (You may consider and actual example or ten.) Weakening free speech would weaken that socialist state. You may argue that exigent circumstance could occur that left it no choice. Maybe, but those exigent circumstances would not change the fact that it weakened society. Sometimes there are no right choices, only less wrong ones. But that does not make them right, only the best we can do.

  46. I wanted to put my next point in a seperate post. I think this applies not only to free speech but to civil liberties in general. A society with civil liberties is stronger than one without them. And I know my next point is wandering a bit far; but at the same time I think however far it wanders it follows directly from the subject. As an example I’m going to take Lincoln and the weakening of civil liberties during the civil war. Nope, I’m not going to start criticizing Lincoln. Given the choices he had, massively violating civil liberties was the lesser evil. An actual shooting war is an enemy of freedom. War, even when it liberates, is a tyrant. Fighting that war was better choice than not fighting it. And once the war was being fought, the Union could not allow Secessionist to spy on the North or to commit sabotage or even to engage in anti-Union propaganda and try foment rebellion or allow the recruiting of new spies and new sabatuars. But America also paid a price for that. While the United States has always been an empire, I think the national security state that acts as a government within a government was born under Lincoln. Every President who wants to massively engage in domestic repression or who wants to adventure abroad cites Lincoln. Nixon cited Lincoln. Woodrow Wilson cited Lincoln when he involved the USA in WWI. When I heard in 2008 that Obama’s favorite book was team of rivals, and worse that he identified with Lincoln, my immediate reaction was “oh shit”. I consider Lincoln one of our greatest Presidents, perhaps our greatest. But having anyone with the power to get us into wars identify with him scares the shit out of me.

    So I concede the point that freedom of speech is not an absolute, that there are times it has to be violated. But I think we also need to understand that we better make damn sure that it really is necessary, because no matter how necessary it may be, when you violate free speech or other civil liberties, you pay a price. And when a nation or a society violates those rights it is scarred.

    And again, I want to make clear that I don’t think the scars from the Civil war are anything like our greatest national scars.. Slavery itself was infinitely greater, and killed far more people than the war between the North and the South. So was the genocide that began in 1492.

  47. Matt Doyle: “why impose restrictions on those attacked, and not the attackers?”

    For purely practical reasons.

    People who commit suicide because of things random strangers tell them, are *disabled*. We try to make the best allowances we can for disabled people, but practically we can only go so far.

    If a quadriplegic is driving his motorized bed that needs to be very slow, we do not change all the pedestrian timers at stop lights to 3 minutes so he has time to cross the streets. We have handicapped access ramps, we have the timers set so that relatively slow people can cross the streets at stoplights, but people who are just too slow have to settle for some other kind of help.

    We don’t set up the traffic laws so that people who are too mentally disabled to drive can drive anyway. At some point with self-driving cars we might be able to do that. But now, if you can’t pass the test you don’t get your license. If you have a special car that lets you drive with no legs or with no arms or whatever, that’s fine. But you still have to pass the test.

    It’s just unreasonable to decide that nobody can say anything in public that might drive some other person to kill himself. We need to protect suicidal people from public discourse if it’s likely to hurt them, not make all public discourse safe for all suicidal people.

    But then, you aren’t talking about enforceable laws. You’re talking about saying things to attack people that you perceive are attacking somebody you care about.

    I believe you are sincere. But the guy who came up with this idea was bullshitting.

    There’s a sufi koan that goes, “How can you make a hole in your garden wall so your chickens can get into your neighbor’s garden but your neighbor’s chickens can’t get into yours?”. This is an answer to that riddle. How can we give free speech to gays and their friends, and not give free speech to homophobes and their friends?

    Gays are more likely to commit sucide, therefore they’re more likely to commit suicide because somebody says mean things to them. Since they have a right to not be driven to suicide, we must make sure nobody says mean things about them in public. But homophobes do not have a high suicide rate so it’s OK to be mean to them. They can take it, and anyway they deserve it.

    “Even if such a solution was practical to enact, it’s mis-aimed. And nobody is trying to restrict “everybody’s free speech everywhere.” I am speaking of targeting those who attack others.”

    I understand. You only want to attack them when they say things that you can intepret as potential attacks on others. They’re bad guys for “attacking” people with their free speech, and you’re a good guy for attacking them.

    Would you accept that reasoning if the shoe was on the other foot? What if there are a bunch of clinically-diagnosed homophobes who have a high suicide rate. Would you agree that nobody should ever say anything bad about homophobes because they might hear it and kill themselves?

  48. J Thomas: if you want to join the conversation at some point by engaging what I actually said, I’ll be happy to debate you point for point. Meanwhile, looks like my imagined statements have been pretty wild, and since I don’t know what’s in them, it’s tough to engage your refutation.

  49. Matt, would you mind saying again what you said before, but more clearly this time? It looked very clear to me then but apparently you meant something other than what you said.

  50. J Thomas, what looks very clear is the curse of the internet.

  51. skzb: “The trouble is, I don’t know if the benefit of the doubt means assuming you are being disingenuous in order to score debate points, or if it means assuming you truly do not understand how saying, ‘Do not prevent others from speaking’ is different from preventing others from speaking. But, whichever it is, I can see no further value in continuing.”

    So in the end, your approach entails deciding you are correct in your assumptions about my point of view when you don’t understand my question, mine is to assume the opposite, that if I don’t understand I should ask for clarification rather than assume someone is a waste of time.

    That you can’t understand how there can be honest debate on a topic simply because you take a personal interest in it should be food for thought.

  52. Will, that’s interesting. I did a quick search on “curse of the internet”.

    The first link went:

    “The rise of the Internet means that lies and misunderstanding now spread around the world faster than the truth, Lord Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has warned.”

    The second link went:

    ‘Free’ is the curse of the Internet

    ‘Here’s a little thought experiment: Consider everything you do online. How much of it do you pay for directly?’

    The third link went:

    “According to several experts in the field, machines are rapidly outpacing humans in their ability to perform both manual and mental tasks, and the inevitable consequence of this will be massive unemployment.

    “The Curse of the Internet looks at how this will affect many sectors of the economy, and what we can do to find solutions.”

    The fourth link went:

    “But despite all the advantages and conveniences, does the Internet really serve us or is it the other way around?

    “Internet companies, large and small, are quietly but forcefully collecting our life’s data hoping to have us “on the leash.””

    Four links, four different internet curses. Maybe this has something to do with the curse of the internet.

  53. J Thomas, I can’t quibble with you conclusion, and I like several of your examples. But I’ll stick with mine: if people would remember that what they infer is not necessarily what the other writer meant to imply, the internet would be a much nicer place.

  54. Going all the way back to the top…

    It seems clear to me that- in a Capitalist system- attempting to harm someone’s ability to earn a living is an act of violence. With enough interference it amounts to a non-hyperbolic slow moving death sentence.

    (You are not allowed to sell your labor. You must sell your labor to buy the things you need to survive. In 1978, California Prop. 6 was an attempt at step 1 for this for gay people. That’s why it was important that Harvey Milk stopped it in its tracks.)

    The fact that economic sanctions against an individual are an act of violence leaves us 2 questions:

    1) Should we engage in violence against this person

    2) Do I want the norm of this violence in my society/community/etc.

    Point 2 is why I’m so very much in favor of the most expansive possible reading of free speech. I fear that I’ll be the victim of that sort of violence. Additionally, being on guard to constantly _dish out_ that sort of violence sounds _exhausting_.

    I’m the laziest Dzurlord, I guess. My instinct is to deescalate conflict because I don’t want to take the energy to annihilate the opposition. It makes sense to remember that Dzurs are felines- the laziest of all the apex predators.

  55. “Hate speech is listed as one of the major contributing factors in the high suicide rates among gay teenagers. …. It’s tricky and controversial to prosecute, but it’s hard to deny that this speech, taken as a whole, kills teenagers.”

    “So when it comes to hate speech directed at minors, or designed to shame or terrify minors… yeah, I want to frighten the speakers. Yeah, I want them to lose their jobs and be unable to pay their rent. Yeah, I think that any harm we do them by shutting them up is less than the harm that they do to children, so I’m pretty at peace with the idea.”

    He says that some people’s speech kills children, so anything he does to them is justified.

    “And I’m not asking to whistle up a crusade every time someone gets upset. But while context may be too thorny to legislate, it’s recognizable, and I have no qualms about organizing to combat it. Not when people are upset. When direct verbal attacks threaten lives.”

    He says he knows it when he sees it.

    “If “sometimes we get it wrong” disqualifies a course of action, it disqualifies almost any course of action. We all have to try harder to get it right.”

    “And, frankly, I’d rather be overzealous than lackluster in defense.”

    He says it’s more important to stop the bad cases than to be fair to the occasional innocent victims he goes after by accident.

    “That’s one of the reasons why I’m NOT advocating boycotts or informing employers in any case of “outrage.” I’m being as specific as I can here in trying to target direct, obvious bullying and vilification, not careless remarks, not disliked opinions.”

    He’s saying that he doesn’t want to go after everybody that anybody gets upset at, he wants to try hard to get it right and not make mistakes when he’s choosing who to persecute.

    This all looks clear to me. It doesn’t look easy to misinterpret the main outlines.

  56. Miramon: When I read your response I started a reply but it was turning into a analysis of litigation and administrative actions regarding social media and the difference between social and professional postings, and this is definitely not the proper medium for that. I will say that if you think her job is in jeopardy because of the message on Tor’s website, you should be interested in learning about the National Labor Relations Act, specifically section 7, unless your goal is to remain outraged at a business posting that was inoffensive to the point of blandness. I phrase it like that because your use of “excoriate” in reference to Mr. Doherty’s blog post was so over the top that I still cannot believe there isn’t another letter out there, one so vicious that no one could possibly mistake its intent, one that says things like “Irene is so stupid I don’t think we can retain her,” or “Her ignorance is only matched by her incompetence as a creative director”.

    I also quarrel with your idea this was shaming. Disagreement does not equate to shaming. Ms. Gallo expressed an opinion. Mr. Doherty stressed it was her opinion then stated clearly the official company position, which was different from what Ms. Gallo wrote in that it does not include publicly bad mouthing any authors they publish. As for defending those “whose behavior has been demonstrably repugnant in the extreme”, that is, of course, is exactly what the Puppy people think of those they target. If you feel that strongly about it, I suggest it would be more useful in the long run to understand their point of view so as to effectively combat it than to suggest Mr. Doherty is evil for making a standard business decision.

    You did not say this, but in the comments section at Tor, I saw a lot of people use the phrase “threw her under the bus”. Addressing that phrase is what got me started on the analysis mentioned above, so I’ll summarize and say anyone who honestly believes that is what happened is really too enamored of her own feelings. Such a person is probably not interested hearing there might be another point of view, much less making an effort to learn about it. She just wants to feel righteous. “I’m offended by X, therefore X is evil” is not a principled position, it is egocentric. It is infantile. And that is the problem I’m seeing in a large proportion of the responses to this whole non-event, these over-emotional reactions which seem to predominate. Your comment about Beale being a fascist (I assume that’s whom you mean) is actually helpful in a small way in understanding the general uproar, although it gives rise to another set of questions which I’m afraid wouldn’t go down well here at the moment.

    Moving on to a more general point: I can understand feeling angry or dismayed by almost anything, but while a person can’t control what she feels, she can control how she acts. She can make the effort to figure exactly why she’s so angry then try to find out if it’s actually justified. I favor asking questions to make sure I’m not imposing my point of view on someone else, a practice that irritates some (never intentionally on my part) and has been called aggressive by others (I don’t always miss Usenet), but however it’s done, it is important that we make the effort to understand what seems inexplicable in other people. The alternative is to go through life totally wrapped up in ourselves, only associating with people we agree with and feeling fear and anger when confronted with anything that goes against our personal notions of what’s right.

  57. I realize commenting has waned on this topic, but — should Tim Hunt have lost his job?

  58. No. This covers it well, I think: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jun/13/tim-hunt-hung-out-to-dry-interview-mary-collins

    If you want to know if someone is seriously istic, you should ask the people who know them and would be affected by their alleged ism.

  59. skzb

    I’m with Will on this one. As far as the “no” goes, I mean (we differ on his concluding sentence). Attempting to dig into someone’s head to decide, “is he racist, homophobic, sexist, &c &c” is undemocratic as well as, generally, futile. To me, it perfectly illustrates the support the pseudo-left gives to the extreme right in the attack on freedom. The “victory” in getting him fired was a loss for science, and a loss for the open exchange of ideas, and a victory for oppression.

  60. I would say that any lone remark, unless it is something deliberately advocating criminal or violent behavior against others, or unless it is an offcial representation causing an employer great financial harm, should never be a basis for firing.

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