The Dream Café

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

Free Speech, Censorship, Hate Speech, Twitter

| 81 Comments

I’ve been seeing more and more calls for twitter to ban hate speech. Hate speech is an ill-defined term, but I think in this case it includes racial slurs, sexual slurs, and in general remarks intended to silence someone, or make someone afraid, and to inspire those backward elements that thrive on the sort of ignorance expressed by racist, sexist, transphobic, or homophobic comments.

Asking twitter to ban users who say such things is a result, in my opinion, of a failure to think things through. It is the result of observing the harm these kinds of comments can do, and stopping there. I do not believe it is that simple.

I saw someone make the analogy that this was like being at Mark’s house and using language that offends Mark. Mark certainly has the right (moral right; I’m not discussing legal rights) to ask you not to use that language, and ask you to leave if you persist. The analogy, however, falls apart if Mark has bought up half the houses in town and wants to lay down the law in each of them.

We’re talking about twitter. We’re talking about a multi-billion dollar corporation (15.7 billion according to Forbes) that has tremendous power over information. Facebook and Google—the other two giants in terms of controlling a lot of the information most of us receive—have already demonstrated a willingness to censor left-wing and anti-war sites. And now you are attempting to put pressure on Twitter to assert more control over what we can and cannot say, over what we can and cannot hear. You do not see this as a problem? It is not, in my opinion, a possibility that, were this to happen, many left wing groups and people would be accused of “hate speech” and shut down—it is a virtual certainty.

“You are not obligated to provide a platform to anyone who feels like talking,” I hear.  That is a very seductive argument, but it fails to hold up.  We’re not talking about my blog, or your Facebook page, or that person’s twitter feed.  Quantity, as it does, has transformed into quality.  Twitter is a fundamentally different thing than my blog.  It has hundreds of millions of users and incalculable influence. We’re talking about what is, in effect,  a public utility (and one that, in my opinion, should be in fact a public utility, but that’s a subject for another time).

Here’s the thing: every defense, every analogy I’ve seen to justify asking twitter to shut down hate speech, has come down, in the last analysis, to a defense of property rights.  And yet, the most casual observation ought to tell you that we are now locked in a battle between property rights and human rights.  If you must resort to a defense of property rights to bolster your argument, I beg to submit that you should either take another look at what you’re defending, or stop calling yourself a progressive.

The answer to hate speech is to strike at its roots: inequality and its bastard offspring, ignorance. This fight requires organizing—organizing in mass ways. In Boston, they did not have the city—ie, the police, the repressive arm of the capitalist state—shut down the Nazis, the people there, to their everlasting credit, did it themselves. Much of the organizing work in the moment happened on twitter. By demanding twitter act against hate speech, you are asking twitter to take a greater role in deciding what content is permitted; can you really believe that will not be turned against us? Against the next effort to organize against Nazis? Can you doubt that the state, and, yes, the Nazis, will ultimately benefit from that?

Free Speech (by which I mean the moral right, of which the First Amendment is a limited reflection) is neither some supra-historical principle that must be worshiped as sacred and placed above any other aspect of struggle, nor is it that set of nice silverware that we take out when certain guests are over and leave in a drawer the rest of the time. It is the product of long struggle by the oppressed to create a tool that will permit a platform for organizing.

Are there occasions for the suppression of speech? In my opinion, yes. But the question is less, “what speech is being suppressed” than “who is doing the suppression?” If it is the masses of the people, shutting down efforts by white supremacists, Nazis, and other filth to organize, then yes. Drown them out, shut them down! If they want to try the same thing with us, let them; we do not fear a test of strength, because the masses of the oppressed are on our side—or will be, if we do our job, and are able to communicate with them.

But if you are asking a multi-billion dollar corporation that already has immense control over communication to assert more control over content, you are, in my opinion, working against the interests of those you are hoping to protect.

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

81 Comments

  1. I understand your argument. I even mostly agree with it. I don’t think you’re seeing hate speech in quite the same way that I am.

    Hate speech is not just a kind of rudeness or the expression of a particular ideology. Indeed, hate speech doesn’t have to use any particularly naughty words. Instead it’s an attempt to create an unsafe (physically or emotionally) space for the people against whom it is directed. It is an attempt to drive away those who the speaker does not wish to have in the community.

    It is, in short, an attempt to create and police boundaries of who is allowed. As a result of that, by not rooting out Nazis, Twitter is making a community that favors people who are willing to put up with Nazis. But not rooting out TERFs, Twitter is creating a community full of people who who are willing to put up with TERFs. etc and so forth

    Hate speech is, in a real sense, an attempt to create a heckler’s veto. Folks are already fleeing Twitter because they don’t want to put up with being shouted at every time they speak on any topic. And it is easier for more harassment accounts to be created and controlled than it is to respond and block. And every moment an individual user engages in responding/blocking/etc when there’s a targeted harassment campaign is a moment they’re not spending living their life.

    And thus I think it’s a good idea for Twitter to take a hand at fighting against hate speech. The left (broadly defined) is already under constant attack from hate speech. If Twitter wishes to allow for a marketplace of ideas, they need to end the harassment that is hate speech.

    At the _very least_, if they turn those tools against the left, Twitter will be confirming something many of us have already begun to believe: they don’t ban hate speech because they share the hateful ideology.

  2. > We’re talking about what is, in effect, a public utility (and one that, in my opinion, should be in fact a public utility, but that’s a subject for another time)

    I think this is the key point, really. Twitter, Facebook, Google, and their competitors in their respective spaces are constantly fighting for what is effectively a monopoly position. If they get beat by some alternative, it won’t make any substantive difference.

    I also think the best possible solution is to shift the world away from these centralized platforms. There are open source, federated tools for building your own equivalent to Twitter and Facebook in the form of things like Mastodon, GNU Social, Diaspora, and Friendica. There are even the possibility open source, federated tools for building your own equivalent to Google search with things like Yacy (though Yacy is currently disappointing).

    But first we need a world where you don’t need $1000 in hardware to run your personal server. The tech industry’s march of planned obsolescence is solving that for us, people are throwing out ten year old machines that have more than enough computing power to get the job done. By 2023 people will be throwing out smart phones that can do the job.

    Second and more importantly we need software that’s as easy to use as “open a browser to this website, click one button, and wait ten minutes and you’re all set”. That’s a horse of a different color. I run my own website, my own email, and so forth, and it was a pain in the hind end to set it up. I think most people could manage it if they had a computer, internet access, and sufficient motivation – but we’re not going to supplant the tech giants until we have something that requires almost zero technological literacy.

  3. I’m probably fooling myself here, but I feel that fascism, which is (or should be) the real target of the “censor” twitter movement can actually be separated out from all other forms of speech. So far as I can tell, fascism is the only political philosophy to which violence is absolutely inherent. All political philosophies trade in violence on a practical level, but the violence isn’t inherent. If class consciousness struck everyone at the same time, communists would not need a revolution; monarchies have ceded power to electoral democracies; a king can theoretically be elevated without having to fight for the job. But fascism is at it’s root eliminationist nationalism. To paraphrase what you said in Cowboy Feng’s, if the fascist succeeds in removing the “other” from his perfect nationalist paradise, he will immediately seek out another “other” to do violence upon; he must do so or he will not remain a fascist.

    That said, I certainly understand your concern with Twitter as the arbiter of “free speech.” Not only is it a billion dollar corporation, but it’s a corporation founded on techno-libertarian principles: its purpose is to attack regulation while amassing huge amounts of money, so if forced to regulate by the need to amass more money, it’s going to be collectivists that it regulates.

  4. The commenters above have articulated most of the points of disagreement I have with this post, but there is one other important one: Twitter already has and already uses these tools. Right now, something that we are seeing is that these tools are being used to suspend, shadowban, ban, or remove accounts of people speaking against fascism.

    Those of us who want Twitter to ban fascists are not asking Twitter to create a new set of tools and categories they do not already employ. We are asking Twitter to employ those tools honestly and equitably, rather than privileging fascists over those opposing them.

    There’s another argument, certainly, to be had about whether those tools are the best tools, whether they should be used at all, and, if they are retired, how to use direct action and organizing to make hate speech and harassment have a high social cost in order to discourage them. But that’s not the framework in which we’re operating, and so that’s not the argument most people I see are having.

  5. To speak on a tangent, and a place where I think we probably agree quite a bit:

    The fact that so many “public” areas (such as malls, parks, sidewalks, etc) are actually owned by private entities is a huge and overlooked impediment to freedom of speech. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, the way that public spaces have become owned and thus they no longer fall under the first amendment for speech purposes.

    Which, I think, was part of the point.

  6. Punning Pundit: To the extent sidewalks (and privately owned parks) are privately owned, the public has an easement to use them and they are considered public space where free speech is highly protected. See First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City v. Salt Lake City Corp., 308 F.3d 1114, 1131 (10th Cir. 2002) (“the easement is a public forum”).

    “As a result of that, by not rooting out Nazis, Twitter is making a community that favors people who are willing to put up with Nazis.”

    Are you aware that pro-abortion advocates are trying to make Twitter an emotionally unsafe place for pro-life advocates (and vice versa)? How about people with uncommonly good taste trying to make Twitter emotionally uncomfortable for comediennes of uncommonly poor taste (e.g., Gifford, Barr). If Twitter regulates hate speech, it will by necessity have to choose whose hate speech is allowed. Which seems to be ably demonstrated by your statement:

    “At the _very least_, if they turn those tools against the left, Twitter will be confirming something many of us have already begun to believe: they don’t ban hate speech because they share the hateful ideology.”

    You appear to be arguing that hate speech by leftists should be preferentially immune to regulation by Twitter. In other words, “Free speech for me but not for thee.” The only way I can parse your statement in a more favorable light would require me to believe you are unaware of the many non-leftists banned by Twitter (e.g., Milo Yiannopoulos, Richard Spencer, National Policy Institute, Radix Journal, etc. ad nauseum).

  7. “Instead [hate speech is] an attempt to create an unsafe (physically or emotionally) space for the people against whom it is directed.” -Punning Pundit

    Unprotected Twitter posts are an even safer equivalent of making a leaflet and posting it up in the town square… well, world square.

    Twitter is a public cork board where you can pin up whatever you want, sign it if you want to – but you’re under no obligation – and you take responsibility for sending it out for public consumption. It was made so people could track celebrity bowel movements. That’s part of its charm, and part of why it’s so difficult to carry on a constructive discussion. I don’t post myself, mostly because I am an uninteresting, regular guy.

    The posts are there, in the open, flapping gaily in the breeze. Some random person (or a few, or many) pins a note under saying, for instance, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” or “Trans women are men, and trans men are sex traitors” and it’s a toss up if the person believes truly or is just trying to get a reaction. This is unsafe physically or emotionally? To whom?

    How it is any surprise to people who post opinions open to the word, radical or no, that they get opinions back they are offended by or are uncomfortable with is mindboggling. Opinions, I might add, that they don’t even have to read. The only argument I can think of is if they believe the cork board is a personal possession instead of a public forum, which strikes me as a touch narcissistic. It’s like picking up a book titled, “All the Opinions and Counteropinions in the World” and flying into apoplexy when the Holocaust jokes section is breached. “Why doesn’t this book cater to ME?” Well, you picked up the wrong book.

    If the top quote is the definition of hate speech, it cannot exist on the internet. Good grief, unsafe space rhetoric is even more absurd in this context than in college classrooms.

    As an aside, I think the same thing about hate speech online as I do off – it’s a concept ill defined. Making laws (or terms of service) using ill-defined terms leave them open to abuse. At least Twitter, at its worst, can only ban you from posting.

  8. ‘“As a result of that, by not rooting out Nazis, Twitter is making a community that favors people who are willing to put up with Nazis.”’

    Yes. That is one of the arguments. “If you refuse to ban the people I want censored then I will be forced to boycott you. That isn’t fair to me. So you have a moral obligation to ban them.”

    “Are you aware that pro-abortion advocates are trying to make Twitter an emotionally unsafe place for pro-life advocates (and vice versa)?”

    Yes, of course. Why would they want their enemies to be comfortable?

    “If Twitter regulates hate speech, it will by necessity have to choose whose hate speech is allowed.”

    It could impartially ban all hate speech. If we could only get an impartial definition of hate speech, and impartial judges to apply the definition….

    ‘You appear to be arguing that hate speech by leftists should be preferentially immune to regulation by Twitter. In other words, “Free speech for me but not for thee.”’

    Yes, that’s true.

    You appear to be arguing for moral relativity. I myself an a moral relativist and I believe I understand all three sides well enough to translate.

    You are trying to argue with people who are not moral relativists. So moral relative arguments will not resonate with them. They only resonate with me.

    I will briefly digress and say where I stand. I favor the long-run survival of humanity. That is very much in doubt now. When I was growing up, most people thought that the only immediate threat to humanity was that we might accidentally blow ourselves up. It was entirely a man-made problem. The USA designed a system to make sure the Russians wouldn’t get away with blowing us up, and they designed one to make sure we didn’t get away with blowing them up, and if anything went wrong and nobody got away with anything we’d all die.

    Now it has gotten worse. Unless we do the right things fairly quickly, we might easily all die. And we have no inclination to do the right things. One reason not to, is that if we do a lot of work and somebody else doesn’t do their share, then they’re getting away with something. So we won’t do our share either.

    At this point I’d settle for some human population surviving. Ten thousand, but a hundred thousand would be better. A million would be better still. And I don’t care whether they’re bad guys. If the only survivors are bad guys that’s better than no survivors. Give it four generations and they won’t all be bad guys anyway. I just want some survivors. Is that too much to ask? Likely it is.

    So OK, these people are not moral relativists. You tell them that to be fair they have to treat the bad guys the same as the good guys, and they will think you are a troll.

    From a moral person’s point of view, it isn’t fair or balanced or even neutral to treat good guys the same as bad guys. It’s evil to do that.

    Good people fight evil. They don’t just let evil win. They don’t give evil a 50 percent chance to win, to be fair to evil. They fight evil as hard as they can. Because they are good.

    Of COURSE leftists believe that extreme speech by leftists should be allowed while only the most ineffective speech by rightists should be allowed. Why would they believe anything else? Why should they allow their enemy’s propaganda to reach anywhere that they can stop it from reaching?

    Sometimes I see people from the right come to leftist sites and make these moral relativist arguments. But when I watch closely, they don’t sound like moral relativists. They sound like they think the Right is Good and the Left is Evil. You often sound that way. They don’t sound like they’re moral relativists themselves, they sound like they think leftists are moral relativists.

    No, not that either. They sound like they think leftists have a moral obligation to be moral relativists, and that leftists who are biased in favor of the left are being immoral and hypocritical. I have to wonder whether these same people go to rightist sites and tell them the same thing. Do they tell their friends that it’s morally wrong for them to be biased in favor of the Right, and Truth, and Justice?

    That’s where I am with you. You don’t actually sound like you are a moral relativist. But you make moral relativist arguments that you think other people should believe in, that you don’t believe yourself. I don’t have anything against that myself — I’m a moral relativist and I figure everybody does what they want. But I can’t help be curious. Are you trying to convince your enemy to be less moral? Does that seem like a good long-run strategy for you?

    It looks to me like when moral people fight in moral ways, they at least have a chance to reach some kind of conclusion. But when they give up morality and do whatever-the-hell they think will get them what they want in the short run, then we get a mess that might result in everybody dead at the same time. It just doesn’t look like something moral people ought to be comfortable with.

  9. Jonah:
    “You appear to be arguing for moral relativity.”
    No, I am arguing in favor of free speech. If Twitter wants to set up viewpoint neutral rules for what it considers civil discourse (e.g., no threats of physical violence, no posting physical addresses of others), I am all for it on a theoretical level. To date, however, Twitter has demonstrated that it is incompetent at enforcing such rules. Given it’s incompetence, then I am in favor of full on free speech on Twitter and let the courts handle any speech that is either criminal or which gives rise to civil liability.

    My support for free speech should not be taken as a believe in the morality of any position. Nazis were evil. People who identify as nazis now are either evil, ignorant, sick, or some combination thereof. Nazis have the right to speak. I have the right to ignore them. Unfortunately, Twitter’s structure encourages mobs. By choosing to participate on Twitter, the participant is accepting the possibility they will be victim of a mob attack. Nazis and SJWs both utilize this mob effect. I do not have a solution other than to avoid Twitter.

    “Are you trying to convince your enemy to be less moral? ”

    I’m not sure what I’ve done that has created this impression of me in you. Here is my deep personal philosophy: Let me live in peace. If I somehow interfere with your peaceful existence, then we should try to resolve the dispute constructively on our own if possible and if not then by resort to involving the state (so we should try really hard to resolve it on our own). If the Nazi next door doesn’t do evil things, I’ll give him a cup of sugar when he asks. If he starts gassing Jews or running down young blondes with his car, I will intervene.

  10. Kukuforguns: “Here is my deep personal philosophy: Let me live in peace. If I somehow interfere with your peaceful existence, then we should try to resolve the dispute constructively on our own if possible and if not then by resort to involving the state”

    Thank you! I completely agree! I like that a whole lot.

    “Given it’s incompetence, then I am in favor of full on free speech on Twitter and let the courts handle any speech that is either criminal or which gives rise to civil liability.”

    I completely agree with that too. But a whole lot of people do not. They want their enemies censored or banned from public discourse. It doesn’t seem to matter which particular side they are on. Wherever they think they have a majority, they want to ban their enemies that they outnumber. Because they think their enemies don’t deserve to speak. Because their enemies are evil.

    You and I and szkb agree about this at least in this particular case, though there may be disagreement about details and maybe disagreements about the reasons to agree.

    I’m not sure what to do about mobbing. I think for myself it amounts to the system occasionally breaking down. It never lasts for very long, pretty soon they go pick on somebody else. So it’s like the creek rises or there’s a blizzard or something. Social media is down for awhile and I should go do something else while I wait it out. You never know when the creek’s going to rise up and you can’t cross the ford for awhile.

  11. If the nazi’s in question have already begun gassing people then we have waited far too long before acting.
    The question is, when is the right time to begin acting. I pretty much agree with Steve’s post–quashing free speech is an all too easily abused double sided razor. It slices in unintended directions.
    One thing to keep in mind is that we (the people who are usually discussing things here) are not the typical targets of some of the more onerous actions. Being targeted by some of these online abusers can be really dangerous to vulnerable people–both potentially physically when speech moves into physical action and through emotional manipulation.

  12. “If the nazis in question have already begun gassing people then we have waited far too long before acting.
    The question is, when is the right time to begin acting.”
    There’s a whole range of acting to prevent Nazis from gaining (more) power. When they are few in number, ignoring them is an action. This was why I was initially annoyed with Antifa … they drew attention to something best ignored. Then you move on to demonstrations and peaceful confrontations, and then less peaceful confrontations, targeted assassinations, civil war.
    Boston showed how weak the proto Nazis are.

  13. Ignoring nazis has a proven track record of not working out well. In the 30’s, a lot of capitalists thought nazis/fascists were perfectly fine. After all, they didn’t like Communists, so what could be wrong. They wouldn’t really cause problems. Eventually, let them have the Suedentenland; what could go wrong? They’re just excitable boys and won’t really do anything to rock the boat.
    Unfortunately, the boat is being steered by someone who likes what the excitable boys are saying. All too many members of Congress seem to have either no inclination to interfere or are actively cheering. What could go wrong, after all.

  14. Steve:
    The proven track record applies in exactly one situation — Nazi Germany in the 1930s. The United States has been ignoring Nazis ever since and they’re still no more dangerous to the country than the boil on my ass. Several countries in Europe have Nazi movements/sympathizers. Keep your eye on Germany’s movement.

  15. skzb

    I’m not sure who you think ignored Nazis in the US. If you mean the government, sure; but that’s to be expected. Never, ever, count on the government against fascists. The Silver Shirts, however, were not ignored by the working class. The Silver Shirts busily attacked and terrorized trade unionists, Jews, and African-Americans until Minneapolis Drivers Local 544 put them out of business in October of 1938. They didn’t do it by sending them hugs and flowers. Or by ignoring them.

  16. skzb

    I should add that the British working class performed a similar service with the Black Shirts at the Battle of Cable Street in 1936.

  17. Interesting! I don’t think I’d ever heard of the Silver Shirts before. It sounds like some kind of cosplay.

    They claimed to have 15,000 members in 1934, and somebody claimed they were down to 5000 members by around 1938. That isn’t big enough to be a significant national threat but if conditions had been right they could have gotten that big.

    Were conditions right? No. But if things had been different it could have gone that way.

    It’s like — say you have a nice big forest, and a terrible drought, and the whole forest is so dry that any tiny fire can quickly grow into a giant forest fire that will burn the whole thing down. You can’t allow any fire. If one starts you have to stomp it out quick, before it grows. Maybe you ought to arrest anybody who walks into that forest with a pack of matches, because if they have matches they might forget and light one. They might forget and light a cigarette and drop it on the ground. Certainly we should arrest anybody who advocates starting a fire in the forest, because if he says somebody ought to do it then he might do it himself, and we shouldn’t let him spread the idea of starting forest fires.

    If we are vigilant enough maybe there won’t be a serious fire before the rains come and end the threat, this time. In the meantime we don’t worry about the right of fires to spread or people’s right to set fires.

    But if there’s plenty of water then we don’t worry about forest fires. Campers can roam through the forest, lighting their little campfires and it’s no big deal. Because it’s reasonably safe.

  18. I generally agree with Steve Brust here, but what is missing is the nature of social media. (Should it really be plural?) That is: the ability to spread ideas and behaviors quickly and efficiently (which is to say, to people susceptible to the message) in ways that print or broadcast media just cannot match. The ownership of platform may make some difference, but IMHO it’s not crucial.

    A videographer, Vi Hart, has put together a simple, 7 step process for polarizing an issue or forming a cult, that encompasses hate speech quite nicely. If you’re interested, check it out:

    https://youtu.be/deg1wmYjwtk

  19. skzb: “I’m not sure who you think ignored Nazis in the US.”

    My comment was in response to Steve’s statement “Ignoring nazis has a proven track record of not working out well.” To which I replied: “The proven track record applies in exactly one situation — Nazi Germany in the 1930s. The United States has been ignoring Nazis ever since and they’re still no more dangerous to the country than the boil on my ass.”
    Your (skzb’s) references to challenges to Nazis in the U.S. and U.K. during the 1930s are inapposite to my comment about treatment of Nazis since the 1930s.

    In any event, I was referring to the U.S. after the ACLU confirmed Nazis’ right to free speech in National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie circa 1978. Since then, Nazis in the U.S. are (largely) ignored. They engender a news article now and then. But, by and large, they have been ignored – which was appropriate given their low numbers and general ineffectiveness. That changed in 2016/17. Thank you Pres. Trump and Antifa.

    I’m willing to review additional materials, but my current understanding is that Nazis were not any more numerous during the 2016 elections than in the preceding decades. Our (at least part of the U.S.) hysteria over Pres. Trump’s election has created the impression they have more power than they actually do.

    I don’t think Pres. Trump is a Nazi. I do think he is a populist.

  20. skzb

    Kukuforguns: I stand corrected.

  21. He isn’t a nazi in the sense of a particular political establishment but he gives every sign of a burgeoning fascist. I don’t particularly like the term populist as it is very ambiguous. Since his popularity has been in the low 40%, it doesn’t seem he is actually appealing to the populous but rather a particular subset. Demagogue seems more apt. So, fascist demagogue with likely mental problems and an enabling Congress. All of those particulars haven’t rolled around in the US for quite some time.
    Opposing people who want to violate peoples rights in a wholesale fashion and embolden people who actually consider themselves nazis by giving them encouragement is not hysteria, by the way.

  22. skzb

    I agree with Steve on every count. He doesn’t have any of the usual hallmarks of the populist (trumpeting the “little guy,” blaming the “elite,” talk about breaking up the big banks, attacking Wall Street, &c). I would say, yes, a demagogue, and a con-man, and he is certainly fascistic in his policies. Oddly, he was closer to a fascist before he won the election–he was moving more in the direction of classic fascist actions, such as efforts to build a mass movement to carry out violence against political opponents and targeted groups. I think he is moving more in that direction, and will continue to do so.

  23. I’ll buy demagogue.

  24. “but he gives every sign of a burgeoning fascist. I don’t particularly like the term populist as it is very ambiguous.”

    I feel that way about the term fascist too.

    Typically it is paired off against “communist”. Actual communists use it to describe the enemy. Everything that’s good about communism, is contrasted to its opposite — fascism.

    Sometimes people who consider themselves neither fascist nor communist argue that it’s two related pathologies. They figure that communists eliminate capitalism along with all other freedoms to create an authoritarian totalitarian system. But fascists try to harness capitalists to do what the state needs, to create an authoritarian totalitarian system. If they thought that out, they would consider the US Military-Industrial Complex in that light.

    But then lots of people think of “fascism” as a grab-bag of methods to gain power. A personality cult, with violence by paramilitary gangs encouraged against minorities and individual people who support political opponents. Elimination of democracy, new laws that enforce the power of the state instead of justice. Etc. Not about a national economic policy.

    Three different meanings, that overlap some.

    I’d just as soon retire the word, except talking about history. Use other words to say what it is you object to. If you object to somebody acting authoritarian, it’s clearer to say that than to call him a fascist. Or find a better word. It’s reached the point that “fascist” is the lightning-bug and not the lightning.

  25. Jonah: +1

  26. Jonah:Trump = Authoritarian demagogue espousing Rightward ideas, highlighting fear of the Other (in this case via white supremacy (fascists always have an Other to blame (a real tell–a key point that Republicans have been using for many years now))), with a good dollop of mental instabilities.

    It is true that most (all?) dictators are pretty much cut from the same cloth no matter what political ideology they claim to represent — they are pretty much representing themselves and don’t care who they have to harm to keep their power. The one exception I can think of offhand is Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus. The key point there is do they give up power once the explicit crisis is over (or ever admit it is over).

  27. Thank you, Steve!

    A whole lot of people want to blame everything on an Other. Democrats often blame Republicans and imply that all our problems will go away when the Republicans are defeated. They tend to get embarrassed when the Republicans do get defeated, for example the first two years with Obama, the first two years with Clinton, and four years with Carter.

    Meanwhile I notice various outspoken socialists blame everything on capitalists. They talk like all our problems will go away once we get rid of the capitalists.

    Etc.

  28. Jonah:There’s saying, 1) “Man, those Republicans don’t have a clue.” and there’s saying 2) “Those Republicans aren’t human and should be interred.”

    Example 1 is an example fairly standard political discourse and can be true. Sometimes people are wrong and the methods that are being used need to change.

    Example 2 is the sort of dialogue that Trump and company are engaging in. It is not true.

    For traditional Democrat vs. Republican discourse, the positions are often not that far apart. Do we tax rich guys more or less — not should we have rich guys at all and we end up in a situation where things change very slowly if at all.

  29. Steve, it’s been more like your Example 2 on both sides since I’ve been paying attention.

    It used to be that Republicans argued that big-government big-spending Democrats would take away our freedoms and spend the economy into the ground. Democrats argued that Republicans were likely to start a nuclear war, and pinched pennies enough to drive us into recession, to benefit the super-rich.

    Apart from the talking though, the actual positions were not that far apart. When it got right down to policy, both sides competed to get pork for their own districts. They argued some about just what kind of pork was better, but whatever kind they wound up with, they all wanted it.

    Reagan was the one who persuaded Republicans that deficits don’t matter. And Clinton was the one who persuaded Democrats that unions and poor people don’t matter. But they went right on demonizing each other even after they found they agreed on military spending and social spending and civil rights.

  30. Steve, speaking as someone who is very far from where you are politically, I’m impressed. You understand that it’s OK for the government to regulate a $15 billion dollar internet monopoly more stringently than it regulates a mom-n-pop small business. And you understand that the concept of free speech isn’t simply about government not restricting speech. I think most people, across the political spectrum, have trouble grasping those two ideas. Especially the second one.

    PS: book 16 when?

  31. Jonah:The right wants–
    The rich to get richer at the expense of the poor, ignorance and denial of science, fear (at the least) of immigrants, Muslims and anyone whose cultural heritage they disagree with–especially if they have increased melanin levels over some variable base.

    The left wants:
    Universal health care, education, housing, food and clean water. A respect for science and the decent treatment of everyone as human beings.

    I don’t see a lot of (or any) incidents of Example 2 from the left.

  32. Steve, are you completely sure that your message is not even a little bit an example of Example 2 itself?

  33. Jonah:I don’t see where I called for anyone to be interred or harmed. So, no, not Example 2.

    If you think I am mistaken, please feel free to point out mistakes. The right is, for example, pretty much completely mistaken. Everyone makes mistakes. That is the essence of Example 1.

  34. I’m thinking about the difference between saying somebody is clueless and saying they are inhuman.

    “The rich to get richer at the expense of the poor, ignorance and denial of science, fear (at the least) of immigrants, Muslims and anyone whose cultural heritage they disagree with–especially if they have increased melanin levels over some variable base.”

    A whole lot of people on the right are nothing like rich. But they believe in duty and sacrifice for the common good, which is far different from wanting the rich to take more from the poor.

    A bunch of people on the Left believe that the science which has been done which proves that all GMOs are always safe, done by scientists hired by the companies that will make billions of dollars if the studies come out the right way, should not be trusted.

    A bunch of people on the Left believes that many pharmaceutical studies done by scientists hired by the companies that will make billions of dollars if the studies come out the right way, should not be trusted.

    A bunch of people on the Left believes that the scientific and engineering studies which show that properly-run nuclear power plants cannot have problems, and that nuclear power is our cheapest and safest and cleanest energy source, should not be trusted.

    A large handful of people on the Left believes that the studies which show that all vaccines are 100% safe, should not be trusted.

    I personally believe that there are a few cases where the scientific establishment has accepted theories that go way beyond the actual experimental evidence, though those theories are compatible with all the evidence so far. And they refuse to see that other theories are also compatible with the existing evidence, and are utterly uninterested in doing the experiments that would tell the difference. They call me mad. The blind fools! I’ll show them! I’ll show them all! …. But I digress.

    It is not such a big step from the Left to the people on the Right who believe that climate science which involves a lot of computer models of our one earth which has no control group, is also not reliable and involves group-think and funding for those who cater to the common wisdom.

    Could it be that you are demonizing the Right, maybe just a little bit? Of course maybe they really are all just as bad as you say….

  35. I wouldn’t put anti-vaxers (or any anti-science) on the Left. Part of the problem is having only two labels to work with.

    Yes, there are a bunch of people who support the policies of those on the right who are not themselves rich.

    Both anti-vexers and non-rich supporters of the Right seem to either be deluded or operating against their interests for some other reason they find compelling. Many on the right seem to be operating from some form of racism driven by fear (promulgated by the Right). Others are driven by some form of religion. I would tend to place most religious reasons under the deluded category.
    I don’t see much evidence of “sacrifice for the common good” in Right rhetoric. Perhaps you could elaborate on that.

  36. One example of “sacrifice for the common good” on the right? Perhaps military spending. Just about every country in the world owes significant progress to the US keeping sea trade open and unmolested – and spent next to nothing to help.

    Also, “I wouldn’t put anti-vaxers (or any anti-science) on the Left. Part of the problem is having only two labels to work with.”

    Wouldn’t that imply putting racists and rich who want to get richer under the umbrella of the Right as a thing we shouldn’t do?

  37. Nathan:What we are discussing are long term goals (or at least I am). The Rights answer to piracy is — “Build a bigger military and kill them all.”

    The Left would say, “Well, why are there pirates? Chiefly because they are poor — so lets eliminate poverty.”

    The actual benefit of “keeping sea lanes open” and how much threat there is to them being closed versus how much does the US want a large navy in order to project geopolitical power would be an interesting analysis.

    Here is at least an attempt at a small analysis.

    If you remove the rich who want to get richer and racists from the Right, how much is left? In any case, the point is that two labels are wholly inadequate. It’s really a multidimensional continuum in which various groups seek to ally in order to promote their agendas.

    In the US we have the unfortunate circumstance of two main political parties that effectively control most of the political power. People apply the label Right to the Republicans and the label left to the Democrats although, generally far right with many racists seems to be more applicable to Republicans and generally moderate right seems more applicable to Democrats.

    Republicans should feel free to kick the rich who want to get richer and the racists out of their ranks. I don’t see any evidence of that happening.

  38. Steve:
    “The rich to get richer at the expense of the poor, ignorance and denial of science, fear (at the least) of immigrants, Muslims and anyone whose cultural heritage they disagree with–especially if they have increased melanin levels over some variable base.” And: “If you think I am mistaken, please feel free to point out mistakes. The right is, for example, pretty much completely mistaken.”

    Do you have any idea how much people on the right donate to make sure poor people get food, health care, shelter, and education? Of course not, because you don’t care. Apparently the state should be the one providing the basic needs, not right wing do-gooders. What’s your reaction when the state arrests the do-gooders who are providing free meals without the appropriate license (which it refuses to provide)? I ask, because I don’t know. You don’t know what right-wingers do for the poor and you make baseless accusations. Personally, I think it says a lot more about a person’s compassion and humanity when they voluntarily donate as opposed to when the person is forced at gunpoint to pay taxes that are redistributed by the wastrels in Washington.

    Denial of science? Are you that close-minded? Who invented the light bulb? A capitalist … using science. All those farmers growing food in the Midwest? They use GPS to map field yields. And there are a lot of conservative farmers. Capitalists adore science because it increases production. Poor people in the U.S. frequently own a hand-sized device that could have changed the course of WWII because of its breathtaking computational power. Brought to the masses by capitalists. And the very term “poor” has to be continually recalibrated in the U.S. because that same poor person with a smartphone has a longer life expectancy and a higher quality of life than monarchs of the most powerful nations did 8 generations ago. That nearly unimaginable improvement is due to science and its distribution by capitalists.

    Right wingers hate people of color? George W. Bush pushed hard to provide low cost HIV treatment to Africa while he was President because he understood the massive human suffering going on there. Pres. Obama did nothing of similar scope that benefitted people of color, but you believe right-wingers don’t care. There’s a huge number of missionaries in Africa, Asia, and South America, trying to improve the human condition. And yeah, a lot of those missionaries are right wingers. And yes, the missionaries help people who don’t convert. I’ve talked to them. They care.

    Are there right-wing, god-fearing people who are closed minded asshats? Of course there are. Just like there are left-wing representatives who believe overpopulation will cause Guam to capsize and sink. And liberals who believe the best way to improve the lot of the poor is to sterilize women so they will stop creating more idiots. The anti-vaxxers are majority liberal (search terms: average anti-vaxxer not who you think she is). Bigotry and humanity are part of the human condition and can be found across the political spectrum.

    You are mistaken.

  39. kukuforguns:Thanks for missing all of the points.
    The question isn’t who is doing things for people who are currently poor. (Although I am happy to have people feeding other people.) The question is why are there poor people?

    The people in Washington are indeed wasting money. (Why is there money?) Are they wasting it primarily on poor people? No.

    Who invented the light bulb? The final form of light bulb that was produced by Edison’s company would have been some member of his research staff building on the earlier work of Humphrey Davy and Joseph Swan.
    No one Denys that capitalism has been a useful tool. Horses are also great but I didn’t ride one this morning.

    No one here said no person who is on the right has ever done anything good for anyone. Of course they have. Liberal is not the same thing as Left. No one here said Obama was on the left. On the contrary, he is a devoted capitalist somewhere to the right of a mythical center.

  40. “If you remove the rich who want to get richer and racists from the Right, how much is left?”

    If you’re implying only those who are “deluded or operating against their interests,” apparently we have such a different definition for right-wing, you and I, as to make the term in conversation all but useless.

    As for relieving poverty, there are few things more conducive to that than making sure the costs of trade, especially food, are as low as possible.

  41. Nathan S.:What would your definition of right-wing be?

  42. Wikipedia has a rather large article on right-wing politics that has many groups that don’t fall under any of the three above mentioned categories.

    Some examples off the top of my head: Business owners that want regulations and taxes that impinge on their growth (thus their ability to hire and pay properly more people) lifted, advocates for welfare reform, those wanting a secure border, pro-lifers, pretty much anyone with conservative social opinions, people who just want the government to stay the heck out of their pocket, meagerly filled though they may be…

    I agree with you that right/left labels are about as useful as Dem/GOP, and have caused more issues (mainly through setting up false dichotomy) than the labels actually fix. Labels too broad to be useful, made even more impotent by lack of concrete definition.

  43. “And the very term “poor” has to be continually recalibrated in the U.S. because that same poor person with a smartphone has a longer life expectancy and a higher quality of life than monarchs of the most powerful nations did 8 generations ago. That nearly unimaginable improvement is due to science and its distribution by capitalists.” -kukuforguns

    Agreed. One can rue, identify the reasons for, and aim to curb the growing stratification in wealth between the so-called haves and the have-nots without denying this fact, however. Discontent is a tricky mistress, and people look to their neighbor’s Mercedes instead of thinking back on how Grandpa needed to collect bottles off the road to eat. Is that the right thing to do? I don’t think so, but it is what it is.

  44. Nathan S.:Thanks.

    “Business owners that want regulations and taxes that impinge on their growth (thus their ability to hire and pay properly more people) lifted, advocates for welfare reform, those wanting a secure border, pro-lifers, pretty much anyone with conservative social opinions, people who just want the government to stay the heck out of their pocket, ”

    If we set aside the “pro-lifers, pretty much anyone with conservative social opinions, ” as a slightly different category, the rest would seem to arise immediately out of problems associated with Capitalism.
    The question I would then ask is how can we move the root causes of these things rather than apply temporary fixes? That would be a fine discussion.

  45. Nathan:
    ” One can rue, identify the reasons for, and aim to curb the growing stratification in wealth between the so-called haves and the have-nots without denying this fact, however. Discontent is a tricky mistress, and people look to their neighbor’s Mercedes instead of thinking back on how Grandpa needed to collect bottles off the road to eat. ”

    This raises one of my central questions about people who advocate for socialism. I believe capitalism has demonstrated an unparalleled ability to create and distribute material wealth. As you acknowledge, envy warps perception of material wealth. Do socialists value equality over material wealth? Or, less confrontationally, how does socialism balance envy and material wealth?

  46. One argument that I don’t see here is Popper’s ‘Paradox of Tolerance’

    The tolerant are in no wise obligated to put up with bigots. If you are unable to live in harmony with your fellow human beings, you do not deserve nor have you earned the right to be treated with tolerance by those who can.

    Mr. Brust’s concern over power relations is one to pay very close attention to, true, bit resolving that problem requires different, more subtle arguments. The problem of speech is simple – conservatives have shown for decades (centuries?) that they are unwilling to treat people equally, be they black, brown, gay, trans, female, Muslim or whatever their boogeymen du jour is.

    As such, unless and until they change their ways, they are not entitled to the benefits of polite discourse.

    TL;DR: No, people who promote, side with or vote for an organization that finds bigotry acceptable are not entitled to be engaged with in a manner of approaching understanding. Make better choices or GTFO.

  47. Steve Halter “I wouldn’t put anti-vaxers (or any anti-science) on the Left. Part of the problem is having only two labels to work with.”

    That could be biased sampling on my part. All the anti-vaxxers I know are on the left, including my own sister. Definitely there’s nothing about the Left to inhibit anti-vaxxers.

    The arguments I hear against vaccines, pharmaceuticals generally, and GMOs all follow the same pattern. The problem is science perverted by capitalists so they can make more money. It sounds plausible to me. How much money would it take to persuade me to publish a fake science result? Enough to support me for a year? A lifetime? Enough to fund a lab for a lifetime so I’d be independent of the grant process? When there are billions of dollars at stake, a lot of people might find it goes beyond their limit. And when it’s managers who get to choose their scientists, and the managers have no commitment to science in the first place?

    I want the science to be independent of the funding. And that’s hard. Research academics don’t get tenure unless they bring in enough funding. They get grants, and some fraction of the grant — 42%, 55%, whatever — goes to “overhead” and is paid to the university. You don’t get to stay unless you bring in more than enough to support you. Government money is notoriously political, and in each scientific area there are ‘old boys networks’ that tend to keep it away from anybody who challenges their status quo. Also they tend to have a grand plan about how to investigate a whole area, and to get funding you have to fit into the plan and definitely don’t get results that will disrupt it. There’s a giant temptation to take corporate money which has different strings attached.

    It’s plausible that a lot of the science is done incorrectly. The anti-vaxxers and anti-GMO people have the problem of deciding which part of it is wrong, without doing the research themselves….

  48. Nathan S. “Business owners that want regulations and taxes that impinge on their growth (thus their ability to hire and pay properly more people) lifted”

    Steve could think of those as “the rich who want to get richer”. It’s all in the preconceptions.

    “advocates for welfare reform” That can be partly racism, from people who believe that welfare goes disproportionately to people of races they don’t like. And it could be partly people who don’t want support for the poor to get in the way of their own interests.

    A lot of the disagreement is in background assumptions.

  49. I would agree that every anti-vaxxer or anti-GMO person I know is on the left.

    This may be because if someone on the right is not scientifically literate, I am unlikely to have enough common ground with them to maintain a relationship.

    But the sample I have is the sample I have. It is, at minimum, a popular position on the left.

  50. kukuforguns “I believe capitalism has demonstrated an unparalleled ability to create and distribute material wealth.”

    This is something where beliefs vary. But our fundamental beliefs on this sort of question are vitally important. At least to the extent that what we think is important. They affect a whole big giant question, and there is no real evidence to back up the various opinions.

    I’ll describe my own opinions. First, technology is central. You can’t create wealth unless you know how. (Or anyway somebody has to know how and tell you what to do.) The better the methods we know how to do, the more efficiently we can create stuff — so more wealth.

    But even if you know how, you have to get permission. If society doesn’t give you permission, then you don’t get to create wealth. As one example, there’s a story about a medieval cleric who owned the rights to run a water mill and he ground the flour for everybody local. Somebody built a wind mill and started charging less. The cleric is reputed to have announced “I own the wind!” And also “I will not eat bread while that mill exists.” He took a crew of enforcers to destroy the windmill but word got out, and by the time he got there the mill had been taken apart and the materials saved to use for something else.

    If you know how and you have permission, you still have to get organized enough to actually do it. That takes a lot of social engineering. So for example if you hire people, and you create too much misunderstanding and resentment, you could wind up with a union that will plague your existence for the rest of your life.

    And once you create wealth, it takes more social organization to distribute it.

    We do balancing acts for all four steps. On the assumption that people will create more technology if they personally get more of the benefit, we have a patent system which restrains permission to use technology in weird ways, plus a giant legal system that sucks wealth out of the system while arguing about who has the right to create it.

    Permission is restricted in lots of ways. Besides the patents, there’s land ownership and zoning — you need permission to have a place to work. You need permission of various kinds to hire labor. You need permission to use raw materials. You need capital which can be denied by bankers and venture capitalists who prefer to fund your competitors. The competitor with the most capital doesn’t always destroy the others, but that’s the way to bet. You need permission to participate in distribution chains. Businesses lobby to get laws that will hurt their competitors, their suppliers, and their customers. It’s kind of a wonder that anything gets done at all.

    When employers were thought to be oppressing their workers, we gradually got a web of laws to restrict that. In general, valued special employees who can easily find other jobs don’t have to worry much about being oppressed, and other workers do. The laws we created to protect full-time employees get weakened over time, particularly when there is a labor surplus and the laws are most needed, and employers prefer to hire part-time workers the laws mostly don’t apply to. Also hiring illegal workers is even better when the enforcement is all against the worker and not the employer. But the web of laws is complicated enough that for every four full-time employees you probably need a fifth employee to handle the paperwork.

    Etc.

    Continuing, how do we decide what kind of wealth to create? That is mostly push. Somebody who has permission to make something, decides to make it and then makes a big effort to get others to buy it. Sometimes a big share of the cost is the effort to persuade people to buy. To a much smaller extent, people decide they want something and then find somebody who is already creating what they want.

    Could we do better? Probably. But the existing system has evolved. It was not designed, it built on itself by accident. It more or less works. Change things you don’t understand and there’s no guarantee you will get anything that works at all.

    How much of “capitalism” is responsible for the creation of wealth, and how much of it is people who siphon away the wealth and don’t actually contribute anything? I don’t know. I don’t know how to find out. The existing system has given *some* capitalists permission to oversee the creation of wealth, and denied permission to others. Did it give permission to the right capitalists instead of the wrong ones? Would some entirely different system work better? I don’t know. It looks like the labels don’t match up very well to reality anyway.

    People try to apply morality to the system. As if they could design a morally-correct system that would work. The existing system works as well as it does independent of morality — except to the extent that morality affects the social relations of dealing with employees, suppliers, customers, and governments. But the system as a whole has evolved, and nobody understands how it works — to the extent that it does work. No system of ethics or morality is going to fit how it actually works.

  51. kukuforguns:I’ll first direct you to:
    skzb’s Socialism FAQ

  52. I’ll try again.

    kukuforguns “I believe capitalism has demonstrated an unparalleled ability to create and distribute material wealth.”

    This is something where beliefs vary. But our fundamental beliefs on this sort of question are vitally important. At least to the extent that what we think is important. They affect a whole big giant question, and there is no real evidence to back up the various opinions.

    People who kind-of claim to understand economic systems are basicly kibitzers. They have observed some things (like they have read stuff in libraries etc) and they have come up with conclusions from what they observed and read. People like Ricardo and Marx and Keynes. None of them are people who designed and implemented multiple economic systems and observed how closely the results met their expectations.

    The existing system evolved. Not controlled by anybody. Various people have had ideas about how to reform it and various attempts have been made like Bretton Woods etc — people who had ideas about how to fix important problems worked in committees and reached agreements which then were supposed to be carried out by multiple governments.

    We don’t understand economies as well as we understand ecosystems. Still it is possible to make predictions. You might be able to say that we’re having a mild winter so probably there will be more insects next summer. You might be right a lot of the time.

    We can control economies like we can control ecosystems. If we try to do little subtle things, usually the ecosystem will do whatever it goddam wants. So much else going on that it’s hard to detect any effect. Or sometimes a little thing like introducing silver carp or australian brown snakes has great big unintended effects.

    What works reliably is to throw away a whole ecology and replace it with something we want. If you plow a whole area and plant it with GMO corn, and soak the ground with herbicides to keep anything native from coming back, and insecticides, and dump fertilizer on it to replace the previous system of mineral cycling, you can probably get the results you want. If it doesn’t work, you can try a different variety of GMO corn next year.

    That approach gets somewhat reliable results. And if you can predict better than other people about the variation in results then you can win on the futures markets so that’s another win.

  53. Change the ecology. Change the economy. It takes gumption.

  54. Steve Halter: If I was aware of that page before, I had forgotten about it. Thank you.

    Jonah: “But the existing system has evolved. It was not designed, it built on itself by accident.” The United States was consciously designed to be a mercantile (capitalist) country and many of the elements you referenced as necessary for capitalism to succeed are expressly set forth in the Constitution. The Framers certainly studied what was necessary to allow mercantilism to flourish and incorporated elements that social “evolution” had created to benefit mercantilism. The commerce clause and the patent/copyright clause being two notable examples.

  55. Jonah:Yes, I think.
    And, did you just happen to pick a Boiled in Lead song?

  56. Kukuforguns “The United States was consciously designed to be a mercantile (capitalist) country”

    They of course had the concept of mercantilism since the British had been conceptually trying to practice mercantilism on them. They didn’t particularly succeed; for a long time US exports were dominated by tobacco, food, alcohol, and hemp. And then cotton. For a long time our infant industries could not compete on world markets, though they did fine in the USA where they had a tariff advantage. The railroads opened up even more agricultural land. By 1900 we had a world-class industrial base.

    During all that we were arguing primitive concepts of banking, rich/poor, manufacturing-boss/industrial-worker, slavery/wage-slavery producer/middleman etc, with only the vaguest concept how things actually worked.

    Steve, my daughter found that song while she was doing a school project about environmental carp issues. I was pleased to find it was Boiled in Lead.

  57. Jonah:
    “By 1900 we had a world-class industrial base.”
    In 120 years the U.S. went from a collection of bickering, backwater colonies to a world power. From my perspective, that sounds like unqualified success.

  58. kukuforguns, yes, unqualified success. A part of it was having a whole lot of untapped resources just waiting to be exploited. All it took was to clear out the Injuns and move in and take whatever we wanted.

    To the north Canada got a little edge of the good land plus a lot of ice.

    To the south, Mexico had some potential and the USA took by far the better half away from them.

    South america was as empty as north america, but the biggest part of it didn’t have a climate that people knew how to exploit. The temperate part was kind of narrow with a tall mountain range blocking it from one coast.

    Australia had a little very good land and a lot of desert.

    Africa had a lot of bad climate and a lot of diseases that killed white people.

    Central Russia and Siberia were empty but not particularly habitable, plus they had the disadvantage of being owned by Russia.

    Antarctica was worthless.

    Of all the land occupied by weak lo-tech populations that could be ignored, the USA was by far the best land. Plus we had oceans protecting us from european armies.

  59. kukuforguns:Yes, capitalism is a good means of bootstrapping a system up quickly as long as you don’t care about any human costs. A slaughterhouse is an unqualified success for turning cows into sides of beef. From the perspective of the cow, it probably has some qualifications.

    Jonah:Cool–I’ve seen them in various forms at Minicon over the years.

  60. Jonah: Yes, North America was an ideal location for an expansionist, technological, mercantile society.

    “Africa had a lot of bad climate and a lot of diseases that killed white people.” North America did as well. That’s likely one of the factors that drove the African slave trade in the southern states – the Black slaves were more resistant to malaria than were White colonists. The northern states were too cold for malaria.

    The United States took California because it expanded more rapidly than Mexico (probably due to both environmental and societal disadvantages of Mexico).

    And, wow, this is pretty far afield from freedom of speech.

  61. kukuforguns:I think that this is all called an example of free speech.

  62. “And, wow, this is pretty far afield from freedom of speech.”

    We started out with Steven Brust arguing that trying to get “authorities” of various sorts to ban hate speech is a bad tactic because they are quite likely to ban us. In addition or instead.

    We went from there to the question what ought to be considered hate speech. Disagreeing is not hate speech. Saying somebody is stupid is not hate speech. Saying they don’t deserve rights because of their opinions is hate speech. Particularly when it extends to the right to live. We need to stop those people before they actually kill significant numbers of other people.

    However, in my own opinion one of the rights that we should not restrict is the right to speak out and try to get your opinions across. If you don’t have that, you are not really a citizen. You are just a subject (or rather an object) that citizens decide what to do about. Even in court you have the right to speak out in your own defense.

    This is potentially a dilemma. Suppose that the Nazis have such a powerful ideology that if they are allowed to speak they will convert a hundred million Americans to become Nazis and they will take over the country, put us in concentration camps, and fight WWIII. We have to stop them from speaking. We should probably also kill them as fast as we find them, and keep them from speaking out about being killed.

    On the other hand, suppose that Nazi ideology does not spread all that fast or far. Then we are doing great evil because we have a delusion. That’s bad.

    We went from that discussion to discussing conservatives. Some leftists think that conservative ideas are so inherently bad that they deserve to be suppressed. We discussed what are the fundamental conservative ideas and whether they have any socially-redeeming qualities. We did not particularly discuss whether the claims made by leftists about rightists are hate speech. If we had, there would be the question whether it’s hate speech to tell the truth.

    I wanted to discuss the idea that people have fundamental beliefs that are not particularly testable, which color their other opinions. Particularly ideas about the fundamental truths of economics. Conservatives tend to believe that capitalism is fundamentally fair, and they have arguments why it is fair. Leftists tend to believe that capitalists are fundamentally unfair, and use their tremendous advantages to keep power and privilege for themselves.

    I argue that what we have is not what capitalism-enthusiasts call capitalism. It is an evolved system that nobody understands. It more or less works, staggering along randomly with occasional big failures. People try to fix it and change it in ways that might as well be random, since they don’t really understand how it works. The system is robust enough to often tolerate those changes. Some nations do better than others. Some regions or cities in those nations do better than others. There could be a lot of randomness in which ones do better, but it’s inevitable that some will do better. People can come along afterward and make up reasonable-sounding explanations.

    We don’t understand it and we are betting our lives that it will keep working at least well enough to keep us alive.

    It’s comforting to think that you understand it. Marxism and capitalism are two belief systems that comfort people that way. The beliefs are incompatible. The believers sometimes want to suppress each other in various ways.

  63. Here is what I would like to see (wrt Jonas Kyratzes):
    All human beings deserve protection from harm.
    All human beings deserve shelter.
    All human beings deserve nourishment.
    All human beings deserve access to the highest standard of medical care available to our species.
    All human beings deserve an education.
    All human beings deserve freedom of speech.
    All human beings deserve freedom of religion, so long as their religion does not infringe on the rights of others.
    All human beings deserve access to art and entertainment.
    All human beings have the right to be recognized as individuals, irrespective of various characteristics.
    All human beings have the right to love whoever they love.
    All human beings have the right to live their lives as they see fit, as long as they do not harm or infringe upon the rights of others.

    The economic and political system we live in is required to provide these things, or be considered inadequate. How might we adjust that system. If there are items that you don’t like, which ones and why? Are there additions?

  64. Steve: Without recognizing any validity of your larger argument:
    “All human beings have the right to be recognized as individuals, irrespective of various characteristics.” And:
    “The economic and political system we live in is required to provide these things, or be considered inadequate.”

    What does the political system do when A refuses to recognize B as an individual?

    “All human beings have the right to live their lives as they see fit, as long as they do not harm or infringe upon the rights of others.”

    What does the economic system do when A-ZZZZZZ want to live on Santorini but there are no housing vacancies?

    “All human beings deserve protection from harm.”

    What does the political system do when Spencer is such an asshole that everyone wants to hurt him and no one wants to protect him?

  65. kukuforguns:When I say “economic and political system” I mean the totality of our social relations as humans.
    If you are a hermit who has sealed himself into a deep cave and never interact with any other human until you die, then it doesn’t much matter. Other than that, you are living within an economic/political system as a framework.

  66. “All human beings deserve protection from harm.”

    I want to point out that people disagree about this, in detail.

    People who believe only in capitalism, are likely to say that humans get rights from contributing to the capitalist system. The capitalist system judges what rights you deserve by people who have rights giving them to you in exchange for your contribution. In general, the more you contribute the more money they will pay you. If you contribute nothing, you deserve no rights.

    Libertarians on the other hand are likely to say that you have innate rights which vary in particular circumstances. “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.” So you have rights that nobody should take from you, while you are standing on your own land that belongs to you. If you are standing on somebody else’s land? Then you have whatever privileges he extends to you. If you don’t own any land and you have no choice but to be places that belong to somebody else? Then you live on their tolerance. Similarly if you have no land to grow crops on then you must buy your food from people who have food, and you can make whatever arrangement you can arrange with them. You should not make contracts and break them, and neither should they. If they promise to feed you in exchange for something you do for them, they should not let you do your part and then starve.

    Socialists say that you get rights by being part of the proletariat and working for a living. If you don’t work for pay, then you don’t deserve the riches you have.

    People believe a big variety of things about who deserves what.

    In practice, I figure we might not be able to give everybody everything they deserve. If there is a shipwreck and there turn out to be only enough lifeboats for a tenth of the passengers, then somebody has to do without. Even though they all deserve to live.

    But if we had the resources, here’s something I’d kind of like to see:

    We set up automated factories that produce robots etc that can do all the physical labor a human being can do, with AI that can do most of the mental work. The system produces stuff for people.

    We give every living human being basicly three times as much stuff as he needs to get by. Like, if he lives in a capsule hotel he can have three capsules if he wants them, and three times the bland nutritious food he needs etc. Starting at age 21.

    If two people pair up they can have four children and get by with their basic necessities for 20+ years. Or if they choose to have no children they will be 3 times as rich.

    And everybody gets exposed before age 21 to an existentialist philosophy which says that life is meaningless, there’s no point to it, you can have some fun and some misery and then you die, and that’s all there is. And the next generation is composed entirely of people who got thoroughly exposed to that and who did not choose to spend their time having fun with 3 times as much stuff as the minimum they needed, but who chose to have 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 children.

    With luck within a couple of generations we’d get the population down to an easily-sustainable level, with no genocide and nobody forced to kill themselves or forced not to have children. Just with weaponized philosophy.

  67. Jonah:Thanks, but what I was looking for is not who (or even if) we can achieve the various items or what you think other people may think, but whether you (you being anyone who cares to answer) agree or disagree with the general items.

    Round two would be how we might go about it.

  68. Steve:
    When I said ” Without recognizing any validity of your larger argument,” I was referencing your final point that it is the obligation of the state (economic and political system) to provide the various “benefits” you identified. That debate is bigger than the debate you were inviting. I identified various inconsistencies which I see in your stated benefits.

    Do you see any incompatibility between: (1) you can do whatever you want so long as you don’t harm someone else; and (2) every person has a right to be perceived as an individual? Are you saying the state can use force to compel A to recognize B’s status as an individual?

    Do you see any incompatibility between: (1) you can live your life however you want; and (2) you cannot infringe on another’s right? What if x number of individuals want to live in the same house. Each individual has that right. If any individual exercises that right, then the rights of all the other individuals are being violated.

    If individuals want to harm A, can the state compel B to protect A (assuming B’s contrary desire)?

    Can the state force B to provide A with the best medical care available (assuming B’s contrary desire)? To some extent, the Civil Rights Act does just this.

    I am generally uncomfortable with “positive” rights (e.g., I am entitled to some good/service) as they require the state to compel others to act. Compare Amendments 1-5 with the 6th Amendment. Your list has many positive rights.

    I’m curious as to why you use the word “deserve.” It seems like a rather strange word when compared to the requirement that the economic and political system provide these benefits.

  69. kukuforguns:Interesting that you mention a State. Not something I mentioned.

    But, in any case, that is the list of things I would like. If I wouldn’t want them, then I wouldn’t have listed them. So, the question isn’t what I would like (I just listed it). If there are items you don’t like, feel free to list them. If there are items you want, feel free to list them.

    The list of things I would like are all of the items starting with “All”.
    The line with “economic and political system” i.e. all human interactions is an observation on a very general framework.

  70. Things I want? I’m all in for that:
    I want my own personal bodyguard.
    I want my own personal mansion with a scenic view of the Rockies/Mediterranean.
    I want my own personal five-star chef.
    I want my own personal physician.
    I want my own personal tutor.
    I want weekly, private performances by the Bolshoi Ballet Company.
    I want sex with the partner(s) of my choice.
    I want my own personal jet transport.
    I want cream buns and doughnuts and fruitcake with no nuts
    I want a party; pink macaroons and a million balloons
    And performing baboons and …
    I want the world
    I want the whole world
    I want to lock it all up in my pocket
    I want today
    I want tomorrow
    I want a party with room fulls of laughter
    Ten thousand tons of ice cream
    I want the works
    I want the whole works
    Presents and prizes and sweets and surprises
    Of all shapes and sizes

    Mike Resnick wrote a novel entitled Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future. In it there’s a character (I think the Swagman, but its been several years since I read the book) who was raised by communal aliens who had no concept of private property. Unfortunately, the orphan had a stuffed bear and from that stuffed bear understood the idea of ownership. The young boy rejected the idea of communal property. I feel very much like that young boy with respect to private property. If a society’s adequacy is going to based on its delivery of satisfying my wants, it will be inadequate … because with infinite supply my demand will be infinite. So, I reject your basic premise as to what makes an economic, political system adequate.

    If we change “delivery of satisfaction” to “allow individuals to pursue satisfaction” then my concerns fade away.

    What I really want you take away from this post? Read Santiago.

  71. If you have two humans in a room, you have an economic and political system. The variation in form are limited only by physics and inherent human cognitive framework.

    My other frequent observation to those terrified of “wealth distribution” is that all economic systems redistribute wealth. Some prioritize redistributing the wealth to those that need it; some prioritize redistributing the wealth to those that do not.

    It befuddles me how much emotional attachment 99% of the population of the US has for a system that funnels all wealth to the other 1%.

  72. larswyrdson:Yes, exactly.

    kukuforguns:Sigh. So, I guess you have only your own wants and no notion of what things might comprise goals for base human rights to build a better world.

  73. Steve: “kukuforguns:Sigh. So, I guess you have only your own wants and no notion of what things might comprise goals for base human rights to build a better world.”

    That’s “not exactly” the point I am making. I have been arguing that your assertion that people have the right to goods/services necessarily is inherently incompatible with individual liberty. If I am entitled to something, then I can compel someone to provide it. Compulsion is, in its truest form, a guy with a gun saying “… or else.” I want fewer occasions where “… or else” is uttered. Your system vastly increases the number of occasions where “… or else” would be said.

    It appears that universal loss of individual liberty is a trivial price to you for broad distribution of panem et circenses.

  74. kukuforguns:”I have been arguing that your assertion that people have the right to goods/services necessarily is inherently incompatible with individual liberty.”

    Well, all I asked at this point was which points you agree or disagree with or would add/modify. We can argue about how to do things later.

    It seems like you have a different base list in mind. Feel free to share.

  75. Steve: Your request that I share my list gets back to how we envision the role of the state or of the economic/political system (I’ll call this “society”). If the purpose of society is to meet the basic needs of its members, then your list makes sense. If the purpose of society is to maximize individuals’ rights to achieve their unique goals, then your list is inconsistent with the role of society. In my initial response, I offered comments on some of your benefits within your stated role of society. In order for me to give you a list of rights, I would have to first identify the role of society and then set forth the rules by which the society would function (e.g., interaction between state, commercial, individual, religious institutions) which would include the rights and powers of the state, individuals, and legal institutions. I would have to draft a constitution, by myself in a format compatible with the comment system on skzb`s blog. This is a mammoth undertaking. I do not consider myself competent to do this task on my own.

  76. kukuforguns:I think you are overthinking my request. You are doing what is called the “boil the ocean” design approach. I’m just saying lets pick some things we want to see and then work from there. It’s OK not to get everything right in your very first attempt. Also, in case you didn’t notice, you aren’t the only one here, so you aren’t required to do the whole task on your own.

    It looks like you almost have a goal peeping out there in the “maximize individuals’ rights to achieve their unique goals.”

    I’d say that is contained within the two goals I listed as:
    All human beings have the right to be recognized as individuals, irrespective of various characteristics.
    All human beings have the right to live their lives as they see fit, as long as they do not harm or infringe upon the rights of others.

    Unless you are dropping off the “do not harm” portion.

  77. Steve, I personally agree with all of your goals, and I also want us to preserve the nonhuman ecology.

    That is a form of wealth that we do not yet know how to exploit well. Existing ecologies will someday tell us a whole lot about climate over the last 100,000 years, and we will mine them for genes and for organisms that can be modified to work well in new human-designed ecologies that we don’t yet know how to create. It’s ridiculous for us to throw those away before we have even learned how they work.

    Then there is the question of how to provide all that. If people continue to increase population size, they will continually encroach on everything else. Neither of us included a right to have as many children as you want, or any children.

  78. Jonah that’s a good point. A goal(s) leading towards biological diversity might be good to have as explicit.

  79. Steve:
    “I’d say that is contained within the two goals I listed as:
    [#1] All human beings have the right to be recognized as individuals, irrespective of various characteristics.
    [#2] All human beings have the right to live their lives as they see fit, as long as they do not harm or infringe upon the rights of others.”
    Yes to #2, although I might shorten it to: “The people have the right to pursue happiness.” I’m not sure what you mean by #1. Oh, I think you’re saying “Thou shalt not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, religion, ethnicity, gender, etc.” I have conflicted feelings about this one when applied to individuals (I have no reluctance applying it to the government).Your proposal has similarities to several of the UN articles of human rights, including Art. 2 “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”; Art. 6 “Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law”; and Art. 7 “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.” I am more comfortable with the UN statements than your proposal because the UN statements discourages states from treating individuals differently based on immutable characteristics. Your version, on the other hand, interferes with individuals’ freedom of association. If you sell firearms, you have to sell the firearms to Nilotic people even if you are Bantu. On the gripping hand, our own history of merchants refusing to do business with Blacks (to the merchants’ economic detriment) demonstrates that without legal protections, disfavored minorities could be truly excluded from society. So, I understand why you want this right and I support the goal. I’m not an advocate of the right because it feels like a “two wrongs equal a right” situation.

    And I’m tired. So, no proofreading.

  80. The list comes mostly from A Statement of Principles from Jonas Kyratzes. Steve links to that at the top of the page also.

    The origins derive from the US Bill of Rights, the French Declaration of the Rights of the Man and of the Citizen of 1789, and the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

  81. Pingback: Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 161 - Glen Davis

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