A Quick Note on Free Speech

Free speech absolutists (I’m not one, by the way), believe in the moral principle that no one should be prevented from expressing an opinion by violence, fear of violence, or economic or legal coercion. The First Amendment only protects against the last (and not always that). Thus, when someone is arguing for free speech, to point out that it is not a case where the Bill of Rights applies does not answer the argument.
If you wish to answer that argument (which, of course, you are under no obligation to do), you must show that what is being accomplished by suppressing that speech is more important than the moral right being denied. I believe there are such cases, but I also believe it is a scary and dangerous road to start down, so we need to be bloody damn sure we’re right when we do it.

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66 thoughts on “A Quick Note on Free Speech”

  1. As a socialist, I’m fond of these thoughts about free speech:

    “You cannot enjoy the advantages of a free press without putting up with its inconveniences. You cannot pluck the rose without its thorns!” —Karl Marx

    “…only those blind or simpleminded could think that the workers and peasants could be freed from reactionary ideas by the banning of reactionary press. In fact, it is only the greatest freedom of expression that can create favorable conditions for the advance of the revolutionary movement in the working class.” —Leon Trotsky

    “I believe that free speech and press mean that I may say and write what I please. This right, when regulated by constitutional provisions, legislative enactments, almighty decisions of the Postmaster General or the policeman’s club, becomes a farce. I am well aware that I will be warned of consequences if we remove the chains from speech and press. I believe, however, that the cure of consequences resulting from the unlimited exercise of expression is to allow more expression.” – Emma Goldman

    “Let the guarantee of free speech be in every man’s determination to use it, and we shall have no need of paper declarations.” —Voltairine de Cleyre

    “Without general elections, without freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, without the free battle of opinions, life in every public institution withers away, becomes a caricature of itself, and bureaucracy rises as the only deciding factor.” —Rosa Luxemburg

    “Laws alone cannot secure freedom of expression; in order that every man may present his views without penalty, there must be a spirit of tolerance in the entire population.” —Albert Einstein

    “If you’re in favor of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.” —Noam Chomsky

    “…even if Faurisson were to be a rabid anti-Semite and fanatic pro-Nazi … this would have no bearing whatsoever on the legitimacy of the defense of his civil rights. On the contrary, it would make it all the more imperative to defend them since, once again, it has been a truism for years, indeed centuries, that it is precisely in the case of horrendous ideas that the right of free expression must be most vigorously defended; it is easy enough to defend free expression for those who require no such defense.” –Noam Chomsky

    “Take away freedom of speech, and the creative faculties dry up.” —George Orwell

    “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” ― George Orwell

  2. And ultimately, I think repressing speech is a bad tactic for several reasons, starting with the fact that it turns the discussion from its original subject to whether this particular instance justifies repressing speech.

  3. In my state and under federal law it is a crime to speak, without lawful authority, in a way that communicates a threat to inflict property damage, bodily injury, or death, and the method and manner of the speech are such that the threat is believed to be genuine by the person threatened.

    Lawful authority could mean one is a police officer, or it could be someone acting lawfully to defend himself, his home, or others. Juries seem to struggle with criminalizing this type of behavior, for in my experience they are reluctant to convict unless the threats are egregious.

    In the context of class war, I can see this charge potentially being used to suppress dissent towards the dominant power structure and to strangle resistance movements in their infancy.

  4. An important component that discussions of free speech often ignore: no one is obligated to listen to you.

    Also, no one is obligated to assist you in speaking, or to allow it on whatever property is validly considered “theirs” by society.

  5. “I can see this charge potentially being used to suppress dissent towards the dominant power structure and to strangle resistance movements in their infancy.”

    There’s a reason the police pay provocateurs to do what the black bloc fans do for free.

  6. skzb, I agree completely. As the comments above point out, once you start suppressing free speech, it becomes a real mess.

  7. I think there’s a pragmatic argument for free speech absolutism, derived from the long history of well-intentioned people trying to defend revolutions (from entirely real threats) and ending up creating the conditions for their overthrow. I think that’s something we on the Left have to own up to and learn from.

  8. I personally think it’s better to have free speech as an absolute.

    But the practical argument against it is a slippery-slope fallacy.

    You start off believing that there is something that really ought to be censored. You are a good person and you can tell the difference between the bad things that are right to censor, and the good things that must not be. But once you start doing it, eventually you will be replaced by a bad person who will follow your precedent but will censor the wrong things. So it’s bad.

    But I think even if you don’t do any censorship at all, when the bad person replaces you he will censor whether you did or not. Your precedent probably won’t matter.

  9. Free speech absolutism, like a all absolute principals, offers the tremendous emotional advantage of having a principal without having to think too hard about it. It just doesn’t bear up under real world conditions.

    Under US law there are many exceptions to the First Amendment. It all well and good to say they should all be tossed out, but which ones do you want to live without? There is the child pornography exception. There is the false advertising exception. There is copyright law.There are libel and slander laws.

    Even if we just stay in the realm of “political” speech, can we not draw some lines? Yes, there is still a value in letting some citizens rant on about shadowy conspiracies of Jewish bankers. No value in listening to them, of course, but having a system where they have the right to spout nonsense increases everyone’s liberty. You can even say that a politician has a right at a political rally to shout at his followers to drag away a protester, while uttering vague incitements like “In the old days, we would have known what to do with them…” OK, really, that one isn’t so vague, but since no lynching followed, you can claim the meaning was obscure. But can we afford to set no limits at all? If a speaker starts shouting, “Get a rope!” or “Grab those feminazis and give them what they really need,” does protecting that speech offer any value to a free society? And since the line between polemics and incitement to violence is not always so clear, that means that we need case law, judgement, and accepted legal limits on some peoples’ free speech to protect the rights of others.

  10. In the ideal case, things can be polemized about (I for one think disagreements, as long as they aren’t allowed to lead to platformism are a good thing as they prevent ideas plans and policies from degenerating and ‘going off the deep end’) , maybe, but life isn’t ideal.

    In the very real, pragmatic case we live in, I’m and will be for free speech because, uh, it’s the capitalists and their cronies who’s in charge of censorship, and no matter what rules you set forth, they’ll always try to invoke them to protect their own interests.

    It’s an extension of a tactic already used where, say, people criticising Obama were accused of racism and people criticizing H. Clinton of misogyny, even when the issue was their awful neoliberal policies, for a prominent and recent example, and another tool to discredit one’s opponents where handy. Why give them the tool?

  11. larswyrdson, I wish you had left out the clause “without having to think too hard about it” because now I must point out that objections to free speech fall apart if you think hard about it.

    Free speech gives you the right to say what you believe, but it does not give you the right to say what you do not believe, so libel, slander, and false advertising laws still apply.

    Similarly, it does not give you the right to make anyone listen to what you say, so laws about harassment still apply.

    Free speech gives you the right to try to change laws, but it does not give you the right to break them, so laws about child pornography and credible threats of imminent harm still apply.

  12. Will: Art is speech. Are you saying pornography cannot be art? What is the difference between: 1) it is illegal to call Pres. Trump a micro-handed clown; and 2) it is illegal to make child pornography? Both criminalize a subset of speech.

  13. Lars: “and accepted legal limits on some peoples’ free speech to protect the rights of others.” Why not the same limits on everyone’s speech?

  14. Will- I know, I know, that wasn’t the best piece of rhetoric! But I have to point out that you misrepresented my argument in order to object to it.

    Absolute free speech and free speech are as different as Absolute Zero and Zero Celsius. As the OP states, there would always be limits to free speech, even if you removed all legal ones. Without laws limiting speech, there would still be threats of violence, economic retribution, public shaming. The legal limits on speech, to some extent, protect against those other limits.

    The interplay of rights is a complex system, not a simple zero sum game (I’m making a lot of nods to the Aztecs in this post). Love the Second Amendment as much as the First? Do you think that open carry at town hall meetings doesn’t limit anyone’s freedom of speech? Then I guess you are the one with the gun on your hip.

    So, setting aside all the cases where an imminent crime is being advocated (calling for a lynching) or directly committed (creating child pornography), what limits should there be on freely expressing what you think to be true? Should it be legal for Google to fire Damore? Should the execrable Milo still be invited on college campuses despite his history of ad hominem attacks on critics and dog whistle calls to harass them into silence? Should college students have the right to silence the voices they don’t want to hear by protesting publicly? Which voice gets to speak out, and whose speech are you limiting to give them that chance? Even for an absolutist, the answer shouldn’t always be easy.

  15. Kukuforguns- “Why not the same limits on everyone’s speech?”

    I am talking about the same limits for everyone, but at any given time, some people are talking and other people don’t want them too. Those are the groups I was referring to.

  16. If you followed some people’s definition of freedom of speech, you would conclude North Korea has it. After all, as a matter of both legality, practicality and probably even morality, the US Federal government will not in fact arrest anyone who criticizes the current Kim.

  17. Kukuforguns, I completely agree that pornography is art—some good, most bad. But when we talk about illegal child pornography, we’re talking about photos and videos, which are evidence of a crime—it is currently legal in the US to draw and write about children having sex.

    Keeping child porn illegal is about targeting the market that funds the crime, no different than targeting customers for prostitution or drugs. It’s why hiring a killer is illegal. If you don’t like those laws (I am in favor of legalizing and regulating both prostitution and drugs), use your free speech to try to change them.

  18. Lars, your example of guns raises the question of whether the guns are a credible threat. If so, the people bearing them should be arrested.

    “Should it be legal for Google to fire Damore?”

    No. No one has said he behaved on the job in ways that hurt the job. People should be fired because of their job performance. All Google should do in cases like this is to say “The opinions of our employees are their own.”

    “Should the execrable Milo still be invited on college campuses despite his history of ad hominem attacks on critics and dog whistle calls to harass them into silence?”

    Yes. No one is forcing anyone to invite Milo or to attend his speeches.

    “Should college students have the right to silence the voices they don’t want to hear by protesting publicly?”

    You’re conflating separate things:

    1. Yes, people have the right to protest in public. That’s free speech.

    2. No, people do not have the right to silence others. That’s preventing free speech.

  19. Will- But Milo used his time speaking, among other things, to try to silence his chief critic on the campus. That critic, who tried to get him barred from campus, did so, among many other reasons, because Milo had done the same thing before at other schools.

    When one person uses a privileged form of speech, from a stage, to beat down someone using a less privileged position, e.g whatever attention she could get by being loud and relentless, are they exercising equal rights?

  20. “There is the child pornography exception.”

    If someone is hurting or damaging children, and he provides records to prove it, that might not be good for him. If he can create child pornography without actually hurting children, then I think maybe that is OK.

    “There is the false advertising exception.”

    Who believes advertising? We know it’s mostly false. It’s laws that make people believe it. When people think the FDA won’t let food providers lie about the food they provide, then people are more likely to believe it. I’m not at all sure we are better off with those laws.

    But then, say you need a particular product, and a vendor lies to say that’s what he’s selling to you. You believe him and then you are hurt when it is not what he claimed. Sue for that? If he promises you that what he sells you is what you need, and you are damaged, isn’t that fraud? We don’t necessarily need a separate false advertising law.

    “There is copyright law.”

    Copyright is strange. It doesn’t make sense, but we probably wouldn’t have professional writers without it. Surely people mostly agree we ought to have professional writers and a publishing industry. If we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t miss it, but what conclusion should we draw from that? There are surely a variety of arts that we don’t have because we haven’t set up an economy for them, and we don’t miss them. I dunno.

    “There are libel and slander laws.”

    These laws are mostly ineffective. Put it this way — if you say something that somebody important doesn’t like, and he can past together something that looks halfway plausible to claim that what you said was false, then you are in trouble. But if somebody starts a whispering campaign against you, there isn’t much you can do.

    So for example, during the last national election, there were ten thousand sources that claimed Jill Stein was an anti-vaxxer. It wasn’t true, but there were only a thousand sources saying it wasn’t true and giving proof, and they couldn’t reach as far. That was pretty much the only thing the media reported about her, except for the anti-science claims. Could she have sued somebody for slander? I guess maybe. But it was ten thousand sources that each believe somebody else.

    After the election there was another campaign among Greens. The claim was that Stein had told some people that the reason she wanted a recount of votes was to put Clinton in office instead of Trump. Since it’s wrong for anybody in the Green Party to do anything that helps Democrats, and it’s especially wrong to do it on purpose, that’s considered proof that she should be thrown out of the party. Her and her supporters who also try to help the Democrats and hurt the Green Party. This time there are a couple of people who claim they heard her say it. Is there any way to prove that she didn’t say it in a private conversation with them? I can’t think of a way to prove it’s false.

    It’s possible that those laws do more good than harm, but I’m not convinced.

    “And since the line between polemics and incitement to violence is not always so clear”

    When I was in high school I learned by example that at least in that context it’s stupid to threaten violence. When you make a threat, and then the threat is carried out, people will assume that it was you who did it. It’s obviously premeditated then, too.

    When you make a threat you are giving away something. Unless you are “special” and can get away with making threats and carrying them out, it’s better not to give the other guy that warning. Anybody who will back down given an explicit threat, will even more likely back down without one.

    Unfortunately, the special people who can afford to make threats can afford it whether there are laws against it or not.

    From what I’ve seen, the advantages of having speech laws are not as obvious as the advantages of drug laws that keep people from getting access to drugs that are bad for them. And those laws are at best a mixed bag, too.

  21. Except for a specific set of reasons (race, age, …) Google can fire any Employee who does not have a contract specifying additional reasons without any reason at all. Currently, corporations do not need reasons to fire people. The Google CEO provided a reason — that the employee violated some portion of their internal code. That reason is actually extraneous to the firing.

    Should Google need a reason related to performance in order to fire someone? That seems like a more just system, but they currently do not.

    On a different note, one area of free speech I find interesting is just how much insanity society is willing to tolerate and how much it should tolerate. In general, as long as a person isn’t harming someone or causing imminent harm to themselves, we currently tolerate quite a lot of behavior that could potentially benefit from medical help. Of course, defining where that edge lies ends up in the same slippery slopes and potential for abuse as the rest of free speech.

  22. Lars,

    1. What did Milo do to silence anyone else?

    2. Even if Milo did do something to silence someone else, free speech belongs to everyone, including the people who oppose it.

    3. Groups have a right to invite the speakers they want to hear. They have no obligation to invite people they don’t want to hear.


    1. By definition, recording children having sex is harming the children. People are free to argue that it’s not and the law should be changed. I’m free to argue that they’re creeps and the law should not be changed.

    2. If no one believed advertising, there would be none. Capitalists do not intentionally throw away their money.

    3. Copyright is a mess, but I will note that free speech gives you the right to say what you believe. It does not give you the right to profit from repeating what someone else said.

  23. Steve- in the former Soviet Union, they had a psychological category called “sluggish schizophrenia”, which they applied to any dedicated dissidents. After all, if you didn’t support the leadership of the USSR, you must be crazy, right?

    I still think that universal health care would be a good idea though! Fewer untreated individuals would mean less crime and incarceration. We just have to avoid empowering any “crazy panels”.

  24. Will- sorry, answering at work, so I don’t have time to research in depth. When we discussed the guy before, my recollection is that he had a history of singling out student activists and mocking them from stage. He certainly did in the incident that prompted the discussion. He spent a considerable portion of his time ridiculing the student that tried to get him barred, mocking her appearance (with slides as evidence), casting doubt on her gender and sexuality, suggesting she only wanted access to women’s rooms as a voyeur, and finally inviting the mostly frat-boyish audience to seek her out on campus and… have a conversation.

    My point, and the point I was reaching for in all of my examples, is that all speech shouldn’t necessarily receive equal protection. Not every speaker is equal. Public figures don’t receive equal protection under slander and libel laws, as one example.

    For the examples I gave you:

    A gun is always a threat. Wearing one in public is a declaration that you are armed and dangerous. Dangerous to those who would attack you? Dangerous to those who would infringe on your rights? Dangerous to anyone that disagrees with you? There is only one way for me to find out, and that would be to start a heated argument with you at the town hall over zoning issues.

    Google used its power as a massive corporate entity to stifle dissent and protect its economic interests. I disapprove.

    Milo Y is a money grubbing little jerk who deliberately offends and attacks those weaker than himself for gain. If it were only his opinions at play, I’d say let him say what he wants, however repellent he is. If he crosses the line into intimidation and begins to make a habit of it, that is a different issue.

    Is the protester trying to shout down the man on stage, whether it is Milo or Trump, really oppressing the person on stage? If only Trump get to talk in front of cameras and the protesters are never heard, has free speech been served?

    I am just suspicious of easy answers, even when they conform to my prejudices.

  25. Lars,

    1. Mocking people isn’t nice. But it’s part of the price of free speech. The courts would never close if mocking people was illegal.

    2. A gun is not speech, so I’m not really interested in debating whether people should be allowed to take guns to speeches. I’ll defer to the law there, and suggest you use your right to speak to change it if you don’t like it.

    3. I’ll note without further comment that if no one had protested Milo, no one would have heard of him. Every attempt to silence him makes him more famous.

    4. Historically, people have been able to protest without silencing anyone. If the media is ignoring you, your problem is with the media, not with the speaker whose ideas you oppose.

  26. Hypothetical situation:

    Person A wants to speak at a venue owned by X. Person B supports this and pleads their case to X. Person C opposes it and pleads their case to X.

    X, as is their right, declines to provide their venue to Person A.

    Has any violation of “freedom of speech” occurred in any meaningful sense?

    (X could be a democratic consensus of communal owners of the venue, if you don’t like the idea of personal private property)

  27. hacksoncode, freedom of speech depends heavily on the usual conditions for using a venue.

    The tricky part in your formulation is “X, as is their right”. The owner of a venue does not necessarily have a legal or a moral right to turn someone down–for example, you can’t legally or morally say, “No muslim speakers”, in my opinion. The owner has a moral obligation to be fair to everyone who’s entitled to use the space. So if we’re talking about a university that lets student groups schedule speakers, canceling one group’s invited speaker is wrong, no matter how many other student groups complain about it.

  28. Lars-yes, those are the slippery slopes of which I was thinking.
    The universal healthcare along with universal education would go a long way. If you take away the underpinnings of what leads people down the paths of hateful speech, the hateful speech will go away.
    Speech isn’t the problem, it is the limitations that lead to the speech that is the problem.

  29. For the moment, let’s restrict the hypothetical to a privately owned venue, then.

    Surely a synagogue should not be required, even morally, to host a neo-Nazi speaker, right?

  30. Hacksoncode, of course not—the venue is for the people who own it. But if for some reason a synagogue decided it would interesting to have a neo-Nazi speak, it would then be wrong to uninvite that speaker.

    Again, free speech does not oblige anyone to offer a venue to anyone who does not meet the expectations for that venue. That’s why the question of canceling a speaker is very relevant—so long as speakers were not invited under false premises, the original invitations show they met the criteria for speaking.

  31. Ah, the “false pretenses exception”. How about if it was simply previously unknown that the speaker was a Neo-Nazi and this was later discovered?

  32. My take on free speech is all about honesty, so if there was an attempt to deceive, boot the guy’s ass.

  33. Will-

    “1. Mocking people isn’t nice. But it’s part of the price of free speech. The courts would never close if mocking people was illegal.”

    This is part of the disconnect we had in this argument before. You keep framing Milo’s actions as “mocking” or “insulting”, not as attempts to oppress individuals through slander and threat of physical retaliation, to the point where they no longer feel safe to speak. Why is his attempt to silence his critic free speech but their attempts to silence him an infringement of free speech? Both tried to use speech to get a third party to cut off debate. The student appealed to the administration and Milo appealed to trans-phobes. In the end, Milo was the one who won the contest because the student in question quit college, while he went on with his speaking tour until he advocated pedophilia… but that is another story.

    Look, I actually do think that the student was displaying poor tactics if she was trying to raise consciousness at her school, and I don’t think her attempt to ban him was clever. But Milo fails your definitions of free speech on several levels: I don’t think he was expressing his honest views

    “2. A gun is not speech, so I’m not really interested in debating whether people should be allowed to take guns to speeches.”

    Didn’t say it was. But I was trying to make the point that you can’t maximize certain rights or rights for certain people without decreasing some others. More specifically, you can’t give some people more power to intimidate and still claim that you are sponsoring an open and honest debate.

    “3. I’ll note without further comment that if no one had protested Milo, no one would have heard of him. Every attempt to silence him makes him more famous.”

    Quite true. But asking people not to protest him might be beyond the realms of human endurance, clever as the tactic might be.

    “4. Historically, people have been able to protest without silencing anyone. If the media is ignoring you, your problem is with the media, not with the speaker whose ideas you oppose.”

    And in a society with corporate owned media, what tactics are permissible? If access to the public forum is limited to the elite, is a worker who sits back and politely waits for an oligarch to finish his thoughts protecting free speech?

  34. 1. I’ve said slander and credible threats of violence are not free speech. Quote what Milo said that falls under either category.

    And what dishonest views do you think he was expressing?

    2. Free speech lets the powerless speak, even though they could be silenced by the people who have the power to hurt them. If I’m in a place where my opponents outnumber me or are legally allowed to have weapons, knowing I have the right to speak will comfort me. The government’s record for supporting free speech is spotty, which is why we need groups like the ACLU, but the government has protected speakers on all political sides.

    3. I’m not asking anyone not to protest people like Milo. If you think his danger is so great that you should speak out against it, more power to you. I just get the feeling a lot of protesters are not thinking this through.

    4. Interrupting speakers doesn’t promote your cause–it makes your side look irrational, which is why it’s a tactic loved by police provocateurs. Refuting speakers promotes your cause. Protesting outside an event with signs or quietly during an event by wearing symbols of protest like armbands or partisan t-shirts is both true to free speech and far more effective than trying to prevent it.

  35. Speaking of freedom of speech and Google, it appears that someone is playing with Googles results and a number of left/progressive sites are ranking lower than they did not long ago.
    This is an interesting a different sort of censorship. Google is, of course, a corporation and can rank things however they want. But, there is a certain expectation of relevant results appearing or they (Google) will lose. If they play around with how easily it is to see a political conversation, what else will they play around with.
    I guess a close analogy in pre-Internet times would have been in major newspapers downplaying left/progressive news items.

  36. “1. By definition, recording children having sex is harming the children.”

    I am increasingly uncomfortable with “by definition” arguments. By definition, infringing somebody’s free speech harms them.

    By definition, taxing someone’s income harms them.

    By definition, arresting someone harms them.

    “2. If no one believed advertising, there would be none. Capitalists do not intentionally throw away their money.”

    I think it should be clear that for the most part, advertising does not work on a rational level and to the extent that it does work on people, it’s irrelevant whether the specific claims are true or false.

    People mostly don’t expect advertising to be “true” even when the government claims to prevent untrue advertising from being published. I think we’d do about as well if buyers just got to say “Let’s put it in the contract that if this specific claim isn’t true for the one I buy, I can sue you. OK?” But the videos of pretty girls in bikinis and cars driving through amazing CGI backgrounds are not claims that are true or not true.

    “3. Copyright is a mess, but I will note that free speech gives you the right to say what you believe. It does not give you the right to profit from repeating what someone else said.”

    Is that the distinction? If Microsoft decided they didn’t want you to make a living by selling copyrighted material to the public, and they made copies of your material and gave them away for free to anyone who wanted them, would that be OK?

    I think that copyright is about preventing others from repeating specifically what you said. Whether or not they get paid. Though they can say similar things that aren’t your wording.

    And there’s a fuzzy problem about “derivative” works. The court has to decide whether your work is derivative from someone else’s. I recall the band Men At Work that did the song “Down Under” wound up paying some huge amount of money to the estate of the writer who wrote “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree” because the court decided it was somehow derivative. Of course, if it’s you suing them instead of them suing you, they can keep it undecided in court until you run out of money.

    As you say, it’s a mess. I’m unclear what conclusions to draw from it.

  37. 1. Free speech lets you try to establish anything you please, but recordings fit awkwardly under free speech. While it’s true images speak, it’s also true that recordings created as part of a crime are evidence of criminal deeds. Decriminalize the deeds, and then you can talk about whether speech applies to the recordings.

    2. I suggest you read up on truth in advertising. You could start with reading about The Jungle.

    3. Yes, copyright gives you the right to protect what you say. From a free speech point of view, it’s not terribly relevant so long as some form of fair use applies so you can comment on what others say. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use

  38. “Decriminalize the deeds, and then you can talk about whether speech applies to the recordings.”

    This is silly.

    Consider the old rules about pornography. It used to be, the central concern was nudity. S&M pornography got a boost because it could focus on things that didn’t need nudity — tying people up in contorted positions, or whipping on bare backs etc — so it was less illegal. I consider that a perverse law.

    If we had used the “decriminalize the deeds” approach, back when sex between people who were not married was illegal, we could argue that pornography involving unmarried people was evidence of criminal deeds and should not be allowed on that basis. And depending on the laws about prostitution, everyone who was paid to be recorded having sex was doing something illegal which was enough to make the pornography illegal.

    It’s a bogus argument that they stumbled on when nothing else worked. The argument goes “We don’t like X, and we want to stop X from happening. Free speech about X helps X keep happening. So we will not allow free speech about X.”

    This is the general case argument against free speech. Almost always, when somebody wants to prevent free speech, they want it because allowing talk about X promotes X which they don’t like.

  39. Jonah, the reason free speech matters so much is it lets you work to change bad laws. You can’t leapfrog them by saying, “I can have this illegal thing because free speech.”

    We’re dealing with two things when when talking about porn, the creation of new images and the reproduction of actual events. With pornography in the US, you can currently write or draw anything you please, including babies having their heads torn off. But if you do anything to support the creation of still or moving images of real babies having their heads torn off, I’ll be one of the first to demand that you be arrested.

  40. Let me preface this by saying that I’m a Canadian, and my viewpoint will necessarily be reflective of that (I’m sorry).

    So, up here in Canada, we don’t quite have “freedom of speech” as it might be defined by an American. The very first section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms states, “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

    For example, any “hate speech” law in the US would be almost immediately struck down on First Amendment grounds, unless it was limited to direct, imminent threats, incitement to violence and such points of law that have already been ruled Constitutional. In Canada, we have a hate speech law on the books:

    319 (2): Every one who, by communicating statements, other than in private conversation, wilfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group is guilty of
    (a) an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or
    (b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.

    Again, any such law (even given the limitations stated immediately afterward) would be struck down quickly in the States. On the other, in Canada, under the Charter’s “limitations clause” that I’ve quoted above, it’s been ruled Constitutional.

    And, you know what? I’m okay with that.

    Laws are supposed to set social norms. It’s been shown that people aren’t much more deterred by the idea of brutal punishment than they are by the prospect of a slap on the wrist. Rather, if they are deterred, it’s simply by the fact that the act has been deemed criminal.

    In other words, you don’t not-steal because stealing will get you a certain amount of time in jail (in fact, you probably have no idea how much time that would be); you don’t-steal because you’ve been taught that theft is a crime.

    And I look around here, at the landslide against Kellie Leitch in the federal Conservative leadership race, at the general (although increasingly strained) acceptance of refugees fleeing from Trump, at just the general better mood around me, in both day-to-day life and in the news and political campaigns, and if that law, that declaration from the highest level that PROMOTING HATRED IS NOT OKAY, is what makes the difference, than I’m okay with that.

    Of course, I admit that I might be mistakenly thanking the Bear Patrol for keeping my city free from bears, rather than thanking the city’s distance from sizeable bear populations. It may be that the culture of Canada would be that much more welcoming of diversity with no such law in the books. Certainly, our history is much different than the US’s, especially in the category of “race relations.”

    But if you accept law as a valid means of enforcing social norms, then I’m perfectly okay with this being a norm that is enforced.

    One argument against this, is, of course, that free speech restrictions are a slippery slope, that however well-meaning someone might be in the first restriction of free speech, it will be used by less-ethical people to restrain the free speech of their opponents. All I can say in response to that is, it’s been over thirty years since 319 (2) has been ruled Constitutional, and there’s been no sign of us sliding further down that slippery slope.

    In case someone wants to bring it up as a counter-argument: I reject the rhetoric saying that the Liberal Party’s parliamentary resolution that “people should not say Islamaphobic things” is such a sign; if it were a bill that “people should not be ALLOWED to say Islamaphobic things,” it would be, but it’s not. A legislative body voting to condemn an idea is in no way equivalent to the same legislative body voting to bring into existence a law preventing people from expressing that idea.

    So yeah in summary, as a Canadian: maybe it’s okay to have some restriction on some free speech beyond what Americans accept; massive that won’t let to a slippery slope, and maybe it would improve things.

    Or, as an even shorter summary: since, as Canadians, we’re better (I’m sorry), maybe our ideas on free speech are better too? :-P

    Best wishes from Canada (please don’t kick off a nuclear war),


  41. I should read more about Canada’s history with socialists. In the US, when the government’s had the power to lock up people for what they say, they’ve locked up a lot of leftists, from Eugene Debs to Dalton Trumbo. It makes us fond of a strong First Amendment, though the younger generation seems to have forgotten that.

  42. “With pornography in the US, you can currently write or draw anything you please, including babies having their heads torn off. But if you do anything to support the creation of still or moving images of real babies having their heads torn off, I’ll be one of the first to demand that you be arrested.”

    It’s a convoluted argument.

    Let’s look at examples. There has been grotesque pornography involving women supposedly being raped and then killed. Or tricked into consensual sex and then killed. Serious crime. Some of it exposed as fake. The people who like that apparently preferred the ones that hadn’t been proved fake, and particularly the ones where people were arrested — proof it was real.

    Making the porn itself illegal might help because people would be less likely to record themselves killing women for profit. It’s possible that men who like to watch that might be tempted to try it themselves, but we don’t have statistics about that. But we don’t want a profitable market to create market forces to get women killed. Or to fake killing them.

    There’s a continuum. For example, a woman having sex and then being hanged. A woman undressed and then hanged. A clothed woman hanged. A clothed woman dying in an automobile accident. The latter wouldn’t seem like porn at all except for the continuum. Do the people who want to watch that get a sexual thrill out of it at all? Are they just fascinated by death? I don’t know, but I think the market for it is so small that we won’t have people creating automobile accidents hoping to get videos of people dying, that they can sell.

    I tend to believe that the primary thing here is that most of us plain don’t like the whole thing. It’s kind of disgusting. We come up with any rationale we can to make it illegal — because we want it to be illegal.

    If your running shoes or your cell phone was made in a sweatshop with child labor by a polluter, we don’t say you shouldn’t be allowed to buy it. Maybe partly because the evidence of how it was made is hidden? Or because we like our running shoes and phones? I think the big difference is that we don’t want people to enjoy disgusting porn.

    The obvious theoretical solution is to give therapy to the “victims” so they won’t enjoy that sort of thing. That isn’t practical because the therapeutic treatment is not effective and also expensive. But if we had a machine that could cheaply reprogram people’s brains, surely we would want to stop people from enjoying child porn, and death porn.

  43. Jonah, I dunno if every right has a practical limit, but it may. With free speech, one of the practical limits is you do not have a right to cause actual harm (like killing, torture, or sex with people who are legally incapable of consent) to create reproductions of that harm being done, and this applies whether your responsibility for the harm is due to being one of the people recording the act, one of the people willingly participating in the act, or one of the people supporting the act by being part of its audience. I accept that practical limit. If you do not, you can use free speech to change the laws regarding anything you think does not cause actual harm.

    Just as free speech does not include a right to lie, it does not include a right to cause physical suffering to create the subject of the speech.

    It does, however, include a right to cause intellectual suffering, so, for example, flat-earthers can’t say we must not talk about the earth being round because that idea hurts them.

  44. “you do not have a right to cause actual harm (like killing, torture, or sex with people who are legally incapable of consent) to create reproductions of that harm being done, and this applies whether your responsibility for the harm is due to being one of the people recording the act, one of the people willingly participating in the act, or one of the people supporting the act by being part of its audience.”

    I don’t disagree with the moral claim. I’m not sure I agree, but it’s arguing about morality which usually doesn’t get me anywhere.

    I want to point out that this moral claim is applied in ways that look arbitrary to me. Maybe if I think about it, it won’t look so arbitrary.

    A person can be arrested and jailed for having child porn on his computer, on the assumption that being part of the audience indirectly encourages other people to harm children by producing more. There is no requirement that he paid for it, or even a requirement that he knows it’s there. (That latter is a side issue. It’s irrelevant that people can be falsely accused.)

    What if the child porn is in fact innocent pictures found by searching nudist websites that include children? Still guilty. People who publish things that look like child porn could have been paid for it and are themselves guilty of promoting the child porn industry. And people who look at photos of naked children are promoting the child porn industry.

    What if the child porn was created in a nation where it is not illegal? Still guilty. People who look at it are promoting the industry, and the children are being harmed whether or not it’s illegal.

    What if for every item in the collection, there is a claim that the actors were each legally adult and there is documentation showing they were, and the documentation all checks out? I don’t know. I suspect in that case the jury might find the defendant innocent and he should be released, and perhaps his computer might be returned to him although more probably the police would insist on keeping it as “evidence”. I haven’t tracked the topic in enough depth to know whether it’s happened. Is it plausible that the argument would be made that by owning something that looks like child porn, he is promoting the industry? If he’s guilty when he pirated the product, why wouldn’t he be guilty in this case too?

    Do we do this for any other industry? If a slaughterhouse gets a conviction for torturing the animals it kills, we make no effort to punish the people who bought the meat. Every coal mine flouts safety procedures and surviving miners tend to get black lung. We don’t go after the people who use the electricity. If Apple Corporation gets convicted of using child labor and other bad labor practices, people who buy Apple products are not considered guilty.

    But people who buy elephant ivory are guilty. The ivory itself is evidence that an elephant was harmed.

    I could make a case that it’s a matter of what the customer believes. When the product itself is evidence that a crime was committed for money, the customer is guilty of encouraging the crime. But when the product could have been created without the crime and the customer doesn’t know, he is innocent.

    But I think really child porn is a special case, because someone who wants it is someone who WANTS children to be harmed. It’s a thought crime. The economic argument is an excuse.

    Rape porn and death porn are similar, but probably people think they are both usually faked. Why do the real thing when it’s so much easier to find actors willing to pretend? But the thought crime is still there.

    It’s all very inconsistent. When people say good things about the Republican Party, they are at least indirectly encouraging others to vote for Republicans who will pass laws that hurt people. They ENJOY thinking about Republicans hurting people. Shouldn’t that be censored?

  45. A couple of comments. Replace “porn” with “snuff videos” and try out those arguments Jonah is making about how the videographer is just an artist exercising free speech because he is only recording the act without interference….

    However, I am also very horrified by the Canadian law. Inciting hate against any identifiable group is a crime?? Nazis, torturers, corporate leaders causing massive environmental destruction that will lead to millions of deaths included? Those are all “identifiable” groups. And I wonder how many Christians have been arrested under that law for saying that the identifiable group of those who have not accepted Jesus as their lord are deserving of the Lord’s judgment of eternal hellfire and damnation. I can think of few things more “hateful” than that. In other words, such a law is simply a license to arrest just about anybody for any negative thing they have ever said about anybody, and it is only the current political culture that decides who is a target of that law and who isn’t. And that can change on a moments notice if it is politically convenient for whoever happens to be in power.

    Islamophobia? There are many countries where, technically, people born into a muslim family can be executed for apostasy if they declare themselves atheists or convert to another religion, and hundreds of millions of people live in such countires. This includes the country I currently live in, and most mainstream schools of Islamic thought around the world technically agree to this. I think that is more than enough grounds for Islamophobia (i.e. intense fear of Islam) and for people to express such fears. How can a political party which claims to be secular say anyone should not say anything Islamophobic? And I do know that, historically, these types of laws are the history of most religions. Currently, however, apostasy is a capital offense mostly in Islamic majority countries, and honor killings are mostly associated with Islamic cultures (not to mention all the other cultural and legal restrictions upon women in much of the world). It is easy to forget these realities if you live in the US and hang out mostly in liberal strongholds however.

    And think upon where most of you would be if vegans gained power and started noting that loving descriptions of cooking and eating meat were nothing but exhortations to take pleasure from the imprisonment, torture and murder of thinking, feeling creatures.

    We all live in glass houses. And all laws are enforced through the threat of violence and death. I wish people would think much more deeply upon that before trying to make arguments about how any speech, whether or not you personally think it to be “hateful” should or should not be tolerated, and especially whether or not it should be a crime.

    Finally, there is a big difference between “tolerance” and “acceptance”. You only need to tolerate things which are distasteful to you. Everyday, try to be more tolerant of specific aspects of people by realizing we are all a mix of good and execrable parts, and we are all partially a product of the messed up cultures and families we come from. And they are messed up. All of them. Without exception. Including yours. And they all deserve criticism as well as praise. And it is absurd to think that anybody actually believes that only members of a particular culture are qualified to criticize it. If you ever find yourself making such a statement, try to remember that, in doing so, you are being a liar and a hypocrite.

  46. One last note. When speaking of things like false advertising and free speech, it is good to remember that false advertising is mostly perpetrated by fictitious people (i.e. businesses who are legally defined as “persons”) not real people. And, despite what the idiot supreme court argues, fictitious people should not enjoy the same rights as real people.

  47. @MSER:

    Before you get too worried about the Canadian law, truth is a defense. Specifically:

    (3) No person shall be convicted of an offence under subsection (2)
    (a) if he establishes that the statements communicated were true;
    (b) if, in good faith, the person expressed or attempted to establish by an argument an opinion on a religious subject or an opinion based on a belief in a religious text;
    (c) if the statements were relevant to any subject of public interest, the discussion of which was for the public benefit, and if on reasonable grounds he believed them to be true; or
    (d) if, in good faith, he intended to point out, for the purpose of removal, matters producing or tending to produce feelings of hatred toward an identifiable group in Canada.

    So, the first batch (Nazis, torturers, polluters etc.) would be covered by at least (a) (and probably (c), and also (d) for the Nazis specifically), and Christians and Hellfire would be covered by (b).

    So far, only a few people have been convicted, and none of those convictions for “political convenience.” For instance: a self-described white nationalist and fascist, a white supremacist party leader and the party secretary, a teacher whose classes featured anti-Semitism, and a pair of brothers who burned a cross on an interracial couple’s lawn.

    The laws came into effect in 1970; we’ve had seven (if you count the governing party changing), nine (if you count the Prime Minister changing), or fifteen (if you count an election as a change of government) different governments since then, and little or no abuse of that law (and, in fact, several convictions under 319 have been struck down by the Supreme Court as being close to, but not quite over, the edge of hate speech).

    I mean, sure, feel free to be paranoid and horrified on our behalf, but most places in the world, even most Western democracies, don’t have the same absolutist point of view about free speech that the USA has, and I think specifically Canada has more cause to worry about the US than they have to worry about us at this point.

    As for Islamophobia (thank you for correcting my spelling), I may have mischaracterized the contents of the motion in question.

    Here is the text of the motion itself:
    “Ms. Khalid (Mississauga—Erin Mills), seconded by Mr. Baylis (Pierrefonds—Dollard), moved, — That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear; (b) condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and take note of House of Commons’ petition e-411 and the issues raised by it; and (c) request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could

    (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making, (ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and that the Committee should present its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion, provided that in its report, the Committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (Private Members’ Business M-103)”

    Yes, there are Muslim-majority countries where horrible things happen, and yes, some people bring those attitudes with them when migrating. But the vast majority of people who migrate do so because they want to get away from those attitudes.

    So, when most immigrants, including most Muslim immigrants, are peaceful, but some (very few) assholes are firebombing mosques, and assaulting innocent people by ripping off their headscarves anyway, tell me: do you really think that the motion above goes too far?

    (Side note: a phobia is not merely an _intense_ fear, but an _irrational_ fear. I would be _intensely_ afraid if a large dog attacked me, but not if one was well-behaved and walking by on a leash. On the other hand, I am _irrationally_ afraid of heights, even when I know intellectually that there is little or no chance of falling. I am not cynophobic, but I am acrophobic.)

  48. @Richard
    First off, I am glad the Canadians were smart enough to essentially make what was implied with the terribly broad language you initially quoted essentially unenforcable. Interestingly, 1970 was also the year the FLQ activities peaked leading to Trudeau invoking the War Powers Act and militarily cracking down on violent separatists in Quebec, summarily arresting hundreds of people. Whether or not you think this was an overreaction to a kidnapping, it was a Prime Minister suspending the rights of Canadian citizens during peacetime, and it led to the rise of the PQ and Bloc Quebecois, which are still mucking up Canadian unity to this day. I wonder if these laws were somehow a part of that emotional environment.

    There has been rising number of anti-semitic hate crimes in Canada in the last few years, which can be associated with the increase of muslim immigrants to places like Montreal. Tensions between the large Jewish communities and the growing Islamic communities are reaching new heights. The pro-Israel lobby is trying to suppress ever more strident pro-Palestinian/BDS movements at places like Concordia University, and they also have their supporters in the parliament who are trying to limit freedom of expression.

    I have a tremendous fondness for Canada, and am ever grateful I was living in Montreal and not in my native US when I developed cancer (health care is a different topic though) but it is hardly the safe, secure place you are trying to make it out to be when it comes to these issues. No place is.

    The vast majority of people migrate for economic opportunities, not to get away from the prejudices of their home country communities. And if they are settled into ghettos, they often recreate many of the problems of their home countries in those areas (talk to just about any French woman living in Paris about their experiences of being harassed on the street). Ignore this, and you will fall into the trap of the simple minded dismissal of large portions of working class people as “ignorant racists” when they react in predictable, understandable ways to the displacement of their own culture and way of life by waves of immigrants looking for work and a better life in poor neighborhoods.

    The recent events leading to the current discussion of “hate speech” that is dominating this news cycle in the US I see as part of the smoke and mirrors that keep the divided masses from noticing how they are all being screwed. Roughly a murder a day happens in Virginia, but it isn’t every year that the House of Representatives with vast bipartisan support passes a military budget that is 60 billion dollars MORE than even the large increase Trump asked for. $100billion more than last years budget. Next to nobody is talking about that. Single payer health care (which would save tens of thousands of lives every year), free college tuition, and massive infrastructure projects could all be accomplished with this kind of money. Instead, Trump and Congress, Republicans and Democrats working in harmony, may put through an increase in our military budget by more than Russia’s entire military budget of ~$70 billion, preparing us for WWIII. Or, at the least, to kill a few hundred thousand more muslims/”communists”/bad guys and create millions more refugees from Yemen/Iran/wherever with the truly hateful speech of exploding bombs.

  49. “Replace “porn” with “snuff videos” and try out those arguments Jonah is making about how the videographer is just an artist exercising free speech because he is only recording the act without interference….”

    Did you read my arguments? They were specifically about “snuff videos”.

  50. @Jonah
    Sorry, I stopped reading the back and forth between you and Will after the Aug. 13th posts since I couldn’t really see what point you were making, since this thread was about free speech, not free listening (or reading, or watching), and as soon as you put “making snuff videos” instead of “making porn”, it is obvious that it no longer is a matter of free speech if it involves unwilling participants. Reading further, you do devolve into snuff video type of stuff, but it still isn’t about speech, i.e the making of an argument, art, music, poetry, etc. but about the right to read/own/watch such things where a crime against some person is committed with the intent to make a product. That is a completely different subject, because then you begin to infringe on other rights, such as the mostly lost right to privacy and the right for a crime victim’s image not to be used without their legal consent. If you intentionally seek out and own such stuff, that is like knowingly seeking out and owning stolen property. Not gonna get far with that argument either.

  51. “Reading further, you do devolve into snuff video type of stuff, but it still isn’t about speech, i.e the making of an argument, art, music, poetry, etc. but about the right to read/own/watch such things where a crime against some person is committed with the intent to make a product.”

    It’s hard for me to be coherent about this, because what I’m arguing against is way incoherent. It does not make sense. So arguments against it are hard to organize.

    Imagine that a science fiction writer’s novel somehow revealed that the writer used marijuana. Imagine that the police used that novel as probable cause to raid his home and collect the evidence that he had more than a legal amount of marijuana. They get him sentenced to prison. And they censor his book! Because the book has evidence that he has committed a crime. And if people buy books that glorify marijuana use, or make it look normal, or whatever the argument is, that will make it more likely that more people use it. Everything which does that should be censored.

    And then, the book gets pirated, and they say it’s a crime to read the pirated version. Not because it’s pirated which is illegal in itself. Because it’s a censored book that you should not be allowed to read. !!???

    Censor something because it’s evidence of a crime? Where does that come from?

    Censor something because it spreads an idea we don’t like? I know where that came from. It’s the argument that we should censor stuff we don’t like. Pure and simple.

    “I couldn’t really see what point you were making”

    I tried to make it clearer. Hope this helps.

  52. Jonah, first you have to separate words from deed. With words, that’s fairly easy, I hope. With pictures, it’s a little trickier: there are fabricated images and there are images that faithfully reproduce reality. If the image shows a real crime, there may be reasons to restrict the reproduction because of the real thing that is the reason the image exists, and not because of the reproduction itself.

  53. Will, you are not explaining. You are saying it’s complicated.

    My view so far is that it does not make sense.

    You are saying there may be reasons.

    Yes, I agree, there may be reasons.

    “I can call reasons from the vasty deep!

    Why so can I, or so can any man. Yes, but will they come when you do call for them?”

    The reason I make up is this:

    Let’s say there’s something we don’t like. Call it X.

    We do not like X. So we make it illegal to buy, sell, give away, or receive X.

    When X is a communication, we make it illegal to buy, sell, transmit, receive, or store X.

    Because we don’t like it. What about free speech? We say something like “We don’t want a commercial industry in X to arise, that would be TERRIBLE. So we censor X to keep that from happening.” The argument is that it is OK to violate free speech because it’s important to prevent a market from developing in free speech.

    Do you have a better explanation? This one looks correct to me, but I don’t like the implications.

  54. Jonah, in the cases I’m aware of, we’re not speculating on there being a commercial industry. We know there was one.

    You may just have to accept that this is something you don’t get.

  55. Will, the difference between preventing a commercial industry that could develop, versus trying to reduce the profits after the industry is already thriving, does not look like it’s central to the point. At least to me.

    They say it’s OK to violate free speech because it’s important to hinder the market in free speech.

  56. One last try:

    You have a free speech right to change laws that deal with the depiction of crimes.

    You do not have a free speech right to be an accessory to a crime. If you want to legalize images of illegal acts that were committed for an audience, use your free speech rights to legalize those acts.

    I think that’s the best I can do. Good luck.

  57. Our laws regarding child pornography are broader than the stated rationale (to take the financial incentive out of an illegal act). This is demonstrated by a couple of examples:

    First: If the legal age of consent in Hypotheticistan is 16 and it is legal to make pornography in Hypotheticistan, then it would be legal in Hypotheticistan to make a pornographic film starring two 16 year-olds. It would be illegal to own/distributed that film in the United States.

    Second: In various states in the United States, it is not illegal for minors to engage in sex with each other. Two consenting minors engage in sex. No laws have been broken. They film themselves with their cellphones. In some states they could legally possess that film. In other states, the children could be charged with possession of child pornography. One of them turns 18 and still has the video on her phone – she is now an adult in possession of child pornography and can be prosecuted (probably in every state). The other participant, sends a copy of the video to his adult uncle. Uncle is now in possession of child pornography and can be prosecuted. In some states, it is legal for a person over the age of 18 to marry a person under the age of 18 and in the confines of marriage it is legal for them to have sex. This married couple cannot record themselves having sex because it would be child pornography. There are several real life examples of these hypotheticals.

    The distinction between child pornography and “snuff” films highlights the overbreadth of the child pornography laws. It is entirely legal to possess and distribute films accurately depicting the death of a person. Websites like YouTube and LiveLeaks make money distributing films of people killed by police, police killed by criminal suspects, people killed by robbers, robbers killed by victims, etc.

  58. My complaint has been that the argument makes no sense.

    You have not responded to that. You point out that the senseless laws are the laws and I can try to get them changed.

    If you google “serial killer biography” there is a whole lot written about serial killers — apparently a lot of people want to know about them. There is no attempt to censor that. Of course nobody will become a serial killer and get caught hoping to make a lot of money by getting the story out….

    If we made communism illegal, it wouldn’t infringe free speech to forbid everybody to talk or write about communism? Because it’s illegal?

    It doesn’t make sense. You don’t try to make sense of it, and you don’t agree that it doesn’t make sense.

    The USA sometimes violates free speech for reasons that don’t make sense, and that’s just how it is….

  59. Jonah:There are a lot of laws that don’t make sense. Many drug laws and white collar crime to name two categories. Free speech rules say that you can speak out against those laws. Free speech rules don’t say you can commit those laws.
    If you want to protest a law by committing it and pointing out its foolishness, then you are into the category of civil disobedience. If you do this, you may very well incur the punishment that goes with breaking the law. Presumably, if you are aware of what you are doing, you are aware of this risk.
    There are many different ways in which human societies can be organized. The rules by which they live may seem to be arbitrary, capricious and even evil to people both outside and inside that societal construct.
    Choose a goal that you think represents a better structure and work towards that goal. Others will probably disagree. They have the right to disagree and you have the right to patiently explain your point.

  60. Thank you, Steve.

    We have been discussing free speech and which stands about free speech are right.

    Of course the laws often don’t make sense.

    It looks to me like Will and others have made stands on free speech which mostly make sense. But we get to this little corner case where they stop making sense and point to the law as if that is a substitute for making sense. I don’t get it. They were making good sense up to that point.

    It does look like a little corner case, though, and not something that generalizes. Get away from the particular issues and they start making sense again. It’s only an anomaly and not a contradiction which affects a whole lot of cases.

  61. “I also believe it is a scary and dangerous road to start down, so we need to be bloody damn sure we’re right when we do it.”

    And you should be sure that your side will stay on top militarily when you do it, because absent state protection for the side that, absent violent opposition, wants only to speak and not riot, the violence will escalate. Guns will be used. At that point, it will not matter whether the state enacts gun control or not.

    If one side has been passive up until then, they will be so no more. Both sides will turn into guerilla soldiers. Both sides will hunt members of the other side. Neither side will care about collateral damage, like family members. Or journalists.

    Something like that probably happened in Yugoslavia, between the Serbs and the Croats.

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