Forum:Continuing cluelessness about free speech

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This Cracked article follows a line of bogus reasoning I've heard once too often, even here. The basic problem is a failure to distinguish between free speech as a value; versus free speech as a legal right that may or may not exist under local laws.

The writer imagines that "free speech" is equivalent to the First Amendment, or some other guarantee in local laws or constitutions. The fact that laws may differ in what they protect is held up as an argument against the value, and imagined to weaken its importance. Only the government can violate free speech: so if your private college or boss or a website tries to shut out your message, free speech is not at all violated.


Now, nobody says anything this stupid about freedom of religion, for instance. We recognize immediately that if your boss fires you for being an atheist, or tries to require all of the employees to attend a church or prayer meeting, your freedom of religion has been violated. Your freedom of religion has been violated even if the government had nothing to do with it. And your freedom of religion would be violated even if there wasn't a local law banning that kind of discrimination.

Freedom of speech is exactly like that.

It is not identical with First Amendment law. That law is a recognition of the value of free speech, but free speech is bigger than the First Amendment. People in Saudi Arabia don't have a First Amendment. Does this mean that Saudi censorship is legitimate? or that Saudi subjects have no business complaining? The First Amendment might not create a legal remedy against, say, moderation on a message board. But moderation on a message board may indeed implicate the value of free speech.

Free speech is, instead, a value system you should uphold that tells you that it's wrong to try to punish somebody for expressive activity that you find offensive. The reasons you find it offensive are irrelevant. Free speech is a value system that is greater than its protections, if any, under local laws. The law flows out of this value system, not the other way around. Yes, it's wrong for the government to punish people for self-expression. It's also wrong for you to try as well. And it's also wrong for a private college or a message board to go around censoring the content of opinion: at least if the college or the board are also pretending to be forums for the free exchange of ideas. (And no, nobody said they had to be that.)

This shouldn't have to be this hard. But people who tell you that free speech applies only to the government are dangerously wrong. It's a Hobby Lobby view of the value, one that authorizes repression campaigns so long as they're done by private gangs of bullies rather than police forces. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 14:53, 25 September 2014 (UTC)

Absolutely. If you violate someone's rights, you violate their rights. On the other hand, speech can actually legitimately be disruptive to a community that has a directed purpose. If my boss fires me for constantly harassing and annoying other employees(with say my lack of religious beliefs), even if I'm doing my job excellently, the speech itself can impair that particular mission, and my boss would be quite reasonable in asking me to express myself elsewhere, and taking reasonable punitive action. So government infringement falls into a separate category, because it essentially says "your speech is somehow an anathema to the purposes of the country", which we understand to be silly, since protecting our rights is one of the most important reasons for having a nation at all.
If an internet community wants to banish all dissent, it can't do so under the guises of pragmatism, while still claiming to have liberal ideals, but if it wants to limit the harm that certain discussions can have on why people gather, it can. Ikanreed (talk) 15:12, 25 September 2014 (UTC)
Nobody's saying you can't have a seminary dedicated to teaching a particular body of doctrine or an Internet forum devoted to particular purposes. On the other hand, there's been a disconcerting indulgence shown to campaigns designed to get columnists and commentators fired for the content of their commentary, or to drive art and magazines from visibility. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 16:21, 25 September 2014 (UTC)
Media companies are private enterprises and their editorial control over contributors is a form of free speech right in itself. They can get rid of columnists and commentators who jeopardise them, and public pressure for them to do so seems like another legitimate free speech right to me. WéáśéĺóíďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 19:17, 25 September 2014 (UTC)
Threats of boycott and similar agitations were the weapons of the White Citizens' Councils and the Legion of DecencyWikipedia's W.svg. There's history here that's been forgotten. If it was wrong then, it remains wrong now. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 20:03, 25 September 2014 (UTC)
I'm no fan of boycotts & the harm they can do, but they're part of the free speech marketplace. If you support freedom of speech then you support people's rights to voice their opinions, individually or en masse. €₳$£ΘĪÐWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 21:48, 25 September 2014 (UTC)
On the one hand, it's the old paradox: do you give political freedoms to those who want to destroy those very freedoms. My concern is more with the stated mission of the site: again, we seem to be very indulgent of left-wing authoritarians. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 22:17, 25 September 2014 (UTC)
Question, is free speech being defined here as a purely negative right? i.e. One has the right not to be suppressed, but does one have the positive right to a platform such that your speech is, in effect, more powerful in society? Put another way, does it restrict my free speech that I have not been given a column in the New York Times? I would think that a conception of a right to speech in which it is censorship to try and reduce the scope of someone's speech away from 'privileged above the average citizen' would also consider it censorship to not give any person that pulpit when asked. Some people in our society have more right to speech than others, the way you're defining it. I agree that attempts to have people 'taken off the air' can be censorious, but so can refusal to let someone on the air, as it were. With that in mind, how would you ensure that everyone's positive right to free speech is protected? You seem to support maximum speech for individuals who are favored by a news corporation, and reduced speech for a large number of people who do not have that support. (talk) 12:39, 26 September 2014 (UTC)
Let me put it this way. I don't think that free speech gives you a right to an audience; that's something you have to earn by being interesting. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 01:05, 27 September 2014 (UTC)
Well, I strongly support the 1st amendment, unlike many people (witness the article appearing in the clogs a few days ago), and I believe that abuse of rights is abuse of rights whether it is done by the government, a corporation like Hobby Lobby, or a private citizen. But the laws concerning free speech concern only the government. I think that rationalists should come up with some sort of rule concerning abridgment of free speech and when it is or is not justified, so that we have something to judge by when new laws and censorship movements (moral guardians, etc.) come along. (Agrajag (talk) 21:16, 25 September 2014 (UTC))
Howdy folks. Longtime lurker, first time poster. I apologize for my mis-formatting and will cheerfully be set right; this edit mode is a bulky way to have a conversation.
Anyway, @Smerdis, humor me that we both have some grounding in at least the legal contours of this issue. While I certainly take the point that there is some value we'll call "free speech" which is transcendent of its reduction to "Congress shall make no law...", your own formulation seems to swing the pendulum far in the other direction. Sez you: "Free speech is, instead, a value system you should uphold that tells you that it's wrong to try to punish somebody for expressive activity that you find offensive. The reasons you find it offensive are irrelevant." This only makes sense to me if you and I, perhaps, agree that "punishment" is a poor way to go about encouraging outcome which one finds desirable, a notion with at least some legs to it. I suppose you might also be saying "speech should be fought with speech, and not with power; let the marketplace of ideas sort it out," an idea with some appeal but some limitations as noted below. But it seems at least possible that you're saying something like "all expressive activity which one finds offensive should be magnanimously accepted, no matter the reason for the offense." This seems to paint the point with too broad a brush, so maybe instead of just speculating I should stop here and ask you to more precisely tell me what you mean. It's all fine and good to call free speech a value transcendent of the first amendment, but it doesn't absolve us of the burden to define the metes and bounds of the value.
The bugaboo here is that - and you know this, but I articulate it for general edification - what we call "speech" is often just a type of, or at least synecdoche for, "conduct." When the government punishes me for the expressive conduct of saying "help wanted, but no black people," they are punishing me not for the expressive quality of the speech but for the conduct which it expresses. This is the problem with my (self-inflicted strawman) notion that we can simply let the marketplace of ideas fight out speech issues; speech isn't always 'just' speech, it often has a component of conduct, and unless we're at the point of also declining to punish (or at least regulate; I concede that for all I know your issue is simply with the concept of 'punishment' itself) conduct which we find offensive - or at least some of it - then we're left with this problem.
There are other fine points here on which I have thoughts, but I'll begin with these baby steps and see if I can manage to post a comment correctly. Iangoeswest (talk) 17:02, 26 September 2014 (UTC)
I get the sense that Smerdis is talking about something specific regarding left wing restrictions on free speech, but I'm not exactly sure what it is. An example would be helpful in crystallizing exactly what it is we're talking about. Are we talking about the kind of rapid fire twitter sphere stuff like #CancelColbert or are we talking about publications sacking columnists with who's opinions they don't want to be associated such as Forbes recent firing of Bill Frezza [1]? The former seems to be more of an unfortunate consequence of knee jerk internet pseudo-outrage than anything else - equally common on both the left and the right, just ask the Dixie Chicks. The latter, on the other hand, seems like perfectly acceptable behavior on the part of a publication: writer is hired to produce insightful material, he produces grossly ignorant drivel which will insure he is never taken seriously again, writer loses job. --Marlow (talk) 17:18, 26 September 2014 (UTC)
Yes, and I really don't distinguish one from another; but the reach of conservative correctness just seems somewhat less salient to me, perhaps because I move in the wrong circles, and if I moved in the right ones I might not give a fig about free speech anyways.

That is an excellent example, though. Frankly, I find the fuss over the frat article both incomprehensible and scary. Some guy who's apparently written a series of articles about "risk management" for fraternities tells his audience that they ought to be as zealous turning away drunken women from their drinking parties as they are drunken men. This strikes me as wise counsel, delivered in a manner his intended audience could assimilate, but apparently it tripped the predictable outrage-mongers at Gawker. And he isn't out of line to suggest that drunk women may have gotten a pass that drunk men never got; nobody wants the drunk dude around. AFAIAC he isn't even out of line in suggesting that the drunk woman represents a liability you should try to avoid. He knows that his audience sees no benefit to having another drunk guy around, but will cut women slack because they, at minimum, want to increase the female ratio. He also observes a double standard: drunken women are less likely to be perceived as jerks than drunken men. Are these more of those true things that we're not allowed to notice any more?

Seriously: if you're against drunken sexual assaults, he was trying to help. If the article is no longer available, it's more evidence of a censorious and priggish party line and how it seeks to stifle expression as a means to stifle thought. It may be a generational thing; I'm a product of the Animal House generation, and a healthier and saner (pre-Nancy Reagan) campus drinking and drug culture. His pointing out the perverse effects of policies attempting to suppress "binge drinking" may have made him further enemies, and "disrespectful to women" is a good enough stick to beat him with. But I don't want to live in a world where writers who say something as essentially innocuous as that article stir up a crowd of bullies. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 00:55, 27 September 2014 (UTC)
Smerdis, I'm not sure where my disconnect is, because I agree (or "round up" to agree) with your assessment of the article. I don't know from Gawker, although my very knee-jerk assessment is that if this guy got fired for writing that article, his job must not have been very valuable to his employer to begin with. I also think that critics whose criticism is nothing more than clever Fisking through sarcasm (here I am referring to the Jezebel link) don't deserve my attention, but I am likely outside their target demographic and so they have no more reason to listen to me than me to them.
All of which is to say, for my nickel these sorts of problems (whatever I mean by "these sorts") are more a FUNCTION OF free speech rather than a victim of its absence; maybe if speech weren't so "free" people would pay a little more for each word (equivocation of the word "free" noted). Meaning, who is this 'priggish party line' and why is Forbes bothering to listen to them?
The thing I think the Cracked article got right is that "free speech," in and of itself, is a lousy argument; if that's your defense, you've already lost. I have no idea who Bill Frezza is, but if he can't defend his position with a stronger argument than "free speech" (although I'm not saying this was his defense), and if Forbes can't support his mildly-controversial position (I guess) in the withering face of Jezebel's sarcasm, then the wrong writer was working for the wrong publication.
tl;dr version: we've always had ill-targeted public outrage, some manufactured, some merely dumb - with the internet, we just have a lot more of it. I don't know that "free speech" is precisely the banner under which I'd rally people to stop being so freaking stupid and reactionary; it doesn't feel like a great fit.
As I say, if I had a better sense of the principled boundaries of when it's OK for me to rhetorically dope-slap people for their dumb ideas, I might more easily be on board with free speech as a value unto itself, but until then I feel called upon to justify my own ideas by something more than my mere right to speak whatever fool thought comes out of my mouth.
Again, though, I may merely be failing to understand the level of generality to which this notion is directed; Smerdis, in my long lurk I've read lots of your stuff and found it agreeable and thought provoking, so maybe instead of more of my jabbering I should shut up and just ask you to focus this "free speech" notion a little more. End Transmission. Iangoeswest (talk) 03:20, 27 September 2014 (UTC)
At the risk of making this less focused, I'd refer to the site's stated missions, one of which is to oppose authoritarianism. The Jezebel piece linked above rings the changes on 'you aren't allowed to say that'. I am not privy to the editorial decisions at Forbes, but I don't find the text of the original column all that unreasonable, especially given the people it was actually trying to reach. Yes, I would have explicitly mentioned that one of the hazards of inviting in a drunken woman is that she will in fact be sexually assaulted at the frathouse, which can also lead to hassles. I think his intended readership knows that already. And most of the people reading this who knew frat boys didn't like them, and tended to define yourself against them. I know I did as an undergraduate. Puka shells, cargo pants, and Trans Ams. Gah. Good to know that some things don't change over thirty-five years.

I'd prefer a seamless web of opposition to moral warfare of every kind. Even if the only benefit of expression is personal catharsis, it ought to be at least presumably protected. It's the mobbing and bullying I find objectionable; and yes, this sort of thing was made a lot easier by the Internet. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 05:05, 27 September 2014 (UTC)
Alright, I got a bead on this now - in re-reading the thread through reference to your essay on activism, I think I was closer to it when I speculated that perhaps you were saying something like "'punishment' is a poor way to go about encouraging outcomes which one finds desirable," a notion sufficiently provocative that I prefer to get out of its way and let someone else knock it down if they wish; the devil has enough advocates without my needing to get in there.
Like most ideas that resonate but don't quite 'fit' for me - like the dissent that seems to read as well as the majority, but they can't both be right - it's about recognizing the shifting level of generality. Indeed, how can we oppose 'moral warfare' without abandoning the ramparts of morality itself? Justice Scalia ran this notion up the flagpole in his dissent in Romer, one of his finest pieces which was nonetheless so very, very wrong. Levels of generality again. I am unpersuaded that "free speech" is the precise aegis to shield ourselves against moral warfare, but certainly think that the all-too-common dynamics of "internet activism" tend to support, rather than refute, your point about activism writ large. So, I remain a little stuck; I don't know myself to mob or bully, but I sure call stupid "stupid" when I see it. I suppose I'm used to working on a smaller scale; my valuing a well-reasoned "opinion" over a transient "feeling" (which is what many people seem to hold, but call "opinions" for the same reason janitors are called maintenance technicians) is a moral exercise of sorts, but a somewhat value-neutral one. I'm open to persuasion.
tl;dr again - I'm all for free speech, but don't ask me to listen to stupid and nod thoughtfully like I'm hearing the good stuff.
Anyway man, I know conflict drives the internet but I got nothing in particular; I'm not in wholesale agreement but my departure points seem like quibbles; perhaps as the matter develops, either on this page or in my head, I'll come up with something more robust. I appreciate your points.Iangoeswest (talk) 05:58, 27 September 2014 (UTC)
The Jezebel article was an expression of free speech just as much as the Forbes one. The difference seems to be that you (Smerdis) agree with the Forbes one and not with Jezebel's reaction to it. Fine, that's your prerogative, but plenty of people have taken the opposite view. As I pointed out above, a writer's freedom of speech is somewhat beholden to what their publication's editors choose to publish (or, in this case, withdraw from publication) but that's in the nature of writing for hire rather than self-publishing and still falls well within freedom of the press. Jezebel isn't "authoritarian"; it has not authority. It's simply commenting on what it's authors (& presumably its editors) find objectionable, which is exactly the sort of expression that freedom of speech protects. WëäŝëïöïďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 14:57, 27 September 2014 (UTC)
The thing is that people want to be seen to be on the right side of the internet hounds. So when they see someone calling something - anything - bigoted on the internet, they jump on it. They won't bother to read or think. They will just jump on it and beat the shit out of it. Remember #cancelcolbert? How many of those people do you think bothered to watch the segment? Hell, how many people do you think even knew who Steven Colbert was before they used the hashtag? Most people are more scared of being seen to be racist or otherwise to be on the other end of mass opinion than they are worried about being wrong. There is no risk in being part of a mob, but being part of a mob will win you praise or make you feel good. So calling something bigoted on the internet is like doxxing: if you call something bigoted, on even the flimsiest of pretenses, you will get a large group of people willing to rally around your banner no matter what. So read it before you mob it.(Agrajag (talk) 18:31, 27 September 2014 (UTC))
(edit conflict) I think this might be apropos [2]. Stifling dissenting speech is a very real issue and Smerdis is right that it often extends beyond simple government interference, into the social web and frequently into people's employment. The general climate in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq would be a good example of how this can go horribly wrong. So there's certainly something to be said for free speech as a value rather than a mere right. That being said, calling people out for ignorant bigoted speech is obviously a perfectly reasonable component of "free speech as a value", which, by the way, was the only thing the Jezebel piece in question was doing. But calling a creationist ignorant or a white supremacist bigoted is one thing, calling for them to be fired is, perhaps, another. Unfortunately it isn't always that simple, to take an example from Smerdis' originally linked Cracked article: Speech is frequently directly connected to activities which are not speech, exemplified by the hypothetical "Now Hiring! - No blacks" sign. It isn't the speech that is illegal, it is the discriminatory hiring practices it advertises. I think we can take this a step further, out of the legal and into the "values" realm. When Phil Robertson likens homosexuality to bestiality, it isn't simply the speech that is problematic, it is the "values" that it advertises. Values which are advertised whenever Phil Robertson is given a platform and values which I believe people and companies should be free to distance themselves from. Maybe I'm trying to have my cake and eat it too, maybe there isn't a difference between someone advertising their ignorance and bigotry and someone advertising their opposition to a foreign war, but I like to think there is. --Marlow (talk) 18:37, 27 September 2014 (UTC)
For me, the chief issue revolves around the stated mission of the site, and our occasionally too enthusiastic reception of pieces like that Jezebel one.
Values which are advertised whenever Phil Robertson is given a platform and values which I believe people and companies should be free to distance themselves from. Maybe I'm trying to have my cake and eat it too, maybe there isn't a difference between someone advertising their ignorance and bigotry and someone advertising their opposition to a foreign war, but I like to think there is.
And this is the temptation. One person's ignorant bullshit is another's sacred belief system. Those Israelis in that link imagine they're promoting social solidarity in support of a war effort. That Jezebel writer worked herself up into such a froth about supposed sexism and victim-blaming that it seemed to entirely escape her that the writer she was responding to was in fact trying to lead his frat-boy readership in the right direction to avoid the very evil she condemns. He addressed his frat-boy audience without paying appropriate attention to feminist pieties, and that blinded her to all else.

Again, our brief is opposition to, among other things, "authoritarianism." I found the peremptory tone of the Jezebel article authoritarian; again, it seemed to ring the changes on 'you can't say that', and some of the things it objected to strike me as unfortunate facts of life. It's easy to see the bullying and wrongness when strings are pulled to get appearances, concerts, and sponsorships cancelled when the victims are anti-war Israelis. It seems to be harder when the victims are accused of sexism, racism, or religious bigotry. Even there, I tend to feel that it's more important to understand than to judge, and so I am very uneasy with bullying and mobbing in this latter case as well. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 21:04, 27 September 2014 (UTC)
Exactly - it is far too easy to call something bigoted and leave it at that. If someone challenges it, just say that they don't understand. And the risk of that accusation leads to a massive chilling affect of any and all discussion of race, gender, etc.. Just after the killing of Michael Brown, a Fox News anchor said "you know who talks about race? Racists!" That kind of thing can hardly be constructive. (Agrajag (talk) 21:30, 27 September 2014 (UTC))
(EC) So you don't like the tone of the Jezebel piece. Are you arguing that it shouldn't have been published? If so, how do you reconcile that with freedom of speech? ЩєазєюіδWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 21:33, 27 September 2014 (UTC)
(ec, I think?)These strike me as essentially structural problems of a) the anonymous internet, and b) the short attention span of talking-head news. We're trying to fit the ten pounds of crap that is instamedia without thought or follow-through into the five pound bag that is free speech. Arguendo a sea-change in culture that valued free speech for free speech's sake - or even just consensus of the same on this one website - we would be no closer to and no further from the basics of argument - argue the point and not the person, cite your authority, show your work. I'll be the first to take up the banner that the castle of reasoned thought is being overrun by the torch and pitchfork crowd, but I don't see how letting speech flow more freely would change the tide. Yes, it is more important to understand than to judge; I call the Jezebel author on the carpet for her failure here. Of course, this means I'm supposed to "understand and not judge" the Jezebel commentary which seemed to me to be long on snark and short on substance. But free speech, I guess? It seems like turtles all the way down.

I agree with Smerdis regarding the corrosive and dangerous qualities of mob piling on, and agree with the implicit value judgment that the piling on itself is more harmful than anything the original author said which - and here I may have spent too much time recently reading PUA websites with horror and fascination - seemed pretty tame. But again, "free speech" as the banner does little to describe the particular vice complained of, IMO. Iangoeswest (talk) 21:47, 27 September 2014 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── (ec) Not at all. And again, I'm not privy to the lucubrations of the Forbes editorial board, and don't know if the Jezebel piece had anything to do with the withdrawal of the blog post and the sacking of its writer. I do believe that the blog post should have stayed and the writer should not have been fired. I suspect, without knowing, that the Forbes editors may have felt threatened by the sort of aggressive righteousness on display, wanted to dodge an orchestrated campaign of intimidation, and chose the coward's path.

I'm not saying that the Jezebel piece should not have been published or that the piece or its writer should be hounded off the Internet. That would make me a morally aggressive asshole, indistinguishable from the enemy. Bullies are bullies whether they're massing on 4chan or on Tumblr. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 21:51, 27 September 2014 (UTC)

No, no. Whatever people want to write, they should be allowed to write (as long as its not a direct incitement to violence). If someone's contracted to write material for a magazine, they should be allowed to publish it. I'm not saying that the Jezebel piece should be taken down, nor that the Forbes thing should be taken down. However, groupthink ruins public discourse much effectively more than a few racists or sexists can. I read the Time article about the Forbes thing, because I can't find a copy of the Forbes article. But the Time piece seems to be saying "this is misogynistic" over and over again, then quoting a sentence, then being sarcastic. What the writer of the original piece (which is unfindable) seems to have been trying to do is to frame the prevention of date rape in terms of the self-interest of fraternities, as well as stating a fact: that you shouldn't let drunk people into parties. The Jezebel article includes an ad hominem attack, exaggerates the significance of quotes, even saying that the author objectifies women (compares him to Chris Brown) because he used the word "female" at one point. The response is utterly uniform and wildly disproportionate. it is somewhat frightening. (Agrajag (talk) 21:56, 27 September 2014 (UTC))
It's not frightening; just a writer calling out sexism where she sees it - exactly the sort of commentary freedom of speech is there to protect. You might not recognise the sexism or think it's a big deal, and you're welcome to your opinion, same as anyone else. I see a lot of high-handed talk about mobs & bullies & authoritarianism, but it seems like what you guys are most riled about is somebody expressing opinions you don't share, which makes me wonder if in fact your commitment to freedom of speech only runs one way. ŴêâŝêîôîďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 23:50, 27 September 2014 (UTC)
Ideological blinkers such as are manifest in the Jezebel and Time pieces are something I find rather disconcerting. They suggest obsession, and a microscopic field of vision, all signs of disengagement with reality. That is scary, in a way. But this has nothing to do with freedom of speech or thought in itself, and as I said above, I would not wish to see either piece unpublished or either author hounded from the internet. Only one article has been hounded from the internet here, and that is one too many.

What bothers me is the Jezebel and Time authors' insistence that the issues raised by the Forbes blog must be viewed through the lens of feminist doctrine, even though it was addressed to an audience of non-feminists (but an audience that may be acquainted enough with the language of feminism to eyeroll at it) and contained mostly good advice that was in part about how to keep sexual assaults from happening at your frathouse. It's the suggestion that we're not allowed to talk about these subjects in the language of the Forbes article that I find oppressive, and inconsistent with free speech values. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 02:51, 28 September 2014 (UTC)
Nobody is saying you're "not allowed" to talk about the subject in those terms. I don't know where you're getting that from. But why should it be above criticism when you do? "Leave him alone, he's trying to help" and "he's not talking to you" seems like a pretty lame response to legitimate criticism. WẽãšẽĩõĩďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 09:22, 28 September 2014 (UTC)
@Weaseloid - I have less of a dog in this particular fight - I self-identify as a feminist for what that's worth, and think the Jezebel piece was gratingly dumbed-down, for what THAT's worth - and am more engaged with the original premise of the thread; I think your criticism firms up my view that "free speech" is, in fact, only about that particular relationship between the Government and the "People," and that beyond that there may be no inherent value to free speech divorced from the quality of the speech being spoken. Here, perhaps, someone with a less U.S.-centric view can set me straight; when I think free speech I think first amendment, and nothing I've read here has moved me off that dime.

This has nothing to do with whether people ought be shouted down or bullied into silence; they oughtn't. And my position here is strongly urged but weakly held; I'm willing to change my mind, but have seen no guiding principle which supports "free speech" but allows us to distinguish the good stuff from the bad stuff in any way that doesn't subject one to the criticism Weaseloid raises. Is there in fact some tradition of expression for expression's sake - some notion of "free speech" independent of its Constitutional dimensions - which guides us or provides reference? Otherwise, at risk of sophistry, I'll stick my neck out and say that no, "free speech" is in fact about keeping King George's foot off my neck, and that whatever other value we're trying to drive at here isn't free speech - it's about not letting morons should down sensible thought, recognizing that we're still stuck with defining the morons and the sensible thinkers. Sheesh. Iangoeswest (talk) 05:38, 28 September 2014 (UTC)
Also @Weaseloid - Again, I'm not disagreeing with the Jezebel writer's right to speak in a manner with which I disagree. After defending the Forbes writer's right to say things that others disagree with, that would be profoundly hypocritical. What I am saying, however, is that gratuitous accusations of bigotry and the inevitable releasing of hounds that goes with it do a lot to hurt public discourse. When people feel that they have to use certain word forms or phrase things in a particular way, or that they can't even express views mildly disagreeable to the people who hold the "release the hounds" button, the effect is a flattening of opinion. In a democracy, a society that only functions because people can express differing views, that is extremely dangerous. Democracy (and not just the governmental kind) draws its power from debate followed by reasoned consensus. Is one spat over one article going to send us back to the dark ages? Certainly not. But look at political/social discourse today. We have a few echo chambers. There's a liberal one, a conservative one, etc.. And people are afraid to step out of those chambers and have a decent debate with the other side because they know that they will be laughed out of the house and vilified for expressing a different view than the inhabitants of echo chambers x, y, and z. So people in each echo chamber snipe at each other with buzzwords and catchphrases, and rarely bother to actually discuss things or broaden their horizons. And so nothing constructive gets done, nothing changes. And the automatic and near-instantaneous responses to people who use even mildly different language to express opinions does no good for society. If people thought more before they wrote things, our society would be in a much better place. I'm not saying that there aren't people who need to be laughed out of the house, but it would be nice if we could get a sense of perspective. (Agrajag (talk) 15:40, 28 September 2014 (UTC))
Who are these people who hold the "release the hounds" button? What gives them that authority? This still all looks hand-wringing about people using their freedom of speech to say things that you don't like or agree with or to raise concerns that you don't think are a big deal. If you're advocating for something specific to change, what is it? WēāŝēīōīďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 16:27, 28 September 2014 (UTC)
Pretty much anybody can release the hounds, if they have a fairly significant number of people who listen to them, and they're seen as being wronged. As I said before, someone can take offense at just about anything and people will follow them. As I said before, calling something bigoted on the internet is like doxxing: if you call something bigoted, on even the flimsiest of pretenses, you will get a large group of people willing to rally around your banner no matter what. Again, I would invoke #cancelcolbert. And I don't think that there needs to be legislative change - I just wish that people would find out basic information about things before jumping on them, and no legislation will accomplish that. (Agrajag (talk) 19:57, 28 September 2014 (UTC))
But bigotry does exist, and pointing it out (even on the internet) is the kind of commentary which free speech protects. It's nothing like doxxing, which is a violation of privacy. ωεαşεζøίɗWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 21:11, 28 September 2014 (UTC)
I'm saying that it is like doxxing in that it will almost automatically provoke a response. And I'm not saying that bigotry does not exist, nor that it should not be pointed out. It does and it should. However, I think that it is evident that people don't often consider the destination or contents of a bandwagon before jumping onto it. This is the kind of groupthink that RationalWiki is supposed to oppose. If you apply rational thinking to a possible case of bigotry and then point it out, then that is a positive and necessary thing. (Agrajag (talk) 21:25, 28 September 2014 (UTC))

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── That's way too many colons to keep track of.

The Jezebel piece was full of passages like This paragraph is actually smart and good, except for the part where he calls a woman a "female," as though she were a specimen or the subject of a Chris Brown Tweet, Men capable of sensibly and knowledgeably discussing sexual assault must be wincing so hard right now, or False accusations of rape more concerning than actual rape perpetuated by frat members on incapacitated women? Hey, I think I've heard this one before! Again, I call this variations on the theme of "you aren't allowed to say that now." Criticisms like this do in fact ignore the intended audience.

I'm not sure whether a comparison with doxxing works or not. What I know is that Forbes pulled an innocuous and helpful piece and fired a well-informed writer on a specialized subject. In First Amendment law, that would be called a "chilling effect" if the government was involved. Pieces like that Jezebel article are an attempt to impose a party line, and create a climate of fear. That's wrong. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 14:27, 29 September 2014 (UTC)

If you think that piece was "innocuous and helpful," you are really fucking stupid. Hipocrite (talk) 15:06, 29 September 2014 (UTC)
The Jezebel article was posted after the Forbes article had already been swiftly withdrawn; it had no influence on the decision. It also certainly didn't ignore the intended audience. If feminist criticism only focused on things written by and for feminists, it wouldn't serve its purpose very well. Something written by a man for a male audience promoting sexism against women is exactly the sort of thing feminist criticism is likely to target, just as anti-femninist criticism targets things written by feminists promoting a feminist agenda or worldview. As for creating a "a climate of fear", these are the some of the phrases used by Bill Frezza: "As recriminations against fraternities mount and panicked college administrators search for an easy out . . . But it is precisely those irresponsible women that the brothers must be trained to identify and protect against, because all it takes is one to bring an entire fraternity system down. . . . False accusation of rape months after the fact triggered by regrets over a drunken hook-up, or anger over a failed relationship. . . . It doesn't take much for a campus kangaroo court to get you expelled, ruining your life while saddling your fraternity with a reputation for harboring rapists. . . . a world that no longer believes in personal responsibility". Looks to me more like fearmongering than anything the Jezebel author says. WèàšèìòìďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 16:55, 29 September 2014 (UTC)
Well, yes. The Forbes writer was trying to motivate people to do a right thing they might be reluctant to do. 'Fear-mongering' is an appropriate rhetorical ploy in that situation. It's not much different from reminding people that vaccinations are preferable to polio.

And of course, a writer in that role needs to address his reader's actual motivations, which in this case do include such things as "false accusations of rape" and other things we're no longer allowed to talk about. Again, a screed of feminist doctrine wouldn't be persuasive here, and would likely be counterproductive. And yes, some women are irresponsible (oops, not allowed to say that, either). And bugbears like "binge drinking" have misbegotten rules that lead some partiers to drink elsewhere first before leaving for the frathouse. I suspect Frezza's the expert here as well, but I wouldn't know. The world was saner forty years ago, and "binge drinking" was more or less expected, especially at fraternities. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 19:33, 29 September 2014 (UTC)
You're flying too low! This is rapidly approaching "Stop oppressing my freedom of speech by calling me on my bullshit" territory. Guess what? These particular opinions seem pretty shitty, and appear to me as just-world believing bullshit. Ikanreed (talk) 19:52, 29 September 2014 (UTC)
Well, I personally think that there is a hell of a lot of bullshit out there, but I don't think that that guy was really producing it. He was trying to frame a very important issue in terms of self-interest, because he had to. For an average fraternity brother (or at least my image of one), nothing other than pure self-interest is going to produce a response. Make no mistake - this is an issue that should not have to be framed in terms of self-interest. But "ought" is not "is", and ignoring or shouting down anything that does not fit with the "ought" is not going to work in this situation. This kind of response kills pragmatism by stigmatizing the kind of pragmatic response that this person was trying to give. (Agrajag (talk) 21:33, 29 September 2014 (UTC))
Did you guys see the stock photo of a busty woman mouthing a wine bottle that accompanied Frezza article? Helpful? Seriously? Forbes was absolutely right to can him and since they did so before anyone even commented on the article it's nothing more than speculation to blame it on some "chilling effect" instituted feminist bogey women. In any event I feel like inadvertently I side tracked this discussion by bringing it up. The question really revolves around were a line is drawn regarding free speech as a value outside of government regulation. Since we're split on whether Frezza is a moron he doesn't serve as a very good example of highly undesirable speech being blocked by non-governmental authority. I'll throw out a couple more: Awhile back we here at RationalWiki showed the door to a pedophile activist hoping to prove that child sexual abuse was less harmful than people believed as "most abusers are pretty chill dudes" as he said. Was this a sign that we don't a value free speech as much as we should? How about intelligent design proponents who have incredible difficulty publishing in academic journals? Are these journals debasing free speech by denying these earnest believers a platform? I'd argue that the answer to both is no, but that means that free speech in the private sphere can be limited and the platforms have the right to control their message and content.
That being said, there is a disturbing tendency, exacerbated by the internet, to shout down and attempt to inflict harm upon those who express oppositional views, but the key here is that it appears present on just about all sides of all issues. It isn't a facet of the left any more than it is of the right, there are elements of both which are susceptible to knee jerk activism and pseudo-outrage.
At the end of the day, it's a balancing act. I agree that freedom of speech is a value to uphold beyond a mere right granted by the government and that there's a troubling tendency to throw that value out the window, but I also feel that part of the value of free speech is an ability to call bullshit for what it is despite the fact that sometimes doing so costs the bullshit artist their job. --Marlow (talk) 22:22, 29 September 2014 (UTC)
I think we agree. It isn't criticism that bothers me, it's the mobbing and bullying, and the resulting editorial cowardice that I find upsetting. And FWIW, left wing versions of this strike me as more salient than right wing versions do. For right wingers, out to enforce conformity with traditional norms, it's expected if not welcomed. Their public campaigns also tend to backfire, which makes them easier to live with. But when it's done in the name of a mostly good cause like feminism, it seems to me more of a betrayal. It seems that their campaigns are likelier to succeed, and are taken more seriously. I see them as a larger threat. More importantly, I see them as a sort of authoritarianism that's too likely to be applauded here. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 03:33, 30 September 2014 (UTC)
Yeah, we have gotten a little off topic. (Agrajag (talk) 00:19, 30 September 2014 (UTC))
What Weaseloid said. We talk about freedom of speech in the context of the rule of law not because it conveniently lets us as the Not-Government let our own standards slip but because it gives a meaningful cause-and-effect in which to frame the argument. Claiming that because someone opines Jockface McOckhaver be sacked because of some screed he wrote in a magazine means they don't support freedom of speech is the jurisprudence equivalent of saying that evolution is "just a theory". You may as well argue that your freedom of association was violated because you weren't invited to George Clooney's wedding, or that your right to a fair hearing went out the window when you were tattled on without a lawyer present. Grumblejaws (talk) 19:35, 2 October 2014 (UTC)
It is an annoying argument. I recently read an article written by the Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property criticizing the First Amendment criticism of extensive copyright protection. They said that the First Amendment only protected against "governmental restrictions on speech" and didn't apply to "private enforcement" like copyright protections. Anyone who is familiar with law can smell the BS. — Melab (Talk) 02:53, 3 October 2014 (UTC)
I am not at all sure I understand the point of your analogy, Grumblejaws. Not to drag another derailing example into it, but this Gamergate horseshit apparently persuaded Intel to pull their ads from a gaming website that published a column that had offended that pack of activists. This community's reaction was displeased: rightly so. What I ask for is consistency: if it's wrong when sexist gamers start these rabbles, it should also be wrong when feminists do it. Since my understanding is that this site's official stance is one of hostility to "authoritarianism", we ought to be just as prompt to condemn that kind of bullying regardless of the underlying politics.

Melab underlines what I think is the central problem of pseudolibertarianism. "Property" and "contract" are meaningless without law; law calls them into being, and law sets limits to them. My personal libertarianism is different; I want to maximize individual autonomy and minimize social control. But that's an entirely different debate. And I did get my invitation to George Clooney's wedding. I returned it "addressee unknown" because I didn't want to be bothered to buy a gift. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 03:27, 3 October 2014 (UTC)
The tricky libertarians like to do when someone gets away with what they believe to be illegitimate is to blame the government for not stopping it. Damned if you, damned if you don't, I suppose. They'll give you some stupid fairy tale about how government came into existence after property rights. Aside from "property rights coming into existence" sounding nonsensical, they ignore the fact that SOMEONE will be doing the enforcing and that politics is about WHAT should be enforced. I've run into some who believe in this bizarre notion that "the free market" can "replace politics" and that eliminating "the state" will remove the cause of political conflict over things like gay marriage, speed limits, free speech on public property, etc. — Melab (Talk) 05:43, 3 October 2014 (UTC)
Indeed. I tend to think that governments, economies, and cultures are all helpful within bounds to keep each other in check; most of our problems today stem from the fact that the economy is too powerful, and neither governments nor cultures have the tools to keep it in check.

On the other hand, here's Mike Huckabee arguing that atheists in government should all be sacked. We don't have trouble seeing that a call like this is an attack on religious freedom. I don't understand why some people think that freedom of speech doesn't work the same way. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 15:18, 3 October 2014 (UTC)
The point of my analogy was that just as "theory" has a particular meaning in scientific parlance, so does "freedom" when followed by the words "of speech/expression" (or "of association", "to privacy", etc) in the context of public law. In other words, I think your contention that the Cracked writer was talking bullshit is totally wrong.
"On the other hand, here's Mike Huckabee arguing that atheists in government should all be sacked. We don't have trouble seeing that a call like this is an attack on religious freedom." - That's because the US Constitution specifically proscribes religious persuasion as a basis for denying someone public office. You would struggle to find a worse example for your case that "freedom of speech" has an extra-constitutional meaning.
I can't speak for the US, but in the UK sacking someone because of their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) would fall firmly in the sphere of employment law, specifically on issues of discrimination and contract (the latter on the basis that an individual can reasonably expect to keep their job if their contract didn't explicitly state they have to adhere to this or that religious tenet). Freedom of religion would only be invoked if a subsequent court ruling appeared to compromise it as a constitutional precept or as a pre-emptive defence against such a ruling.
You have repeatedly used words like "rabble" "bullying" "mob", etc. I think you have done so disingenuously, because these words imply actual physical intimidation when what you are really referring to is a bunch of people opining a firm line on a particular issue. As has been pointed out above, the Forbes higher-ups are not beholden to the opinions of Jezebel or their readers and therefore you can't in any way make the last two responsible for what you regard as disproportionate retribution. The same goes for any analogous situation you care to invoke. As has also been pointed out above, to insist that people avoid situations like this by keeping their opinions to themselves lest they become part of a vociferous and even orchestrated cloud of dissent would be to decry one form of self-censorship in favour of another, defeating the spirit of your argument. Grumblejaws (talk) 02:07, 4 October 2014 (UTC)
No. Why does the U.S. constitution "specifically proscribe religious persuasion as a basis for denying someone public office"? Why does employment law forbid religious discrimination in employment? I at least think it's because we recognize that the pseudolibertarians are wrong here, and we all clearly can see that your boss is a greater threat to your freedom of religion than the police or any other arm of government. You may have noted that pseudolibertarians frequently object to antidiscrimination laws because of their fanciful belief that the omniscient "free market" will overcome any difficulty caused by informally organized bigotry. The history of redlining shows they were wrong about this.

And likewise, attempting to organize campaigns to remove publications from bookshelves or the Internet is also an assault on free speech. As shown above, threats of boycott and similar intimidation have been used historically by the Roman church to suppress criticism. Legal or not, it's morally wrong, and shows disdain for free speech as a value, if not free speech in law. It is inherently authoritarian. And so is nonsense like this. It may not be possible for us here, or society as a whole, to suppress campaigns of this nature entirely: but at least we can do freedom the favor of not supporting them. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 14:38, 4 October 2014 (UTC)
It's banding together to achieve a common purpose, as with a trade union, a strike or a petition. These things aren't authoritarian; they're basically democratic. You might not want to support these campaigns & that's fine, but they happen as a result of freedom of speech, not as a restriction on it. ЩєазєюіδWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 17:02, 4 October 2014 (UTC)
Next you're going to tell me that pogroms are an exercise in popular democracy. We took a vote. We decided we didn't want either Jews or lad mags around. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 18:32, 4 October 2014 (UTC)
What the hell are you talking about? Why do you insist on treating words as tantamount to physical action? Do you think we won't notice how clumsily you are eliding the two things? You still haven't explained how campaigns of the sort you're referring to can be called authoritarian since they lack any actual authority over the targets of their campaigns. And you've bungled your argument yet again, this time by referring to boycotts by the Catholic Church, since that organisation is distinguishable from your garden-variety campaigners by way of actually having institutional power (not that, in my opinion, that makes it wrong for them to encourage adherents to go along with boycotts). You are basically proposing that people conceal their opinion on a given piece of speech because of the outlying risk that the expresser of the speech will incur disproportionate retribution (and that's allowing that there's an objective authority on what retribution is disproportionate in the first place). In other words, your big idea for advancing freedom of speech is to curb freedom of speech. Grumblejaws (talk) 19:55, 4 October 2014 (UTC)
I take it, then, that you wouldn't have an issue with a 'spontaneous' letter writing campaign meant to persuade that Jew who just moved here to move elsewhere. I would. And I'd call it authoritarian as well. Whether such a campaign is legal or not, or wise or not, it still attempts to wield a power no one should have. The same is true of campaigns to remove magazines from shelves or suppress news stories. They are inherently authoritarian. They are seeking to suppress information, or their neighbors' tastes in entertainment. They are attempts to wield a power that people can't be trusted with, and that no one has a right to. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 20:27, 4 October 2014 (UTC)
"I take it, then, that you wouldn't have an issue with a 'spontaneous' letter writing campaign meant to persuade that Jew who just moved here to move elsewhere." - Anyone doing so would likely fall foul of harassment laws (at least in the UK). Which is to say, they'd be committing a crime and there's a clear cause-and-effect present. And the target in that scenario is having their right to physical integrity threatened rather than their freedom of speech, so it's hardly analogous to anything we've been talking about. You haven't so much moved the goalposts as you have ripped them out of the ground and thrown them onto another pitch. The same cause-and-effect isn't present when a publication responds to criticism of one of their writers emanating from elsewhere. The criticism is made lawfully for one thing and there's no outside authority forcing the publication's hand. You could only meaningfully say that the campaigners were wielding a power if their desired ends were consistently met. If that were the case, there would be a lot of out-of-work tabloid columnists, comedians, etc. Grumblejaws (talk) 20:55, 4 October 2014 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── I know that protection of free speech is not as great in the UK as it is here. A letter writing campaign targeting that pesky Jew is just "more speech" in the same way as these threats of boycott and harassment, but here at least you are also "treating words as tantamount to physical action". I look at it a bit differently. Running a Jew out of town is an intrinsically evil purpose. Driving magazines from the shops because you object to their contents is also an intrinsically evil purpose. Perhaps the UK ought to broaden its harassment laws to compass the latter kind. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 22:57, 4 October 2014 (UTC)

Okay, I've been following this discussion for a bit, but now I'm confused. Expanded harassment laws (including limitations that exist on things like hate speech) in countries other than the U.S. are typically held up as anathema to the principle of free speech. Is your position that this isn't the case? Also, what denotes "intrinsic evil?" - Grant (talk) 23:04, 4 October 2014 (UTC)
I am skeptical of the value of harassment laws, and feel lucky that the question of them is largely out of our hands here in the USA. Other countries may vary. If your laws would punish the letter writing campaign against the Jew, the same principle would appear to at least legitimize making the pressure campaign against the magazines also illegal. It may or may not be a good idea, but it strikes me as a reasonable extension of the principle. Here, the law cannot be made so, but that doesn't mean that the pressure campaign is right. It only means that it's one of the many evils that mere law is helpless against.

Intrinsic evil acts are strongly presumed to be morally wrong. If you believe that Jews have a right to live in peace, you recognize that a campaign to drive them out is morally wrong. If you believe in free speech, you recognize that a pressure campaign against magazines to suppress their content is morally wrong. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 00:22, 5 October 2014 (UTC)
If you believe that Jews have a right to live in peace, you recognize that a campaign to drive them out is morally wrong. OK, but you don't have to also believe that a campaign opposed to driving them out is wrong. In fact, if the reasoning is "Jews have a right to live in peace", a campaign to defend that right would be wholly justified. Your strange combination of appeals to morality and total rejection of the possibility that some public pressure campaigns might be more justified than others really makes no sense. WeaseloidWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 01:08, 5 October 2014 (UTC)
No, a campaign opposed to driving out Jews would not be morally wrong. It doesn't have what its opposite campaign has, an evil goal. But if you believe in freedom of speech, this necessarily includes the belief that any public pressure campaign aimed at the suppression of publications or authors is never justified and always wrong. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 02:00, 5 October 2014 (UTC)
"A letter writing campaign targeting that pesky Jew is just "more speech" in the same way as these threats of boycott and harassment, but here at least you are also "treating words as tantamount to physical action"" - you are continuing with your technique of eliding issues which bear little comparison and equivocating on things. First of all, in the specific example you give, of sending letters to someone ordering them to leave their home, whether you or I regard the words as tantamount to actions is besides the point if the law treats it as a crime (and I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure penal codes would make the same thing a crime in the US, but my basis for saying so is The Simpsons). Regardless of personal feelings towards law like this (and I've expressed disdain here in the past for my native incitement laws and convictions made under the Malicious Communications Act), there is at least a clear cause-and-effect to be dealt with; the law rules that you can't sustain threatening behaviour towards an individual, a threatening letter is one mode of doing so, therefore sending the threatening is a crime. The same is not true of the sort of situations we're talking about and it's on that basis it makes a poor case for comparison (EDIT:But not in that basis alone, there are other reasons I think the two situations are more different than alike, but to go into theme would be a digression). Publication companies invite criticism of the works they publish and their authors, and backlash against a particular writer, even orchestrated ones, aren't taking their perceived grievances to the writer directly, which is to say, the writer is not being harassed in the way we say a victim of poison-pen letters is. I get that you find this unsatisfactory insofar as you believe there is still malicious intent in joining one of these campaigns. My answer to that is to rephrase what I have said before; that whereas a poison-pen writer can reasonably expect their target to feel threatened, a single voice of dissent in a publication backlash has no reason to assume simply expressing their opinion will yield results and has no bearing on enacting the results, so there's no "intent" to speak of. Again, your position basically states that no-one should express an opinion or be a conscientious consumer (because really that's the essence of a boycott) for fear it might lead to what Smerdis of Tlön happens to think is an unjust outcome. That isn't conducive to free speech. You are overstating the power and malicious intent of your ideological opponents in order to more easily condemn them. Hope I don't get you banned for writing that, I'd feel terribly guilty. Grumblejaws (talk) 08:34, 5 October 2014 (UTC)
First, the law is separate from morality; things may be wrong but legal, and laws may forbid things that are not immoral. (In the USA, the letter asking the Jew to leave may or may not be a crime; much would turn on whether the letter contained any explicit or implied threats of violence.)

But the cause of freedom, which is the side I'm on, has always had as a major component an injunction to keep your goddamn morality in your pants. Aggressive enforcement of conformity is always a problem. Racism is at root the aggressive enforcement of conformity, a desire for homogeneity. Multiculturalism is explicitly opposed to the aggressive enforcement of conformity. Quite simply, if you want to call yourself a friend of human freedom, this means that you are committed to resist the aggressive enforcement of conformity.

Drives for extralegal censorship are about the aggressive enforcement of conformity, and wrong for that reason. Moralistic objections to the content of other folks's reading material are always obnoxious and evil, the sort of interpersonal aggression no one should have to put up with. It makes no difference whether the campaign is aimed at Maxim or The Satanic Verses. It is not for us to arrogate to ourselves the right to push them off the shelves, no matter how important we fancy the holy cause is. It is as obnoxious as trying to persuade that Jew he's not welcome. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 19:07, 5 October 2014 (UTC)
"First, the law is separate from morality; things may be wrong but legal, and laws may forbid things that are not immoral." I never argued otherwise. It is you who keeps using legal examples to illustrate where you think situations that don't engage the law are falling short morality-wise. "It is not for us to arrogate to ourselves the right to push them off the shelves, no matter how important we fancy the holy cause is." We are now repeating ourselves so I will say this one more time: You are overstating the power of the sort of campaigns you are referring to. If you find it morally objectionable for a publisher to ditch a writer because they don't much like the boo-hissing resulting from the writer's work, then it is the publishers and their relevant policies you have an issue with, not the peanut gallery. You've chosen yet another poor example in The Satanic Verses since those involved with its publication weren't merely criticized, they were threatened with physical violence. You make your position murky by failing to distinguish cases like that from the Forbes article previously discussed. "It is as obnoxious as trying to persuade that Jew he's not welcome" - I'm getting rather tired of this particular hypothetical, not least because it alludes to the sort of situation that has real-time significance for me. I've had anti-Semitic threats written about me on school walls. I've also had to put up with people arguing that I shouldn't be able to contribute to this or that outlets because of the content of what I've written. Let me tell you that the latter is quite different from the former and can be tackled very much on a fire-with-fire basis. I despise the opinions of Mediawatch-UK and their ilk. I also believe that their campaigns come from a place of sincerity and want to debate them on a public forum and support and embolden those they target. If you make it a moral imperative never under any circumstances to express an opinion that this article should be pulled or that writer should be sacked, you are simply replacing one form of aggressive enforcement of conformity with another. Grumblejaws (talk) 20:34, 5 October 2014 (UTC)
You, in turn, are turning a blind eye to the ideological agendas and general level of meanness that accompany these campaigns, as well as the fact that their ill effects include self-censorship and general public timidity. Labelling other peoples' choices of reading and entertainment as things that should be suppressed always includes an implied disparagement of people whose tastes differ. It is, if nothing else, inherently rude and antisocial. It's simply a nasty and wrong thing to do, and your ideologies about 'blasphemy' or 'sexual objectification' or whatever don't give you an excuse. They compound the problem by making it clear that you mean to impose some kind of orthodoxy on public discourse, and drive non-conforming matter underground. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 22:11, 5 October 2014 (UTC)
No, you're just repeating your simplistic formulation of suppressor vs suppressed despite the fact that several people have explained to you why it's inadequate. You've glossed over the finer points of how backlash a campaign might form and the spectrum of views that it might involve in favour of an artificial notion of a braying mob that will see its ends met at all costs. Perhaps more importantly, you are overlooking the myriad ways in which media companies respond to and sometimes even court such campaigns (frankly, if you got your way, there's a sizeable number of publishers who have harnessed the free-publicity of orchestrated outrage in recent years that wouldn't be thanking you). I personally think that Mary Whitehouse and her ideological descendants are dangerous, misguided people who need to be challenged rigorously and consistently. I also acknowledge that they genuinely believe they are fighting social ills in the name of a greater good and that it is rhetorically fatuous and complacently dogmatic of me to deny them - theoretically or otherwise - a platform on which they can publicly express and mobilise their views, however much I dread them achieving their logical conclusions. It was for this reason that Chris Morris - a man who I suspect has far more experience in these matters than anyone posting here - takes such a dim view of people who attack his detractors by way of broad arguments against censorship. You are advancing such an argument. Is he also turning a blind eye to self-censorship and general public timidity? Grumblejaws (talk) 12:16, 6 October 2014 (UTC)
Not being familiar with this Chris Morris fellow or his work, I really can't say. It is, as you note, true that many such campaigns have backfired, and the 'no such thing as bad publicity' crowd has courted them. Somewhat more sinister are the campaigns conducted outside the public eye, such as the ones the Roman church has historically set in motion.

I still can't accept the notion that only governments can deny free speech rights. My concern in all of this has mostly been about the editorial tendencies of RationalWiki itself. I realize that the user base tends strongly left. There is too great a tendency here to excuse these sorts of campaigns in the name of vaguely leftish causes. This is flirting with authoritarianism more than we should. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 16:12, 6 October 2014 (UTC)
I think that we all agree that it is okay to campaign against something or be critical of it publicly. Otherwise, democracy would pretty much cease to function, discourse would be utterly sanitized, nothing would get done, there would be no controversy, no nothing - just as bad as the "pc gone mad" nightmare that many people are so afraid of. But where do we draw the line? How do we (as parts of society) know when we've sufficiently evaluated something before campaigning for a boycott, or launching massive public-action campaigns of that nature? That's the relevant question here, not whether or not "free speech" should be protected. (Agrajag (talk) 19:40, 6 October 2014 (UTC))
@Smerdis, fair enough. I'm completely with you that we should be encouraging a rights-respecting culture over a wrongs-perceiving one. I recommend the work of Chris Morris, Brass Eye in particular is consistently hilarious and would, I think, appeal to your sensibilities. Grumblejaws (talk) 21:25, 6 October 2014 (UTC)

I'm not sure I understand. How can the economy be "bigger" in relation to things like culture? — Melab (Talk) 17:26, 4 October 2014 (UTC)
My impression is that the economic and financial system is now the actual government, more powerful than the nominal governments of parliaments or presidents. The economic system determines our collective goals and the conditions and rules under which we live. Compared to its impact on these matters, the national governments make much less of a difference. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 18:32, 4 October 2014 (UTC)
I see what you're saying. The nation (America) is essentially policy-proof, due to a combination of Republican obstructionism in Congress and corporate refusal to play by the rules made for them by the bills that do get passed. Of course, one can't entirely blame them for not following the rules, because the rules are terrible, but dodging them doesn't help the nation. The Democrats are generally less bad, but have tended towards vacillation, spinelessness, being bought, and pandering every bit as much as the Republicans. The Greens are hippies and I'll go ice skating in hell the day I vote Libertarian. The level of discourse is lower than low, due to an under-informed populace and a media with ADD and an overreliance on trends and hashtags. So the nation is essentially ungovernable, and power is in the hands of trendsetter and corporations. The economy has supplanted society. Anyway, back to free speech. (Agrajag (talk) 20:57, 5 October 2014 (UTC))

Okay okay, we get that point[edit]

The point we all get is that you cannot be decent person while maintaining by some authoritative means that someone else can't say or think certain things. Because that same power will be turned against you the first chance someone gets. And its not pleasant when they do. That's well and good. There are things that are worse than this. And some of those things are people say and believe(like endlessly advocating genocide or murder to go to a crazy extreme). To outright deny discussion of those things across the board isn't good for a society as whole. The beliefs don't cease to exist because they aren't discussed, and they're never deconstructed, and no one sees that they're there. To do so in a limited context because that context in no way shape or form benefits from those ideas being pushed is still reasonable. In particular such restrictions need to be moderated by a sense of freedom, and not shut down without thinking. Here on rationalwiki, we more or less put up with racists, woopushers, and ideological defenders of all sorts, until their behaviors become disruptive, and tremendously time-wasting. There can be a healthy level of cutting off extended repetition of nonsense. Ikanreed (talk) 16:05, 3 October 2014 (UTC)

Part of the problem, I think, is that political zeal tends to blind its victims to social cues and risks turning them into bores. The cause doesn't matter. It's always going to be just that important for somebody to keep carrying on about the Jewish conspiracy or the Patriarchy. Evangelical Christians learn "witnessing techniques" about how to turn conversations with strangers about the weather towards the subject of your relationship with Jesus. Then they wonder why folks find them creepy. If you weren't a cult, you wouldn't put on a dress shirt and tie to go on a bicycle tour. If you think the costume makes you look clean and respectable rather than creepy, you aren't thinking. There's something that gets switched off in your brain when your heart's on fire for a cause.

Because people, perversely and wickedly, sometimes differ in their opinions, one person's TRVTH will always be someone else's PRATT. When the irresistible cannonball strikes the indestructible wall, it typically ends in a war of slogans. Everybody notices the canned and rote responses of the other side as canned and rote. I don't see much difference in the way the talking heads on Fox shout out "Socialism!", "sanctity of life", or "Second Amendment rights" and the way some leftists use "victim blaming", "rape culture", or "privilege". They're all slogans that invoke, but don't explain, a body of lore in which the speaker's rightness is confirmed and all their counterparts' arguments lie in ruin. It all seems canned, rote, and disconcertingly cult-like, but it's a whole lot easier to notice if you disagree with the speaker. And arguing with such people is like arguing with a zombie.

The desire to shout down opponents and punish them and their supporters strikes me as another example of this zealot's blindness. We can get people to agree generally that shouting down opposing viewpoints and organizing boycotts of the sponsors of forums that dared print that opinion is overbearing and wrong. But for the zealots, their pet causes will always be too important and that bit of morality gets switched off. - Smerdis of Tlön, for the defense. 19:34, 3 October 2014 (UTC)