Published on 13 Aug 2016
Indy sits in the chair of wisdom again to answer your questions about World War 1.
August 14, 2016
May 30, 2016
As Orwell noted in 1984: “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” He was speaking, of course, about control of written history, of what we know to have happened — and thereby how we allocate our political support. It is not a small matter if the company that is coming to be the nation’s most significant source of news skews that news toward its own political preferences. In fact, it’s just a tiny bit chilling. Government censorship is, of course, terrible. But censorship by a small group of unelected young people is not all that much more appealing.
This problem existed already on another scale. The socioeconomic, racial and political homogeneity of the media is a problem, one that I have written about before. That said, those media were operating in a competitive landscape, and no one outlet really had all that much market power. In each medium there were outlets of different sorts of political leanings, and more of them with the rise of the Internet.
Facebook, on the other hand, dominates all other social media outlets for news to an extent that no print outlet ever dominated the American landscape. The only arguable parallel is the big television networks from the 1950s to the 1980s, and at least there were three of them, rather than one. Besides, for most of that time they operated under the Fairness Doctrine — in other words, under heavy-handed government interference to limit their power to shape the national debate.
The greater danger is that liberals will end up falling back on an argument that is gaining more and more currency on the left: that this biasing of information is not merely an unfortunately insoluble problem, or so minor that it doesn’t make much difference in our politics, but that it is actually an affirmative good. These are the people who embrace Orwell’s dictum and say: “Yes, absolutely, the left should have control over what people are allowed to hear and know, because that’s how we’re going to build a better future.” The first argument may be unsatisfying. But the second is … downright Orwellian.
Megan McArdle, “Facebook Dislikes Conservatives, and That’s OK”, Bloomberg View, 2016-05-11.
April 29, 2016
The American of today, in fact, probably enjoys less personal liberty than any other man of Christendom, and even his political liberty is fast succumbing to the new dogma that certain theories of government are virtuous and lawful, and others abhorrent and felonious. Laws limiting the radius of his free activity multiply year by year: It is now practically impossible for him to exhibit anything describable as genuine individuality, either in action or in thought, without running afoul of some harsh and unintelligible penalty. It would surprise no impartial observer if the motto “In God we trust” were one day expunged from the coins of the republic by the Junkers at Washington, and the far more appropriate word, “verboten,” substituted. Nor would it astound any save the most romantic if, at the same time, the goddess of liberty were taken off the silver dollars to make room for a bas-relief of a policeman in a spiked helmet. Moreover, this gradual (and, of late, rapidly progressive) decay of freedom goes almost without challenge; the American has grown so accustomed to the denial of his constitutional rights and to the minute regulation of his conduct by swarms of spies, letter-openers, informers and agents provocateurs that he no longer makes any serious protest.
H.L. Mencken, The American Credo: A Contribution toward the Interpretation of the National Mind, 1920.
February 20, 2016
The Alberta government tried to expel journalists from a particular (and particularly irritating) right wing media organization and was utterly shocked to discover that the rest of the mainstream media didn’t play along:
The MSM’s defence of the Rebel reminded me of how libertarians used to defend the rights of Holocaust deniers: Teeth clenched and at a long arm’s distance. The hatred of Ezra Levant by the Great and Good — and he is truly hated — is largely tonal. The right-wing impresario’s politics are not terrible right of centre, remember this is a guy who worked for both Stockwell Day and Preston Manning. Some of his campaigns and video rants — if rendered in more moderate language — could even gain the assent of the editorial staff at the Globe. The great sin of Ezra is that he is terribly rude.
More than half a century ago Pierre Berton observed that you can get away with saying anything in Canada, so long as you wear a bow-tie. It was an important insight into the Canadian character. There sits on the NDP and Liberal parliamentary benches figures far more radical — in terms of political distance from the mainstream — than anything that has ever passed the lips of Mr Levant. These radicals however speak in the dulcet tones of the Leftist argot. They wear the modern day equivalent of bow-ties and so pass unhindered through the corridors of influence and power.
Some of those corridors are now occupied by Rachel Notley and her band of tone-deaf socialists. That the Rebel was deliberately targeted is obvious enough. The thing that is truly fascinating is how utterly ill-prepared the NDP High Command was for the backlash. They basically handed Ezra a massive campaign on a silver plater. What were they expecting to happen? This is a man who makes his living fighting crusades over freedom of expression. Did they really think he’d refuse to pick up this particular gauntlet? That his tens of thousands of supporters would fail to back him as they’ve backed him so many times before?
With the Rebel the committed Right in Canada has at last found a perfect platform. No longer burdened by the tacit censorship and looming overhead costs of the legacy media, a genuinely new media has emerged to finish what’s left of the old. That may sound like hyperbole and perhaps it is. Yet there is a better than even chance that twenty years from now there will still be Ezra Levant ranting at full throttle, while his many critics and opponents have vanished into history.
February 9, 2016
From a short interview in The Economist:
I probably wouldn’t have imitated the grandiloquent style of a notorious former slave holder. And I would have been a bit more humble about the “Citizens of Cyberspace” creating social contracts to deal with bad behavior online. The fact remains there is not much one can do about bad behavior online except to take faith that the vast majority of what goes on there is not bad behavior. Yeah, I hate spam, and viruses, and worms, and surveillance [by America’s National Security Agency], but the fact remains that if you can censor one of these bad behaviors, you’ve endowed yourself with the ability to censor almost anything you don’t like online. This is not an ability I wish to extend to any existing government in the physical world. If we assert it, what’s to prevent Saudi Arabia from doing the same.
And I would make it more obviously clear that I knew that cyberspace was not sublimely removed from the physical world, with which it has exactly the same relationship that the mind has with the body: deeply interdependent but qualitatively different. I think that point often got lost.
Over the decades, it has been continuously fashionable to make a straw man of my declaration, to hoist it up as the sort of woolly-headed hippie nonsense you’d expect from techno-utopians like me. This is done largely by people who have never read it, or take a strong interest in believing that government is about to come stomping into town, there to “civilize cyberspace.
December 4, 2015
Michael Geist on the Quebec government’s latest attempt to limit the freedom of Quebec internet users:
If there is a first rule of the Internet in Canada, it is “thou shall not block.” Canadian Internet service providers face a wide range of policies that have implications for accessing content including net neutrality rules and the copyright notice-and-notice system. Yet in virtually all cases, blocking or removing content is simply not done (the lone exception is a limited, private sector led initiative to block child pornography images).
My weekly technology law column […] notes that unlike other countries which have dabbled in mandated takedowns or Internet filtering, Canada has largely defended an “open Internet”. Canadian law does not mandate that Internet providers take down content due to unproven allegations of copyright infringement or allow them to alter or change content. In fact, the Telecommunications Act stipulates that “a Canadian carrier shall not control the content or influence the meaning or purpose of telecommunications carried by it for the public.”
Despite the clear legal mandate to avoid blocking, earlier this month the Quebec government introduced unprecedented legislation that would require Internet providers to engage in content blocking. The new bill targets unlicensed online gambling websites as part of the government’s efforts to increase revenues from its own online gambling service, which has thus far failed to meet expectations.
November 28, 2015
Brendan O’Neill reminds us that being a supporter of free speech requires you to support those who don’t always agree with you or express themselves in ways you’re comfortable with:
It’s the 21st century and Europe is meant to be an open, enlightened continent, and yet a man has just been sentenced to jail — actual jail — for something that he said. Will there be uproar? It’s unlikely. For the man is Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, the French comedian, and what he says — that Jews are scoundrels and the Holocaust is a fiction — is deeply unpleasant. Yet if we’re serious about freedom of speech, if we are truly committed to ensuring everyone has the liberty to think and say whatever they please, then the jailing of Dieudonné should outrage us as much as the attempts to shut down Charlie Hebdo or the jailing of a Saudi blogger for ridiculing religious belief. We should be saying ‘Je Suis Dieudonné’.
Due to the regimen of hate-speech laws in 21st-century Europe — which police and punish everything from Holocaust denial to Christian denunciations of homosexuality — Dieudonné has been having run-ins with the law for years. In 2009, a French court fined him €10,000 for inviting a Holocaust denier on stage during a gig. In March this year, a French court gave him a two-month suspended prison sentence for saying he sympathised with the attack on Charlie Hebdo and with the anti-Semite who murdered Jews at a Parisian supermarket a few days later. Now, this week, a Belgian court has given him an actual prison sentence: a court in Liège found him guilty of incitement to hatred for making anti-Semitic comments during a recent show and condemned him to two months in jail.
In all these cases, Dieudonné has been punished simply for thinking and saying certain things. This is thought-policing. It’s a PC, spat-and-polished version of the Inquisition, which was likewise in the business of raining punishment upon those who said things the authorities considered wicked. To fine or imprison people for expressing their beliefs is always a scandal, regardless of whether we like or hate their beliefs. Dieudonné really believes the Holocaust is a myth, as much as a Christian fundamentalist believes that people who have gay sex will go to hell or American liberals believe Hillary Clinton will make a good president. He is wrong, massively, poisonously so; but then, so are those Christians about gays and those liberals about Hillary. If every person who says wrong, malicious or stupid things were carted off to jail, Europe’s streets would be emptied overnight.
It is incredibly illiberal for the state to police hatred. Hatred might not be big or clever, but it’s only an emotion. And officialdom has no business telling us what we may feel — or think, or say, or write. Allowing the state to monitor belief represents a brutal reversal of the Enlightenment itself. John Locke, in his Letter Concerning Toleration (1689), set the tone for the Enlightenment as an attempt to ‘settle the bounds’ between the business of government and the business of morality. ‘The business of laws is not to provide for the truth of opinions, but for the safety and security of every particular man’s goods and person’, he wrote. That ideal is now turned on its head. Across Europe, governments ‘provide for the truth of opinions’, and in the process they silence those they don’t like and patronise the rest of us, reducing us to imbeciles incapable of working out what is right and wrong, and of speaking out against the wrong.
All hate-speech laws should be scrapped. Dieudonné should be freed. And a continent whose governments argue against the imprisonment of bloggers in Saudi Arabia while jailing comedians at home needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror.
November 25, 2015
The bitterness, anger, and even hate that radiates from them is shocking to me. “This conversation doesn’t make me feel safe” is genuine, actual college speak, in the “microaggressions” school of thought. The purpose is to silence speech that the listener does not care for or that threatens their worldview.
They care nothing for liberty, or truth, or honesty, they do not want a world where people interact and learn from each other, they want nothing save a continual, comforting womb of support and confirmation of their worldview. And they’re more than willing to crush anyone or anything that threatens this.
This attitude might be a byproduct of the bubble wrap children, who were raised so carefully, protected, and supported that they never encountered anything that challenged or made them question themselves. It might be a subversive method of silencing speech and dissent from a political agenda that cannot survive rational discussion. It might be the result of a psychosis that cannot abide being questioned. It might be a combination of some or all of those things.
What’s most troubling to me is that the loudest, most insistent, and most publicly conspicuous of this group are those who at the same time insist that they are lovers of liberty and will not tolerate intolerance.
And yet here we are, in the 21st century, where academics have churned out an entire system designed to do exactly the opposite of what academia is meant to be: silence any debate, questioning, or interaction that in any way threatens one specific certain viewpoint. And its done with passive-aggressive behavior taken to an astounding depth of creativity and precision.
Christopher Taylor, “SOCIAL JUSTICE KITTENS”, Word Around the Net, 2014-10-22.
November 12, 2015
Reaction isn’t a conspiracy theory; it’s not suggesting there’s a secret campaign for organized repression. To steal an example from the other side of the aisle, it’s positing something more like patriarchy. Patriarchy doesn’t have an actual Patriarch coordinating men in their efforts to keep down women. It’s just that when lots of people share some really strong cultural norms, they manage to self-organize into a kind of immune system for rejecting new ideas. And Western society just happens to have a really strong progressivist immune system ready to gobble you up if you say anything insufficiently progressive.
And so the main difference between modern liberal democracy and older repressive societies is that older societies repressed things you liked, but modern liberal democracies only repress things you don’t like. Having only things you don’t like repressed looks from the inside a lot like there being no repression at all.
The good Catholic in medieval Spain doesn’t feel repressed, even when the Inquisition drags away her neighbor. She feels like decent people have total freedom to worship whichever saint they want, total freedom to go to whatever cathedral they choose, total freedom to debate who the next bishop should be – oh, and thank goodness someone’s around to deal with those crazy people who are trying to damn the rest of us to Hell. We medieval Spaniards are way too smart to fall for the balance fallacy!
Wait, You Mean The Invisible Multi-Tentacled Monster That Has Taken Over All Our Information Sources Might Be Trying To Mislead Us?
Since you are a citizen of a repressive society, you should be extremely skeptical of all the information you get from schools, the media, and popular books on any topic related to the areas where active repression is occurring. That means at least politics, history, economics, race, and gender. You should be especially skeptical of any book that’s praised as “a breath of fresh air” or “a good counter to the prevailing bias”, as books that garner praise in the media are probably of the “We need fifty Stalins!” variety.
Scott Alexander, “Reactionary Philosophy In An Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell”, Slate Star Codex, 2013-03-03.
November 9, 2015
These are the chocolate sipping onesie boys of the world, who emote without thought and cringe at perceived aggressions by people who challenge their certainties. Brutality, bullying, rape, they cry. And in a polite society, their approach tends to shut down any talk.
Its the flip side of the Online Forum Effect where there is a tourettes-like tendency of some to bring up in any conversation and any occasion their pet political viewpoints. They do it loudly and angrily, and become so unpleasant that everyone around them learns to just shut up about some topics in the hopes that they won’t provoke another episode that ruins everything for everyone. And in the process, they win by silencing any dissent or alternate viewpoint. By not allowing anyone to gainsay or question their absolute certainty on a topic, all that everyone is left with is their regular outbursts on every subject.
And in time, that wears down all but the most strong of wills by the Big Lie. After all, I don’t hear anyone disagreeing with them or showing how they are wrong, and they wouldn’t be so very strong and insistent about this if it wasn’t at least somewhat true. They aren’t crazy or lying all the time, nobody would do that…
And until this changes, until this atmosphere at institutions of higher learning changes, until this approach toward academia and culture is different, then the entire exercise of education is pointless. How can you expect anyone to get an honest, valuable education in this kind of atmosphere? What kind of worldview and what sort of behavior is being inculcated by this kind of attitude? Nothing healthy.
Christopher Taylor, “SOCIAL JUSTICE KITTENS”, Word Around the Net, 2014-10-22.
November 6, 2015
This slow erosion of freedom of expression has come about in ways both social and legal. Before the 1960s, arguments for censorship tended to focus on sexual morality, pornography and obscenity. The censors themselves were usually depicted as benighted moral conservatives — priggish maiden aunts. Freedom of political speech, however, was regarded as sacrosanct by all. As legal restraints on obscenity fell away, however, freedom of political speech began to come under attack from a different kind of censor — college administrators, ethnic-grievance groups, gay and feminist advocates.
The new censors advanced such arguments as that “free speech can never be an excuse for racism.” These arguments are essentially exercises both in begging the question and in confusing it. While the principle of free speech cannot justify racism any more than it can disprove racism, it is the only principle that can allow us to judge whether or not particular speech is racist. Thus the censor’s argument should be reversed: “Accusations of racism can never be an excuse for prohibiting free speech.”
Meanwhile, the narrowly legal grounds for restricting speech changed, too. Since the 18th century, the basic legal justifications for restricting political speech and publication were direct incitement to harm, national security, maintaining public order, libel, etc. Content wasn’t supposed to be considered (though it was sometimes smuggled in under other headings).
Today, content is increasingly the explicit justification for restricting speech. The argument used, especially in colleges, is that “words hurt.” Thus, universities, parliaments, courts and various international bodies intervene promiscuously to restrict hurtful or offensive speech — with the results described above. In the new climate, hurtful speech is much more likely to be political speech than obscene speech.
John O’Sullivan, “No Offense: The New Threats to Free Speech”, Wall Street Journal, 2014-10-31.
October 27, 2015
Governments began to treat those threatened for their opinions almost as harshly as those attacking them. Dutch legal authorities tried repeatedly, if unsuccessfully, to prosecute Mr. Wilders for “inciting hatred” with his film. He was briefly prohibited from entering Britain. In 2006, Tony Blair’s government passed the Racial and Religious Hatred Act — a kind of “blasphemy lite” law — ostensibly designed to protect all religions against threatening expression but generally understood as intended to limit hostile criticism of Islam. Both the U.S. and the European Union have entered into a dialogue in recent years with the 56 states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which is seeking an international law prohibiting blasphemy. In 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the OIC that, while the First Amendment prevented the U.S. from prohibiting speech, the administration might still “use some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming so that people don’t feel they have the support to do what we abhor.”
Admittedly, it is difficult to draw a clear line between criticism of an Islamic belief and an attack on Muslims who believe it. If you denounce a belief as absurd, you are implicitly criticizing the believers as credulous fools. Christians have to endure explicit denunciations of their faith all the time from such writers as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. And so they should. If you can’t stand the heat, don’t listen to hellfire sermons from atheists.
Hearing criticisms of your own convictions and learning the beliefs of others are training for life in a multifaith society. Preventing open debate means that all believers, including atheists, remain in the prison of unconsidered opinion. The right to be offended, which is the other side of free speech, is therefore a genuine right. True belief and honest doubt are both impossible without it.
It isn’t just some Muslims who want the false comfort of censoring disagreeable opinions. Far from it. Gays, Christians, feminists, patriots, foreign despots, ethnic activists — or organizations claiming to speak for them — are among the many groups seeking relief from the criticism of others through the courts, the legislatures and the public square.
John O’Sullivan, “No Offense: The New Threats to Free Speech”, Wall Street Journal, 2014-10-31.
October 12, 2015
Ginni Thomas discusses free speech under attack with FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff.
“The battle over free speech is not partisan,” says a proud liberal whose organization helps a wide variety of clients facing free speech threats. He has spent fifteen years in the field as a fearless advocate who worked at the ACLU before coming to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
Greg Lukianoff, the President and CEO of FIRE, starts this 20 minute video interview for The Daily Caller by assessing global issues. “The international situation for freedom of speech is dire,” says Lukianoff, focusing on the emergence of blasphemy laws to not offend Islam.
This harks back to a previous Daily Caller interview with Steve Coughlin, author of “Catastrophic Failure,” who discussed the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s Ten Year Program of Action to make Islamic speech codes the global speech standard. In America, this would entail making free speech conditional on not defaming Islam, a religion of less than 1 percent of the US population.
H/T to David Thompson for the link.
September 25, 2015
J.R. Ireland on the modern day puritans who lose sleep because someone, somewhere, might possibly be looking at porn:
One thing that I have noticed a lot of advocates of sex-worker rights tend to miss though is the parallel between anti-prostitution arguments and anti-porn arguments. I think that the reason for this is simple — prostitution is still illegal, whereas pornography is not only legal, but very visible. It’s all over our computer screens, in fact, and can be found quickly and easily, provided you have the ability to engage in a simple Google search. That means that most pro-prostitution advocates avoid really talking about the issue of pornography, since it’s assumed that this is an issue we’ve already ‘won’ and which we don’t really need to continue babbling about.
Unfortunately, this ignores the fact that there is a burgeoning anti-porn movement that is coming not from the normal enemies of pornography on the right (i.e. Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, etc. who oppose porn on religious grounds), but from leftists who oppose porn on what are alleged to be left-wing grounds — fear of exploitation, a desire to prevent sex-trafficking, a distaste for the vulgar trappings of sexualized patriarchy, and so on.
Anti-Porn feminism is far more advanced in Britain than it is here since British feminists tend to be, and you’ll have to pardon my language, bug-fuck crazy nightmarish lunatics with fake degrees from mediocre universities and a level of self-loathing and insecurity unknown to the sane. It is from this leftist anti-porn position that the activist Gail Dines has arrived. In 2010, she wrote a book entitled Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality and since then she has been on the leading edge, the spear-tip, the vanguard of leftist opposition to pornography.
First, Dines tries to argue that ‘sexual assault centers in US colleges’ have ‘said that more women are reporting anal rape.’ Which sexual assault centers? Care to name them? Care to give me any sort of citation for this claim? Of course not — facts are for the patriarchy and we’re in the post-fact world of third wave feminism now!
Indeed, I find it somehow unlikely that sexual assault centers in US colleges are reporting an increase in rape given that American rape rates fell substantially between 1990 and the present:
Go look up any statistics on the incidence of rape and you will find them to be broadly similar — a spike in the 70s and 80s (which happened to coincide with a general increase in criminality) followed by a lengthy decline ever since. Now, were porn actually causing an increase in rape rates due to ‘sexualizing violence against women’ and ‘normalizing’ practices like rape, you would not have expected to find such an obvious decline in sexual assault rates, would you?
The second claim Dines makes is regarding the scary normalization of pedophilia which she claims is occurring directly resultant from porn involving teenagers. First of all, ‘teen porn’ does not ‘normalize pedophilia’ since the teenagers in teen porn are supposed to be 18 or 19 — in other words, post-pubescent and fully grown women. This isn’t even taking into consideration the fact that many actresses in teen porn are actually in their 20’s and are just ‘playing young,’ but we’ll ignore the fact that this is all fantasy anyway, since the fact that pornography isn’t based on reality seems to be a constant source of confusion for Gail Dines.
September 11, 2015
Brewster Kahle on the need to
blow up change the current web and recreate it with true open characteristics built-in from the start:
Over the last 25 years, millions of people have poured creativity and knowledge into the World Wide Web. New features have been added and dramatic flaws have emerged based on the original simple design. I would like to suggest we could now build a new Web on top of the existing Web that secures what we want most out of an expressive communication tool without giving up its inclusiveness. I believe we can do something quite counter-intuitive: We can lock the Web open.
One of my heroes, Larry Lessig, famously said “Code is Law.” The way we code the web will determine the way we live online. So we need to bake our values into our code. Freedom of expression needs to be baked into our code. Privacy should be baked into our code. Universal access to all knowledge. But right now, those values are not embedded in the Web.
It turns out that the World Wide Web is quite fragile. But it is huge. At the Internet Archive we collect one billion pages a week. We now know that Web pages only last about 100 days on average before they change or disappear. They blink on and off in their servers.
And the Web is massively accessible – unless you live in China. The Chinese government has blocked the Internet Archive, the New York Times, and other sites from its citizens. And other countries block their citizens’ access as well every once in a while. So the Web is not reliably accessible.
And the Web isn’t private. People, corporations, countries can spy on what you are reading. And they do. We now know, thanks to Edward Snowden, that Wikileaks readers were selected for targeting by the National Security Agency and the UK’s equivalent just because those organizations could identify those Web browsers that visited the site and identify the people likely to be using those browsers. In the library world, we know how important it is to protect reader privacy. Rounding people up for the things that they’ve read has a long and dreadful history. So we need a Web that is better than it is now in order to protect reader privacy.