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 12, 2015
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 17, 2015
Published on 13 Oct 2015
Ken White, founder of the influential group blog Popehat, tells FIRE how he got interested in the First Amendment and discusses anonymous speech on the Internet.
White, who writes for Popehat on a variety of issues, including the First Amendment, criminal justice, and the legal system, said a college project at Stanford University “during … one of the upsurges of controversy on campus about speech codes and speech issues,” opened his eyes to the nuances of the First Amendment.
“I wound up doing my senior honors thesis in college with a law school professor on the subject of legal restrictions on hate speech,” White said. “I thought it was very much emblematic of a very American problem, and that is: How do we express our disapproval — our moral disapproval — for bad things like bigotry, while not restricting liberties?”
Popehat seems to be a space created to do exactly that. The forum has evolved into a blog the contributors describe as a “group complaint” about “whatever its authors want.”
That freedom hasn’t always come so easily for White, who blogged anonymously for more than five years due to concerns his honest blogging might harm his career. He still thinks anonymous speech provides both benefits and drawbacks.
“I think the right to anonymous speech is very central in the First Amendment and in American life,” said White. “Throughout American history, people have said unpopular things, incendiary things, politically dangerous things behind the shield of anonymity. A lot of bad things come with that. There’s some really terrible, immoral, anonymous behavior on the Internet.”
White said there’s also a risk to writing anonymously, and that even while he benefitted from posting behind the security of an online persona, he supports the rights of others to try and discover his true identity. Eventually, White said he gave up the pretext and started blogging under his own name.
For more from White, including why free speech “catchphrases” harm First Amendment discourse, watch the above video.
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 5, 2015
Network effects are wonderful for a technology firm when it’s growing. Early movers can gain an advantage that is very hard to displace, because once everyone else is using Microsoft Word or a Playstation, there’s a cost to switching away. On the other hand, investors (and antitrust lawyers) often assume that network effects are more durable than they actually are. In fact, they can be quite fickle. Once your network starts shrinking, the collapse can be sudden, because every node that gets subtracted from your network makes it less valuable to the people who remain. Networks that start growing often start shrinking — and a modest decline can quickly prompt a stampede for the exits. Anyone remember MySpace?
And so the problem that Reddit has is this: Having attracted a bunch of people on the promise that they could say anything they wanted, the company risks alienating those people, shrinking the network and shrinking itself right out of existence. Reddit would probably be a better place if the fat-shaming hobbyists and racist trolls were surgically excised. But they won’t be; they’ll be forced out bluntly, along with others, and that will drive away many of the users Reddit would like to keep.
Deciding what is offensive is inherently a political act, because one man’s deep truth is often another person’s deep offense. To take one obvious example, do you treat conservative Christians who say terrible things about gay rights activists the same as gay rights activists who say terrible things about conservative Christians? Men’s rights activists the same as feminists?
We are all more attuned to the offenses against our own beliefs than we are to what may seem terribly offensive to others. And with the culture war raging hot, it is going to be very hard to make choices that don’t look as if you’re taking sides. Even if you try to be scrupulously fair, chances are that you will miss something, causing one side to understandably point out: “See, they crack down on us, but not on those equally offensive other people!”
Reddit is trying to avoid this by splitting the baby in half: designating much of the worst content as questionable, and then segregating it, but not banning it. It’s far from clear, however, that this compromise will work. I don’t think a lot of people are going to mourn when the racist subreddits are segregated. But those are among the most notorious cases precisely because most people can agree that racist epithets are not okay. The border cases are likely to be more numerous, and the decisions will convince some users that Reddit is not for them.
Megan McArdle, “Policing Reddit Could Kill Reddit”, Bloomberg View, 2015-07-17.
September 1, 2015
Allum Bokhari claims to see a rising tide of cultural libertarians in our future:
A new force is emerging in the culture wars. Authoritarians of all stripes, from religious reactionaries to left-wing “social justice warriors,” are coming under fire from a new wave of thinkers, commentators, and new media stars who reject virtually all of their political values.
From the banning of Charlie Hebdo magazine across British university campuses on the grounds that it promoted islamophobia, to the removal of the video game Grand Theft Auto V from major retailers in Australia on the grounds that it promoted sexism, threats to cultural freedom proliferate.
But a growing number of commentators, media personalities and academics reject the arguments that underpin these assaults on free expression, in particular the idea that people are either too emotionally fragile to deal with “offence” or too corruptible to be exposed to dangerous ideas.
In a recent co-authored feature for Breitbart, I coined a term to describe this new trend: cultural libertarianism. The concept was critically discussed by Daniel Pryor at the Centre for a Stateless Society, who drew attention to the increasing viciousness of cultural politics in the internet age.
There is a reason for the sound and fury. Like all insurgent movements, the emergence of cultural libertarianism is creating tensions, border skirmishes, and even the occasional war with lazy incumbent elites. Some of these rows can be breathtakingly vitriolic, as self-righteous anger from social justice types collides with mocking and occasionally caustic humour from cultural libertarians.
August 31, 2015
Published on 25 Aug 2015
The Motion: This House Believes the Right to Free Speech Always Includes the Right to Offend.
Debate speaker 1 of 6. Watch all the speakers for this debate in order of appearance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtWrl…
Brendan O’Neill is the editor of Spiked Online and a columnist for The Australian and The Big Issue.
ABOUT THE OXFORD UNION SOCIETY: The Union is the world’s most prestigious debating society, with an unparalleled reputation for bringing international guests and speakers to Oxford. It has been established for 192 years, aiming to promote debate and discussion not just in Oxford University, but across the globe.
H/T to Samizdata for the link.
August 28, 2015
Techdirt‘s Mike Masnick points and laughs at a self-described consumerist organization’s attempt to force Google to apply EU law to the rest of the world, by way of an FTC complaint:
If you want an understanding of my general philosophy on business and economics, it’s that companies should focus on serving their customers better. That’s it. It’s a very customer-centric view of capitalism. I think companies that screw over their customers and users will have it come back to bite them, and thus it’s a better strategy for everyone if companies focus on providing good products and services to consumers, without screwing them over. And, I’m super supportive of organizations that focus on holding companies’ feet to the fire when they fail to live up to that promise. Consumerist (owned by Consumer Reports) is really fantastic at this kind of thing, for example. Consumer Watchdog, on the other hand, despite its name, appears to have very little to do with actually protecting consumers’ interests. Instead, it seems like some crazy people who absolutely hate Google, and pretend that they’re “protecting” consumers from Google by attacking the company at every opportunity. If Consumer Watchdog actually had relevant points, that might be useful, but nearly every attack on Google is so ridiculous that all it does is make Consumer Watchdog look like a complete joke and undermine whatever credibility the organization might have.
In the past, we’ve covered an anti-Google video that company put out that contained so many factual errors that it was a complete joke (and was later revealed as nothing more than a stunt to sell some books). Then there was the attempt to argue that Gmail was an illegal wiretap. It’s hard to take the organization seriously when it does that kind of thing.
Its latest, however, takes the crazy to new levels. John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s resident “old man yells at cloud” impersonator, recently filed a complaint with the FTC against Google. In it, he not only argues that Google should offer the “Right to be Forgotten” in the US, but says that the failure to do that is an “unfair and deceptive practice.” Really.
As you know by now, since an EU court ruling last year, Google has been forced to enable a right to be forgotten in the EU, in which it will “delink” certain results from the searches on certain names, if the people argue that the links are no longer “relevant.” Some in the EU have been pressing Google to make that “right to be forgotten” global — which Google refuses to do, noting that it would violate the First Amendment in the US and would allow the most restrictive, anti-free speech regime in the world to censor the global internet.
But, apparently John Simpson likes censorship and supporting free speech-destroying regimes. Because he argues Google must allow such censorship in the US. How could Google’s refusal to implement “right to be forgotten” possibly be “deceptive”? Well, in Simpson’s world, it’s because Google presents itself as “being deeply committed to privacy” but then doesn’t abide by a global right to be forgotten. Really.
July 21, 2015
July 15, 2015
At Popehat, Ken White explains what to look for in how the media subtly (or not-so-subtly) introduce pro-censorship memes when it covers free speech issues:
American journalists and pundits rely upon vigorous free speech, but are not reliable supporters of it. They both instruct and reflect their fickle audience.
It’s easy to spot overt calls for censorship from the commentariat. Those have become more common in the wake of both tumultuous events (like the violence questionably attributed to the “Innocence of Muslims” video, or Pamela Geller’s “Draw Muhammad” contest) and mundane ones (like fraternity brothers recorded indulging in racist chants).
But it’s harder to detect the subtle pro-censorship assumptions and rhetorical devices that permeate media coverage of free speech controversies. In discussing our First Amendment rights, the media routinely begs the question — it adopts stock phrases and concepts that presume that censorship is desirable or constitutional, and then tries to pass the result off as neutral analysis. This promotes civic ignorance and empowers deliberate censors.
Fortunately, this ain’t rocket science. Americans can train themselves to detect and question the media’s pro-censorship tropes. I’ve collected some of the most pervasive and familiar ones. This post is designed as a resource, and I’ll add to it as people point out more examples and more tropes.
July 11, 2015
Published on 7 Jul 2015
You may have already heard about how the government tried to stifle Reason‘s free speech.
Federal prosecutors based in New York sent a grand jury subpoena and letter to Reason, commanding editors to hand over the records of six commenters who wrote hyperbolic statements about federal judge Katherine Forrest below a blog post at Reason.com. Forrest sentenced Ross Ulbricht to life in prison without parole for creating the Silk Road website.
Then came a gag order from U.S. District Court, meaning Reason could not write or speak publicly about the subpoena or gag order — even to acknowledge either existed. But between the subpoena being issued and the gag order being issued, one legal blogger managed to figure out what was going on.
“I got an email and I looked at it and I thought wow, this is a federal grand jury subpoena to Reason magazine,” says Ken White, a writer at the legal blog Popehat who is himself a former federal prosecutor. White sat down with Reason TV to talk about how he broke the story and what he thinks it means for press freedom and open expression online.
“What’s upsetting is that there is no indication whatsoever either that the prosecutor or the judge gave any consideration to the fact that this was being aimed at a reporting organization about a First Amendment issue,” says White. What’s more, White stresses that the comments named in the subpoena are commonplace for the internet and especially at Reason.com, a site, he notes, “whose clever writing is eclipsed only by the blowhard stupidity of its commenting peanut gallery.”
The scrutinized comments ranged from taunts such as “I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for that horrible woman” to “Its (sic) judges like these that should be taken out back and shot,” but none, say White, come close to qualifying as “true” threats or anything other idle chatter. It remains unclear why the U.S. Attorney’s Office was interested in such internet fodder, how often these sorts of subpoenas get sent out to news organizations, and how often they comply. Nevertheless, White points out that federal prosecutors hold an enormous amount of power over human lives and rarely reflect on how they use — and abuse — their position.
“A fish doesn’t know that it’s in water,” says White. “A federal prosecutor doesn’t know that they are swimming in power. They could do it, so they did.”
Produced by Paul Detrick. Shot by Zach Weissmueller and Justin Monticello.
June 14, 2015
At the Foundation for Economic Education, Ryan Radia discusses the free-speech-quashing subpoena issued by a federal prosecutor in New York state:
In late May, Judge Katherine Forrest, who sits on the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, sentenced Ulbricht to life in prison. This sentence was met with mixed reactions, with many commentators criticizing Judge Forrest for handing down what they perceived as an exceedingly harsh sentence.
A few Reason users, some of whom may have followed Reason’s extensive coverage of the fascinating trial, apparently found Ulbricht’s sentence especially infuriating.
One commenter argued that “judges like these … should be taken out back and shot.” Another user, purporting to correct the preceding comment, wrote that “it’s judges like these that will be taken out back and shot.” A follow-up comment suggested the use of a “wood chipper,” so as not to “waste ammunition.” And a user expressed hope that “there is a special place in hell reserved for that horrible woman.”
Within hours, the office of Preet Bharara, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, sent Reason a subpoena for these commenters’ identifying information “in connection with an official criminal investigation of a suspected felony being conducted by a federal grand jury.”
This doesn’t mean a grand jury actually asked about the commenters; instead, in federal criminal investigations, it’s typically up to the US Attorney to decide when to issue a subpoena “on behalf” of a grand jury.
Even if this subpoena is valid under current law — more on that angle in a bit — the government made a serious mistake in seeking to force Reason to hand over information that could uncover the six commenters’ identities.
Unless the Department of Justice is investigating a credible threat to Judge Forrest with some plausible connection to the Reason comments at issue, this subpoena will serve only to chill hyperbolic — but nonetheless protected — political speech by anonymous Internet commenters.
June 12, 2015
Every now and again, it’s easy to believe that we’ve somehow slipped down a hole in time to a less free, more authoritarian time. This is the kind of thing you could easily imagine happening in Fascist Italy or Franco’s Spain rather than in the United States in 2015:
The United States Department of Justice is using federal grand jury subpoenas to identify anonymous commenters engaged in typical internet bluster and hyperbole in connection with the Silk Road prosecution. DOJ is targeting Reason.com, a leading libertarian website whose clever writing is eclipsed only by the blowhard stupidity of its commenting peanut gallery.
Why is the government using its vast power to identify these obnoxious asshats, and not the other tens of thousands who plague the internet?
Because these twerps mouthed off about a judge.
Last week, a source provided me with a federal grand jury subpoena. The subpoena, issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, is directed to Reason.com in Washington, D.C.. The subpoena commands Reason to provide the grand jury “any and all identifying information” Reason has about participants in what the subpoena calls a “chat.”
Regrettably, The Government Can Probably Abuse the Grand Jury Subpoena Power This Way
The grand jury’s investigative power — exercised nominally on its behalf by the U.S. Attorney’s office — is nearly unchecked. It’s not like a stop-and-frisk or search; the government doesn’t need reasonable suspicion or probable case to use grand jury subpoenas to seek information. In general, one can only challenge grand jury subpoenas when they are irrationally burdensome (like demanding that Apple produce every document about iPhones in its possession) or for an improper purpose (like using the grand jury to improve trial evidence after an indictment has already been returned) or, very rarely, when privacy or constitutional issues are in play.
Reason.com — or the anonymous commenters — could file an action in federal court seeking to quash this subpoena. We know how that would likely come out, because someone recently did it. During the 2012 election cycle a juvenile but prolific Twitter personality named “Mr. X” tweeted “I want to fuck Michelle Bachman in the ass with a Vietnam era machete.” The government subpoenaed Twitter for Mr. X’s identifying information; Mr. X filed a motion to quash the subpoena. The United States District Court for the District of Columbia rejected the motion.