In modern times, “truthiness” — a “truth” asserted “from the gut” or because “it feels right,” without regard to evidence or logic5 — is also a key part of political discourse. It is difficult to imagine life without it, and our political discourse is weakened by Orwellian laws that try to prohibit it.
After all, where would we be without the knowledge that Democrats are pinko-communist flag-burners who want to tax churches and use the money to fund abortions so they can use the fetal stem cells to create pot-smoking lesbian ATF agents who will steal all the guns and invite the UN to take over America? Voters have to decide whether we’d be better off electing Republicans, those hateful, assault-weapon-wielding maniacs who believe that George Washington and Jesus Christ incorporated the nation after a Gettysburg reenactment and that the only thing wrong with the death penalty is that it isn’t administered quickly enough to secular-humanist professors of Chicano studies.
Everybody knows that the economy is better off under [Republican/Democratic]6 presidents — who control it directly with big levers in the Oval Office — and that:
President Obama is a Muslim.
President Obama is a Communist.
President Obama was born in Kenya.
Nearly half of Americans pay no taxes.7
One percent of Americans control 99 percent of the world’s wealth.
Obamacare will create death panels.
Republicans oppose immigration reform because they’re racists.
The Supreme Court is a purely political body that is evangelically [liberal/conservative].8
All of the above statements could be considered “truthy,” yet all contribute to our political discourse.
5. Wikipedia.com, Truthiness, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truthiness (last visited Feb. 28, 2014) (describing the term’s coinage by Stephen Colbert during the pilot of his show in October 2005). See also Dictionary.com, Truthiness, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/truthiness (last visited Feb. 28, 2014).
6. Circle as appropriate.
7. 47 percent to be exact, though it may be higher by now.
8. Again, pick your truth.
Ilya Shapiro and P.J. O’Rourke, BRIEF OF AMICI CURIAE CATO INSTITUTE AND P.J. O’ROURKE IN SUPPORT OF PETITIONERS, Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus [PDF], 2014-02-28
March 5, 2014
December 31, 2013
I nearly ran Steve Chapman‘s wonderful little squib as a QotD entry: “The course of freedom and democracy in the world is an evolutionary process, though sometimes it proceeds in the wrong direction. Wines have good years and bad years. If 2013 were a wine, you’d use it to kill weeds.”
Looking ahead to 2014, Radley Balko has some Dire Civil Liberties Predictions to ring in the new year:
As we come to the end of a year that saw revelations about massive government spying programs, horrifying stories of police abuse, and brazen violations of the Fourth Amendment, I thought I might offer my own grim predictions about where civil liberties are headed in the coming year. Sure, some of these may seem outlandish. But to borrow from H.L. Mencken, nobody ever went broke underestimating the grade and lubriciousness of the slippery slope.
On a less-depressing note, Nick Mediati rounds up the “top” memes of 2013, including the latest attempt to de-grammaticize the internet:
After years and years of cats dominating the Internet, dog lovers were finally thrown a bone in 2013 with the emergence of the Doge meme. The meme typically features photos of Shiba Inu dogs with internal thoughts overlaid in brightly colored Comic Sans. And it’s frickin’ awesome. You might find yourself spontaneously speaking in doge. Such language. So words. Very thought. Wow.
December 23, 2013
1. The First Amendment protects you from government sanction, either directly (by criminal prosecution) or indirectly (when someone uses the government’s laws and the courts to punish you, as in a defamation action). It is currently in vogue to exclaim “NOBODY IS ARGUING OTHERWISE” when someone makes this point. Bullshit. People are consistently saying that private action (like criticism, or firings) violates the First Amendment, either directly or through sloppy implication. Promoting ignorance about our most important rights is a bad thing that we should call out, even when we’re currently upset about something. Our rights are under constant assault on multiple fronts, and when we encourage citizens to misunderstand them we make it easier for the government to whittle them away.
2. The phrase “the spirit of the First Amendment” often signals approaching nonsense. So, regrettably, does the phrase “free speech” when uncoupled from constitutional free speech principles. These terms often smuggle unprincipled and internally inconsistent concepts — like the doctrine of the Preferred+ First Speaker. The doctrine of the Preferred First Speaker holds that when Person A speaks, listeners B, C, and D should refrain from their full range of constitutionally protected expression to preserve the ability of Person A to speak without fear of non-governmental consequences that Person A doesn’t like. The doctrine of the Preferred First Speaker applies different levels of scrutiny and judgment to the first person who speaks and the second person who reacts to them; it asks “why was it necessary for you to say that” or “what was your motive in saying that” or “did you consider how that would impact someone” to the second person and not the first. It’s ultimately incoherent as a theory of freedom of expression.
3. Notwithstanding #2, the concepts of proportionality, community, dialogue, love, charity, grace, empathy, forgiveness, humility, and self-awareness are all values decent people ought to apply to a discussion. They aren’t about free speech or the First Amendment; they are about humanity. They are more powerful and convincing when applied consistently — when you do not demand grace of others than you aren’t willing to extend yourself. That doesn’t happen much.
Ken White, “Ten Points About Speech, Ducks, And Flights To Africa”, Popehat, 2013-12-21.
November 22, 2013
September 9, 2013
Christopher Taylor on the way to shut down an opponent’s argument by accusing them of a thoughtcrime:
Another nifty trick is to accuse someone of something because you don’t care for what they think or say, then if they deny it, call that proof of their evil. It’s called Kafkatrapping, and it works like this: “if you start anything with the words ‘I’m not racist’ well that’s proof you are.” Don’t like someone’s position but cannot factually or rationally refute it? Just Kafkatrap them.
The term Kafkatrapping comes from the book The Trial by Kafka in which the victim is accused of undefined crimes against humanity and destroyed by his denying them. It works like this:
Person A: Its sad that men are raped so much more than women in America.
Person B: You’re a sick sexist for even suggesting that.
Person A: but its true, see this report from the Obama administration? I’m not sexist, I’m just telling you the facts.
Person B: Your refusal to admit your sexist nature is proof of it.
Just denying your guilt is called proof of it and all rational discussion breaks down because it has become pointless. The argument is not based on facts, truth, reason, or intellectual inquiry, it is a schoolyard argument from the 5th grade which has nothing to do with truth. Its about destroying your opponent, keeping your position intact, and making the other person look bad.
And its inevitable that when people reject reason and objective truth, they’re reduced to childish arguments from emotion and strength. Its all you have left, and all you can use. The more this becomes predominant in a society, the more effective it becomes because people are less and less equipped to even begin to debate rationally.
September 5, 2013
You could find a dozen websites offering more trenchant progressive political analysis in five minutes.
Yet Professor Penn’s lesson has value to his students. They can learn the following important things:
1. In the course of your life, people with power will act badly with impunity.
2. People with power over you will use that power to indulge themselves in droning, whether or not their droning offers any value.
3. People can be tremendously talented and knowledgeable about Subject X and be useless louts about Subject Y. Often they’ll want to talk about Subject Y.
4. People think others want to hear their opinions about politics, and think their opinions about politics are insightful.
5. A significant part of developing as an adult is deciding how you will deal with points 1 – 4.
6. Huge amounts of government money pay for absolute shit.
7. People who nominally favor freedom of expression will drop it like a hot coal when their political biases are aroused. Case in point: many angry conservative people saying that Professor Penn should be fired for a banal political rant, even though he’s a professor at a state university enjoying First Amendment protections that are rather broad. Check the comments on the sites complaining about Professor Penn if you don’t believe me.
I submit those are all valuable lessons.
I think that it’s pathetic that these students are paying to hear Professor Penn indulge himself like that even for ten minutes. I think his calling out a student in class for seeming to disagree displays low character and an excellent reason to avoid his class. But I don’t see anything that merits firing from his position at a public institution, and I am not enthused about a system in which public universities will be policed for insipid partisanship by other partisans.
But how enthusiastic do you suppose Professor Penn’s students are about faculty free speech rights after sitting through that?
June 30, 2013
Rick Falkvinge thinks that the United States is at the point of no return as far as civil liberties are concerned:
While this may seem a trivial observation, it is critical in this context: people tend to be focused on what affects them in the here and now. While some people can connect the dots and follow the line with their eyes into the future, the vast majority of people don’t bother with something that doesn’t affect them directly, personally, and in the present. In 1932, families were still skating in the park in Berlin on weekends. All that nasty stuff was theoretical, rumored, and somewhere else. People who look ahead and try to sound the alarm bell tend to be regarded as tinfoil hats, eccentric, and nuts.
One of the first things that happens past the point of no return into a police state is the persecution of reporters. As a society is closing down, those persecuted first are those with the audience and an interest in reporting the worrying trends that society seems to be closing. This is the proverbial canary in the coal mine. This is the alarm bell. Once that happens, get out of the mine.
An event horizon is a term from astrophysics. It is the edge of a black hole – so the event horizon appears like a black sphere, if you like. Nothing, not even light, can escape from within the event horizon – hence the term black hole. But if you were traveling through space, in direction of the black hole (which may be as large as an entire solar system), then you would notice absolutely nothing as you crossed the event horizon. You would pass a point of no return, and register not a single thing while doing so. The analogy is depressingly apt.
I’ve written before that I believe that the U.S. is lost to encroaching totalitarianism, which it will likely endure for a number of years before it collapses under its own weight (as all empires do sooner or later). With Edward Snowden being hunted relentlessly across the globe for leaking evidence of systematic abuse of power, Glenn Greenwald – who published Snowden’s leaks – was recently criticized for aiding and abetting the leak itself. This is a key choice of words, for aiding and abetting a crime is itself a crime – the wording suggested that the reporter who published evidence of abuse of power is himself a criminal.
June 27, 2013
In all the news from the US yesterday, this little civil liberties tidbit got pushed off the front page:
As I write this I am still only being updated by text message on the proceedings in the Senate chamber but I am told Bill C-304 has passed third reading and will receive Royal Assent tonight making it law.
What does this bill do?
There are a number of amendments to the act that help limit abuse but the main one is this:
2. Section 13 of the Act is repealed.
To put it bluntly, the means you can’t take someone through the federal human rights apparatus over hurt feelings via a blog post or a Facebook comment.
Now the bill is passed and will become law but like many acts of Parliament it will not come into force for a year.
Still after a long hard battle to restore free speech in Canada, this is a victory.
June 13, 2013
June 3, 2013
“I believe in freedom of speech and defend his rights to say what he wants, but once it starts offending people then it’s a police matter”
A Welsh shopkeeper gets a visit from two police officers after a slogan on a T-shirt gets someone upset:
A Newport shopkeeper has been forced by police to remove a T-shirt from his shop window because they felt it “could be seen to be inciting racial hatred.”
Matthew Taylor, 35, the owner of Taylor’s clothes store on Emlyn Walk in the city, printed up and displayed the T-shirt with the slogan: “Obey our laws, respect our beliefs or get out of our country” after Drummer Lee Rigby, 25, was killed in near Woolwich barracks in London last week.
But following a complaint from a member of the public, police came to his store and threatened to arrest him unless he removed the Tshirt from sight.
Mr Taylor said: “I had a visit from two CSOs (community support officers) because it has been reported by someone who felt it was offensive.
What was rather more depressing is how some elected officials view free speech:
Chairman of the Welsh affairs select committee, David Davies MP said: “I think the police are well aware of that (the current heightened tensions between communities) and I can see their point of view.
It’s a very sensitive time.
“But I can see this guy’s point of view and the statement he is making. You should not be in this country if you are not prepared to obey the laws.
I think the vast majority of people in this country of all races would agree with that.
So I don’t think it is a racist matter at but I can see the police’s point of view.”
Newport city councillor, Majid Rahman said: “I believe in freedom of speech and defend his rights to say what he wants, but once it starts offending people then it’s a police matter and it’s up to them whether they think it’s broken any laws.”
So, under this concept, you’re free to say anything you want, unless someone is offended and then the police have to get involved. I think someone misunderstands what “free” really means.
Sean Thomas outlines the notion of “checking your privilege” before discovering that he is the most underprivileged person in Britain:
The idea of Checking Your Privilege is that the opinions of “underprivileged” people, in any political debate, are deemed to be intrinsically more important and valuable than the beliefs of those who are luckier in life.
This is especially true if the debate relates to an area in which The Underprivileged Person is adjudged to be deprived. Extreme versions of Privilege Theory assert that, in especially sensitive arguments, the more privileged person should say nothing at all. e.g. white people are not allowed to express an opinion on racism.
[. . .]
It’s an impressive list of deprivations. Sometimes, when I look at my life, I wonder if I am [a] talented black saxophone player in the 1950s, or at least a meth dealer in central Baltimore – rather than a writer in north London. Certainly, I am THE most underprivileged person in the UK. And this means that my opinion is the most worthy and important of all, and everyone else must shut up, while I opine.
And my opinion is this: Privilege Checking is stupid. It is vacuous and diseased. It is a duet of moral vanity and bourgeois guilt which symptomizes the decadence and redundancy of what passes, today, for lefty “thinking”. Karl Marx (middle-class, well-travelled, disapproved of Engels’s plebby girlfriend) must be spinning on his Highgate pedestal when he sees what his great discourse has turned into.
I hope that clears things up. Now we can move on; IMHO, of course.
May 28, 2013
L. Neil Smith received one of the many email chain letters from a conservative acquaintance about “thanking a veteran” and indulged in a bit of fisking:
So with all that in mind, let’s consider the Memorial Day claims my friend sent to me, and I can only hope he’ll be my friend after this.
“It is the veteran, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion.”
The truth is that neither the veteran nor the preacher ever gave us such a right, it is ours, under natural law, the very moment we are born. It can certainly be suppressed, and has been other places in the world, and here, as well — ask any Mormon — but this government hasn’t fought a war to defend any American’s rights since the Revolution.
“It is the veteran, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.”
Once again, not so. When the War of 1812 “broke out” — the U.S. was attempting to bestow the blessings of American life upon Canada whether Canada wanted them or not — and people objected (New England nearly seceded over it) people were accused of “sedition”, a charge that should be impossible under the First Amendment, and thrown in jail.
Later, Abraham Lincoln used the Army to smash the printing presses of his political opposition and intimidate voters during the 1864 election.
“It is the veteran, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.”
Freedom of speech and of the press are natural rights, as well, which governments in general, and the American government in particular, have always regarded as a threat. If any single individual can be thanked for it, that honor belongs to John Peter Zenger (look him up). At some point, the establishment press became so corrupt, concealing or excusing government atrocities, that they became a part of government, and a new press — the Internet — had to evolve in its place.
“It is the veteran, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble.”
Having once been a “campus organizer” myself, I am well aware how little we had to do with defending the right to assemble, and how very badly it was done. But please, don’t be ridiculous. Two words: Kent State.
“It is the veteran, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.”
Actually, to the extent that any human institution is responsible for the right to a fair trial, it’s a thousand years of English Common Law.
“It is the veteran, not the politician, Who has given us the right to vote.”
A dubious gift, at best, but it didn’t come from any politicians or veterans. Thank the Greeks, and don’t forget the Basques, whose methods of self-government were consciously imitated by the Founding Fathers.
I like and admire veterans, My dad was a vet and his dad before him. But name any war the United States ever fought to defend American rights.
May 24, 2013
Jonah Goldberg on the bits of the first amendment that the mainstream media tends to forget about:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
That’s the full text of the First Amendment. But (with apologies to the old Far Side comic), this is what many in the press, academia, and government would hear if you read it aloud: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, blah blah blah, or abridging the freedom of the press, blah blah blah blah.”
[. . .]
The press can always be counted upon not just to speak up for itself, but to lavish attention on itself. “We can’t help that we’re so fascinating,” seems to be their unspoken mantra.
And that’s fine. What’s not fine is the way so many in the press talk about the First Amendment as if it’s their trade’s private license.
The problem is twofold. First, we all have a right to commit journalism under the First Amendment, whether it’s a New York Times reporter or some kid with an iPhone shooting video of a cop abusing someone.
I understand that professional journalists are on the front lines of the First Amendment’s free-press clause. But many elite outlets and journalism schools foster a guild mentality that sees journalism as a priestly caste deserving of special privileges. That’s why editorial boards love campaign-finance restrictions: They don’t like editorial competition from outside their ranks. Such elitism never made sense, but it’s particularly idiotic at a moment when technology — Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Vine, etc. — is democratizing political speech.
March 22, 2013
I have to confess, as an ignorant inhabitant of North America, that I don’t really understand the current press scandal in the U.K., and I was hoping that perhaps someone could enlighten me.
As I understand it, a number of members of the press committed crimes in the course of gathering material for stories — that is, they committed acts that were already illegal, and which already carried substantial penalties.
It would therefore seem that preventing such acts in the future would require nothing more than diligently enforcing existing law.
I’m therefore curious as to what purpose is articulated for ending freedom of expression in the U.K.
Is it claimed that the laws were not being enforced before on the powerful? Then surely the new restrictions on freedom will be selectively enforced as well, with only the weak being stifled. (That is, of course, universal — the powerful never need permission to do anything. Freedom is a protection for the weak, the strong need no protection.)
Is it claimed that performing criminal acts was somehow insufficiently illegal? Is it claimed that the existing laws against criminal conspiracies are not already broad, vague and all-encompassing?
Perry Metzger, “Doubly-illegal acts”, Samizdata, 2013-03-21
Explaining the title of this post:
Daffy Duck: “Batten down the hatches!”
Bugs: “We did batten ‘em down!”
Daffy: “Well, batten ‘em down again, we’ll teach those hatches!”
March 17, 2013
The EFF posted more information about the court decision that National Security Letters violate the constitution:
The controversial NSL provisions EFF challenged on behalf of the unnamed client allow the FBI to issue administrative letters — on its own authority and without court approval — to telecommunications companies demanding information about their customers. The controversial provisions also permit the FBI to permanently gag service providers from revealing anything about the NSLs, including the fact that a demand was made, which prevents providers from notifying either their customers or the public. The limited judicial review provisions essentially write the courts out of the process.
In today’s ruling, the court held that the gag order provisions of the statute violate the First Amendment and that the review procedures violate separation of powers. Because those provisions were not separable from the rest of the statute, the court declared the entire statute unconstitutional. In addressing the concerns of the service provider, the court noted: “Petitioner was adamant about its desire to speak publicly about the fact that it received the NSL at issue to further inform the ongoing public debate.”
“The First Amendment prevents the government from silencing people and stopping them from criticizing its use of executive surveillance power,” said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. “The NSL statute has long been a concern of many Americans, and this small step should help restore balance between liberty and security.”