by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger
On a recent thread, the topic of politically correct speech as it relates to free speech came up. As with many of the more interesting threads on this blog, the topic came about from meandering rather than the subject proper of the thread. The subject was brought back to fore in my mind this morning when I read this: How Free Speech Died on Campus by Sohrab Ahmari, published on The Wall Street Journal (online.wsj.com). It seems there are a lot of misconceptions about what constitutes free speech, the limitations thereon and the consequences thereof.
The core of the American free speech right and tradition is codified in the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Congress shall make no law [. . . ] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press[.]”
The U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 19, states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
This has implications that apply to public discourse. Let us consider these implications.
What is free speech? I think the Universal Declaration gets to the heart of the idea with the words “freedom of opinion and expression”. You are free to think what you like and express your thoughts. The marketplace of ideas – a consequence of freedom of speech – relies upon this. Everyone says what they like and may the best idea/argument win. However, that being said, there are some limitations on free speech that are universally accepted in domestic and international jurisprudence. Namely the exceptions of defamation (lying about someone for gain and/or profit) and incitement language (encouraging others to violence or panic). Many countries also recognize sedition (calling for the overthrow of government) as unacceptable as well. Consider the difference in these prohibitions and the different ways of addressing the 1st Amendment: the absolutist approach, the categorical approach and the balancing of interests approach.
All three approaches allow for restrictions on free speech. The absolutist approach takes the stance that literally no law prohibiting speech is permissible . . . except when the words are so intimately tied to a specific action like inciting panic or contracting for an illegal purpose as to be inseparable from the otherwise prohibited act itself. The categorical approach attempts to define what speech is or is not protected by assigning categories such as obscenity, fighting words, commercial speech and political speech. The balancing of interests approach in every case courts should weigh the individual’s interest in free expression against a valid governmental interest in restricting the speech in question with a thumb on the scale of justice in favor of free speech. Most modern jurists adopt either the categorical or the balancing approach as the absolutist approach is impractical. Personally, I’m somewhere in between those two analytical schools: circumstances should be considered, but some speech should be categorically protected like political free speech.
Defamation and incitement have sound public policy behind them. In the case of defamation, it arises from the long respected notion in torts that someone should not be able to lie about another to their detriment and/or for the defamer’s benefit. It’s a matter of equity. It has nothing to do with your feelings being hurt. There is a separate tort recognized in some jurisdictions called “Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress”. It is a very specific, very hard to prove tort where someone says things to or about someone with specific foreknowledge and the intent to cause the hearer or subject to suffer extreme emotional distress. It is a wilful tort and you must prove the speaker had mens rea (guilty mind) in causing the extreme emotional distress.
In the case of incitement, everyone knows the old trope about “yelling fire in a crowded theater”. Inciting panic or violence often ends up with innocent bystanders getting harmed either physically or by having their property destroyed and that is a matter of public safety as well as equity. Sedition, on the other hand, is a “political crime”. In the United States, a particularly odd political crime too considering the express language of the Declaration of Independence.
However, with these above noted exceptions, free speech means anything goes basically. You are allowed to think and express your thoughts. This carries some broader implications.
As all people are free to express their thoughts and opinions, you are certainly going to hear things you disagree with or disapprove of or maybe even find insulting or offensive. That is simply a cost of the freedom. If you value free speech then you accept that you will be disagreed with, insulted and offended at some time. If you don’t accept this fact, then you value freedom of speech as long as you approve of what others say first and that, by definition, is not free. If you cannot accept this and try to oppress others simply for having a different, insulting or offensive opinion, then you miss the point of free speech. The antidote for different ideas, just as it is for offense or insult, is more free speech. Make a rebuttal. Offer rejoinder for insult and offense. But everyone gets their say whether you personally like it or not. Respond. Don’t. It’s your choice. However, if you value freedom of speech, you’ll never try to censor. Even if the motive behind your thought is to crush an idea that is deeply offensive and indefensible. Motives don’t matter. Once you cross the line into censorship, you’ve abandoned criticism and counterargument for oppression. You will never beat a bad idea with oppression just like you’ll never stop a good idea with oppression. As the titular character V said in V for Vendetta, “Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. There is an idea, Mr. Creedy – and ideas are bulletproof.” Ideas and arguments are not idea and argument proof though. That’s the whole notion behind the marketplace of ideas. This illustrates why the antidote to bad ideas and bad arguments is precisely more free speech – better ideas, better arguments.
Your feelings are not generally protected by law with the one exception in tort. They are subjective. They are your own reactions and you own them. They may or may not be rational.
This is part and parcel of what is wrong with the idea of politically correct speech. An idea that has crept on to what was once the bastion of free speech – American college campuses. Rather than interpret or summarize How Free Speech Died on Campus by Sohrab Ahmari, I am simply going to direct your attention to it and suggest that you read it in full for a scathing example of “politically correct” speech regulations on college campuses and how it has gone wrong. It’s a short article, but dense and well worth the read, full of examples like;
At Western Michigan University, it is considered harassment to hold a ‘condescending sex-based attitude.’ That just about sums up the line ‘I think of all Harvard men as sissies” (from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920 novel ‘This Side of Paradise’), a quote that was banned at Yale when students put it on a T-shirt.”
and astute observations like;
‘The people who believe that colleges and universities are places where we want less freedom of speech have won, Mr. Lukianoff says. ‘If anything, there should be even greater freedom of speech on college campuses. But now things have been turned around to give campus communities the expectation that if someone’s feelings are hurt by something that is said, the university will protect that person. As soon as you allow something as vague as Big Brother protecting your feelings, anything and everything can be punished.‘” [emphasis added]
Suffice it to say, in an academic environment, there is nothing more detrimental to learning than shutting down the marketplace of ideas because some pinheaded “risk management” administrator thinks someone’s feelings should get hurt by words they themselves are free to challenge. If this trend continues, our colleges and universities will become a global laughing stock.
Free speech must be protected at all costs. It is how we speak truth to power, to others and to ourselves when we are interested in learning truths. It can make you uncomfortable. It will challenge you. It will piss you off. It will hurt your feelings. Freedom isn’t free. It comes with costs. These are some of the costs that you pay for freedom of speech. If you don’t like getting your feelings hurt? If you don’t like being challenged? Develop thicker skin, learn to counter what you don’t like, or be ready to have yet another important freedom eroded, but this time not in the name of (false) security, but the onus of political correctness and catering to the subjective over the objective. James Madison thought freedom of speech (and the press) was critical and the 1st Amendment the most important item in the Bill of Rights. Maybe you should think about that too.
What do you think?
Think, mind you. Not feel. That being said, have at it.
Source(s): WSJ Online, U.S. Constitution, U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights
~submitted by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger
237 thoughts on “The Consequences of Free Speech”
And it goes on.
“No. It’s a valid criticism of your style.” Pot and kettle, again. I do think it’s valid to criticize dismissal as a poor style. I think I even criticized your style for that, but oh wait, I did it so it’s not valid. You do it, and “Poof”, it is. Whatever “is” is.
I did notice you changed from “what” to think to “how” to think. I have yet to understand how I can drive, force, anyone to think either way if they don’t see the validity of my arguments. As for labels, “Obama is a socialist”, Eisenhower is a “fellow traveler”, “Kennedy is a papal puppet”. Labels are a short-circuiting of real thought, made too quickly and with too little information, and too often emotional.
PC Queen is a badge of honor for me when I look at how you arrived at it. You may, with my resounding approval, please call me that from now on. I need the pleasure. It’s been a really hard month for me emotionally, and grabbing pleasure by your words has been, unfortunately, singular.
Have you ever divorced yourself from your arguments? Which argument got the house and children?
“‘You also again reveal you cannot divorce yourself from your argument. Thanks for proving my point on both those criticisms.’ I love your brevity, with it you make no argument, offer no proof, just declare and move on.”
Your statements are all the proof needed that you cannot divorce yourself from your arguments and that you prattle endlessly.
What? You don’t like it when others tell you what to say and how to think or label you?
Who’d have thunk it.
Your response just leads to “but of course, what else would he write”. Admittedly you can write in brevity something without substance.
“You also again reveal you cannot divorce yourself from your argument. Thanks for proving my point on both those criticisms.” I love your brevity, with it you make no argument, offer no proof, just declare and move on. I can fully understand now why you think others are trying to tell you what to say and what to think. They’ve questioned what you’ve said and your ego fired.
I like this cherry-picking “I have no to desire to control you, ”, but you should really use an ellipse at the end. I do understand you think you got the gist, but the gist was only yours. I do realize again, by your definition of censorship, “telling” you is controlling you. If you knew anything about Hook, you’d know what you’re doing with “PC Queen” and it’s much worse than “telling”. This couldn’t get any better, well, except until your next comment. You have so furthered my understanding of the Frenchman on the Rampart.
My earlier comment is still awaiting moderation but I’m sure you’ll give me more enjoyment after it posts, if it does.
No. It’s a valid criticism of your style. You use a lot of words to say very little if anything of substance. You also again reveal you cannot divorce yourself from your argument. Thanks for proving my point on both those criticisms.
“I have no to desire to control you, ”
Then stop trying to tell me what to say and how to think, Oh PC Queen.
You do realize this just veiled ad hominum: “You should shy away from verbosity in arguments too. It is not your friend. Using more words doesn’t mean you are saying anything meaningful. Although at this point, I doubt you’re capable of saying anything meaningful no matter your economy of language except different versions of “uh uh!”, “you don’t understand” and “words mean what I want them to mean” – none of which are sound rebuttals to any argument.
Now you’ve at least gotten some attention to hopefully assuage that carpet burn on your brain from trying to reconcile your desire to control how others speak and think with your claims of being a proponent of absolute free speech.
No real argument anywhere, just a monologue on how I’m not worthy. I do like that “carpet burn on your brain”, an allusion to brain sex? Only time I’ve gotten carpet burns was from sex, and only my knees, but I guess my experience is limited.
“your desire to control how others speak and think with your claims of being a proponent of absolute free speech.” So if you tell racialists they’re wrong, you are controlling how they speak or think? You mean you aren’t arguing, assuming you’d do more than “you’re wrong” and that’s a lot of assuming given your track record, you’re censoring? Do you think racialists would cower and be quiet, thus censored, because you pronounce them wrong?
I have no to desire to control you, especially how you think because fat is so messy and takes so much detergent to wash off one’s hands, and I certainly have no control over your speech in this venue, nor would I try to control it here or elsewhere, nor would I have control over it elsewhere without force. Control, unless you are mentally weak, takes some degree of force, and obviously the force of my arguments have no force.
I simply point out how your wrong, give my arguments and evidence, watch you dismiss them out-of-hand and go on arguing. It’s fun.
Really “telling” as censorship and control calls for a blankey, some milk, and a soft mat for a nap. I’m sorry I missed Kindergarten as we might have a point in common (actually, we have a lot of points in common, but I’m your “revisionist”).
It is interesting when one cannot be silenced in word some will go to the length of force and intimidation to Silence that which they cannot do by genuine argument or logic……
If that doesn’t work then they try slander or libel…….
If that doesn’t work, they try and have you arrested upon trumped uo charges….. All while playing the victim card…..
I heard something the other day…. Why do you expect a liar not to lie…. That’s what they do…. Why expect anything else…
Why expect anyone to be anything they are not capable of being…..they are what they are….. Regardless of what you expect…. They are as they are…..
Are you talking about me again Willis?
“PC people are displaying their bottoms on top. There is absolutely nothing that is or is not protected speech without some form of consequences.”
Yep. And one of those consequences is the potential for being dismissed. To paraphrase Darren, “If you can’t stand the consequences, stay out of the words game.”
Whatever you want to think. If you call that thinking. But let’s look at one more word:
1 [mass noun] the power to influence or direct people’s behaviour or the course of events:
“Dismissal is control in context, especially in the context of PC.”
Rejection (which is what dismissal is) has nothing to do with control in any context. I have not tried to silence you or control you. I dismiss your argumentation as facile, based on weak logic and little evidence compounded by your tendency to emotionalize because it’s a crap argument. You seem to labor under the false impression that all ideas are equally meritorious and therefor equally deserving of consideration and respect when they are not. I don’t respect your ideas. I’m indifferent about you. It’s an important distinction you can’t seem to grasp because you can’t divorce yourself from your arguments. Your attention seeking behavior though is most telling. You seem to think your arguments (and by your flawed method of thinking argumentation is personal – you) deserve greater attention than I do.
“Of course, it’s why I keep trying to send you to Hook, where you will never go, because he laid this out well over 20 years ago about PC and it would jar you.”
You keep trying to control me. Which is an exercise in futility. You really should have figured that out my now. Ask anyone who knows me. You also assume I’m not familiar with Hook, the authority you keep appealing to. If you can’t make an argument stand on your own, appealing to an authority will not help you. Since you haven’t made your argument, but rather keep illustrating the hypocrisy of claiming to be a free speech absolutist while engaging in PC enforcement behavior yourself.
As for the definitions you reject? Feel free to argue with the Oxford English Dictionary all you like. I don’t mind. But when you want to make up your own definitions, you just look foolish and stray in to false equivalences and assumptions like “By your continuing misunderstanding of PC, perhaps you’re actually the latter, but both suppose a knowledge of the hypocrisy which certainly leaves you outside both as you would have to have knowledge.” I understand PC – but you rejected that definition as well because it was apparently too complicated for you. You don’t get to control the definitions of things to suit your desires. And I also understand hypocrisy such as claiming some moral or ethical superiority when you try to tell others how to speak or think (control them) yet turn right around and have the balls to claim you’re an absolutist for free speech. That’s the very portrait of hypocritical behavior.
“Damn, you are fun, because you can’t see labeling, dismissing, rejection as control.”
Not as fun as someone who likes to make up or cherry pick definitions when they argue. A bad habit you’ve demonstrated more than once. As for the rest of your self-affirming gibberish? It’s just that.
gibberish /ˈdʒɪb(ə)rɪʃ/, n.,
unintelligible or meaningless speech or writing; nonsense:
You should shy away from verbosity in arguments too. It is not your friend. Using more words doesn’t mean you are saying anything meaningful. Although at this point, I doubt you’re capable of saying anything meaningful no matter your economy of language except different versions of “uh uh!”, “you don’t understand” and “words mean what I want them to mean” – none of which are sound rebuttals to any argument.
Now you’ve at least gotten some attention to hopefully assuage that carpet burn on your brain from trying to reconcile your desire to control how others speak and think with your claims of being a proponent of absolute free speech.
PC people are displaying their bottoms on top. There is absolutely nothing that is or is not protected speech without some form of consequences.
The pope today stated that Jesus’s birthday calculation may be incorrect. Nice to know from a church of frauds.
Dismissal is control in context, especially in the context of PC. If I label you, you have to fight the label, of all people you should understand that. In the PC world, the effect of the label is to marginalize you. You’ll be suspect even for those who aren’t PC (he was called a racist, after all, there might be reason to look further as to whether he is or not). Really, how could you miss the connection? By sheer act of ego, thus arriving at a truth by ego?
“Dismissal is the act of treating something as unworthy of serious consideration; the zenith of rejection.” Of course, it’s why I keep trying to send you to Hook, where you will never go, because he laid this out well over 20 years ago about PC and it would jar you. Labeling creates dismissal and makes you a reject. You’re so wrapped up in being dismissive that you don’t understand how dismissiveness is used in the greater context of PC. In fact I think you can’t recognize the forest because you keep going on about this tree, or that tree, pine, or ash.
I couldn’t thank you more for that quote regarding dismissal, only because you showed you can’t connect the dots. PC is labeling, dismissal, rejection. The whole purpose of PC is to marginalize. What, you think its about Eskimo v Inuit? That’s just fun watching trivial justifications such as inaccurate, sorry, imprecise. I have been waiting for this moment, Eskimo v Inuit was the wedge, and I knew you’d get there because of your ill-formed concept of PC.
You are an adolescent about PC, no matter you’re verbiage. . You see the parts but can’t see the whole, and go on and on about the people that say you’re wrong about the parts as being PC. Adolescent.
Now your prediliction for definitions: Hypocrisy is “a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not; especially : the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion.” compare to “behaving in a way that suggests one has higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case:” By your continuing misunderstanding of PC, perhaps you’re actually the latter, but both suppose a knowledge of the hypocrisy which certainly leaves you outside both as you would have to have knowledge. And this: Self-contradictory: “The act, state, or fact of contradicting oneself.” You did that so well with “Unlike you, I know what they mean. For example, political correctness. The zenith of political correctness isn’t dismissal. It’s control. Dismissal is the act of treating something as unworthy of serious consideration; the zenith of rejection.” Only because you can’t see the connections. In fact in that quote, you laid out of what PC is: control (labeling), dismissal, and rejection.
Damn, you are fun, because you can’t see labeling, dismissing, rejection as control. Hell, you camping in a forest must be a challenge for you. Look up “revisionist” in Leninist-Marxism (yeah, I know most put the L after the M), and be honest, if you had to look it up you missed one of the original PC labels. If you don’t know the full meaning of the term at a glance, you are behind the curve.
You’ll make it more fun to argue against dismissal and rejection as part of the methodology of PC. We have the control/labeling down, you’ve just got to go further. Moving beyond adolescence is jarring, sadly, some can’t make it.
“Unlike you, I know what they mean. For example, political correctness. The zenith of political correctness isn’t dismissal. It’s control. Dismissal is the act of treating something as unworthy of serious consideration; the zenith of rejection.” Damn, I have to thank you again for that quote, I’d almost go God for that one. In fact, I’m going to email that to my son. Why? He’s in an Honors program where he has to write a thesis for his Bachelors, with your quote and some books I have, including Hook’s, he may have a slam dunk on PC and how it is misused and misunderstood in society. He’s like Thoreau, he’ll keep rewriting until it’s exacting. May he use your quote in body or footnote?
I’ll wait for your usual empty dismissal, only because when you quote you suck on your foot. I assume you find that distasteful so avoiding it is understandable. Toe cheese, yuk, but give your phrase from your vast experience. You got a moment to be an educator here, that purpose for free speech you so embraced in another thread. Educators never “tell” they only ever persuade. Damn, I like that quote on self-contradictory.
” I tweaked you with the Inuit comment”
No. You demonstrated political correctness in most pejorative sense by trying to correct someone for using a term you couldn’t even give a rational reason for being offensive.
Which you then turn around and try to claim you’re an absolutist on free speech.
inconsistency between aspects or parts of a whole:
hypocritical /ˌhɪpəˈkrɪtɪkl/, adj.
behaving in a way that suggests one has higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case:
Unlike you, I know what they mean. For example, political correctness. The zenith of political correctness isn’t dismissal. It’s control. Dismissal is the act of treating something as unworthy of serious consideration; the zenith of rejection.
Hi, Gene, or Wene to be imprecise,
Forgetting the last word. What would be evidence as to Eskimo v Inuit?
“You couldn’t even give a valid reason why the term Eskimo is so offensive to you other than it is imprecise. ” It’s considered an insult in Nova Scotia, It’s considered an insult in a large part of eastern Canada, and I was told by my superiors while in the USCG doing tours in Alaska to use Inuit in 1975. I told you all this over and over and over and over again, yet for you it isn’t evidence only because you can’t, won’t, or are simply incapable of accepting anything other than your own intransigent position. And it isn’t because Eskimo is offensive to me, because it isn’t about me. You can’t quite grasp that I can accept they don’t like the name, they consider it offensive, and side with them without having any personal feelings in the matter.
As for imprecise, Wene G., it’s just another way of saying inaccurate. I tweaked you with the Inuit comment, and it’s stuck in your craw to the point of you going off to bad territory.
Here’s why you can’t make a reasonable argument and can’t judge others arguments: “it’s suddenly “cheap and despicable”.” I wrote “But do any one of you old-timers here, male or female, have the balls to explain to Gene why that last comment was not only cheap, but despicable? Any of you?”
And that was from your “You certainly use a lot of words not to say anything of consequence or substance but at least you are consistent.
I feel sorry for your kids.”
The last comment is “I feel sorry for your kids” in that quote. You are actually unable to understand “last comment” in that quote? Even with your spacing?
Given my above, this is so pathetic as to be moronic: “Can’t have it both ways.Well. You can. If you’re comfortable being a self-contradictory hypocrite.” You didn’t understand what was written, even when I quoted what you wrote. You are certainly comfortable with yourself. The zenith of PC is dismissiveness, it’s really the whole point. Label, dismiss all, move on. You have so much more in common with what you purport to hate than I have with all your labeling. It’s the how versus the what.
I’ve been thinking of a neologism but the one I like best so far doesn’t solve the “PC problem”: Private Censors. Still, a work in progress and any suggestions for different nomenclature are welcome.
I love Schubert, OS. I’m particularly fond of his brothers, Orange, Pineapple and marginally confused Rainbow. 😉 I remember that story too and like that story, I think the bell ringing is also an example of free speech. The SA have the proper permits and they are in a public space. That others are annoyed by it is irrelevant so long as the SA aren’t breaking any other valid ordinances such as a noise ordinance (which I doubt and are usually for residential, not commercial, zoning). There is no need to censor them.
Gene, I saw that story about the lady calling the police on the bell ringers outside her store. Here is a variant on the question. Seems a convenience store parking area was a popular hangout for local teenagers. However, the groups of teens were scaring off customers. So the store owner rigged outside speakers over which he played non-stop classical music. He was particularly fond of the music of Franz Schubert. Problem solved.
What about political/religious speech in a classroom setting?
Kendra Baker, Kentucky Teacher, Under Fire For ‘Can’t Be A Democrat And Go To Heaven’ Statement
This manages to run in to two PC walls with one shot, however, consider the context of surrounding the story: she wrote an alleged student’s comment on the white board, but it “was not part of a formal curriculum or lesson plan” during a class where they were discussing politics incident to the election.
Now here’s an interesting free speech question . . . is bell ringing a form of free speech?
Sarah Hamilton-Parker Called Cops On Salvation Army Bell Ringers For Being Too Noisy
Blah blah blah, blah blah, blah blah blah blah.
When you start making comments worthy of something more than dismissal, you’ll get something more than dismissal. To date, you have yet to offer anything that resembles a cogent evidence based argument on any topic you’ve addressed to me. You offer a lot of opinion, but your logic and evidence is practically non-existent. You couldn’t even give a valid reason why the term Eskimo is so offensive to you other than it is imprecise.
So far on this thread you’ve given nothing more than a bunch of holier than thou horseshit about how when you tell others what to say and think its fine but yet still you claim to be an absolutist on free speech. Like you get to say whatever you like about me, but if I do the same to you, it’s suddenly “cheap and despicable”.
Can’t have it both ways.
Well. You can. If you’re comfortable being a self-contradictory hypocrite.
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