Fighting Words Links

Fenster writes:

The Garland Texas shoot out has spurred another round of speechifying on free speech, much of it of the yes but variety.  I don’t like a lot of it since while I am not a free speech absolutist I come darn close and I figure it is wise to be vigilant, and suspicious, when people step up their yes butting rhetoric.

I can’t object overly to people grousing about the motivations of the group that held the event.  It’s free speech to not like what they are up to.  It’s free speech, too, to advocate legal (most likely constitutional) changes to make us more like the rest of the world, which some commentators would like to do.

But there is the underlying problem of the “reasonable man” concept that in the end almost all law is premised on.  Culture trumps law as it does politics and most other things, and if the culture shifts massively away from traditional notions of free speech, one way or another the law will move with that change.  So it is wise to keep a close eye on the debate for signs that values are shifting in ways that will prove capable of undermining what we consider to be settled law.

And we do seem to have a rough legal consensus on concepts like “fighting words”.  Since the Texas shooting we have seen another round of arguments that the event itself was a provocation–was designed as a provocation–and as such may cross the “fighting words” boundary.  That sounds good if you are inclined to believe it–but is it a legally sound argument?

I am not a lawyer but I don’t think it is a legally sound argument.  Here is one credible legal analysis, from FIRE.  Here is David Bernstein at The Volokh Conspiracy.  And here is Eugene Volokh.

The concept of “fighting words”, introduced in a Supreme Court case in the 1940s has been progressively (!) whittled down over the years, to the point where Nadine Strossen says it is essentially meaningless.  As the FIRE article points out, in a more recent Supreme Court case that whittled at the idea “(t)he majority held that fighting words were only ‘those personally abusive epithets which, when addressed to the ordinary citizen, are, as a matter of common knowledge, inherently likely to provoke violent reaction.'”

A cartoon show, even one designed to inflame, does not make the cut IMHO.  More the better, too.

Still and all, you’ll note even in the whittling language above that inevitable reliance on the reasonable man–the “ordinary citizen” who would conclude an action is likely to provoke a violent reaction “as a matter of common knowledge.”  Beware those  tendencies.

We tend to think of the left as giving in nowadays to the siren’s song of throttling speech, and it has tended to be the right that has seemed to take up the cause.  Interesting since as Razib has pointed out, the general impulse in favor of unfettered speech is positively correlated with education and political liberalism of the contemporary variety.

About Fenster

Gainfully employed for thirty years, including as one of those high paid college administrators faculty complain about. Earned Ph.D. late in life and converted to the faculty side. Those damn administrators are ruining everything.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Fighting Words Links

  1. slumlord. says:

    Fenster, I thought it would be important to put up this little gem from Razib’s article;

    But it is interesting that the position where you won’t allow a racist to speak but you will allow a Muslim cleric to speak gets more frequent among liberals and the very intelligent. This, I believe, explains some of the rumblings and equivocation about free speech absolutism. These are a minority, but they are vocal. In contrast, though there are hardcore civil libertarians on the Right, it is almost certainly true that many conservatives who support the right to blaspheme Islam are less willing to stand up for the right to blaspheme the flag of the United States

    Ahem.

    What we’re seeing here is something more complex. Firstly, the link between rationality and intelligence is only moderately correlated. Liberal and Conservative inconsistencies on the subject stem more from intuitivist positions on the subject rather than rationally principled positions. Our “high IQ types” are just as intolerant of “hate speech” as are the Rightie cavemen. So appeals to freedom of speech as something high-IQ people would allow are specious at best.

    Secondly, the courts have totally ignored the other dimension of the “fighting words argument”, i.e the “sensitivity to injury” which is just another name for “tolerance”. Tolerance means with putting up with shit that you don’t like and there are lots of people out there, both right and left, that claim injury at the slightest percieved offense. Everything is a “fighting word” when you’re a delicate wallflower fighting against sexism, racism, etc,. and all speech contrary to your percieved world view becomes offensive. Freedom of speech requires a tolerant society some of the heat needs to be put on people whose “delicacy” shuts down speech entirely. This is a far more serious threat to intellectual liberty than any act of burning of the flag.

    Thirdly, though I’m no fan of Islam, I’m with the towel-heads on this one. Blasphemy is a sort of unintelligible crime to those who have no faith but to deliberately mock a religious principle that many people are prepared to die for does not, in my opinion, fall under free speech protection. There is a difference between legitimately debating an idea and desecrating it. I’m all for, debating any religion, even my own, respectfully,i.e with due consideration of other peoples feelings on the matterbut there is no evidence here that any consideration of the feelings of others was taken into account. Furthermore, the intent here seems to have been to deliberately insult

    Fourthly, Civilised behaviour implies consideration of others. American “Rights-speak” seems to particularly ignore this common good dimension Therefore any social right must come with some constraints. The difficulty is in the balance. People want a peaceable society but insist upon throwing invective and abuse at each other (under the free speech protections) and wonder why the hell people don’t get along. Free speech, therefore comes with some constraints as with regard to the modes of expression (which should be limited for common good reasons) but without constraint on the expression of ideas. People have been criticising Islam for years, respectfully without any terrorist act ensuring. Banning “shitting on the flag” or “public competitions in blasphemy” does not constrain the liberty of ideas.

    Fifthly, common good dimensions assume far more importance in multicultural societies, where there is less room for movement without offending someone. Your modes of expression become far more limited.

    Like

    • JV says:

      “Blasphemy is a sort of unintelligible crime to those who have no faith but to deliberately mock a religious principle that many people are prepared to die for does not, in my opinion, fall under free speech protection.”

      The trouble with this is, not everyone is in agreement on what is blasphemous or not, even within a religion. Is a smart satirical take on religion like The Book of Mormon blasphemous? Some people think so. Would a sizable chunk of Muslims believe a similar musical about Islam to be blasphemous? You bet. This makes it difficult to go half way on something like freedom of speech.

      Like

      • slumlord. says:

        The trouble with this is, not everyone is in agreement on what is blasphemous or not,

        Hence, my last point. Your scope for modal expression is limited where everyone has a different opinion as to what considers blasphemy but your going to have serious problems, practically, when two groups have a widely varying opinion with regard to it. Monocultures or limited but similar multicultures bypass this problem to a large degree.

        Furthermore shutting down the play is, in my opinion, not against the principal of freedom of speech and may be shut down on purely pragmatic grounds. The discussion on the merits or not, of Islam or the book of Mormon are in no way hampered by limiting the artistic expression of ideas.

        Like

      • JV says:

        Sure, it’s not against the principles of free speech as long as it’s not the government shutting the play down. But it’s not a ringing endorsement of free speech either. With multiculturalism (the literal kind, as in, lots of people of different backgrounds living together) comes a greater need for acceptance and a thick skin, not more limitations on free speech, in my opinion. It will be a bumpy ride for awhile, but I have confidence in the continuing power of American pop culture to erode centuries old traditions, ha. I guess I’m only half joking here.

        Like

  2. Fake Herzog says:

    Slumped couldn’t be more wrong — the ability to mock, denigrate, and use satire are essential to free speech and the common good. The proper response to something like the awful “Piss Christ” is to make sure the artist receives no government support for his blasphemy and criticize the work as the junk it rightfully is (I’m hard-core Catholic.)
    Meanwhile, Fenster, I think you’ll like this piece:
    http://thefederalist.com/2015/05/04/everything-before-the-but-is-bs/

    Like

  3. Fake Herzog says:

    Sorry about that — for some reason my Kindle turned Slumlord into “Slumped”; auto-correct is not my friend.

    Like

  4. jjbees says:

    All speech is free speech or none of it is.

    This is a fact of nature. In the same way a stupid clause about interstate commerce, over hundreds of years became a tool of the federal government to regulate everything, so will ANY regulation of free speech.

    I should be able to say Muhammed is a bastard and Islam is for fools, in my own country, and not be killed for it by a Muslim. That my “countrymen” would rather stand up for some foreigner welfare rat over me is just further proof that the USA is a place to do business, not a country. The melting pot salad bowl concept is being proven wrong more every day.

    Freedom of speech is our FIRST PRINCIPLE. It is our raison d’être. Surrender it, fools.

    Like

  5. amac78 says:

    @Slumlord

    True-believing Catholics and Evangelicals took great offense at Piss Christ, and faithful LDS took great offense at the Book of Mormon. Other recently-founded religions aren’t renowned for their tolerance of differing viewpoints, to judge by the passionate commentaries on Creationism, AGW, Sexism, Racism, and other hot topics du jour.

    In the current discourse, Muslim voices just add to the chorus, insisting that they and they alone have their various insights about universal truths and absolute righteousness. Ho hum.

    What distinguishes Islam — Sunni Salafism in particular — is their insistence that kaffir and believers alike must adhere to Islamic norms. Defy these customs, and spend the rest of your life wondering about a bullet in the back or a knife to your throat.

    Hence Fenster’s qualms about the “reasonable man” standard — many and perhaps most Islamic leaders seem to view the use of intimidation to re-set the Overton Window as a feature, not a bug.

    A glance at the history of Christianity, Mormonism, etc. will teach that Islam is by no means alone in this impulse. Muslims happen to be at center stage at the moment, thanks to their theology of worldly triumph, combined with Western elites’ embrace of the Diversity cult.

    Like

    • slumlord. says:

      The issue here is not about the exchange of ideas or opinions but the mode of their expression. Limiting the mode of expression does not limit the exchange of ideas. Being “diplomatic” in many ways is a better means of communication than outright coarseness.

      many and perhaps most Islamic leaders seem to view the use of intimidation to re-set the Overton Window as a feature, not a bug.

      Agree. That’s why serious questions need to be asked about whether Islam, and other cultures, are compatible with Western ideas about societal imperatives. I don’t think many of them are.

      A glance at the history of Christianity, Mormonism, etc. will teach that Islam is by no means alone in this impulse. Muslims happen to be at center stage at the moment

      Correct. The prevalence of this impulse throughout human history shows that it is intuitive/integral to human nature and high IQ does not protect one from such urges. Tolerance, is what is counter intuitive but being counter intuitive does not mean it ignores reality.

      Piss Christ was a vile piece of blasphemous art designed to deliberately offend but it is in the tradition of militant atheism. Putting up with shit like this is part of the price you have to pay of living in a tolerant society. However, what idea did it actually forward? What contribution to the “marketplace of ideas” did it give? Buggered if I know. One can debate its artistic merits but it seemed to me that the sole purpose of this work was to offend. The purpose here was to disturb the peace.

      Civilisation implies a consideration of others and a “free speech” which ignores this dimension may well and truly be free but it is also barbarous. It’s the slouch to Gomorrah

      Like

  6. Fenster says:

    Slumlord: I get your point that in the view of some researchers intelligence does not equate with rationality. As I understand the article in the link you provided, this concept is built on Kahneman’s notion of thinking fast (intuition) versus thinking slow (reflection/analysis) and that intelligence tests may not do a good enough job of isolating the latter. OK, got that point.

    But then you go on to argue that “(o)ur ‘high IQ types’ are just as intolerant of ‘hate speech’ as are the Rightie cavemen.” But doesn’t that miss the point of the distinction you just made? Seems to me Razib was specifically saying that free speech support appears positively equated with intelligence, not rationality. So while I can see an argument that the support for free speech among the highly intelligent may not be rational in the Kahneman System 2 sense (in fact I am sure this idea has a lot of truth to it), it doesn’t seem to follow that “’ high IQ types’ are just as intolerant of ‘hate speech’ as are the Rightie cavemen.”

    I am also not sure what you mean when you say that the courts have “ignored the other dimension of the ‘fighting words argument’, i.e the ‘sensitivity to injury’ “. At least as I understand it, if the courts have “ignored” it, it is because sensitivity to injury is not really relevant as a standard. I agree that this half-baked notion is now deeply embedded in the public discourse, especially in academia, but I hadn’t thought it was a legal concept worth discussing when considering fighting words. So if what you are saying is the the courts haven’t had much truck with sensitivity, then I agree with you. If you are saying sensitivity is a real legal threshold to contend with, one that the courts are ignoring, then I don’t think I do. At least for the moment at any rate. These things can change, and that’s the danger.

    Also: I respect but strongly disagree with your notion that deliberate insults (to religion at least) should not be protected. But you seem to go further, and to state that mocking a religious principle “does not, in my opinion, fall under free speech protection.” That’s reads like a legal judgment not an opinion. While I reckon neither of us are attorneys, I just don’t read the development of the law in this area as supporting a conclusion that no protections exist for such mocking at present. I think they do.

    Last, you and others addressed the overlay of this issue with a culture that is inherently multi in nature. Yes–too much multi in any culture can undermine the rule of law, or at least turn up pressure to change the law to accommodate multiple perspectives relative to what is considered appropriate and what not. If law is premised on rough cultural consensus (on what, for instance, a reasonable man considers reasonable), then more and more diversity will make it harder and harder to find common ground in the interpretation and enforcement of laws in culturally conditioned circumstances. That’s just the one of the prices we pay for whatever benefits diversity creates (introduction of new and possibly beneficial cultural beliefs, low labor costs, nice restaurants–you decide!)

    JV argues that with greater diversity comes the need for thicker skin. Just so. But that is easier said than done. The underlying issue is a predicament–i.e. not easily resolvable. Yes, thicker skin is called for but the more things drift apart the greater the risk that the center simply cannot hold. Which implies . . . what exactly? JV says thicker skin and Slumlord says more or less the opposite: that to keep the peace multicultural societies will need to limit “modes of expression” that may offend. I can see a kind of logic to both. But since I am probably more intelligent than I am rational, I am going with my instincts here: free speech.

    Like

    • amac78 says:

      > Yes, thicker skin is called for…

      Well, that’s the crux, isn’t it? Devout Muslims agree (when it comes to others) and vehemently disagree (when it’s the thickness of their hides under discussion). “Free speech, but…” doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground. More like, “OK, you folks prone to violent reactions can play a larger role in setting the bounds of acceptable discourse.”

      Like

    • slumlord. says:

      Fenster, thank you for your considered response.

      With all due respect, I think you’ve missed the distinction between rationality and intelligence. From Razib’s article.

      But it is interesting that the position where you won’t allow a racist to speak but you will allow a Muslim cleric to speak gets more frequent among liberals and the very intelligent.

      Why the selectivity amongst the intelligent free speech advocates. Why do they allow a Muslim cleric to speak but won’t allow a racist? If you believe in free speech then shouldn’t everyone be allowed to speak? Or, to semi-quote Orwell: Is some free speech more equal than others? Do you see what I’m getting at here?

      What Razib shows is that amongst the intelligent their notion of free speech is rather selective and there is a disconnection between what they actually believe and actually practice. it also explains why Christian pizza store owners are pilloried in the community for not serving hypothetical gay weddings whilst Muslim bakeries are ignored for doing the same thing. Relying on intuitive intelligence to protect liberties is a false hope.

      Yes, thicker skin is called for but the more things drift apart the greater the risk that the center simply cannot hold.

      Government, despite lofty foundational principles, is in the end, a pragmatic art. Government in defiance of human nature ultimately fails, and with regard to these matters the question is, how much thick skin do people actually have? Or do you have to coerce them into having thicker skin with a police state enforcing apparatus? Piss enough people off and they start to take matters into their own hands. See where this goes?

      It’s one of the reasons why monocultures tend to be peaceable societies since everyone is on the same page and government doesn’t have to push too many people against the grain. Diversity does have its benefits but I don’t want to trade my free speech for the easy availability of a kebab.

      How do you reconcile different cultures occupying the same political and geographic space when each culture has widely disparate ideas about what constitutes the right way to live? To keep the peace, your scope of action is going to be limited since there are more factors you have to take into consideration. Telling people to suck it up doesn’t always work.

      At least as I understand it, if the courts have “ignored” it, it is because sensitivity to injury is not really relevant as a standard.

      Real life is about dealing with people as they are, not as they are meant to be. This whole, “I should be able to say whatever I like without any consequence” is a bit like the feminist argument that I should be able to wear whatever I like and not expect to be molested. Yeah, it’s a great idea in theory but not in real life and displays a naivety (even amongst the intelligent) that I find hard to fathom. People’s feelings matter. The fact that the courts have not taken this adequately into account simply means a divergence of legal practice from reality.

      Like

      • Fake Herzog says:

        Oh, they were under no illusions that they wouldn’t be molested in Texas. Hence the armed guards who did their jobs. Would it be nice to have no armed guards? Indeed it would, which brings us back to multiculturalism.
        I say America needs some diversity, but not Islam as part of our mix. My friends had some great proposals awhile back regarding how we could begin the process of disinviting Islam:
        http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2010/12/disinviting_islam_part_ii_prop.html

        Like

      • Fenster says:

        OK I’ll take the bait. I appreciate your considered response as well and here is my response to that.

        Yes, I get the point you are making about Razib’s article. True, he does point out that as intelligence and liberalism rise there is a tendency to be inconsistent in applying the free speech rule to different speakers–more likely to let a Muslim speak and less likely to let a racist speak. True it is, then, that with respect to this small (and mostly suggestive) sample that inconsistency increases under these conditions. But this inconsistency is nestled into two larger points made by Razib. First, as regards the overall tendency:

        “I was pretty shocked how nearly monotonic the tendency for the more intelligent (Wordsum is the score on a 0 to 10 vocab test which has a 0.71 correlation with general intelligence) to be more supportive of free speech is. Note that extreme liberals are more supportive of free speech even for racists than conservatives.”

        But even with respect to next question of consistency:

        “The consistent free speech position gets stronger as you get more liberal, and, as you get more intelligent.”

        So while yes liberals/intelligents are inconsistent, they are less inconsistent in free speech application, and more generally supportive of the concept, than the less liberal and intelligent. According to this small sample.

        Further, I don’t get the point you are making regarding rationality and intelligence relative to this situation. I read the Stanovich & West article to say that intelligent people fall victim to cognitive errors quite easily and that they do not always think, to use a tricky but needed word, “rationally”. That is, they do not always think demonstrably on a System 2 basis, relying on analysis and reflection more than intuition.

        But I don’t see you applying this notion in your critique. You seem to be saying that the inconsistency on the part of liberals/intelligents regarding racist and Muslim speakers is evidence of a lack of rationality. What does this have to be the case? Indeed, a foolish consistency is a hobgoblin of little minds. Those who consider free speech to be an ideal absolute will be compelled to be consistent. Those who are willing to see through the ideals, and to see the world clearly (and pragmatically) as it truly is might well opt for an inconsistent position. The ideal cart should not be placed before the real horse.

        That said, I will go on to agree with you fully about government’s deep connection to pragmatism. I will go further, even. I think the world is not turtles all the way down but pragmatism all the way down. I guess that makes me . . . a pragmatist. So I completely agree with you that in the end the best way to judge free speech–or anything else–is on the basis of effect. Again, the ideal cart should not be placed before the real horse.

        Where I disagree with you–I think–is in your willingness to chuck free speech principles on the seemingly pragmatic grounds that if we allow speech that offends we will provoke a response we don’t like. Now here we have a *real* debate, one that cannot be resolved on the basis of reliance on abstract principles but only on pragmatic grounds.

        My view: yes it could be the case that we will do a cost benefit of free speech after a wave of terrorist attacks and conclude it’s just not worth it. Sometimes a pragmatic reckoning of one’s situation leads to this kind of suboptimal outcome. I just don’t think we are in that situation. Islam is not our enemy but a particularly virulent strain of it is. Submitting to its demands for fear of attack may be rational, but a rational case can also be made that opposition to that submission, at home and abroad, is a necessity for the protection of our way of life.

        This is a debate that can be attempted on rational grounds. And I endorse that style of thinking, and debate. Alas, it is not that simple. Rationality has its limits when living life forward, under conditions of uncertainly. In fact, one of the reasons we have intuitions and ideals is that they provide apparent light for moving forward in the darkness. Who knows whether detente (with Cuba, with the Soviet Union, with Islamists) is better than standing firm? Our answers to such uncertain questions can always be attempted on rational grounds but the limits of our knowledge and abilities will mean we will always end up relying on our intuitions and ideals as well. That’s why I ended my last response with this sentence:

        “But since I am probably more intelligent than I am rational, I am going with my instincts here: free speech.”

        In other words, I have tried to think rationally about the situation, and end up more or less in favor of free speech just on pragmatic grounds. But I am aware that my biases are also in there big time.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. slumlord. says:

    Sorry for the late reply.

    You seem to be saying that the inconsistency on the part of liberals/intelligents regarding racist and Muslim speakers is evidence of a lack of rationality. What does this have to be the case? Indeed, a foolish consistency is a hobgoblin of little minds.

    The hobgoblins really matter here. Inconsistency in the application of the principle of free speech results in censored areas of debate and you’ve suddenly undercut the principle and restricted the marketplace of ideas. By not adhering to “foolish consistency” your advocating an inconsistent free speech that is more free for some people rather than others. Paging Orwell. You’ve undercut your own argument.

    What’s more the problem with this approach is that the people who advocate it are fully convinced that they are open to honest debate and can’t recognise the contradictions in their positions. It’s classic Myside bias, and Fenster, you’ve just shown a perfect example of it. Furthermore, you’re intelligent and have high verbal ability, all the things that Razib says should protect you from this type of error.

    In this very readable paper by Stanovich, he shows that verbal ability and intelligence have virtually zero correlation with protection from myside bias. The only time that a link is seen is when is when people are “primed” to decouple from their intuitive intelligence. Being rationally committed to the principle of free speech–and consistent–is its only protection. Otherwise, no-go areas develop in the public arena despite and intuitive advocacy of the principle. Welcome to the world of Political Correctness.

    Our liberal ruling class are all about freedom of speech and vociferously committed to the principle except where they aren’t, then they come down with the earnestness of the Taliban in censoring their opponents and they don’t notice the contradiction. How much “race talk” is permitted in public space? I could go on.

    The point that modern cognitive science is showing is that rationality and intelligence is only weakly linked in real world situations and that highly rational people can be just as stupid as the trailer trash, especially when counter-intuitive positions are being contemplated.

    Now with regard to the whole “Islam-baiting” thing going on at the moment, I find the whole practice revolting. I do not care much for Islam but am cognizant that it matters a lot to them. Indeed, much of the “let’s piss off the Muslim” attitude amongst some people reminds for of those horrible Australian/American tourists that are totally disrespectful when they visit Churches and shires overseas. No respect for other people and completely self absorbed. Cloaking uncouthness under the mantle of “free speech” does not make it any less uncouth.

    I’m all for the free exchange of ideas and the whole point of free speech is to allow this to happen. Pissing people off doesn’t exactly further this process, and in fact, works in the opposite direction. Therefore modes of expression which are designed to deliberately offend are fair game for restriction in my opinion, if only to preserve the marketplace of ideas.

    A rational consideration of the subject of free speech leads to the conclusion that we also need to enforce the concept of tolerance and hypersensitivity also needs to be censured. Note, tolerance does not mean uncritical acceptance. Free speech only works in a courteous and tolerant society otherwise it generates into a brawl, and brawls aren’t necessarily the most rational of places and conducive to meaningful debate.

    Like

    • slumlord. says:

      Sorry about the italics.

      Like

    • Fenster says:

      No doubt we have lost our readers, Slumord, but hell we are not at the top of the masthead with the cocktail pictures but are down here in the hold, in the depths of the comments section. So I am willing, at the bottom of this particular hold, to keep digging. Downward!

      First, let me point out that two can play this game of pointing out myside bias. Yours? Take these two statements from your post:

      1. “Being rationally committed to the principle of free speech–and consistent–is its only protection. Otherwise, no-go areas develop in the public arena despite and intuitive advocacy of the principle.”

      2. “(M)odes of expression which are designed to deliberately offend are fair game for restriction in my opinion, if only to preserve the marketplace of ideas.”

      Yes, and we have to destroy the village in order to save it. There’s a rationale, if not a rationalization, in there for sure. But rationality? I am not so sure.

      The point is: we will all make exceptions to these seeming abstract principles. My long-winded digression into pragmatism (which in a sense I see you share, at least intermittently) was added for a reason: to point out while humans take abstract principles to have a platonic ideal-ness behind them (being built to understand them that way), they are (IMHO) human improvisations, as good as long as they last and always in need of being bent (to avoid being broken) under the pressure of events.

      You say I have fallen victim to myside bias in pointing this out:

      “By not adhering to “foolish consistency” your advocating an inconsistent free speech that is more free for some people rather than others. Paging Orwell. You’ve undercut your own argument.”

      But have I? All I was saying is that free speech, like all principles, is provisional.

      Now, no one is compelled to be a pragmatist. But I am with Holmes: “the life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.” As with law, so with the principles that undergird it.

      I am the first to admit I have myside bias. I admitted as much in the close of my last two posts. I am human, too. But the pragmatist view is, I think, at least an attempt to be rational. Indeed, rational thinking requires us to put our instinctive reactions into brackets as we crawl into a different space that may lead to different conclusions.

      Balancing System 1 and System 2 leads to a kind of doublethink, albeit one with a different character than the term in Orwell’s use. As I see it, human achievement is not based on the triumph of rationality but the wise application of all modes of thought–life is, after all, lived forward under conditions of uncertainty and rationality simply cannot be the only guide to action.

      In turn, while I agree with you about the observable double standard of PC thought, I don’t agree that all departures from the abstract principle of free speech are on the face of it devoid of rationality. Yes, there are the usual constraints necessary for public order–no crying fire in a crowded theater and so forth. And there are also your (possibly) well thought through restrictions on hate speech in the name of allowing for orderly and civil discussion. But I can envision rational restrictions that are even more suggestive of a double standard.

      Germany after the war clamped down hard (still does in fact) on promotion of the Nazi ideology. In my mind, it was perfectly correct to do so. The life of the law is experience, even if that leads us to inconsistencies from time to time. The inevitable doublethink of System 1 and System 2 can and will lead to double standards, and possibly welcome ones.

      OK, just a few more comments, sorry.

      First, let me again say you are right to pile on the liberal media for double standards that I, for one, do not find useful or wise. But just to remind you again of the Razib article that started this dust-up: yes, liberals/intelligents are inconsistent and yes, elites are likely to play their own game somewhat apart from what the data Razib looked at suggested. But if the data mean anything, it is also quite likely the case that those less liberal and those less educated are less in favor of free speech and less consistent in its application. So sure pile on the press for failing to talk about race. But that does not necessarily mean that the underlying problem is one that is owned by liberalism. At least if the data are any good.

      Second, I do take very seriously your final argument about the need for civility. I took to blogging for that reason. 2Blowhards, where I first blogged, was a model of civility, even as bloggers and commenters freely disagreed with one another. That is to be treasured, and if I were convinced curtailing free speech in the law advanced civility, I would be tempted to back such restrictions. I may be persuaded of that yet, despite the snarky comment I made above about destroying the village in order to save it.

      And yet. . . . I am not really persuaded. IMHO you go much too far in your contention that “a rational consideration of the subject of free speech leads to the conclusion that we also need to enforce the concept of tolerance and hypersensitivity also needs to be censured.” How you can draw such a far-ranging conclusion on ostensibly rational grounds escapes me. It seems to me that there’s a ton of mysidism and ideology in that statement. Rationality cannot be a perfect guide for complex issues and for the uncertainties of the future. We need as much rationality as possible but we will forever need to be persuaded, with the final leap including a lot of belief, instinct and intuition.

      How does my own combination of rationality and belief sort this out? I think that the broadest possible conception of free speech has helped, not undermined, the cause of civility over the centuries. And that having to find recourse in the law to enforce civility marks a kind of failure of civil society itself. Perhaps we have gotten so multicultural now that civil society will need to give way to legal contraptions that wall people off into safe groups. I hate to think that is the case, but if it is so (and if nothing can be done about it–another question) I will eventually come round to your side, and as I leave the house of civil society, I will shut the light off and close the door behind me with great regret.

      Like

      • amac78 says:

        > No doubt we have lost our readers
        Not all. Thanks for the (2blowhards-style) back & forth.

        Like

  8. slumlord. says:

    Sorry Fenster, have been busy landscaping.

    As I see it, human achievement is not based on the triumph of rationality but the wise application of all modes of thought–life is, after all, lived forward under conditions of uncertainty and rationality simply cannot be the only guide to action

    Whoa, there’s a lot there. It’s not rational to advocate a free speech principle without reference to human nature (System 1) and hence any free speech position which ignores this dimension is pseudo-rational at least. The irrational people in this instance are those advocating free speech without any concern for feelings of other people. i.e. free speech should allows us to deliberately offend the Muslims, Mormons etc. There is nothing intuitive about this insight.

    You mention Germany. Scholarship into the Nazi period is in no way censored there, despite restrictions on the advocacy on Nazism. On the other hand, in the U.S., what happened to Shockley or Crick? Their professional careers were destroyed once they ventured into taboo space.
    Paradoxically, there appears to be more freedom for free speech in Germany, with its sensible restrictions, than in the U.S., with its constitutional guarantees.

    How you can draw such a far-ranging conclusion on ostensibly rational grounds escapes me. It seems to me that there’s a ton of mysidism and ideology in that statement.

    No there isn’t. If likeliness to offend becomes a legitimate ground for restricting speech (fighting words) then the limiting parameter becomes the sensitivity to offense. Hypersensitivity shuts down speech entirely through this mechanism. The whole PC thing is based around the principle of illegitimacy of offensiveness and of the righteousness of shutting down “hate speech”. Tolerance means putting up with stuff that you don’t like and hypersensitivity is its opposite. Certain groups like Muslims, Feminists, Gays, etc. are very, very hypersensitive. They honour free speech and tolerance in their breach.

    The whole point about free speech is that it provides a medium whereby ideas and facts can be debated and developed without restriction. The idea being that the truth wins out. It is meant to protect primarily the advocacy of an idea or opinions against the censure generated by offence, not the right to offend primarily. Shitting on the flag, Allah cartoon competitions are acts of contempt, not advocacy. No protection in my opinion.

    Are some Righties just as intolerant as Lefties, you betcha. But they tend to be intuitive Righties rather than rational ones. Their rightness is all “belly-feel”. That’s why rationality matters.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. fenster says:

    I was just coming out of my corner and I heard the bell ring. You have the last word. Match over for the moment. Thanks much.

    Like

  10. Pingback: Fenster Stands and Delivers | Uncouth Reflections

  11. Pingback: More on Free Speech | Uncouth Reflections

  12. Pingback: Squirrel! | Uncouth Reflections

  13. Pingback: We Need More Free Speech, for More Students, for More Science High! | Uncouth Reflections

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s