Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Free Speech…

…Isn’t free. I believe in a free intercourse of ideas but can you have a civil discussion with a person who denies your existence and uses hurtful language purposely to stir up hate?

Julia Serano has a good essay on the topic.
Free Speech and the Paradox of Tolerance
February 6, 2017

Any time activists (regardless of affiliation) protest a public speaking event, or the publication of a particular book or article, there will inevitably be claims that such actions threaten “free speech” or constitute “censorship.” Lately, these sorts of claims have been heard following the presidential-inauguration-day silencing (via punching) of white nationalist leader Richard Spencer while he was being interviewed, and after protesters attempted to force the cancellation of Brietbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos’s speaking engagements at University of Washington and UC Berkeley. Some people who take such a stance do so for purely political reasons — they share Spencer’s and Yiannopoulos’s views, and invoke “free speech” to make their ideologies appear unassailable. Many others who do not share these views may instead adhere to free speech absolutism, and their reasoning might be summarized as follows:
1) The First Amendment to the Constitution (or analogous statutes in other countries) ensures our right to “freedom of speech.”
2) Therefore, even if we detest Spencer’s and Yiannopoulos’s extreme racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic beliefs, we must nevertheless defend their right to freely express them.
3) Any attempt to suppress or silence Spencer or Yiannopoulos (or their views) is essentially an attack on freedom of speech itself. And once we start down that slippery slope, it is only a matter of time before we find that our own freedom of speech is in jeopardy as well.
While the free speech absolutist position may sound compelling on the surface — indeed, it is what most of us were taught in school, and what most intellectuals espouse — the reality is not nearly so clear-cut. For instance, the courts have ruled that false statements of fact, defamation, obscenity, fighting words, and incitement (e.g., shouting “fire” in a crowded theater) do not qualify as protected speech. There are also occasions where our right to free speech bumps up against (and therefore, may be restricted by) other rights (e.g., privacy) and laws (e.g., copyright protection).
Being trans I have developed thick skin, I realize that some people don’t like us and they are within their rights to say it, but when they use demeaning and derogatory language they crossed the line. They are using their “free speech” rights to inflame others to violence against us.

She now goes in to the politics of free speech…
While it is important to keep these well-established limitations on free speech in mind, what I really want to focus on in this essay — especially given the steep rise in openly expressed white nationalist rhetoric over the last year — is the paradox of free speech. Here is what I mean: Spencer has used his right to free speech to call for “peaceful ethnic cleansing” — presumably this entails scaring people into fleeing and/or using the legal system to forcibly purge all people of color and indigenous peoples from the United States. Wouldn’t that be tantamount to silencing these groups, thereby violating their freedom of speech (not to mention countless other rights)? Or take what happened to actor/comedian Leslie Jones last summer: She was forced to leave the social media platform Twitter and had to shut down her personal website after Yiannopoulos incited a fierce campaign of doxxing and harassment against her. In other words, he used his free speech to suppress her free speech. (And for the record, he has done this to many other people.)
That is what dictators do, shut down the opposition with intimidation, so what is the difference between us when try to shut them down?
Years later, thanks to the invention of Internet search engines, I discovered that the line of reasoning that I had forwarded had been previously (and more eloquently) expressed by someone who had considered this problem far longer and in more depth than most of the rest of us have. In The Open Society and Its Enemies, philosopher Karl Popper described this as “the paradox of tolerance.” Here is how he put it:

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be most unwise. But we should claim the right even to suppress them, for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to anything as deceptive as rational argument, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, exactly as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping; or as we should consider incitement to the revival of the slave trade.
The difference between us and them is that they are attacking us and we are defending ourselves. When someone calls you a pervert, a pedophile, and other lies you have a right to opposes them and their lies.

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