Analysis: The Long Arm Of China And Free Speech

More evidence as if we did not know:

Doing business in China comes with major strings attached. This week it became evident that a few provocative words can cause those strings to tighten.

A single tweet by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong unleashed massive retaliation from China that put the team and the entire NBA on notice. China’s state TV cut off preseason games and ominously announced it would “immediately investigate all co-operation and exchanges involving the NBA.” Tencent, a major Chinese social media company with a reported $1.5 billion streaming deal with the NBA, said it will no longer stream Rockets games, even though the team is immensely popular in China.

China’s message to foreign companies and their employees is clear: Watch what you say on matters sensitive to our country if you want to do business here. This hardball response to Morey and the NBA fits a pattern of threats and reprisals against foreign organizations wading (even unintentionally) into the country’s sensitive internal politics.

Facing boycott threats this summer, Western fashion brands apologized for T-shirts that suggested that Taiwan and Hong Kong were independent countries rather than territories that are part of China. It isn’t just top executives who have paid a price for speech that offends China’s sensibilities. Last year, a Marriott employee earning $14 an hour used a company account to like a post on Twitter from a Tibetan separatist group. A Chinese tourism organization demanded an apology and urged Marriott to “seriously deal with the people responsible.” The employee was fired. When China threatens a foreign business, compliance typically prevails over resistance.

China’s efforts to impose speech controls on international companies and their workers have largely succeeded. Morey deleted his tweet. The NBA put out a statement saying the tweet doesn’t represent NBA or the Rockets, which led to an uproar in the U.S. and another statement from the NBA.

The league’s initial response provoked a torrent of criticism in the United States; in a rare show of unity, leading Democrats and Republicans rebuked the NBA for caving to China and failing to stand up for Morey’s free speech rights.

American companies have grudgingly accepted all kinds of Chinese rules for years. They may bristle about how they are forced to transfer technology in exchange for access to China’s market and about Chinese cyber spies who threaten their intellectual property. But the potential rewards — all those consumers, a middle class that’s expected to reach 550 million by 2022 — are just too great to spurn. And that means playing by China’s rules.

One notable recent exception: South Park, the sardonic, boundary busting Comedy Central cartoon. Last week’s episode, “Band in China,” appeared to offend authorities so much that all traces of the show — episodes, clips, discussion groups and social media posts — vanished from major platforms in China.

South Park‘s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, seized on the moment to issue a fake apology mocking China’s President Xi Jinping and the NBA:

OFFICIAL APOLOGY TO CHINA FROM TREY PARKER AND MATT STONE.

“Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. We too love money more than freedom and democracy. Xi doesn’t look just like Winnie the Pooh at all. Tune into our 300th episode Wednesday at 10! Long live the Great Communist Party of China! May this autumn’s sorghum harvest be bountiful! We good now China?”

In fairness to the NBA, South Park thrives on political agitation. The basketball league has painstakingly built a thriving connection with hundreds of millions of Chinese fans.

The NBA has notably supported players and coaches who express their political views on subjects ranging from police violence to guns and President Trump. But Daryl Morey’s seven-word tweet “Fight For Freedom Stand With Hong Kong” puts the league’s progressive image to its sternest test. On Tuesday, the well-regarded NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sought to clarify the league’s position, saying it would “protect its employees’ freedom of speech,” while at the same time apologizing to the league’s fans in China.

The apology failed to defuse the league’s crisis. China’s state-run television network said it was “strongly dissatisfied” with Silver’s remarks. And it bluntly declared that any speech challenging China’s “social stability” doesn’t fall within the realm of freedom of speech.

The Chinese message is loud and clear: Your free speech ends at the water’s edge.

Source: Analysis: The Long Arm Of China And Free Speech

If There Is a Free-Speech ‘Crisis’ on Campus, PEN America Says, Lawmakers Are Making It Worse

Good balanced commentary:

Free speech is being tested on college campuses by rising numbers of hate crimes and deepening racial tensions, according to a report released today by PEN America, a human-rights association of writers and editors. But the Trump administration’s warnings of a “crisis” overstate the problem, it says, and risk further polarizing colleges.

The 100-page report, “Chasm in the Classroom: Campus Free Speech in a Divided America,” finds that threats to speech are coming from both the right and the left. Lawmakers at state and federal levels are, in many cases, making the problem worse by raising “politicized and one-sided alarms over the state of free speech” on campuses, it says.

The association examined 100 speech-related controversies that have broken out in recent years. Often, the authors found, the battles reflected tensions between free speech and the goals of equality and inclusion.

The campus confrontations grabbed the biggest headlines in 2017, “but the intermittent earthquakes of the past few years have been replaced by a near constant — if less sensational — rumble” as colleges work to fend crises off before they erupt, the report says.

Its release comes less than two weeks after President Trump’s executive order threatening to cut off federal research money to colleges that fail to uphold free speech.

Over the weekend, a lawyer with the Department of Justice, speaking at a Harvard Law School symposium, doubled down on that threat.

Jesse Panuccio, principal deputy associate attorney general, warned of a “free-speech crisis” on college campuses, citing specific examples of speech codes, free-speech zones, and “heckler’s vetoes” that he considers First Amendment violations.

“The very core of university life — open debate among scholars and students — is under attack,” he concluded.

The Trump administration has filed statements of interest in five free-speech-related lawsuits, against the University of California at Berkeley, Los Angeles Pierce College, Georgia Gwinnett College, the University of Michigan, and the University of Iowa. Panuccio warned that more challenges would be coming.

Efforts to legislate free-speech protection represent to many an unwelcome intrusion into colleges’ affairs. But campuses aren’t the only places where these battles are being waged.

“Far from taking place in isolation behind ivy-covered walls, today’s campus free-speech controversies are inextricable from the social and political upheaval of this historical moment,” PEN America’s chief executive officer, Suzanne Nossel, said in a statement accompanying the report.

“While we have never thought that there was a crisis per se when it comes to campus speech, there are legitimate concerns about ideas and viewpoints that have become hard to voice amid a climate of intense ideological rancor,” she wrote. “While President Trump has spotlighted threats to speech emanating from the left, our analysis reveals that intolerance of opposing views cuts across the political spectrum.”

The national debate over free speech on campus has become, in the Trump era, “a deeply partisan feud, with each side trying to catch the other in transgressive acts that can be amplified to rile up the faithful,” the report says.

One such skirmish broke out last week, when safety concerns prompted Beloit College to cancel a lecture by Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, a private security company whose employees were implicated in the 2007 deaths of Iraqi civilians.

The event, hosted by the campus chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative student group, was called off after protesters pounded on drums and piled chairs onto the stage where Prince was to speak.

Prince, who is the brother of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, suggested to the Beloit Daily News that a lawsuit may be coming. “It’s sad the president and the administration of this college lacked the moral courage to enforce free speech and to defend free speech,” he said. “Fortunately, President Trump will defend free speech, and I think the college will be hearing from the court soon on this, because enough is enough.”

Beloit released a statement saying that it had acted out of concern for student safety, and that the protesters’ actions jeopardized the college’s commitment to open dialogue. “Tonight’s events fell unacceptably short of this core principle, and we condemn the behavior of those who disrupted the event,” it said. “The college will begin an investigation immediately.”

The college also posted an explanation of why it had allowed Prince to speak but then canceled the lecture.

Nossel said it was unfortunate that Beloit couldn’t find a way to allow Prince to talk by changing the venue or finding some other nonviolent way to keep protesters from interfering. “While students were absolutely within their rights to object to Prince and his message, they should have done so without impairing his free-speech rights and those of those who chose to listen to him,” she wrote in an email to The Chronicle.

Free Speech as ‘the Bedrock’

PEN America expressed worry about a tendency among some students to view free-speech protections as a cover for bigotry. Given the natural outrage some feel when a white supremacist or someone they consider a war criminal is allowed to speak on campus, the group says, it is important to ensure that students appreciate the importance of free speech “as the bedrock of an open, democratic, and equitable society.”

Leading up to the report’s release, the researchers invited groups of students, faculty members, administrators, and others for face-to-face discussions on four campuses that have been flashpoints for free-speech controversies: the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Virginia, Middlebury College, and the University of Maryland at College Park.

Among the key conclusions they came away with:

Colleges are seeing more incidents of hateful expression and intimidation.

The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that the number of hate groups nationwide grew from 917 in 2016 to 1,020 in 2018, the report notes. College administrators are struggling to respond in ways that balance the goals of free speech and inclusion.

Faculty members are the targets of outrage campaigns from both left and right, causing serious threats to academic freedom.

The Justice Department is raising politicized alarms over the state of free speech. Similar one-sided attacks are happening at the state level as lawmakers seek to legislate free-speech protections.

Even Trump has acknowledged that statements by officials of his own administration about a free-speech crisis are “overblown.”

Professional provocateurs like Milo Yiannopoulos and Richard Spencer have faded from the scene, but they’ve left an impact on the campuses they visited. Along with more-robust security measures, colleges have had to overhaul how they communicate with students before, during, and after a free-speech controversy.

The PEN America report includes updated guidelines for students, faculty members, and administrators on how to navigate campus controversies in ways that protect free speech while making diverse students feel welcome and supported.

When someone has been offended by a racist remark or sign, the immediate aftermath might not be the best time for a lecture about free speech, the group says. Administrators should condemn hate speech and reach out to those who are hurt by it. They should also make sure that the rights of both speakers and protesters are protected.

The report mentions a bridge that crosses the Mississippi River to link two sides of the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus. Every fall, students paint the panels of the pedestrian walkway to showcase their clubs. When College Republicans in 2016 wrote “Build the Wall,” the message was soon graffitied over by “Stop White Supremacy.” Protests erupted over what should be allowed as free speech or condemned as hate speech.

“The controversy over one bridge is instructive,” the report says, “because it highlights how campuses have become a proxy for national political and social conflicts writ large in which speech has taken on great significance, and in which neither side is willing to cede an inch — or a mural — to the other.”

Source: https://www.chronicle.com/article/If-There-Is-a-Free-Speech/246031?cid=wcontentlist_hp_latest

Alex Jones Was Victimized by One Oligopoly. But He Perpetuated Another

Good take on social media, free speech and Alex Jones (and others of his ilk):

This month, Twitter joined Apple, Facebook, Spotify and YouTube in banning the popular right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones from its platform. Like the other bans, Twitter’s decision was announced as a fait accompli, with opaque justifications ranging from “hate speech” to “abusive behavior.”

The seemingly arbitrary nature of these bans has raised fears from all political quarters. Alexis Madrigal, writing in The Atlantic, cited the development as proof that “these platforms have tremendous power, they have hardly begun to use it, and it’s not clear how anyone would stop them from doing so.” His sentiments were echoed by Ben Shapiro in the National Review, who expressed alarm at “social-media arbiters suddenly deciding that vague ‘hate speech’ standards ought to govern our common spaces.”

Even some on the left displayed concern. Steve Coll wrote in the New Yorker that “practices that marginalize the unconventional right will also marginalize the unconventional left,” and argued that we must defend even “awful speakers” in the interests of protecting free speech. Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union described the tech giants’ behavior as “worrisome,” and suggested the policies used to justify the bans could be “misused and abused.”

It is indeed worrying that some corporations now have the power to restrict how much influence someone can have on the marketplace of ideas. But what is more worrying, and what few people seem to be considering, is how Alex Jones was able to gain such influence in the first place. In my view, the ideological forces responsible for his rise are a greater threat to free speech than the corporate forces responsible for his “fall.” Principled defenders of free speech would therefore be unwise to rail against the former while ignoring the latter.

The reason tech giants like Twitter and Facebook are able to exert such worrying control over our speech is that they comprise an oligopoly, with no significant competitors. Such oligopolies tend to form in business due to the Matthew principle, which holds that advantage begets further advantage. If Facebook manages to get all your friends to use it, then Facebook’s chances of getting you to use it are drastically increased, because you want to be connected with your friends. This particular example of the Matthew principle is known as a “network effect.”

Crucially, network effects don’t just apply to free market economies; they also apply to the free market of ideas. Concepts that get more exposure will get more exposure. This virality can cause the arena of debate to quickly become dominated by an “oligopoly” of perspectives.

Hence, just as the free market of infotech is now dictated by the Googles and Facebooks of the world, so too has the free market of ideas come to be controlled by a few political narratives, particularly the social-justice narrative of the left and the anti-globalism narrative of the right. The social-justice left dominates among the cultural elite, including the mainstream media, the literati, the tech industry, Hollywood and academia. The anti-globalist right, meanwhile, is popular among the general public, as evidenced by the success of the U.K.’s Brexit campaign, and the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. and a host of nativist parties in Europe, such as Poland’s Law and Justice and Italy’s Five Star movement.

The story of Alex Jones brings these two strands together, because he has fueled the surge of right-wing populism in large part by leveraging the power of tech oligopolies. Far from being a “fringe” figure (as he is often portrayed), Jones is a key conduit of a popular narrative, broadcasting to over 3.6 million unique online monthly viewers, and apparently having the ear of the American president (which may help explain why baseless conspiracy theories about a “deep state” keep circulating around the White House). Jones, in short, is an ambassador for one half of an ideological oligopoly, which is just as hostile to competition as the tech oligopoly.

But how could this be? To some, the very idea of an oligopoly on ideas may seem bizarre; we are all free to believe whatever we wish. Unfortunately, our brains did not evolve to understand the world but to survive it. Reality is software that doesn’t run well on our mental hardware, unless the display resolution is minimized. We therefore seek out stories, not because they are true, but because they reduce the incomprehensible into that which is comprehensible, giving us a counterfeit of truth whose elegant simplicity makes it seem truer than actual, authentic truth.

A typical mental schematic that allows us to do this is the Karpman drama triangle, which divides people into victims, oppressors and rescuers. We have a tendency to view events using this cognitive compression algorithm because it simplifies reality into drama, offering not just clarity to the confused, but also belonging to the lonely, purpose to the aimless, battle to the bored, and scapegoats to the vindictive.

The social-justice left and anti-globalist right both fully embrace the Karpman drama triangle as a lens for looking at the world. In the social-justice narrative, minorities are the victims, the white patriarchy is the oppressor, and the social-justice activists are the rescuers. In the populist-right narrative, the silent oppressed majorities constitute the victims, the globalist elites are the oppressors, and certain maverick figures (such as Alex Jones and Donald Trump) are the rescuers.

Anyone who doesn’t neatly fit into a corner of the drama triangles will either be shoehorned in, or ignored. This simplification of reality into a dramatic struggle is what makes these narratives so hostile to competing ideas; disagreement is viewed not as a legitimate difference of opinion, but as an attempt at oppression. And when you feel you are being oppressed, you can justify the use of any tactic to fight it.

This is why we see those on the social-justice left using their influence in media, academia and the tech industry to forcefully suffocate the expression of alternative viewpoints — including by the firing of those with different opinions, or by shouting them down at universities, or by physically assaulting them.

And on the populist right, we see similar tactics of intimidation and ostracism, whether through the harassment of climate scientists, the denial of security clearance to former CIA directors who won’t toe the president’s line, or the demonization of conservative pundits who fall out of love with Donald Trump.

Alex Jones himself has been among the biggest instigators of right-wing intimidation. For years, he has concocted lies about those who don’t agree with his narrative, claiming they are agents of foreign governments, literal demons, or child molesters. He also has suggested that his followers should take up arms against the nonbelievers (which is why Twitter suspended him), and his conspiracy theories have led his followers to harass and threaten people with violence.

Unfortunately, this sometimes has led to actual violence. In 2009, Richard Poplawski, who regularly commented on Jones’ Infowars website, and cross-posted many of Jones’ articles on neo-Nazi forums, killed three police officers with an AK-47. The following year, Byron Williams, who cited Jones as an influence on his thinking, engaged in a firefight with police, injuring two. A year later, Jared Lee Loughner, who counted among his favorite documentary films the Jones-produced Zeitgeist and Loose Change, attempted to assassinate U.S. representative Gabrielle Giffords, injuring her and 12 other people, and killing six. Later that year, Oscar Ortega, having watched the Jones-produced film The Obama Deception, shot at the White House. In 2014, Jerad and Amanda Miller, both regular commenters on Jones’ Infowars site, posted anti-government videos and then went on a shooting spree, killing three before dying themselves. Two years later, Edgar Maddison Welch, convinced by the Pizzagate conspiracy theory pushed by Jones, shot up the Comet Ping Pong pizza parlor in Washington D.C.

It is difficult to determine how much influence Jones’ views had on these atrocities. However, the link between hateful Infowars-style rhetoric on Facebook and hate crime was explored by an extensive study of 3,335 attacks against refugees in Germany, where the populist right-wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) has developed a major web presence. The study found that such attacks were strongly predicted by social media use: Wherever per-person Facebook use rose to one standard deviation above the national average, attacks on refugees increased by an average of 50 percent.

Violence is the most direct and dramatic way that the social-justice left and anti-globalist right censor speech. But it is just one tactic among many — including threats, doxings, firings, harassment, mobbings and demonization. This is why the radical left and right, led by demagogues like Alex Jones, represent an even greater threat to our speech than the tech giants. They are gradually turning the free market of ideas into a kind of ongoing hostage crisis, by which people are either afraid to speak their minds, or are doomed to have their words interpreted in the worst possible way when they do so.

I don’t want to make the same mistakes as Jones, so I should emphasize that these drama triangles that are so hostile to free expression weren’t engineered by a secret cabal of ideologues or tech CEOs. They arose organically, regulated only by laws of nature such as the Matthew principle, network effects, and the public’s demand for easy answers. Sure, there are individual Facebook employees who may be interested in pushing a political agenda, but Facebook as a business is not. It seeks to do what is best for profits: making its platform as inviting to as many people as possible.

That’s not to say it is successful in this venture. Corporations are ill-equipped to police the information traffic of millions of users, which is why they frequently get things wrong (such as censoring the Declaration of Independence as hate speech). And even when they get things “right,” they usually only end up benefiting their targets — as evidenced by the fact that, in the wake of Jones’ de-platforming by the major media companies, his Infowarsapp surged up the download charts. The greatest endorsement a conspiracy theorist can receive is censorship by authority figures. It’s a golden opportunity to portray themselves as the victim in their Karpman drama triangle.

So, if we can’t rely on powerful organizations such as governments or corporations to protect our voices from mob rule, what then?

In my view, it leaves only one real option: We must be the protectors of our own free speech, and habitually speak out not just against designated “oppressors” like the tech giants, but also against designated “victims” and “rescuers,” like Alex Jones, who seek to oppress by dehumanizing others as oppressors. And we must do all this without constructing our own drama triangle of oppression, or else we’ll become part of the very problem we seek to solve.

John Stuart Mill believed that in a free market of ideas, good ideas would naturally trump bad ones. But experience has shown that this won’t happen unless the marketplace is populated by those who actively seek truth and openness. Free speech is the foundation of all other rights. It is the seed of innovation, the wheel of progress, the space to breathe. It must therefore be protected at all costs — including, at times such as these, from itself.

Source: Alex Jones Was Victimized by One Oligopoly. But He Perpetuated Another

Opinion | The Ignorant Do Not Have a Right to an Audience – The New York Times

As I am working on an article on possible guidelines for panelists and presenters on immigration, found this commentary by Bryan W. Van Norden of interest. His distinction between free speech and being given a platform is valid, and his examples compelling:

On June 17, the political commentator Ann Coulter, appearing as a guest on Fox News, asserted that crying migrant children separated from their parents are “child actors.” Does this groundless claim deserve as much airtime as, for example, a historically informed argument from Ta-Nehisi Coates that structural racism makes the American dream possible?

Jordan Peterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, has complained that men can’t “control crazy women” because men “have absolutely no respect” for someone they cannot physically fight. Does this adolescent opinion deserve as much of an audience as the nuanced thoughts of Kate Manne, a professor of philosophy at Cornell University, about the role of “himpathy” in supporting misogyny?

We may feel certain that Coulter and Peterson are wrong, but some people feel the same way about Coates and Manne. And everyone once felt certain that the Earth was the center of the solar system. Even if Coulter and Peterson are wrong, won’t we have a deeper understanding of why racism and sexism are mistaken if we have to think for ourselves about their claims? And “who’s to say” that there isn’t some small fragment of truth in what they say?

If this specious line of thought seems at all plausible to you, it is because of the influence of “On Liberty,” published in 1859 by the English philosopher John Stuart Mill. Mill’s argument for near-absolute freedom of speech is seductively simple. Any given opinion that someone expresses is either wholly true, partly true or false.

To claim that an unpopular or offensive opinion cannot be true “is to assume our own infallibility.” And if an offensive opinion is true, to limit its expression is clearly bad for society. If an opinion is partly true, we should listen to it, because “it is only by the collision of adverse opinions, that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.” And even if an opinion is false, society will benefit by examining the reasons it is false. Unless a true view is challenged, we will hold it merely “in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds.”

The problem with Mill’s argument is that he takes for granted a naïve conception of rationality that he inherited from Enlightenment thinkers like René Descartes. For such philosophers, there is one ahistorical rational method for discovering truth, and humans (properly educated) are approximately equal in their capacity for appreciating these truths. We know that “of all things, good sense is the most fairly distributed,” Descartes assures us, because “even those who are the hardest to satisfy in every other respect never desire more of it than they already have.”

Of course, Mill and Descartes disagreed fundamentally about what the one ahistorical rational method is — which is one of the reasons for doubting the Enlightenment dogma that there is such a method.

If you do have faith in a universal method of reasoning that everyone accepts, then the Millian defense of absolute free speech is sound. What harm is there in people hearing obvious falsehoods and specious argumentation if any sane and minimally educated person can see through them? The problem, though, is that humans are not rational in the way Mill assumes. I wish it were self-evident to everyone that we should not discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, but the current vice president of the United States does not agree. I wish everyone knew that it is irrational to deny the evidence that there was a mass shooting in Sandy Hook, but a syndicated radio talk show host can make a career out of arguing for the contrary.

Historically, Millian arguments have had some good practical effects. Mill followed Alexis de Tocqueville in identifying “the tyranny of the majority” as an ever-present danger in democracies. As an advocate of women’s rights and an opponent of slavery, Mill knew that many people then regarded even the discussion of these issues as offensive. He hoped that by making freedom of speech a near absolute right he could guarantee a hearing for opinions that were true but unpopular among most of his contemporaries.

However, our situation is very different from that of Mill. We are seeing the worsening of a trend that the 20th century German-American philosopher Herbert Marcuse warned of back in 1965: “In endlessly dragging debates over the media, the stupid opinion is treated with the same respect as the intelligent one, the misinformed may talk as long as the informed, and propaganda rides along with education, truth with falsehood.” This form of “free speech,” ironically, supports the tyranny of the majority.

The media are motivated primarily by getting the largest audience possible. This leads to a skewed conception about which controversial perspectives deserve airtime, and what “both sides” of an issue are. How often do you see controversial but well-informed intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Martha Nussbaum on television? Meanwhile, the former child-star Kirk Cameron appears on television to explain that we should not believe in evolutionary theory unless biologists can produce a “crocoduck” as evidence. No wonder we are experiencing what Marcuse described as “the systematic moronization of children and adults alike by publicity and propaganda.”

Marcuse was insightful in diagnosing the problems, but part of the solution he advocated was suppressing right-wing perspectives. I believe that this is immoral (in part because it would be impossible to do without the exercise of terror) and impractical (given that the internet was actually invented to provide an unblockable information network). Instead, I suggest that we could take a big step forward by distinguishing free speech from just access. Access to the general public, granted by institutions like television networks, newspapers, magazines, and university lectures, is a finite resource. Justice requires that, like any finite good, institutional access should be apportioned based on merit and on what benefits the community as a whole.

There is a clear line between censoring someone and refusing to provide them with institutional resources for disseminating their ideas. When Nathaniel Abraham was fired in 2004 from his position at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute because he admitted to his employer that he did not believe in evolution, it was not a case of censorship of an unpopular opinion. Abraham thinks that he knows better than other scientists (and better than other Christians, like Pope Francis, who reminded the faithful that God is not “a magician, with a magic wand”). Abraham has every right to express his ignorant opinion to any audience that is credulous enough to listen. However, Abraham does not have a right to a share of the intellectual capital that comes from being associated with a prestigious scientific institution like Woods Hole.

Similarly, the top colleges and universities that invite Charles Murray to share his junk science defenses of innate racial differences in intelligence (including Columbia and New York University) are not promoting fair and balanced discourse. For these prestigious institutions to deny Murray an audience would be for them to exercise their fiduciary responsibility as the gatekeepers of rational discourse. We have actually seen a good illustration of what I mean by “just access” in ABC’s courageous decision to cancel “Roseanne,” its highest-rated show. Starring on a television show is a privilege, not a right. Roseanne compared a black person to an ape. Allowing a show named after her to remain on the air would not be impartiality; it would be tacitly endorsing the racist fantasy that her views are part of reasonable mainstream debate.

Donald Trump, first as candidate and now as president, is such a significant news story that responsible journalists must report on him. But this does not mean that he should be allowed to set the terms of the debate. Research shows that repeatedly hearing assertions increases the likelihood of belief — even when the assertions are explicitly identified as false. Consequently, when journalists repeat Trump’s repeated lies, they are actually increasing the probability that people will believe them.

Even when journalistic responsibility requires reporting Trump’s views, this does not entail giving all of his spokespeople an audience. MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” set a good precedent for just access by banning from the show Kellyanne Conway for casually spouting “alternative facts.”

Marcuse also suggested, ominously, that we should not “renounce a priori violence against violence.” Like most Americans, I spontaneously cheered when I saw the white nationalist Richard Spencer punched in the face during an interview. However, as I have noted elsewhere, Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. showed us that nonviolent protest is not only a moral demand (although it is that too); it is the highest strategic cunning. Violence plays into the hands of our opponents, who relish the opportunity to play at being martyrs. Consequently, while it was wrong for Middlebury College to invite Murray to speak, it was even more wrong for students to assault Murray and a professor escorting himacross campus. (Ironically, the professor who was injured in this incident is a critic of Murray who gave a Millian defense of allowing him to speak on campus.)

What just access means in terms of positive policy is that institutions that are the gatekeepers to the public have a fiduciary responsibility to award access based on the merit of ideas and thinkers. To award space in a campus lecture hall to someone like Peterson who says that feminists “have an unconscious wish for brutal male domination,” or to give time on a television news show to someone like Coulter who asserts that in an ideal world all Americans would convert to Christianity, or to interview a D-list actor like Jenny McCarthy about her view that actual scientists are wrong about the public health benefits of vaccines is not to display admirable intellectual open-mindedness. It is to take a positive stand that these views are within the realm of defensible rational discourse, and that these people are worth taking seriously as thinkers.

Neither is true: These views are specious, and those who espouse them are, at best, ignorant, at worst, sophists. The invincibly ignorant and the intellectual huckster have every right to express their opinions, but their right to free speech is not the right to an audience.

via Opinion | The Ignorant Do Not Have a Right to an Audience – The New York Times

Why we invited Jordan Peterson to discuss compelled speech: Daniel Woolf

Good principled and nuanced statement by the principal of Queen’s:

Freedom of speech and academic freedom on university campuses have been in the news a great deal. This issue has not escaped Queen’s University. Recently, the faculty of law hosted a lecture by Dr. Jordan Peterson to discuss compelled speech, currently a very divisive subject within the Ontario law profession. The visit caused tensions on campus, with some individuals taking issue with the decision by one of the faculty members to invite him to speak. I took the position that the lecture should proceed and posted a blog explaining my own categorical support for academic freedom and civilized debate at Queen’s. The lecture went ahead, though not without a protest that at times pushed well beyond being respectful and peaceful.

I do not intend to address the protest, nor the particular beliefs and views of Dr. Peterson. Rather, I’d like to argue first, that freedom of speech and the goals of diversity and inclusion are entirely compatible and often mutually strengthening; and second, that those who challenge giving opponents the right and a platform on which to speak, are conflating two different issues and setting a dangerous precedent.

To my first point, one can promote any worthwhile goal through actions, including protest, while also supporting the aims and welfare of groups promoting a progressive agenda without challenging freedom of speech. The suggestion that by allowing a speaker who allegedly challenges aspects of inclusivity and diversity a platform, we are subverting the university’s own agenda is invalid. Both freedom of speech and the achievement of social goals are possible, and challenging one’s agenda should be viewed as an opportunity to strengthen and enrich this position, and when needed, change it.

Queen’s fully supports an inclusive and diverse campus and curriculum, and we continue to make important progress in pursuing these ideals. Diversity also extends to thought and opinion – it can’t simply be “diversity of the sort we happen to agree with today.” Universities should be physically safe spaces and diverse and inclusive. But protection from disagreeable ideas isn’t safety – it’s infantilization, and robs everyone of the opportunity to reflect and grow. Students: We are there to learn with you, to have our assumptions questioned and to question yours. We will not simply reinforce your beliefs and turn them into unexamined convictions.

However, even were these goals incompatible, I would still advocate for freedom of speech and open debate. They are the very foundation of democracy, even with all its faults and past and present failures of society. We are privileged to live in a country that protects the expression of views (with the exception of hate speech) regardless of ideology or affiliation. It permitted the lecture, as well as the protest outside it. It also permitted an open letter penned by faculty, students and alumni, criticizing the views I expressed in my blog. While I didn’t agree with many of their arguments, I respect the authors for exercising their rights to publish it and thank them for so doing.

For centuries, universities have been nurseries of intellect, shapers of society and more often than not, agents of social progress and economic mobility. The passion and energy of young people have played an enormous part in that. But passion made brittle by ideology that goes unexamined or unchallenged promotes hatred; it does not fight it. And so, faculty, students, staff and visiting speakers must continue to be allowed to articulate positions that will offend, challenge and even upset. It must be done safely and respectfully. Otherwise, in the long run, we are all the poorer and our fundamental shared values are at risk.

via Why we invited Jordan Peterson to discuss compelled speech – The Globe and Mail

Andrew Potter: Don’t be so free to set limits on your right to hear

The first part of the article provides a useful account of the rationale for free speech along with its purpose, and why some free speech is subject to less protections than free speech that meets these core principles: “search for truth, the quest for self-development and the fostering of democracy.”

But then, when Potter turns to the right to hear, he seems to ignore the question of whether the right to hear should also be subject to the same test of core principles or not. Perhaps his next column?:

After a few hundred years of working on it you’d think by now we’d have a handle on this freedom of expression thing. But it’s 2017 and here we are, still arguing about who has the right to speak, on what platforms, to which audiences and in what contexts. We don’t agree on much, except that free speech is a good thing except when it isn’t. And increasingly, it isn’t more often than it is.

This failure to take free speech seriously is a thoroughly bipartisan affliction. The monkey-king leaders of the alt-right and their talking muppet servants like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos have effectively turned hate speech into performance art, with no real interest in either the consequences of the hate or in the value sincere debate can contribute to democracy.

And the ctrl-left, from campus snowflakes to the just-in-it-for-the-riot forces of antifa, happily play into their hands, from whining about safe spaces to forcibly and violently preventing people from exercising their legitimate civil liberties.

But there’s a bigger problem at work, which is that this sort of behaviour from both sides is not actually at odds with the most common understandings of free expression and its rationale. In fact, just the opposite is the case: most of the current attempts to restrict free speech are natural extensions of the justifications for it.

If you ask most people why free speech is a good thing, they’ll point out that it’s in the constitution. But why is it in the constitution? Well, maybe because it’s good for democracy, for artistic ennoblement, or self-discovery, or because it is the foundation of scientific inquiry or for the search for truth more generally.

What all of these justifications for a right to free expression have in common is that they are consequentialist in nature. That is, they ground the defence of freedom of speech in the effects speech has. On the whole, we believe that allowing broad protections for freedom of expression results in good things for society.

Actually, the court goes even further. It has identified what it calls the “core principles” that are served by free expression, which include the search for truth, the quest for self-development and the fostering of democracy. As the court sees it, speech that doesn’t serve these goals is not necessarily entitled to the same constitutional protections.

Lots of people have pointed out that this amounts to a reverse-onus clause. In theory, it should be up to the state to explain why it should have the right to limit speech, but in Canada we are well down the road to a place where people have to justify to the courts why their speech should be permitted. It’s not a long toss from there to the bizarro-land conclusion that entire groups can be silenced on the grounds that this silencing is an effective way of serving the goals that free speech serves more generally.

We got here because the problem is with the way we framed the question in the first place, as a debate over the benefits of free speech and the consequences we are willing to tolerate. Instead, what we should be focused on is the right of people to hear what others have to say, and how this fits into a broader account of individual freedom.

What’s the difference? If you turn the free speech debate on its head and treat it as a right to hear what someone has to say, the constitutional rationale for it becomes a lot clearer: The right to hear or read something and judge its worth or merit for yourself is the basis for being treated as an equal, rational and autonomous agent. We shield things from children precisely because we don’t think their rational faculties are sufficiently well developed. They don’t know how to evaluate something by their own lights. That’s why a big part of parenting is bringing kids along the path to autonomy, teaching them to judge and think for themselves.

Hearing what people have to say and judging its merits for yourself is the mark of being an adult. And part of being an adult is having the right to make mistakes, to make bad judgments or decisions, and take responsibility for what follows.

It just so happens that a society made up of autonomous individuals making independent rational judgments about what others have to say is the basic condition for the possibility of a liberal democracy. The fact that so many people, on the right and the left, are willing to have their right to hear limited by governments, universities or even social media mobs, is a further sign of the relentless infantilization of our culture — and goes a long way toward explaining the current crisis of liberalism

This line of defence has a solid philosophical and legal pedigree. Probably the best-known version is found in John Stuart Mill’s essay On Liberty, where he argued that the right to speak was limited by the harms that result. But this focus on the consequences of speech is firmly embedded in the Supreme Court’s interpretations of the freedoms outlined in section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The court’s take, through various rulings from Taylor to Keegstra to Whatcott, has been relentlessly consequentialist, always taking care to weigh the guaranteed right to free expression against the harms — both actual and hypothetical — that might come from hate speech.

Actually, the court goes even further. It has identified what it calls the “core principles” that are served by free expression, which include the search for truth, the quest for self-development and the fostering of democracy. As the court sees it, speech that doesn’t serve these goals is not necessarily entitled to the same constitutional protections.

Lots of people have pointed out that this amounts to a reverse-onus clause. In theory, it should be up to the state to explain why it should have the right to limit speech, but in Canada we are well down the road to a place where people have to justify to the courts why their speech should be permitted. It’s not a long toss from there to the bizarro-land conclusion that entire groups can be silenced on the grounds that this silencing is an effective way of serving the goals that free speech serves more generally.

We got here because the problem is with the way we framed the question in the first place, as a debate over the benefits of free speech and the consequences we are willing to tolerate. Instead, what we should be focused on is the right of people to hear what others have to say, and how this fits into a broader account of individual freedom.

What’s the difference? If you turn the free speech debate on its head and treat it as a right to hear what someone has to say, the constitutional rationale for it becomes a lot clearer: The right to hear or read something and judge its worth or merit for yourself is the basis for being treated as an equal, rational and autonomous agent. We shield things from children precisely because we don’t think their rational faculties are sufficiently well developed. They don’t know how to evaluate something by their own lights. That’s why a big part of parenting is bringing kids along the path to autonomy, teaching them to judge and think for themselves.

Hearing what people have to say and judging its merits for yourself is the mark of being an adult. And part of being an adult is having the right to make mistakes, to make bad judgments or decisions, and take responsibility for what follows.

It just so happens that a society made up of autonomous individuals making independent rational judgments about what others have to say is the basic condition for the possibility of a liberal democracy. The fact that so many people, on the right and the left, are willing to have their right to hear limited by governments, universities or even social media mobs, is a further sign of the relentless infantilization of our culture — and goes a long way toward explaining the current crisis of liberalism.

Source: Andrew Potter: Don’t be so free to set limits on your right to hear | National Post

Free expression at universities gagged by anti-Trump backlash

James Turk, Ryerson’s Director of the Centre for Free Expression, on free speech in universities following Ryerson’s cancelling an event with right-wing speakers (Jordan Peterson, Faith Goldy):

That harmful legacy of university cowardice and complicity took years to overcome. We need to remember this past if we do not want to relive it, albeit in the name of new passions and different ideologies and concerns.

Instead, it appears as if we are starting down a dark road that threatens the raison d’être of the university and the fundamental rights to freedom of expression guaranteed by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

If standing by its principles requires a university to make a greater investment in security personnel to protect freedom of expression, that must be seen as a proper cost of doing business.

If threats continue to blossom, then there needs to be discussions with governments to ensure universities have the additional financial resources to ensure free expression does not fall victim to intimidation.

Not only are censorship and suppression fatal to the purpose of the university, they undermine the foundation of democratic society.

When individual rights to freedom of expression are diminished or taken away for an allegedly good cause, they are necessarily invested in some higher authority that is given the right to determine what is acceptable.

The result is censorship from above — ultimately the state — with the likelihood that the champions of that censorship today are its vulnerable targets tomorrow.

Source: Free expression at universities gagged by anti-Trump backlash

How the alt-right weaponized free speech

Refreshing and needed historical perspective on the free-speech movement and its co-opting by the right:

Indeed, Berkeley’s far-right agitators routinely invoke the memory of activist Mario Savio, the standard-bearer of the FSM, going so far as to declare themselves “the new Free Speech Movement.” This, while boasting of the endorsement of America’s highest office: “The more abuse and harassment we suffer,” warned the Berkeley College Republicans in a joint op-ed following Yiannopoulos’s cancelled appearance, “the more controversial speakers we will invite to campus. We proceed fearlessly because we know we have the president of the United States on our side.”

Indeed, in February, President Trump implicitly threatened to withhold federal funds from the university for failing to cater to Yiannopoulos who, amid the renewed controversy involving Coulter, has announced a comeback, sensing an opportunity to regain status and rehabilitate his ego—not to mention, profit mightily.

“We will give out a new free speech prize—the Mario Savio Award—to the person we believe has done most to protect free expression at UC Berkeley and its surrounding area,” proclaimed Yiannopoulos in promoting Milo’s “Free Speech Week.” “Each day will be dedicated to a different enemy of free speech, including feminism, Black Lives Matter and Islam.”

This co-opting of Savio’s legacy is a calculated provocation, one that his son Daniel calls “some kind of sick joke.” Savio led the FSM to victory in ending all restrictions to political activity on campus, which included the rights of orators from all political perspectives. “Rather than ban speakers he disagreed with, Savio debated them, whether they were deans, faculty, the student-body president, or whoever,” wrote Robert Cohen, author of Freedom’s Orator: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s. “And this was the spirit not only of Savio but of the FSM, which had an almost Gandhian faith that through open discourse anyone had the potential to be won over” to a cause.

Savio was a veteran of the civil-rights movement, and as Cohen details, “sought to convince the editors of the student newspaper there that their use of the term “n—-r” in the paper was hurtful and irresponsible … Savio did not deny students had the right to print what they chose, but asked that they reach out to their black classmates and reflect on whether in the future they could be more thoughtful about the impact their words had on the campus community.”

The FSM’s quest was decent and honest—it was about engaging in open, rigorous debate and the exchange of ideas, no matter how inflammatory or loathsome, with a goal of making progress. What’s happening now isn’t about discussion: it’s pure political tribalism. People like Coulter and Yiannopoulos aren’t brought to campus to contribute substance—hearing either speak for a few minutes quickly puts lie to claims of their brilliance. They are skilled antagonists who can reliably incite backlash from a perceived enemy; they are, as Dorian Lynskey of The Guardian describes, the “outcome of a grotesque convergence of politics, entertainment and the internet in which an empty vessel can thrive unchecked by turning hate speech into show business.”

Where trauma, real or perceived, has become a sort of morbid currency in some circles of the left, often used to justify unworkable demands of individuals and institutions, the self-described “politically incorrect”—adults who consider childlike behaviour to be heroically subversive—are in the grievance trade. Because each provocation inflates the value of a carefully-crafted persona, victimhood is actively—and ironically—sought; they prey on the vulnerable, ridicule targets of well-documented discrimination, then cry persecution when met with resistance.

While it’s vital to uphold and protect the right of all speech on campus—even the most abhorrent rhetoric from the ranks of the alt-right—it’s crucial to identify this new game being played and, as Savio desired, critically judge “whether the speech … is really free, or merely cant.”

And it matters that influential voices, while rightly demanding institutions uphold free speech norms, explicitly make that distinction.

Source: How the alt-right weaponized free speech – Macleans.ca

The death of free speech? Come on.

Good commentary by Rachel Giese:

For many conservatives, especially on the far right of the spectrum, free speech has become a kind of fetish. They invoke it like a magic defence against allegations of bias and bigotry. And yet, some of the staunchest free speech advocates see no conflict in using that right to call for limits on the liberty of others, like those who want to marry someone of the same sex, to use the washroom that reflects their gender as they define it, to cover their hair as religious observance, or to determine what goes on in their own uterus. At issue is not an open, civil and respectful exchange of ideas. Rather, what the conservative free speech posse wishes to protect is the power to gin up hysteria and insult others, particularly people in minority groups, without consequence or criticism.

But, of course, that’s not what free speech laws were created to do. Protections of free expression ensure that citizens aren’t punished by the state, thrown in jail or sent into exile for championing dissident views. That doesn’t mean everyone with an axe to grind is entitled to an audience. That doesn’t mean that a comedian won’t be criticized for a rape joke, or a homophobic business won’t be boycotted. That doesn’t mean a crowd is allowed to hurl slurs at a woman in a hijab. Even in the US, where there’s enormous latitude when it comes to free speech, the right is not absolute. Libel and slander are illegal, as is threatening violence against the president.

And, as a matter of etiquette, cultural norms or old-fashioned common sense, we routinely accept limits to self expression. Corporate employees abide by office dress codes and don’t show up to work in cut-off shorts and Crocs. TV and radio broadcast regulations forbid the airing of adult content during certain hours. Many of us don’t use curse words in front of our kids or our grandparents. Few of us feel silenced by these concessions.

But the free speech doomsayers believe we are living in the end days of democracy, and they are the ones who are suffering. Think I’m exaggerating? A week after a white nationalist gunned down six men peacefully praying in Quebec City mosque, when the traumatized congregants had barely finished washing away the blood, conservative columnist Barbara Kay tweeted, “How long until my honest criticism of Islamism constitutes a speech crime in Canada?” It says a great deal about Kay’s self-regard and her priorities that she painted herself as a victim of the tragedy.

In Peterson’s case, he fancies himself a hero for refusing to do what most of us would do as a simple matter of politeness: that is, call someone what they’d like be called. By Peterson’s logic, I have the right to address him as “Dame Judi Dench” or “Chuckles the Clown.” But would that make me a fearless warrior for free speech? Or just self-aggrandizing and sort of pathetic?

But why be courteous and decent, when you can be famous and rich? Peterson’s free speech rants have helped him rack up over 80,000 Twitter followers, 8,000 Facebook likesand 3,000,000 views on YouTube. That’s a sizeable audience for who someone who claims he’s being censored. He’s also got a blog, a new book and an online self-help course. He’s even launched a Patreon account where his fans give him US$12,000 per month — a very nice top up on his $160,000 annual prof’s salary — to support his lectures on political correctness.

And that’s what’s actually at stake — profile and profit, not free expression. Until the pedophilia comments came out, Yiannopoulos’s free-speech-victim routine landed him a US$250,000 advance from Simon & Schuster for a book, which was at the top of the pre-order list on Amazon (the offer has since been withdrawn). Turns out there’s some speech his fans won’t support after all, the courage of their convictions be damned.

For Conservative leadership contenders, harping on about the dangers of Islam isn’t about a willingness to take an unpopular stand. It’s about rallying the base. Kellie Leitch may be an accomplished doctor with anywhere between 18 and 22 letters after her name, but as an MP her performance has been at best mediocre. As a leadership candidate, the only thing that’s distinguished her has been her willingness to target immigrants. And so, she’s leaning in.

As for the evidence of widespread censorship, where exactly is it? Conservative viewpoints abound on Fox News, Rebel Media, Breitbart News Network and the Sun newspaper chain. You can get your fill and then some of misogyny, racism and gay bashing on Reddit, 4chan and Twitter. The anonymous citizens who deluged Iqra Khalid with rape and death threats didn’t seem the slightest bit inhibited in their attacks.

No doubt all of us would benefit from better, smarter and more open debates, and from listening more to those we don’t agree with. But it’s hard to swallow the argument that free speech is under attack when it’s coming from the loudest voices in the room and from the protected perches of a tenured academic post, a column in a national newspaper, and the bully pulpit of a seat in the House of Commons. If those people have been silenced, why are they still shouting?

Source: Macleans

Andrew Coyne: Free speech needs to be guided by judgment and conscience, not rules

Another thoughtful column by Coyne:

It is common among some clear-thinkers to reject any allegation of speech suppression — a speaker being shouted down on campus, a boycott of an offending corporation, a Nazi getting punched — unless it involves the explicit use of the coercive power of the state. Anything else is merely the “consequences” of speech, for which one should accept “responsibility.” Suck it up, snowflake.

In a sense, of course they’re right. The obligations of the state are of a different order than private individuals or groups, because of its unique powers of coercion, and because coercion — the power, not merely to punish speech, but to actively prevent speech — is of a different order than mere disapproval, say, or shunning.

But the difference is not so absolute as all that. It is more of degree than kind. As private individuals, we may not be under the same obligations and constraints as the state, but that does not mean we are under none. We have still the obligations of judgment, of conscience, and of respect — for the spirit of free speech, if you will, rather than the legal letter.

At one extreme it is easy to see this. If a mob were to burn down the local newspaper and hang its editor, it is of no use to say, well, it wasn’t the government that did it, so no chilling of speech is involved. One should not have to factor in, among the “consequences” to be expected of speech, the chance that one might be murdered — or punched, for that matter.

Short of actual law-breaking, things get trickier. There is no violence in shouting down a speaker, you may say; neither is a university, as a private organization, obliged to provide a platform for opinions of which it, or a section of the university community, disapproves. No, indeed. But free speech exists, as a legal guarantee, in part because of the foundation of social values in which it is embedded.

The spirit of free speech, that is, is as important: the notion that none of us is in absolute possession of the truth; that the route to truth is through the exchange and conflict of ideas; that the rights we each enjoy are guaranteed only so far as they do not intrude upon another’s; and that, in particular, we do not have a right not to be offended, or to be spared any encounter with disagreeable words, images or ideas. If we do not live by these principles ourselves, we will shortly find neither will our creation, the state.

So far so good. But what of the more benign ways of expressing collective disapproval: boycotts, online campaigns, or Parliamentary motions? Are these mere consequences of speech, or constraints upon it?

 

Answer: It depends. Anyone who has been the subject of a Twitter mobbing can attest it can be deeply unpleasant, and quite intimidating, even without overt threats of violence. The harm to reputation, for example, of having one’s name broadly associated with sexism, racism — or “Quebec-bashing” — can be a significant deterrent to speaking freely.

Taboos, shunning and other mechanisms of social disapproval, in other words, can raise the “price” of speech to intolerable levels. On the other hand, some things are taboo for a reason. We should not feel censorious for shunning or denouncing someone who expresses hateful or noxious opinions.

Neither should we hesitate to call them what they are. A good many of the participants in the present debate seem to think their freedom to say the most virulently and prejudicially anti-Muslim things should also protect them from being accused of prejudice against Muslims — or Islamophobia — in return. Well, no. That is simply logical, as is the denunciation in the motion before Parliament.

Where do we draw the line, then? Again, it depends. It requires all of us to use our judgment. People should not be labelled bigots or hate-mongers merely for offering an unconventional view on a controversial topic. A reasoned critique of Islam’s teachings on women is not to be treated the same as, say, a blanket claim that Muslims, as a group, are “unintegrateable.” But neither should actual bigotry be excused as merely being “un-PC.”

There are no simple rules to guide us. There are only mutual obligations: not to give offence needlessly, but also not to take offence lightly; not to round up a mob every time someone’s views offend us, but neither to be intimidated by the mob when it is necessary to offend.

Source: Andrew Coyne: Free speech needs to be guided by judgment and conscience, not rules | National Post