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More than the Minimum

When I was on the debate team in high school, everyone’s favorite argument was “if we do what the opponent wants, it will lead to nuclear war.” A long, implausible causal chain would inevitably tie the most benign of policy to nuclear war. (Jeremy Rifkin was usually cited.)

I don’t think adults are any less dramatic. Everyone thinks the fate of the world (or worse, the country) depends on their side winning.

We kids may have been modest in stopping at nuclear war. True and total damnation comes only from Tod. Some believers in the past and present have convinced themselves that their side winning was more important than their lives or those of others. This is a problem if you want to have a nice civilization where people can coexist peacefully:

Suppose I am a radical Catholic who believes all Protestants deserve to die, and therefore go around killing Protestants. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, there might be some radical Protestants around who believe all Catholics deserve to die. If there weren’t before, there probably are now. So they go around killing Catholics, we’re both unhappy and/or dead, our economy tanks, hundreds of innocent people end up as collateral damage, and our country goes down the toilet.

So we make an agreement: I won’t kill any more Catholics, you don’t kill any more Protestants. The specific Irish example was called the Good Friday Agreement and the general case is called “civilization”.

I find this is plausible model for how liberalized societies came to be. Liberalized societies set limits on what people can do no matter how strong their beliefs are and how high they perceive the stakes. Miraculously, it works.

A bunch of people in the United States think that half the country supports policy that is the literal moral equivalent of murdering children. And all they do is hold up signs about vote for people to pass regulations. That is beautiful and amazing.

It was not pre-ordained to be this way. Pro-life people could have concluded that murdering their opponents is morally preferable to allowing abortions to continue. A couple did in fact come to that conclusion and bombed clinics. They are now in prison, and it is likely that some pro-life people helped put them there. Again, beautiful and amazing.

We have collectively decided that the real enemies are those who think their side winning is more important than complying with civilization’s implicit pact. We are perfectly happy to send missiles to weddings and funerals when we think we might kill one such person because we judge it to be that important.

This state of affairs is special not only within the scope of human history, but also special with respect to the tiny silver of time where there has been civilization.

In liberalized societies, it is normal to go to the store and buy something from someone who is a different race, religion, and political orientation. Sure, you can refuse to hire someone based on their sexual orientation, but if you were to actually ask your plumber about her sexual orientation before giving her the job, it would be intensely weird.

The resulting trade between people of different groups has additional positive effects. When our own Dr. Saunders’s attempted boycott of transsexual patients ended, he learned he learned his prejudice lacked a good basis. Interacting with the enemy keeps our differences in perspective and exposes the humanity of our opponents. Boycotts do the opposite, but with added ferocity.

Credit to Drop-dropbox.com

Credit to Drop-dropbox.com

It was different back in the ancestral tribe (I speculate). We would use all means available to punish the enemy. The tribal leader would prevent the sinner from using shared resources. The rest of the tribe would speak and act against him. Trade and friendship would cease. There would be few situations in which any distinctions were drawn among these methods of punishment.

This no-limits behavior would necessarily keep the maximum stable size of the tribe small. Small groups can agree on everything. Large groups will always have pockets of dissension. If the response to dissent is limitless, then you can’t stay a large tribe for very long.

To form a big tribe, we needed to find a way to compartmentalize our areas of disagreement. We needed to find a way to continue to trade with those we disagreed with even while continuing to disagree with them.

So, we made a binding pact to restrict ourselves from using force even when we think the moral calculus speaks in its favor.

Thinking back to that ancestral tribe, I can think of three broad categories of punishment that could be lathered upon our opponents:

  • the law (tribal elders?)
  • public speech
  • private interaction (both the law and private interactions may or may not include violence)

Some of these methods influence each other. The law can set limits on or mandate private interactions. Public speech can eventually lead to new laws. Let’s set aside these mutual influences for a later date.

In practice, we might continue private interactions while punishing our opponent through public speech:

I’ll still buy your bagels, but I will say bad things about you publicly.

or continue private interactions while punishing through the law:

I’ll still buy your bagels, but I will pass laws to prevent your kids from going to school with mine.

or suspend some private interactions while continuing others:

I’ll buy your bagels, but don’t you dare date my daughter.

We should be more hesitant to use some of these methods than others. Whatever norms we establish for these methods may eventually be turned upon us once the Protestants take over. Be gentle when establishing those norms.

The law, for example, should be used to punish opponents rarely and minimally. The law is something you can’t ignore or opt out of. If our opponents murder, of course, then we probably do need to use the law to stop them, but in general, we should try to use this method less rather than more. I think this is why most modern societies make it difficult to pass new laws and have constitutional restrictions on what kinds of laws they can be.

Public speech, in contrast, seems to be a relatively safe way to punish our opponents. Speech makes our opponents unhappy, but leaves their livelihoods intact. Seen in this way, even overly hostile speech isn’t really so bad compared to the alternatives.

Boycotts
You can call for the unconditional boycott of anyone and everyone you disagree with. But you shouldn’t. Be picky. Here are the guidelines I find myself following:

  1. I will only boycott a company if I would also boycott a person for doing something morally similar at their own person-scale.
  2. I will only ask others to boycott a company if I view what they are doing as unusually bad when viewed in the spectrum of current beliefs in the society. There are two reasons for this. (1) To boycott based on a belief that is widely held leads to balkanization. This is illiberal and bad for civilization. (2) Mass boycotts are unlikely to be effective if the positions held by the targets are widely held. The target will still have plenty of customers even if you and your supporters pull off a perfect boycott on your side, which you can’t.
  3. I will personally boycott anything I want, even if it isn’t unusually bad in comparison to the spectrum of beliefs in the society. There is a large class of products I don’t buy even though almost everyone else does. But I don’t call on others to boycott them. Save your mass organized boycotts for things you can get a lot of people to agree is reprehensible. (youtube)

Of course, you think these rules ought not apply to your special issue, which is far too important.

The price of civilization though is that we exercise restraint even then. From inside their heads, your opponents think their getting their own way is just as important. Worse, they are willing to go much further than you to win. We are better off enforcing the agreement that good people restrain themselves from certain types of attacks. Keep those claws retracted except for those battles you must win.

Additionally, it’s worth noting the lack of success with many forays into censorship and boycotts.
Rufus’s review of the history of the Corcoran museum included the museum’s reversal of its plan to host the some controversial photography. This censorship led to the retaliatory boycott of the museum by other artists. The museum eventually closed, which left artists with one less venue that will host their work. Where are the winners?

The Legal Right to Free speech
Randall Munroe’s recent XKCD was well-received by many.

I can't remember where I heard this, but someone once said that defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you're saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it's not literally illegal to express.

XKCD Free Speech

I hate this comic. It views “the right to free speech” as a legal requirement to be regrettably complied with. It places no value on free speech as a matter of principle.

Just because the first amendment to free speech speaks only of the government does not mean that the rest of us should feel free to shout down (youtube) those we don’t agree with. Yes, I know you think your opponents are assholes and that you are simply using your own free speech to prevent them from speaking, but that actually makes you at least as much of an asshole as them. Retract those claws.

I think part of the reason Randall drew this comic was a sense of his side winning in the marketplace of ideas. The most recent boycotts seem to be of bigots and other unsympathetic characters. Munroe isn’t thinking about the McCarthy-era blacklists that were simply private boycotts of workers holding legally protected but worse-than-assholish political beliefs. Are these the norms of private behavior we wish to emulate and carry into the future?

Free speech ought to be more than just a legal right. It should be an enthusiastically embraced principle. We should actively seek out and promote those who are silenced. This is the principle that undergirds banned books lists. Most books on such lists never faced any legal restrictions, but were removed from collections on the taste grounds endorsed so wholeheartedly by Munroe. Yes, restrictions based on taste are slightly less pernicious than those enforced by governmental decree, but there’s still enough left to make for some pernicion*.

Enthusiastic support of free speech means that you seek to host controversial speakers you disagree with even though you aren’t legally required to. It means you don’t seek to take away someone’s livelihood for holding views that are statistically moderate for the population. It means that you actively seek out and read the work of smart people you hate. It means defending the rights of neo-Nazis to assemble because “Southern cities tried to shut down civil rights marches with similar claims about the violence and disruption the protests would cause.”

Do not think these arguments won’t be resurrected again one day to silence you.

* Apparently, it is a word.

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244 thoughts on “More than the Minimum

  1. I’m somewhere between “regrettably complied with” and “enthusiastically embraced” on free speech as a fully content-neutral principle for civil discourse (as opposed to a legal principle restraining government constraints on speech). We don’t want to make the public square inhospitable to unpopular speech, but nor do we want to shut down the process of pushing back hard privately and within the law against abhorrent speech. Content ultimately does matter when it comes to determining how to react in civil society, either as a community or as an individual, to any given speech act.

    But I do agree that this sentiment, “If you’re yelled at, boycotted, have your show canceled, or get banned from an internet community, your free speech rights aren’t being violated” should really make clear that First Amendment rights are the ones not being violated. What a person’s free speech rights may or may not be in a given context will depend on the prevailing norms in that place at that time. You have fewer free speech rights, perhaps as a matter of law even but certainly as a matter of norms, when you are visiting your child’s second grade classroom than when you are giving a speech at a college. Whether your free speech rights are being violated when you are banned from an internet community will depend on whether the community is following whatever formal or informal process it has in place for deciding when to issue such bans. And so forth.

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    • Are there people who think they should get to say whatever they want to second graders?

      Maybe there are examples, and I am simply being forgetful, but are there people who strongly and consistently argue that free speech means freedom from any consequences or criticism?

      Instead of second graders getting exposed to horrible things, I instead see college campuses unable to handle a penis drawing: http://www.thefire.org/princeton-admins-force-censorship-of-interactive-art-installation-at-princeton/

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      • Facebook amuses me for similar reasons. A photo of a pretty woman, dressed in ways to attract the male gaze will attract thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of likes and be share widely. But a post on breastfeeding is likely to get flagged and removed within a day or two.

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      • I’m not clear what the relevance of either of your questions is to be frank, Vik.

        If there’s no one who thinks you should be allowed to say whatever you want to a class of second graders, then we agree that de facto speech rights as a normative (not legal) matter vary with context. So no issue there.

        And the issue as you present it is not whether people think they should be free from criticism for or immune to consequences of speech, but rather to what extent criticism or anything else should be powerful enough to act as an effective restraint on the speech act in the first instance. The issue, IOW, isn’t whether p.c. campus-types should criticize the speaker they disagree with, but whether the should (ever?) do so so forcefully as to effectively deny him the actual freedom to say what he thinks in a particular forum.

        So I think both of your questions don’t go to the points you’re making in the OP, nor to mine.

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      • Gotcha, thanks.

        As others have said, I do think there are plenty of examples of people reacting to criticism as if by receiving it they are having their free speech rights violated. Do they argue strongly and consistently for that proposition as an explicit, abstract principle? Probably not so much, but I think it’s probably more important to make people aware that that’s the principle they are propounding in practice when they react to reasonably-toned criticism that way.

        On the second-graders, yeah, that’s was just an extreme example I thought of to illustrate the context point. But I think we might acknowledge that finer distinctions in context can be made that will have real consequences for free speech rights/norms as well.

        The rubber hits the road wherever it is that we begin to stop deferring to the norms of a particular context and assume the role of critiquing them. So, we might note in the example from Princeton that you link that while they have a provision protecting academic freedom/exression, they also have provisions prohibiting hate speech and defacement of property. The combination of those provisions creates something of a conflicting-statutes issue for the purpose of assessing their adherence to their own norms, but the same combination creates an overall norm about free speech that we can attempt to critique from without, in comparison to, say, other colleges, or compared to our ideal for colleges. But as long as we acknowledge that some contexts have norms to which we will simply defer (the second-grade classroom), it’s not a completely black-and-white matter to establish the basis for our critique of the norms in a context where we may have little clear standing as a stakeholder. (Which is not to say impossible: we can claim that as members of the broad intellectual community, we have standing to critique any university for shortcomings in maintaining a free speech norm that comports with our values. But such claims of standing will be subject to assessment by people with more firmly established credentials – i.e. in this case students or faculty of Princeton, etc.)

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      • …I do think there are plenty of examples of people reacting to criticism as if by receiving it they are having their free speech rights violated.

        Yes, people do make this defense somewhat carelessly in an attempt to get out of any consequences for what they have said. But that doesn’t mean everyone who says this is automatically wrong. Additionally, even if your legal free speech rights have not been violated, it is possible that the principle of free speech as instituted in our social norms have been. Yelling over someone talking is the best example I can think of thus far. It is not a legal violation, but it certainly violates the principle. I titled this “more than the minimum” because I think we should have protections for speech that go beyond what is strictly prescribed by the Constitution. Otherwise, it will be a simple matter of assembling drones to play loud music anytime someone we don’t like tries to speak. (And, yes, no one seems to be doing that, but that’s part of the point. We do have norms of behavior that are more strict than the law.)

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      • But that doesn’t mean everyone who says this is automatically wrong.

        I mean, it (“reacting to criticism as if by receiving it they are having their free speech rights violated“) pretty much is automatically wrong, isn’t it? Unless you’re being somehow ejected from the forum, how does criticism violate your free speech rights, even broadly understood in terms of norms that are even more protective than the First Amendment? It seems to me that shouting someone out of the forum could legitimately be classified as something other than criticism. In any case, it seems to me you’re doing a fair amount of work to see that it is included in “criticism.”

        I mean, we might say that modifying it to, ” reacting to legitimately formed and legitimately intended criticism as if by receiving it they are having their free speech rights violated are automatically wrong” could get us to something we could agree to. But I don’t really understand what’s important about insisting that that unmodified “criticism” must necessarily include certain reactions to speech that we must acknowledge justify a speaker in feeling that his free speech rights have been violated. We could just as easily define those reactions as censorship, and say that that effect, intended or otherwise – namely violating a person’s rightly-defined rights to free speech – is what distinguishes criticism from censorship. It would follow that speaking carries with it the implicit assertion that the speaker possesses the courage to at least tolerate criticism without claiming a violation of his rights, while it doesn’t carry with it any consent to have his free speech rights infringed by censorship.

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      • Actually, I think we are in agreement.

        I mean, it (“reacting to criticism as if by receiving it they are having their free speech rights violated“) pretty much is automatically wrong, isn’t it?

        Yes. What I meant is that they might not have been wrong about the original thing they said.

        Using the censorship label could be helpful for some of this. I chose to go with legal vs. social because I thought some people might think “censorship” refers only to legal bans.

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      • …Sorry. ;) We seem to just not be on the same page when it comes to this whole “words” thing today. We’re actually doing a pretty good job fighting through it given that, however. Glad that we are on the roughly same page when it comes to the ideas.

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      • Yes, people do make this defense somewhat carelessly in an attempt to get out of any consequences for what they have said. But that doesn’t mean everyone who says this is automatically wrong.

        Wrong about what? It doesn’t make them wrong about their substantive argument, but they are automatically wrong about their free speech rights being violated. And making the claim is an indicator of…let’s say “unseriousness,” to be more polite than they necessarily deserve. So by itself the claim that criticism violates one’s free speech rights signals reason to be skeptical of the speaker’s substantive argument. Not sufficient cause to simply reject it, but sufficient cause to suspect the speaker is an ignoramus unlikely to be right about very much.

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  2. More seriously, I really like this post, and it gets at what bothers me when people say, “the first amendment doesn’t mean people have to listen.” Not that they’re wrong. It doesn’t and people shouldn’t if they don’t really want to. But that phrase is often uttered when someone says something unpopular and perhaps mostly wrong or offensive, but with a kernel of a good point that in an ideal setting could be explored.

    I put so many qualifications there–“mostly wrong” (not wholly wrong or offensive), “in an ideal setting” (not in many of the everyday settings we encounter such speech), and “could be explored” (not “must be” explored)–because I think there’s still something I’ll push back on here. I do have in the back of my mind some positions that as positions I think are so dishonest that I’ll refuse to entertain them, even though I’d never (I hope) endorse criminalizing holding those positions. I don’t feel like I have to give holocaust deniers a hearing, for example. However, that’s an extreme case, and many other positions I find grievously I think ought to be heard out more than they are.

    Also, how do you square your position with the desire of people to stake out occasional “safe spaces” where they can be themselves without having to answer criticisms or challenges about their basic beliefs? Members of a marginalized group, for example, may be so used to hearing speech and arguments against who they are or what they do or what they believe, that they might opt to create a space that for at least a set time gives them some breathing room where they can be themselves. I’m not envisioning a total retreat from or denial of society, just a voluntary commitment to spend a certain amount of time agreeing not to discuss certain things.

    Presumably (under my ideal notion of how things should work) these same people might otherwise engage in more rough and tumble speech, say, in public fora, where they do entertain ideas and at least listen to those who oppose them and extend the charity of good listening to many ideas they find repulsive. (Also, I hope it’s clear that I’m not endorsing legal restrictions. I’m just saying that your option of private action could be place and time specific in terms of how open or closed it is to free speech as a principle.)

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    • Gabriel,

      I was thinking that your comments had a remarkably (and excitingly!) uninhibited and familiar tone to them for a new commenter. So I followed the link at your name and found this post. So, Howdy!

      Maybe there was a conspicuous earlier announcement but if there was I missed it, so I thought it might be useful to highlight that post for others. Hope I don’t overstep.

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    • I do have in the back of my mind some positions that as positions I think are so dishonest that I’ll refuse to entertain them, even though I’d never (I hope) endorse criminalizing holding those positions. I don’t feel like I have to give holocaust deniers a hearing, for example.

      I don’t either, but that’s for two reasons:
      1. I’m not aware of any smart Holocaust deniers who make good arguments for their positions
      2. It’s not a statistically moderate belief. It’s not just you who doesn’t want to listen to them, no one takes them seriously.

      Absent from that list is the idea that it is “beyond the pale” to deny the Holocaust as an intrinsic character of the belief. I think the only reason it is considered beyond the pale is because it is so fringe. If instead 35% of people were Holocaust deniers and one of them had a NYTimes column, we would talk about it like any other issue.

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      • Vikram, I think this OP’s heart is in the right place, but I think it is a bit muddled, particularly when it is about the very “public”/private” (or “government/personal” dichotomoy) that it is. How do you square your comment w/r/t holocaust deniers (so fringe they might as well be invisible) with: We should actively seek out and promote those who are silenced….Enthusiastic support of free speech means that you seek to host controversial speakers you disagree with

        I can imagine a Holocaust – well, not denier, but reviser – saying something like “yes, many Jews and others were killed by the Nazi regime, but not nearly so many as currently estimated, due to the prevalence of what we are calling ‘Captain Needa Syndrome’ in totalitarian societies; where the fear of punishment by the dictator causes misinformation to be reported upwards. The Nazis kept copious records, but we believe those records to have been falsified, each death camp commander inflating his numbers to curry favor with his superiors.”

        Possibly, there could even be *some* truth to this (a similar explanation has been mooted for the lack of WMD’s in Iraq: that Saddam was being lied to by underlings too fearful to admit that they had nothin’), and as a society we have a general interest in getting to the truth of the matter. I wouldn’t support criminalizing such speech, or making any effort to keep it out of publicly-owned squares. Ideally, truth will out.

        But I ALSO don’t expect the local synagogue (or Jewish-themed website) to “seek out and promote” such a viewpoint. Even though it may be marginalized. Even though it may be true. The bottom line is that private parties and spaces have no responsibility to *host* ideas or views that they may not agree with. That is *also* what makes a liberal, pluralistic society work – “go take your BS somewhere else, it’s a big internet out there.”

        FTR, I had no issue with the Eich thing either. Boycotts in general may be silly, or they may be justified, but in the end it doesn’t matter *why* you don’t want to trade. The right to freely trade (or not) with another, for any reason at all, is a fundamental right; it doesn’t matter if I don’t want to “buy” “Eich’s” product because I think he’s a bigot, or because I believe Mozilla is run by lizard people.

        Of course, I know this last part is problematic for people in a different way – I believe I should have the right to refuse service to neo-nazis at my diner. But, the same principle that would allow me to do that, would allow another diner owner to do the same to “Zionists” due to their “genocidal” actions towards Palestinians, or to Catholics due to the Church’s abuse scandals, or to black people because of their “statistical criminal tendencies” – some of these reasons and outcomes aren’t acceptable to some people, and I don’t know how a pluralistic society squares that circle, except by maintaining a bright line between what we are expected to tolerate in public squares, vs. what we are expected to tolerate in private ones.

        You know, I am not sure this comment is any less muddled. Let me have my coffee and think about this some more.

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      • How do you square your comment w/r/t holocaust deniers (so fringe they might as well be invisible) with: We should actively seek out and promote those who are silenced….Enthusiastic support of free speech means that you seek to host controversial speakers you disagree with

        This is an excellent question. My squaring comes from my thinking that Holocaust deniers are not being silenced any more than flat-earthers are being silenced. It’s simply that their ideas haven’t been found to have much merit. If a Holocaust denier showed up on this post with non-trollish comments that presented good arguments, I’d actually be happy. (My current expectation is that they would instead interpret evidence in a highly selective way that is dictated by the conclusion they want to arrive at. I admit I haven’t dug into their work much though.)

        But I ALSO don’t expect the local synagogue (or Jewish-themed website) to “seek out and promote” such a viewpoint. Even though it may be marginalized.

        I don’t think it is marginalized. Instead it is simply unpopular. If they were actively being silenced, I’d say we should speak out for them. I certainly have more respect for the ACLU for having done so.

        The right to freely trade (or not) with another, for any reason at all, is a fundamental right;

        I just want to note that I said as much in the original post: “You can call for the unconditional boycott of anyone and everyone you disagree with.”

        I simply went on to further say that we shouldn’t always act on our impulses to boycott because it leads to balkanization and won’t always be used against people you dislike.

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      • Thanks for your response. As you may have gathered from my comment, I hedged a little about bringing up holocaust denialism because it is so extreme and so fringe (and so intellectually dishonest), and it risks godwinning up a thread.

        I think your reason #1 is and ought to be controlling for not listening to them. Your reason #2–and here I’m probably riffing off ‘s point–seems potentially dangerous. But only potentially. Statistically unpopular views might be statistically unpopular for a reason. And yes, if a significant percentage of people really were denialists then maybe that fact makes it discussable, if only for the sake of refuting.

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    • So to follow this up it should be perfectly consistent with a strong belief in free speech norms for a church to ask a person to leave if after a sermon is complete they stand up and begin to loudly proclaim the reasons why atheism is the only rational position.

      The person is responding but that probably isn’t the correct time and place.

      But a more complicated example would be a group of atheists standing outside the church handing out fliers to attend their talk on why religion is incorrect. Let us also assume that they are not blocking peoples path and are otherwise being on their best behavior.

      Any thought?

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      • I’m 100% down with the concept that “The United States” is a Free Speech Zone.

        I’m also 100% down with the concept that “this is a private party and we can ask you to leave.”

        I get into weird contortions when we get into private-but-open-to-the-public kinda spaces. Or stuff like how we can’t make you turn your “forget the draft” jacket inside out but we don’t care if the lawsuit brought about by your jacket means that employers are less likely to hire you? Even if it’s years later?

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      • In my experience, most atheist just don’t bother to confront Christians unless provoked, a few well-known authors aside. What you’re suggesting is sort of this organized thing that verges on missionary work, and has an icky feel of religion rather than non-belief.

        It’s also pretty easy to provoke you most be immoral responses, so I think most atheists remain somewhat closeted, particularly in the face of Christian practice. It’s far better to let someone get to know you, and have them witness your morality before pushing those bigoted judgments.

        But the rules you suggest are probably polite for cultural disagreement. You don’t storm the medical clinic with guns, you stand a respectful distance from the door with your offending signs or something like that.

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      • As a general rule, people of most stripes don’t actually provoke. It just doesn’t take many to do so. Back home, I found myself more frequently confronted with provoking Christians, though that could be a function of raw numbers. If .5% of any group is going to be obnoxious, then the size of the group matters. The place where I remember the most “in your face” atheists was in college. Not a coincidence, because that’s a place where quite a few of them are. And I rarely met an obnoxious Mormon until I moved to Deseret, where of course most of the Mormons weren’t actually very in my face about it, but there were enough of them for it to take its toll.

        The other factor, of course, being how much social power a group holds. In most of the country, Christians hold more social power than any other group. In Deseret, Mormons hold most of it. People in the group of social power, of course, are more free to provoke without having to worry about reprisals. I think the atheists in college were most outspoken in part because they had more social power (or were less socially weak) than in the area at large.

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  3. The Montgomery bus boycott worked, and it worked because people were willing to forego an essential service — public transportation — and walk to their jobs instead. It made the market in bus services understand that they were abusing the very customers they depended on with racist seating policies.

    A well organized boycott can serve an important social correction. I’m particularly fond of this one on Limbaugh advertisers.

    But the beauty of boycotts are that they are both free speech and free action. You can call one, anyone can call for one, but nobody has to listen.

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    • I’m a big fan of “Living Intentionally” and doing what I can to only spend my money at places that I vaguely support and, if that’s not possible, at least don’t vaguely oppose. I don’t have a Sam’s Club membership. I have a Costco membership. I shop at the (unionized) Safeway more often than the (also unionized) King Soopers (huh, I thought it wasn’t unionized). I deliberately have not seen Ender’s Game. I deliberately have not seen Blue Jasmine.

      I encourage everybody to live intentionally as well… and, sometimes, this means having to put up with stupid stuff like the Lowe’s boycott due to their advertising on All-American Muslim or the Dixie Chicks boycott.

      That doesn’t strike me as too high a price to pay.

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    • Why compare a Jim Crow era legal regulation to Rush Limbaugh? It is very difficult to live as a second-class citizen in your own community. It’s not that difficult to live in a world where Rush Limbaugh has a radio show. I’ve probably done it all my life; although I don’t know because I’m only tangentially aware of what he does and how long he’s been doing.

      Personally, I don’t have much of a dog in this particular fight, except that I prefer to live in a liberal society that maximizes tolerance (even tolerance for seemingly odious ideas). If boycotting is what your conscious calls for, then I say go for it. I do think that what describes as “living intentionally” sounds an awful lot like subsuming your life choices to political opinions. And that strikes me as fairly illiberal. That’s largely just a personal preference though.

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      • As a woman, I’ve heard enough feminazi/Sandra Fluke nonsense to say there is a real and persistent level of misogyny from Limbaugh that, while it might not compare to Jim Crow in horror, certainly bears similar examination and response.

        Beyond that, I brought the Montgomery boycott up not as a comparison, but to establish the essence of boycott in the American psyche. The boycotts (and non-violent protest that followed) are the gold-standard of how these things should be in this country; I was simply trying to acknowledge that basis. I have no notion what might drive an individual to boycott Limbaugh’s sponsors; for me, it’s misogyny; he doesn’t deserve my thought or attention, and the folks who write his paychecks should know his free speech reflects on their values in my mind.

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      • subsuming your life choices to political opinions.

        It’s also not always “subsuming” so much as “simplifying”. We all have many, many (maybe too many) choices to make on any given day. They eat up mental real estate, and cause us stress beforehand, and after, wondering if we chose aright.

        Doing what Jaybird describes provides yet another useful filter individuals can apply to simplify their decision trees each day. Assuming Costco and Sam’s Club are roughly cost-comparable and equidistant, ANY arbitrary distinction may be psychically-helpful to the individual. I make up all kinds of arbitrary reasons not to see this movie or buy that record – the *reason* isn’t as important to me as the *filtration*.

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      • Living intentionally means being thoughtful about what you do. It can manifest different ways for different people. It’s actually the opposite of subsuming your life choices to political opinions (and, as Jaybird notes, it’s not really about political opinions, per se).

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  4. a question.

    It’s been pretty well documented that women, expressing their right to free speech on the internet, are often targeted. Yesterday, I examined a most basic need of women to be able to go to school — feminine hygiene supplies and appropriate restroom facilities — and even here, pulled out the misogynistic trollish comments. In less pleasant places, the insults and threats can be pretty toxic; and when the trolls are called the pretty much always revert to ‘free speech’ defenses.

    So how does this fit? How do we handle people who are rude and insulting with the intent of shutting down the free speech of others? Because I’ve seen it; this is one of the very few forums on the internet I participate in because of it. The name I use online was specifically chosen to hide my gender because of it.

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    • Zic (and regarding “safe spaces”),
      I view safe spaces as a net positive development. I think it makes sense to segment conversations for a variety of reasons. The biggest is probably just because not everyone might be interested in whatever topic holds your interest, but I recognize the benefit of also having spaces to develop arguments semi-privately.

      Regarding trolls, the troll is exactly who I am complaining about. The troll is the one who yells and and harasses and disrupts the speech of others and defends herself by saying “hey, your legal right to free speech doesn’t immunize you from criticism.”

      To answer Zic’s question more directly, anyone who uses the defense of “free speech” or “the right to free speech doesn’t immunize you from criticism” in order to disrupt the expression of others is violating the principle of free speech as I think liberalized societies should practice it. And, yes, this applies whether the people being silenced are women or neo-Nazis.

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      • Regarding trolls, the troll is exactly who I am complaining about. The troll is the one who yells and and harasses and disrupts the speech of others and defends herself by saying “hey, your legal right to free speech doesn’t immunize you from criticism.”

        That was not evident to me; your topic seemed broader, and equally applicable to discussions of Eich and Mozilla, for instance.

        But here’s a problem: Creating safe spaces means someone has the power of Dave or the poetic abilities of Mark Thompson to intervene — there’s a tribal leader on watch, monitoring the conversation and the tribe is trusting that this bearer of the ban hammer has the sense to differentiate between contrary speech and offensive speech.

        While I’ve never frequented the place, Jay Bird has spoken of getting banned from Red State in a manner that suggests his contrary speech was deemed offensive, and this sort of veers to though policing. (And I adore JB’s contrary speech, so there.)

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      • You and I have very different experiences of trolls. In my experience it’s the trolls who are far more likely to be the ones howling that they have a right to free speech when a moderator or an online community comes down on them for behaving in ways that sabotage intelligent discourse.

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      • zic, Perhaps this is some of the muddling Glyph was referring to. The post does make reference to boycotts (which the Mozilla case does apply to) as well as to the more general rules of what constitutes good rules governing free speech.

        Per my guidelines, boycotting Mozilla would be ill-advised for a few reasons. #1, it was about the political views of the CEO rather than of the company, which actually seems to have been a gay-friendly workplace. #2, the views in question were statistically moderate (however offensive we might find them). Of course, the success of that boycott is actually a counterexample to my claim that boycotts are less likely to work when used to punish statistically moderate views.

        I still claim, however, that despite the success of that boycott that such actions are better reserved for better-motivated battles. And it’s another case where it’s hard to look at the end state and clearly define what was actually won.

        But the post also pertains to speech in general, and I linked to a video of a someone’s talk being disrupted by yelling. And that is where I think we should step in and say “yes, yelling might be legally protected, but if you yell to prevent someone from speaking, you automatically lose in our eyes.” And trolling is just the online version of yelling.

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      • — This is one of those cases where I have to wonder how much you have been the target of abusive speech, and how much you understand the harm it does.

        And I do not mean an abstract, distanced perspective. I mean up close and personal, a target of relentless verbal bullying.

        I know people who have chosen suicide rather than face another day of hate.

        Think on this: they probably made the best choice they could with the tools they had.

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      • There never was a boycott of Mozilla. There was some bad publicity and some speculation that that might lead to a boycott. Eich resigned too quickly for us to know whether that was true or not. This is so different from congressional hearings leading to hundreds of people losing their jobs that it’s fairly insane to discuss them in the same breath.

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      • There never was a boycott of Mozilla.

        Well, except for OKCupid and their 30 million users that couldn’t use Firefox.

        EDITED TO ADD: that “30 million” number came from a very quick Google. If it seems high to you (it does to me), knock it down to 3 million or whatever. I think the point still stands that it’s a sort of “boycott”, effectively if nothing else.

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      • My understanding that OKCupid put up a landing page for Firefox users expressing their concerns, but that it didn’t actually prevent Firefox users from accessing the site (I think they had to scroll down to enter or something). So even that wasn’t really a boycott.

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      • – I think we are probably splitting hairs at this point. Even if OKCupid was only encouraging its users to use different browsers, presumably some portion of them did so (and other people that didn’t even USE OKCupid, but had heard about the controversy from their actions, probably did so as well).

        It’s like saying that because protestors didn’t physically stop customers from entering Chik-Fil-A, there was no boycott of Chik-Fil-A.

        The minute someone proposes a boycott, and a substantial number of people sign on, there’s a boycott, no?

        Moreover, I can be a boycott of one, if I wish.

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      • It’s still only one web site. Did any others jump on the bandwagon?

        Was there time to do so? From what I recall, there wasn’t a whole lot of time between when we first heard about this and the time we heard about the guy stepping down. According to Wikipedia, he was appointed on March 24th and stepped down on April 3rd. OK Cupid’s boycott began on March 31st, as far as I can tell.

        Which pretty much fits what I remember from the scandal. I first heard about it on the 1st, read a handful of posts about it on the 2nd, and it was over on the 3rd.

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      • From what I recall, there wasn’t a whole lot of time between when we first heard about this and the time we heard about the guy stepping down.

        Exactly my point. Dreher and his ilk attribute Eich’s losing his job to a liberal-gay conspiracy that never happened, if only because there wasn’t enough time.

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      • (As a point of clarification, I would not actually kick the guy in the knee. Instead, I would express my condolences, along with stating the fact that unchecked memory access is a great evil and the world would be better if everyone used Haskell.)

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      • Truly, such errors are completely understandable & easy to make. I think anyone who has written code has committed such a jaw-droppingly similar goof & not caught it until it bit them in the a$$. I’m just glad it was found & fixed as quickly as it was.

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      • For your reading amusement.

        * disclaimer: I think the OpenBSD crew has, um, a asshole-to-dev crew ratio that’s notable, but when they get their dander up about something to which they have a legitimate gripe leading to dander-upping, they’re amusing as all hell to read.

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      • — Oh god I don’t even want to imagine trying to maintain some enormous, hideous C application that I did not write.

        #define WHATEVER_THE_FUCK_THIS_IS *(that_other_fucking_thing_that_does_not_show_up_when_you_grep_but_it_still_compiles)++

        (Never mind maintaining one that I did.)

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      • — We have 100,000+ servers and more private keys, all compromised, and lots and lots and lots of software that is broken in interesting ways. Evidently the Whitehouse called our CEO with “concerns.”

        So, yeah, interesting two weeks. I finally get a whole weekend off (maybe), and damn I need it.

        (And next week I have a job interview with this other-tech-company and I really wanted to prepare more, but I couldn’t and I already put them off once, so damn the torpedoes, I hope they ask a lot about graph theory ’cause I’m good at that.)

        (At least I’ll be pretty.)

        #firstworldnerdproblems

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      • Being a sysadmin, in my experience the worst code ever is invariably written in Perl.

        Java is a second runner up because so many people program in Java and thus there’s just a lot of really bad people writing Java code… although the biggest problem with Java code is bloat more than anything else. Maybe Javascript.

        All Haskell code I’ve seen is pretty elegant, but then that’s probably because only real CS nerds love Haskell and they’re like… into elegance, man.

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      • On Haskell, totes.

        It’s more than elegance, however. It’s something else, which is kind of hard to explain, but I see things like this: Haskell provides an easier flow between thought and deed. It’s like, think of the problem, see the data, the algorithms, the flow, and then type it in just as you hold it in your brain.

        (Which, by the way, Bird’s Pearls of Functional Algorithm Design should be on everyone’s must read list.)

        It is a bigger vocabulary, with words more subtle, with grammar more finely tuned, than what you can do with those C/Modula atrocities.

        This is not a new thing. APL had it, at least for math. LISP could have it, if you used it right. Other languages can have it. The better Ruby code does, along with those frighteningly brilliant folks who can make C++ sing…

        (About which, I wish I could go back in time and observe that first person who figured out that C++ template expansion was capable of implementing a lambda calculus. That should be a great mythical moment of nerdom.)

        But, anyway, yeah, it’s a thing.

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      • C++ is horrible. Even when someone brilliant does one of those amazing conceptual things, the result is still likely to crash and/or leak because somewhere down in the guts of it two functions disagree on who owns some memory allocation.

        Java can’t in principle create a Heartbleed-like error because of bounds-checking, but you know someone is going to build their own micro-allocator for “efficiency”, so …

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      • I’m actually writing some C++ now, mostly just for fun. A coworker said it best: once you get something actually working in C++, you can look at it and go, “Look what I did!”

        I thought Heartbleed was a simple bounds error, where you can see two things: the remaining contents of whatever was in the buffer during the last request that used it (in plaintext!) plus whatever happens to be past the end of the buffer up to 64k, which is whatever happened to be nearby according to the fiendish logic of malloc/free.

        Is there more?

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      • OK, now I’m going to have to sit down & learn Haskell. Then I’m going to wonder if I can incorporate it into any of my Java work.

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      • The explanation of Heartbleed I’ve seen several places (including http://xkcd.com/1354/) goes like this:

        There’s a message used for SSL keepalive that looks like this:

        count: i2
        body: bytes[count]

        The receiver, when it sees this message, echoes the message body. If the sender lies and the body has fewer than count bytes, the message should be rejected, but OpenSSL was echoing count bytes anyway, consisting of the body plus whatever followed it in memory.

        This would make perfect sense if TCP were a message-oriented protocol: OpenSSL failed to notice that the count was inconsistent with the message framing. But that’s not the case: TCP is a stream protocol. All messages within the stream either need to have a parseable delimiter or indicate how long they are. (E.g. each HTTP header ends with a new line and the set of them ends with a blank line. If a body follows, then one of the headers has either

        1. Specified its length, or
        2. Indicated that it contains embedded size information.

        If you get any of this wrong, the result isn’t a security violation. The result is truncated messages, timeouts, interpreting embedded chunk counts as data, etc.)

        So it seems to me that a message that says “N bytes follow” will either swallow the next N bytes received on that connection, or time out if there aren’t N more bytes. If “N” is a lie, it’ll break the protocol, just as if you’d messed up the value of the HTTP Content-Length header, but it shouldn’t result in the message being successfully parsed and accepted.

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      • — You’re thinking on the wrong level. TCP is a level 4 protocol, which provides reliable delivery and flow control and blah, blah, blah {insert chapter one of every boring networking text ever}. The SSL stuff happens at a higher level (although it might not quite exactly fit the OSI model; TCP/IP stuff seldom does). Anyway, the echo thing sends back N bytes, which are then delivered by TCP, which may or may not split them among IP packets. SSL doesn’t care how TCP delivers the packets. That’s TCP’s problem.

        The issue is the amount of data that SSL will send back, which we expect TCP to deliver faithfully. In this case if you request 64k bytes, but only provide a string of 10 bytes, OpenSSL screws the pooch and packages up the next 64k-minus-10 bytes from that buffer and sends them back, which ends up being whatever was in that buffer before (OpenSSL reuses buffers) in plaintext, plus usually quite a bit after the buffer, because C lacks range checking.

        So, yay hackers! It’s not quite like access to /dev/mem, but it’s a little snapshot.

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      • Haskell provides an easier flow between thought and deed.

        I will say this: I know a lot of programmers, and they all feel this way about a particular language, but the language varies wildly from programmer to programmer.

        Some languages are better at certain layers of abstraction, or they’re better at handling some aspect of coding that you find particularly annoying, or they’re better at handling some aspect of coding that you find really tiresome or you’re just plain bad at… and some languages have limitations that you don’t particularly find troublesome at all.

        One of the guys I knew wrote a compiler for the first time in C, and he said, “Okay, now I finally know why everybody should learn C. Before I did that, I just thought the real reason to learn C was to learn that you were terrible at managing memory.”

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      • I get the part about the response. What I don’t get is on the request: why does whatever layer is processing it consider a message that says “I contain N bytes” to be complete until it’s read all N bytes from the stream?

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      • — Okay, I get it.

        Good question. I haven’t seen the code — and like any volume of ancient lore bound in the flesh of the damned, I simply do not want gaze within.

        But I can guess that the protocol must have some kind of frame boundary or message length that is separate from the echo’s content length parameter.

        It’s the only thing that makes sense.

        (It’s easy to imagine the echo function getting spliced into some RFC based on some “wouldn’t it be nice if…” kinda thinking, but without considering how it interacts with the remainder of the protocol structure.)

        (Or OpenSSL could just be uniquely bad.)

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      • v dire,
        Having the whitehouse call you because they’re “concerned” is a lot more fun than having the Department of State ream you out because you were violating their sanctions. (Not My Company!).

        Mike,
        Most of the best software in the world runs in C++. A good deal of it is self-modifying. The fucked up thing about self-modifying code is you then have to write a self-modifying compiler.

        I write code for fun in C++ (image pattern recognition stuff that would make Java go explodey, because Java hates huge memory footprints). You use smart pointers until you’re done with testing, and then define them out.

        LOADS more fun than decrypting assembly (which I’ve also done — yay motion vectors!).

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      • v,
        I’m not going to cite a website, but one of the best pseudorandom number generators is self-modifying (ask the feds, they test this stuff). Stroustrup was willing to make some modifications to the C++ spec to make self-modifying code easier.

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      • That’s generally a safe assumption. But I’ve read several places that Skype (which is reportedly written in C++) uses self-modifying code to make it harder to hack; in fact not only does it modify the code, but it constantly checks that the current code is at the proper modification level (I’d guess by hashing regions of memory), and if not it exits.

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  5. I’m not sure that I completely agree with you on the comic.

    At least in Internet debates, there seems to be this general trend. I admit my interpretation probably is influenced by political bias.

    Person A: Writes something cruel, vulgar, racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, and usually very short on facts.

    Person B: Responds back and challenges person A on their assumptions, facts, defends whatever minority group was being attacked in a bigoted manner, etc.

    Person A: Says something about free speech.

    I am not sure what Person A’s free speech remark is supposed to do but it seems meant to say that Person B should not have challenged Person A on their remarks. Person B also has free speech rights to tell Person A why they are being wrong. What is a liberal person supposed to do during policy and political debates? Just be quiet?

    I see this mainly on internet forums like Thinkprogress or other places and I think the comic mainly applies to the Internet.

    Zic is right. There are still a lot of assholes out there who think it is appropriate to make rape and violence threats against women who issue criticisms of their beloved hobbies from video games to comic books or whatever.

    People are not going to learn or have their attitudes changed by silence and not criticism. Maybe they won’t change with criticism but there are many times when silence can be viewed as potentially equaling agreement.

    Though I am personally a fan of letting people use free speech to shoot themselves in the foot.
    See Cliven Bundy as an example.

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    • Person A: Says something about free speech.

      I have little doubt that this is what Munroe had in his head while inking (or Wacom-ing) his cartoon. And it is fine if it is only viewed in those situations in which Person A is evil. My point is that sometimes Person A is just a guy who went to a political meeting out of curiosity and Person B is Joseph McCarthy. Sometimes Person A does actually have a good reason as to why her livelihood shouldn’t be taken away simply even though the Constitution doesn’t guarantee her that it won’t.

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  6. I don’t know that I’ve ever formally participated in a boycott. I mean, I haven’t gone to Chik-Fil-A since that whole brouhaha went down, but I’ve probably only gone there 3 or 4 times in my life as it is. I didn’t actively avoid it; it just didn’t happen.

    As I’ve thought about the legitimacy and appropriateness of boycotts, I’ve decided to draw a line between holding a belief I disagree with and taking direct action to make the world a worse place — using my own subjective definition of worse.

    So, if I learn that a shopkeeper down the road is opposed to SSM and grumbles about it at home, that won’t impact my decision to patronize his shop. Were there to be an identical shop next door with an identical shopping experience but owned by someone in favor of SSM, I’d probably opt for that store. But odds are I wouldn’t really know either person’s beliefs so it wouldn’t really matter.

    Now, if I learned that the shopkeeper made major contributions to political campaign aimed at curtailing the marriage rights of same sex couples, I’d think differently. At that point, my patronizing of his shop would further his ability to do that — however so slightly — such that I would be uncomfortable doing so.

    There is a lot of gray area. Does voting for/against something qualify as an act? Publicly advocating? I’m not sure. I would have to look at the particulars, both in terms of the idea itself and the specific actions being taken.

    The reality is, most people I know — people I love — probably hold one idea or another that I find deplorable. Were I to boycott them, it’d be a very lonely existence.

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    • Kazzy, I’ve also been struggling with the when-to-boycott question. It took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to come up with the three rules in my post, and even that is a tentative offering to the reader rather than a prescription. To be honest, the Doc’s post carried a lot of weight in my mind as well as the image of Protestants and Catholics forever boycotting each other with no readily identifiable benefits. Trade helps break these barriers. A refusal to trade reinforces them.

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      • While I don’t think a boycott needs to be effective to be legitimate (sending a message carries inherent value), I do think the idea behind them should be to effect change… to mitigate harm*. Even if it does not achieve this, that should be the aim. I don’t think it should necessarily be to punish someone for holding diagreeable beliefs. You hate gays? That doesn’t mean I don’t think you should be able to put food on your table. Sure, I can opt not to contribute to you doing so… but if everyone did that, society would cease to be (as you point out). Plus, my shopping habits likely won’t effect your internal feelings.

        This starts to get us into an area discussed on a recent thread, wherein whether our goal should be to change behavior or change ideas. Policing thought through boycotts feels icky in a way.

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      • Even if it does not achieve this, that should be the aim. I don’t think it should necessarily be to punish someone for holding diagreeable beliefs.

        I struggle with this; most particularly in the context of free markets.

        As a reporter in a small town, there were definitely people who ‘hated’ me; I did my job well, and that includes afflicting the comfortable when they’re comfort is achieved through rent seeking. When I quit writing, I opened a coffee shop in that same town. I expected those who felt afflicted by my reporting would not be customers; and that was pretty much true. They hated me, and opted to boycott my new business venture because they hated me; and I didn’t expect anything different. Likewise, there were things that I learned about individuals who do business here while reporting that shape who I opt to do business with; some I don’t trust, some I intensely disrespect.

        I don’t have any problem with that, either.

        Disliking someone, their beliefs, or their politics, and opting to base your business/market/purchasing decisions on that is as old as our ability to dislike. Where it gets problematic for me is when it’s used to shut down specific groups of people because you dislike the group; particularly when a group with greater social power and capital uses it to shut down a repressed group agitating for equal access to the market place; there were definitely black-owned businesses put out of business for lack of white customers in the civil rights era.

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      • I want to point out that my guidelines do draw a distinction between personal and organized boycotts. My guidelines (which are tentative) say it is OK for someone to not go to your coffee shop because they didn’t like your reporting. If those same people were to try and organize a mass boycott of the shop, then I think that’s going overboard.

        Unless you were writing for Ron Paul’s newsletter or something. :)

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      • I think it also depends on the way in which the “message” was spread and people’s reasons for being responsive to it.

        If a good friend came to me and said, “That guy who owns that shop was a real ass to me,” I might be inclined to shop elsewhere as a show of support to my friend. I don’t think that is necessarily petty or excessive.

        If that same friend came to me and said, “I used to date the woman who owns that shop and she broke my heart,” and I then took out a bullhorn and started chanting, “Hell no, we won’t go!” and pointing in the direction of her shop… yea, I think a line has been crossed.

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  7. There is actually a lot of debate about free speech and what it means in the liberal-left blogosphere at this moment. It started shortly after Ray Kelly was shot down when giving a talk at an Ivy. Lots of people on the left thought that this was appropriate because Ray Kelly was the evil bastard behind stop and frisk. Others thought that heckling him constituted a violation of his free speech and those that wanted to listen to him. Some even invoked the spectre of Thedore Adorno in his latter years.

    The Far Left has always had more than a little skepticism about what they call bourgeoisie freedoms like freedom of speech. Their rough argument was that the bourgeoisie freedoms can easily be used to put people in their place and exploit the powerless because the rich and powerful are always going to have an easier time broadcasting their ideas. Liberals tend to be skeptical of this argument and are in full favor of bourgeoisie freedoms.

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    • “Lots of people on the left thought that this was appropriate because Ray Kelly was the evil bastard behind stop and frisk. Others thought that heckling him constituted a violation of his free speech and those that wanted to listen to him.”

      Do there exist responses between these two?

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      • To clarify, I’m not asking if those responses occurred. Rather, I’m curious if legitimate responses exist between shouting Kelly down being okay and shouting Kelly down being an infringement upon his free speech? Could it be argued that it was not an appropriate response but not because it necessarily infringed upon his free speech rights?

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      • You could also argue that it infringed on the rights of people that wanted to hear Ray Kelly speak regardless of whether or not they agreed with him. It can also be seen as an act of extreme impoliteness towards everybody that wanted to hear him speak, akin to runing a party simply because.

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    • bourgeoisie freedoms can easily be used to put people in their place and exploit the powerless because the rich and powerful are always going to have an easier time broadcasting their ideas

      This seems to me to be trivially true. The question is whether one can identify some other system that better mitigates these advantages and better selects for right answers than free speech.

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      • It’s not trivial to the leftists who view liberal rights in that way. And while, coincidentally, the leftists might actually agree with your bare words when you say, “The question is whether one can identify some other system that better mitigates these advantages and better selects for right answers than free speech,” their definition and yours of “better” are likely to be fundamentally irreconcilable.

        Leftists of this ilk are considering the value of free speech and other such rights in the context of a set of aims that, I’m guessing, is almost completely at cross, if not antithetical, purposes to the ones for which purpose you are considering those rights. There’s almost no point in trying to think about whether some other system could be agreed upon to satisfy the purposes for which rights like free speech are protected in liberal civilization. The leftists may ultimately find some redeeming value in free speech, but it won’t be because they agree with you about the reasons why it might be worth protecting.

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  8. Vikram,

    I really enjoyed this post, and definitely agree with the spirit of it. At first I thought you were blurring the distinction between freedom of speech and freedom of interaction, but on a second read I was mistaken.

    I think you make good points in your rules of thumb on boycotts. They can lead to unproductive Balkanization when applied to widely-held but different-than-mine beliefs.

    By the way, if you want more info on how we controlled and influenced each other in our ancestral, pre-agricultural societies, I strongly recommend Christopher Boehm. He explores his ideas in two books — Moral Origins, and Hierarchy in the Forest — and in several internet summaries. Many of your musings match the anthropological studies (though not all.)

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  9. Partial pushback on the OP:

    You say “P! Policy P is good, P will save us all from hazard X! Yaaay P!”

    I disagree. I am not only ~P, I am in favor instead of Q. Upon hearing you advocate for P, my principal options are:

    1) seek access to the same forum where you advocated P, and there counter-advocate for ~P and Q. We all likely agree this is the best option; it most directly contributes to a productive discussion and formation of a social consensus on the great “P versus Q” debate that so long has vexed our community.
    2) seek access to your forum, and there viciously lampoon P and shame you for advocating it. Stipulated that in so doing, I render myself an asshole.
    3) access or create a different forum in which to speak as I prefer, again likely descending into assholery.
    4) respond to you pro-P argument by shouting “shut up shut up shut up shut up!” and seeking to drown out or distract the audience from hearing your message through further assholery.
    5) boycott you; the linkage of P to your means of livelihood being irrelevant.
    6) use my access to governmental power to cause official punishment to be wreaked upon you.
    7) inflict violence upon you.

    Unpleasant as options 2-5 are, seems to me that if the threshold is what is minimally tolerable for “civilization” in the liberal societies with which most of us are familiar, only options 6 and 7 are unacceptable.

    We can have civilization — people living together peacefully and under the rule of law and a reasonable attempt at actualizing the virtue of justice — with options 2-5. Doesn’t excuse my assholery in those options, but putting up with assholes is also a price of civilization. The best case is not always congruent with the minimally acceptable.

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    • Unpleasant as options 2-5 are, seems to me that if the threshold is what is minimally tolerable for “civilization” in the liberal societies with which most of us are familiar, only options 6 and 7 are unacceptable.

      Burt Likko, champion of the minimally tolerable society!

      I think it’s instructive to look at Godwin’s Law, which is actually just a social norm. Social norms are how we can get beyond the minimally tolerable. Godwin’s Law just happens to be a norm that is obviously beneficial to almost everyone to adopt. And we could easily add more. We could make Zic’s Law state that whoever makes the first death or rape threat automatically loses the debate. It wouldn’t be because making such a threat makes someone wrong but instead because having such a rule leads to a better-than-minimally-tolerable society.

      Similarly, I think we should have some socially-enforced norms on 2-5. And we do actually. This is good!

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      • Actually issuing death or rape threats pretty much does make you wrong, even if you are also correct about some other points. “X deserves to be killed or raped” is never a good idea and while it might not meet a legal standard for inciting violence it is close enough that the benefits of stopping such speech in a forum like this are worth the risk that a controversial view that can only be expressed in those terms gets shut out.

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    • I’m curious as to why you think option 3 tends towards assholery. After all, there are some moral gaps that are genuinely unbridgeable–me and Ross Douthat could likely discuss for years and never come to an agreement on gay marriage, because we come at it from dramatically opposing worldviews. Obviously, it’s possible to fundamentally disagree with somebody in an asinine way; but it’s also possible to do so in a non-asinine way.

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  10. The First Amendment is the weakest possible defense of any particular bit of speech. If you can’t claim that what you’re saying is true, or useful, or beautiful, or insightful, or amusing, that’s when you need to fall back on reminding everyone that your saying it isn’t illegal.

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  11. This is tangential, but I was set to go, this Sunday, to a meet-up of another blog of a more particular ideological bent. I knew of the ideological bent and I read it for a sort of “group reaction of the left” understanding of the worldview and some insight into leftward ethical systems. Over time, I’ve come to like a lot of the commenters (conversations frequently go outside the political realm). I thought it would be interesting to meet them (though I planned to be silent on politics).

    Anyhow, a conversation occurred last week about whether ideology was actually the better metric into the goodness or not-goodness of a person, as opposed to the metric of how they treat people and such. Some argued it was, while others argued that it depended. Either way, I could see exactly how wrong I was on the divide (the pardons they were willing to give to some people did not apply to me).

    So this Sunday I will instead be spending at home with the bean and the wife. I wasn’t worried that they would be mean or impolite (not the least of which because I wasn’t going to disrupt things by speaking out of turn at their event). But with how they see things, it seems to me that my presence there – even a politically silent one – would be presence with someone that they think poorly of. I wouldn’t be comfortable doing that (for myself, or in a more abstract way).

    Which strikes me as a shame, though in a way their perspective – regarding what one’s politics says about a person – does make sense. Possibly more sense than my own. It strikes me as somewhat inconducive to a civil society, though an argument could be made that it would be a civility built on a faulty foundation.

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    • I thought it would be interesting to meet them (though I planned to be silent on politics).

      I’m not sure I would be comfortable going some place with the intent of self-censorship; most particularly when I knew that others did not have such restraint in mind.

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      • I’m relatively used to biting my tongue on politics. Even, and especially, with the outspoken.

        My impression that it was going to be kind of like Leaguefest writ-small, where politics came up but mostly people just wanted to meet each other.

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      • Heh… I am increasingly cognizant of how much of myself — political or otherwise — I censor while at work. I’m not talking about my persona in front of the children which is necessarily different from who I am more naturally, but how much of myself I show to my co-workers. I won’t even listen to SFW hip-hop at school during off-hours because invariably someone will come into the room and do that awkward hand-up-and-down thing white people do when they are satirizing hip hop culture. It’s just not worth the annoyance.

        I’ve always had to do a lot of code switching. Some of it is just part of life. But I think my current circumstances demand more of it than I am comfortable with.

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      • Sorry, zic, that reads harsher than I meant it. I just meant that sometimes I find value in stepping back and being an observer to a discussion rather than to being a participant. Often, it keeps me from getting personally invested in a “side” and allows me to properly assess people’s opinions, as well as my own.

        Though if you’re going to be representative of bad people (as it seems was going to be the case), I’d have difficulty attending, too.

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      • I know it might not seem that way, but I actually don’t have a problem with self-censorship, though it depends on the reasons one is doing it. People who have to say everything even if they know it will create conflict can be insufferable.

        I even self-censor here a bit. Sometimes it’s for good reasons and other times it’s because I’m gutless. If I realize it’s the latter, I will try to just get over myself and say what I want though. That’s actually what led to this post, which I thought would get me in trouble, but you all were actually very good about recognizing my question as genuine.

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      • I agree that self-censorship isn’t inherently bad. But I think if we looked at the distribution of its occurrence, we’d be unhappy. And not because I can’t listen to rap music at work. But because the groups of people (generally those with less power) and the types of people (generally those who are better natured) are probably bearing the brunt of it.

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      • I agree. I struggle to listen here often, when I hear the words but realize I don’t grasp the underlying meaning in particular. That’s the point where learning and knowledge unfolds.

        thanks for saying this. I realize this may be hard to believe, but I often self-censor here; I more and more feel like I’m the token feminist; a role I don’t really want to fill; I just want full recognition/consideration for half the human race. If I did not self-censor, it would be exhausting. (And this is a safe place; so I mean no dishonor, I refer to those statistical norms mentioned.)

        I simply had difficulty with the notion of opting to self-censor as Will expressed it; like it was a covert operation. I am happy to just listen when appropriate; but I would always reserve the right to speak, too.

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      • That is why I think the role of allies is so important. The responsibility falls to all of us. I don’t know how great an ally I am or have been, but it is something I am thinking increasingly about.

        Thanks for what you do do to make this a better place for us all.

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      • Thank you,

        It’s a privilege and honor to have a place where I can write what I did yesterday with The Curse and feel that I might give some insight. I wouldn’t have submitted that to be published with allies like you and so many others.

        Deep conversation requires some level of trust that everyone get’s a chance to hold the talking stick.

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      • My “covert operation”, as it were, is mostly my participation on the blog, or lack thereof. I don’t know if, in person, any of them would recognize my name. Or if they did, that they would know what my politics are. I mostly reserve my commenting there for the apolitical stuff, comments relatively limited in scope, and/or comments very much within the context of their conversation*. Though I’ve not been dishonest by suggesting views I don’t have, and I was once called a libertarian s***bag who needed to get lost, or something to that effect.

        Which was the other issue with going, or not. I suspected most people there wouldn’t know who I was (a very, very high-traffic commenting section). I thought that maybe to the extent that they did, if they did, being there with my daughter in a more social setting would have a humanizing effect.

        And it might very well have, but it became apparent that even if I didn’t disrupt their conversation with their views, to the extent that they remember me my presence might be uncomfortable whether I said anything or not.

        * – By which I mean, if two people are discussing whether to fix our school system by paying teachers more or limiting classroom sizes, I don’t come in talking about charters and vouchers because I know those views are rejected between the conversants. I do the same thing on blogs that lean hard in the other direction.

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      • I thought you might like covert operations. You can do it while vaping in your Matrix coat and Ray Bans. Talk politics with strangers shadowy edges of the street lights.

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    • Well, that was depressing.

      I mean, I would have done the same thing. If I knew that they would think I was a bad person if they really knew what I believed, then I wouldn’t impose myself on them even if I didn’t take it personally (which I wouldn’t).

      But it’s still depressing because it robs both you and them of an opportunity to talk to dissimilar people. We silo entirely too much.

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      • “But it’s still depressing because it robs both you and them of an opportunity to talk to dissimilar people. We silo entirely too much.”

        i will jaundicedly disagree – generally speaking, people who think one’s ideological beliefs are a metric for their “goodness” (e.g. people who agree with me are good, those who don’t are bad, and so on) are twits. unless will wanted some abuse, his best case scenario was making people uncomfortable until he left and the gossip/group assertion could begin.

        furtherly jaundiced – generally speaking, some folk use politics as a kind of emotional jettison; it fills up some weird communitas drive that can’t be satisfied by church or beating their kids or some other communal social activity. 3rd parties fill this role when their preferred “other” isn’t available. and when a 3rd party – or preferably, a 3rd party party – nonconformists (of whatever kind) fill the gap.

        shorter jaundice – a lot of folk just want someone to abuse. some people like yelling at each other, or getting yelled at. the political economy of emotional masturbation.

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    • This reminds me of something that happened to me on Easter Sunday. I was hanging out with a friend of mine who is in the book trade. He sometimes sets up a few tables in my neighborhoods on the weekend to sell books and I spent a couple hours hanging out with him on Easter Sunday. A young woman was looking at the books and somehow, I forgot what brought this up exactly, and the Hasidim came up. My friend and I are both relatively non-religious Jews and he is real Leftist even by European standards. This young woman was going on a bit of rant about gender relationships among Ultra-Orthodox Jew. I held my toungue for a bit but eventually had to explain certain things to her.

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      • So does this constitute jewsplaining on her part, and you corrected?

        We don’t really have a good term for the retort to –splaining; how someone within a group answers someone outside it.

        I sort of wish you explain to me how you responded to her, I’ld be really interested to be informed that way; I recognize I could have been her, particularly if I’d just experienced or witnessed an offensive encounter. There are basic rules of respecting women that are easily violated in many cultures; it can be difficult to be feminist and be respectful of cultural norms simultaneously.

        In example, I felt the French ban on head scarfs horrid, a head scarf offers privacy. It creates mystery. It’s her choice what she wears; the right to cover herself or flaunt herself as she sees fit, to her own comfort, culture, vanity and utility.

        But a lot of women celebrated the ban. They had trouble being culturally respectful because of their feminine ideals.

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      • zic,
        bear in mind, crucifixes are also illegal at French schools. This is a deliberate “keep religion out of it” model. Now, I’d say that wearing a Keffiyeh is no way shape or form religious, and I’d encourage Islamic girls to wear it.

        hrmm… what to say about Hasidim and gender relationships? There’s precious little good I can say, other than women historically having more power than a lot of other cultures (they generally owned shops, and held the purse strings.). This led to a real culture of incest (father/daughter varietal), because the women could decide not to sleep with their husbands.

        That being said, it’s rather blatant that boys are favored more, and given more freedoms and license in Hasidic households than girls are. Boys are allowed to discuss religion, women are not (at least I wasn’t when I was at a Passover Seder).

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      • Thats one way of interpreting it. If you take her side, I was mansplaining to her.

        The woman was basically commenting negatively on the amount of gender segregation among Hasidic Jews and how men and women do not dance together. She thought that it was because of the usual arguments about men fearing women’s sexuality or something like that. I pointed out that its because the Torah prohibits men from touching menstruating women. By trying to avoid touching women in general and not dancing with them in particular is considered polite because you won’t know who is menstruating.

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      • other than women historically having more power than a lot of other cultures (they generally owned shops, and held the purse strings.). This led to a real culture of incest (father/daughter varietal), because the women could decide not to sleep with their husbands.

        I keep verging on wanting you to tell your story some day and wanting to respect your privacy and not inquire about it. But the consistent string of comments like this pique my curiosity, and I hope you’ll tell your experience with this world.

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      • Lee,
        That’s not the usual argument, though. Christians tend to think of the woman as chaste and virginal, less sexual than men. Women should be protected against men’s desires, and are held accountable for keeping men in line.

        Different story elsewhere, obvs.

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      • zic,
        I’m… somewhat far removed from that world. I wasn’t raised Hasidic, and I’d hesitate to talk about anything from my childhood as being related to my religion at all.
        Like many things I talk about on this site, this comes from larger scale studies.
        To turn to a different, related topic, it troubles me that we give a ton of advice
        to kids about rape, but we don’t (seemingly) do much to profile rapists (particularly date rapists). And hang on a jot, shouldn’t we be distributing this info to boys? “This is what a rapist acts like, this is what he tries to do. Don’t do this!” [I mean, step by step. A little of “this is how to act” and “this is how not to act”]

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  12. The XKCD comic is a perfect demonstration of unconsious privilege.

    Because, y’know, of course a white male creator-famous tech-insider would tell us that private censure is not government censorship and therefore we should just Deal With It. He’s not likely to experience private censure in his lifetime; he won’t have to risk being denied opportunities for self-actualization.

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    • I agree with almost all of that. I disagree with “He’s not likely to experience private censure in his lifetime…”

      Brendan Eich was a privileged white male who supported an initiative that actually won and a few years later it became a liability. Things can turn upside down within a single decade, but people live over multiple ones.

      I think it’d be more accurate to say he can’t imagine experiencing private censure in his lifetime (despite his art showing he otherwise has a wonderful imagination and a refreshing sense of history).

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      • One thing to consider, Randall Munroe has (perhaps) not received much public censure because he seems to be a genuinely decent guy.

        I mean, I can’t think of much he’s done that comes close to deserving censure.

        Compare him to those turds over at Penny Arcade, who no doubt are comparable to Randall in their social position, but who have received a metric crapton of well deserved censure — and may they receive much more.

        Much, much more.

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      • I feel a bit bad about critiquing him because I love 100% of all of his other work that I can actually understand.

        I have the same “problem” with Coates. They express themselves so well that the only reason for me to write about what they have written is if I disagree with it, which gives a totally wrong impression of how I feel about 99% of their work.

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    • He’s not likely to experience private censure in his lifetime

      Really? Not to go all “Aware of all internet traditions” on you but are you unaware that there have been several semi-organized boycotts of xkcd throughout the years? Most notably in 2008 and 2012 over his support of Obama?

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      • You’re forgetting how he’s obviously anti-feminist and pro-rape culture.

        And yet he still has millions of readers and millions of fans and he’s publishing books and selling merchandise and blah, blah, blah. For all that (some) people hate on him, it isn’t slowing him down by much.

        Same deal with Eich. Boohoo, he got kicked out of Mozilla. I’m pretty sure that the guy who invented Java isn’t going to need to worry about how he’ll pay the bills.

        Compare, say, to the woman with a picture of her girlfriend on her desk, who grits her teeth every time the guy in the cube next to her fires up a Glenn Beck rant about the Demon Homosexual, and he “forgot” to plug in his headphones again, and all that she can do without getting HR involved is ask him to plug them in, and she’d like to do more but he’s the project lead and while it’s illegal for him to actually fire her she certainly won’t see any raises if she actually makes trouble for him, and the next round of layoffs is always just around the corner. You think she’s going to be standing up and saying “I’m not violating your First Amendment rights if I get you reprimanded”?

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  13. I think this is missing something very substantial about public forae and speaking:
    Namely that speakers for those events get paid enormous sums of money, typically from institutions that are budgeting scarce resources.

    Why should a university or particular department pay for someone to express their views, particularly when they are 1. openly derrogatory of members of that community and 2. are done solely as a means of targeting a population that’s been Othered?

    Essentially, why the hell should we be paying 6 figure speaking fees to Newt Gingrich and the like when that money should be going to helping students instead? What is the principle that says that allowing Gingrich to get paid for his views is more important than actually using scarce resources to help people in need rather than making the controversially rich richer?

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    • I don’t think Newt Gingrich counts among the group of people who are silenced and otherwise finds it difficult to have his voice heard. Frankly, I’d rather invite a “race realist” to campus than him.

      If he theoretically were to write a book that was widely banned from university libraries (on the basis of its offensiveness rather than its quality or a lack of interested readers), then I actually would support bringing him on campus (though 6 figures is a bit much).

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      • Okay, so what about a race realist? A Sailer or a Derbyshire. Should they get money to speak on their views while minority students are getting their scholarships and fellowships cut? What sort of message does that send to them? That the opinions of people who believe you to be subhuman or inferior are more important to pay for than your education?

        There’s a point where prioritizing speech is no longer about free expression and more about valuation signals, and I think where you invite controversial people to give speeches, particularly on topics where a substantial portion of the audience will be the target of derision, scorn, or marginalization for paid speaking engagements is crossing a valuation line where you’re saying the opinions are worth more than the dignity or worth of the audience members.

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      • Sorry, I should have been more clear. The point was that Gingrich adds so little value that *even* Sailer would better. This was meant to denigrate the value of Gingrich, who you can find on any TV, not to illuminate the value of Sailer.

        Race realists also have a hard time making the case that they are being silenced. Their websites are available from college campuses. I checked my wife’s university’s online catalog, and they have two copies of The Bell Curve available for students and faculty.

        An actual good example would be Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was uninvited from getting an honorary doctorate from Brandeis. Yes, her attendance would make some students uncomfortable, and that was indeed why she was uninvited, but the censorship still disturbs me. I’d like to see other universities invite her to speak and thus allow their students to hear her arguments without necessarily endorsing everything she might say.

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      • Vikram, she wasn’t disinvited to speak, I don’t think. They just weren’t going to bestow the honor (after which, I think she declined the invitation).

        Whether Gingich adds value depends on what he was going to talk about. His views on the issues are hardly unique and I don’t know that he has a whole lot to add there. But he is a former Speaker of the House, was in the upper echelons of power in a way that few people are. Hearing him speak on that would have value. (Not six-figure value, I’d argue.)

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      • he is a former Speaker of the House

        Yes, that is an impressive qualification, but it is still just a qualification. A university should be inviting people who will challenge students intellectually, not just famous names.

        +1 on six figures being ridiculous. Five sounds ridiculous too, frankly, though maybe I would feel differently if I were an administrator at an Ivy.

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      • I don’t think that introducing people to knew ideas or challenging their assumptions is the only reason to invite someone to speak. Or to pay them to do so. In the case of Gingrich or Pelosi, there would be an opportunity to talk about how legislation actually happens. How relations between the president and the speaker work, from the perspective of a participant, and so on.

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      • Just taking Condi Rice, for example, she’s getting $150,000 from UMinnesota and $35,000 to give a commencement speech.

        I would not pay anybody more than travel coverage and a nice gift basket to speak at a university.

        Seriously, if you can’t find someone worthy of giving a commencement speech sitting somewhere in your faculty, you have something of a problem, no?

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    • With regard to Gingrich, there are two questions that converge: (1) Should we be spending six figures on inviting speakers to campus when that money could be better spend elsewise? (2) Should we be paying people whose views are offensive to speak on campus.

      I think it’s worth evaluating those questions independently. If it’s worth six figures to bring people who are or were previously important figures, it does strike me as problematic for a public university to say that “We can invite a Nancy Pelosi, but not Newt Gingrich.” (And if it’s not worth paying Gingrich, it shouldn’t be worth paying a Pelosi.) (Ignoring, for a moment, Pelosi’s current obligations, of course.)

      Which does bring up the question of “What about David Duke?” And it’s a good question. But “His views are considered offensive by large numbers of students” is a tricky standard. Though one that liberals and leftwards can be relatively confident will be advantageous.

      The bigger standard would probably involve not spending that kind of money on any speaker, as at least then you can avoid the convergence of issues that Gingrich represents, as long as you’re willing to not have a Pelosi also speak.

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    • I’m not sure if mis-allocated funding is a reason to attempt a heckler veto a particular speaker. Most people subjected to the heckler’s veto aren’t being protested for receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from a university that could be better spent elsewhere. They are being protested against because of their views.

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    • If I were in charge I would simply cap speakers fees. For example I might say they get out of pocket expenses plus the equivalent of one months salary for a professor. Anyone who refuses to speak for that I would regard as excluding themselves. If you are really interested in spreading an idea you can accept that you will make a living rather than a fortune from doing so

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  14. I wonder if it is helpful to consider speech and groups and rights of speech through the lens of extroversion and introversion.

    I was, once upon a time (can you tell?) a flaming extrovert. Fearless in speaking and inserting myself into conversation. This was an invaluable trait in reporting, where I had to call upon complete strangers and convince them to share their stories with me. My sweetie, on the other hand, is an introvert, and most comfortable in group settings when he performs instead of just being in the crowd. I recall one night when we were in a group of friends, and he was deep in conversation with one. I entered, and extroverted myself into the middle, which of course, ate up his available oxygen. After we got home, he broke down in tears over what I’d so mindlessly done; he knew I hadn’t meant him harm, that I was just unaware, and he desperately wanted me to learn to give him room to speak.

    So it is with groups, I think, and my analogy might be that groups not reflective of the cultural norm in any given situation play the role of the introvert, the norm the extrovert. Finding ways to give the introverts room to speak matters. And when we don’t we shouldn’t be surprised to see them burst into tears, call boycotts, stage protests, or even resort to violence. And when they do speak, if they offend our taboos, perhaps it’s an indication that our taboos create toxic space.

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  15. It means you don’t seek to take away someone’s livelihood for holding views that are statistically moderate for the population.

    In the instances of Eich and Rice, are their livelihoods at risk? One is a promotion from CTO to CEO and one is a seat on a board. It is something to keep in mind when livelihoods are genuinely at stake, but even then this will fold into the difficult issue of:

    Keep those claws retracted except for those battles you must win.

    There’s going to be widespread disagreement as to what battles must be won. Drop Dropbox will argue that Rice supported the Bush administration torture regime – a war crime. Pro-life campaigners will argue abortion is tantamount to murder. Environmentalists will argue urgent action to stop a mass extinction event. And so on.

    I don’t think there’s a shortcut to trying to figure out for oneself how to weigh and assess these competing claims, and then take such (non-violent) actions as one thinks are appropriate. And maybe a bit of (what you’ve termed) balkanization is healthy in a liberal society. Part of arguing it out in civil society is saying to one another, “Don’t spend your money there!” The larger society takes notice when people use methods like boycotting, civil disobedience, or taking direct action.

    And once upon a time all sorts of really horrible views were statistically moderate. Depending on the circles you travel in today, you’ll be told about what present day views considered statistically moderate are in fact absolutely awful. Gauging by statistical moderation is going to be a really suspect guide, particularly for those who believe the status quo on their cause is wrong.

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    • It means you don’t seek to take away someone’s livelihood for holding views that are statistically moderate for the population.

      In the instances of Eich and Rice, are their livelihoods at risk? One is a promotion from CTO to CEO and one is a seat on a board. It is something to keep in mind when livelihoods are genuinely at stake,

      This was an odd dynamic I remember from the “Stephen Glass gets turned down by the CA bar” convos. “He’s being denied the opportunity to make a living”, some said.

      No, he’s being denied a *particular path* to making a living. His current living as a paralegal at a tony LA law firm is untouched, and other career paths (such as novelist or screenwriter or restaurateur) remain wide open to him. Stephen Glass is doin’ OK by any reasonable relative historical metric.

      I think there’s a tendency sometimes to over-empathize with some of the targets of these actions? Maybe because they are “fellow” professionals, or political-opinion-havers, or writers, or tech people, we can envision ourselves in their shoes, and know we wouldn’t like it.

      But that empathy doesn’t alone mean that the actions being taken against them aren’t just deserts (or at least within the realm of acceptable behavior).

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    • In the instances of Eich and Rice, are their livelihoods at risk?

      Good point. That said, I don’t feel comfortable taking into account what I imagine to be the financial state of the target when deciding whether a boycott is justified. I want to boycott genuinely wrong, not just those I suspect won’t suffer too much from it.

      There’s going to be widespread disagreement as to what battles must be won.

      Yes, and I suggest a statistical standard (though I specify no cutoff). I acknowledge that this means some really horrible views will go unpunished because some really horrible views are actually quite popular! But I still suggest focusing on the winnable battles. Yes, this compromise upsets me too.

      We disagree on balkanization being healthy in a liberal society. People learn about each other from interacting with one another. I cite the Doc’s experience again.

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      • But I still suggest focusing on the winnable battles.

        So there’s some merit to this. But then again, have you ever met an activist?

        Or alternatively, who is to say what a winnable battle is? Twenty years ago, who would have said gay marriage was a winnable battle? A few decades before that and an African-American President of the United States, not such a likely outcome. And so on.

        Part of the work activists are trying to do is to shift context. Focusing on winnable battles and statistical moderation aren’t so helpful in that. (Also, Kazzy makes a good point above about the expressive value in boycotting. One need not succeed to have asserted, and maybe educated on, the importance of the principle at stake.)

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      • I’m defining “winnable battle” at the organized boycott level. That means that you are able to force the organization to meet your demands. SSM didn’t win because of intensive boycotting of opponents. It’s winning enabled the boycotting of opponents.

        Also, I forgot to mention. Boycotting Dropbox is not the same as boycotting Rice. Neither is boycotting Firefox the same as boycotting Eich. You should organize a widespread boycott if you think what they are doing is bad enough that if they don’t relent they should go out of business.

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      • Maybe part of the disconnect is you see these as discrete events. I see these as part of broader campaigns or social movements. There were boycotts earlier in the gay rights movement, and it isn’t clear to me that all those boycotts were successful, or if they met success it was over the course of decades (e.g. Coors, various state tourism boycotts). The pace and success of the recent protest is a fairly new development (Lawrence v. Texas was only in 2003, not so long ago).

        You should organize a widespread boycott if you think what they are doing is bad enough that if they don’t relent they should go out of business.

        I think this missing the expressive element. You can be saying all sorts of other important things, expressing solidarity for instance, by way of boycotting. Or put it this way, every hunger strike need not be until death to make a point. I’d say the same holds true for boycotts.

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      • +1

        A lot of people have made tremendous strides because people speak out to change the status quo.

        I did not think we would elect a black president. I did not believe it possible; and then my children talked to me and I changed my mind. I put my faith in what they said when they spoke out. I didn’t believe I’d ever witness my brother’s wedding.

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  16. I wish I had more time to comment on this, because I think there’s a difference between speech and dialogue, and I think conflating the two leads to problems. But, notes…

    Munroe isn’t thinking about the McCarthy-era blacklists

    I think Munroe would argue that those weren’t private blacklists at all, but private blacklists that were made entirely because of a very public, very governmentally-overreaching activity driven by a particular political agenda.

    I don’t think all of the people in Hollywood would have refused to hire a Commie absent HUAC threatening to crawl into their underpants and ruin their business model. Does anybody? Jesus, Hollywood will hire freakin’ *anybody* if they make movies that make money.

    I think part of the reason Randall drew this comic was a sense of his side winning in the marketplace of ideas. The most recent boycotts seem to be of bigots and other unsympathetic characters.

    IIRC, there was a “support Chicken Place’s Stand” drive that was quite public and I don’t see either Chicken Place or Hobby Place currently going out of business. So I’m not sure that this seems to be “winning”.

    Enthusiastic support of free speech means that you seek to host controversial speakers you disagree with even though you aren’t legally required to. It means you don’t seek to take away someone’s livelihood for holding views that are statistically moderate for the population. It means that you actively seek out and read the work of smart people you hate.

    See, the first case I think is dialogue, and not speech. I think the last case is dialogue, and not speech. The idea is attempting to engage with disagreement and go somewhere constructive with it. This requires honest participation from both parties, though. Not just recognition that somebody gets to say whatever they want.

    And yes, I think the principle of engagement (as opposed to speech) supports those stands. Absolutely.

    As far as the part in the middle goes, though… these cases don’t seem really all that similar to me. People calling for boycott aren’t calling for a boycott of Firefox because its CEO expresses an opinion they find odious. They’re calling for a boycott of Firefox because its CEO actually attempted to use the mechanism of the law to encode an opinion they find odious into the law.

    Which is something you rightly point out at the beginning of the essay, “We ought not do that, ’cause it’s a bad idea”.

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    • Jesus, Hollywood will hire freakin’ *anybody* if they make movies that make money.

      Mel Gibson would disagree.

      People calling for boycott aren’t calling for a boycott of Firefox because its CEO expresses an opinion they find odious. They’re calling for a boycott of Firefox because its CEO actually attempted to use the mechanism of the law to encode an opinion they find odious into the law.

      I don’t believe this is true. If Eich had merely publicly supported Prop 8 without donating for its passage, the reaction would have been the same. The donation is what enabled his support to be publicly known, but it wasn’t the donation per se that got people upset.

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      • That you had to go to (presumably) IMDb in order to find out this information only bolsters my case.

        I know what movies Matthew McConaughey, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Cate Blanchett were in in 2013 without having to think about it, and I am someone who generally doesn’t even watch movies.

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      • I know what movies Matthew McConaughey, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Cate Blanchett were in in 2013

        Dude, Mel Gibson’s last commercially successful movie was what (as an actor)?

        The Patriot, in 2002.

        His meltdown was in 2006. The day after he was arrested, his wife left him and they divorced shortly thereafter.

        Mel’s success for Passion led to the whole outing of his crazy-ass dad’s crazy-ass Holocaust denial, which probably contributed to his meltdown in 2006, but I suspect his struggles with alcohol and his divorce did more to keep him out of the show biz biz from 2006 until 2010 and choosing to come back to Edge of Darkness wasn’t probably the best call.

        Robert Downey, Jr. had drug problems leading up to his meltdown in 2001, and he wound up going seven years until he got back on the popular horse with Iron Man. Shall we talk about Mickey Rourke?

        I don’t think you can attribute all of Mel’s career problems to his drunken rant being racist as much as you can to him just having a meltdown.

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  17. Free Speech is the philosphy of Voltaire: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

    Free Speech ISN’T: I disapprove of what you say, therefore, I will do everything in my power just short of putting you in jail in order to ruin your life.

    Also, people seem to have an unhealthy attachment to their opinions. Therefore, anyone who disagrees is de facto wrong and should have to suffer some sort of punishment for being wrong.

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      • Yes it is. A false dichotomy.

        There is a very large middle ground between your two poles, and if you don’t choose one pole, that doesn’t automatically mean you’re a friggin’ Nazi.

        I will defend to the death your right to say the Holocaust didn’t happen. And by that, I mean your legal right, to say such a thing, without a response of violence or imprisonment.

        But no, I really will not approve of what you say, and while I won’t do anything in my power short of putting you in jail to ruin your life, neither will I argue on your behalf with anyone who chooses not to freely associate with you. Nor will I criticize someone’s decision to not do business with you, nor will I criticize their attempts to convince other people not to do business with you.

        See, that’s what freedom of association is all about, and free speech doesn’t trump free association, any more than free association trumps free speech.

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  18. I’m just getting home from a long day on the road and glancing at the site of the first time today. I read the third paragraph and it took me a long, long time to stop laughing out loud.

    I may ask knittingniki to have that put on my tombstone.

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  19. Vic, have you actually read thru the “coexist peacefully” links?

    I have to say, given what I’ve read I’m with the folks criticizing Scott.

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  20. I haven’t read all the comments so sorry if this is already covered. It seems to me that there is a scale issue with the banned from an Internet community example. Saying I don’t want your comments on my personal blog is very different to banning you from twitter or not letting you comment on a newspaper site and I find the argument that I don’t have to provide a platform stronger in the first case.

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  21. As my handle implies, I am affilated with Rutgers University.

    We are currently going through a controversy because our commencement speaker this year is former SoS Condoleezza Rice.

    The Faculty Council has taken a formal vote denouncing this action, asking that the invitation to Rice be revoked. Some members of the faculty say it is because she is a “war criminal”. It should be noted that Rice has never been charged with a war crime, never mind convincted of one.

    Robert Boikess. a member executive committee of the Facutly Council at the main Rutgers campus stated, presumably with a straight face, “We agree that everyone is welcome to present ideas at Rutgers, and we are not restricting free speech or academic freedom.” This is after stating that Rice should be disinvited.

    I have always found it amazing how people will claim to believe in Freedom of Speech, yet will twist themselves into pretzels finding some reason to punish someone for exercising Freedom of Speech. Sort of like how people don’t like when athletes give cliched answers to questions, yet criticize them for giving honest ones.

    Rutgers has a satellite campus in Camden. Their Faculty Council realized that Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom actually mean something, and voted to not join in with the rest of the Rutgers faculty. Andrew Shankman, their director of graduate studies, stated, “To disinvite Rice undermines the idea of Rutgers University as a place where all claims can be considered and interrogated, where thoughtful intellectual conflict is welcome, and where engagement, not excommunication, is at the core of what we do”. Well said, sir.

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      • equating free speech with an obligation to not only listen to but provide a platform for the expression of differing points of view

        To be fair, this is why I think the OP is kinda muddled too.

        Free speech ought to be more than just a legal right. It should be an enthusiastically embraced principle. We should actively seek out and promote those who are silenced….Enthusiastic support of free speech means that you seek to host controversial speakers you disagree with even though you aren’t legally required to.

        (emphases by me).

        That sure LOOKS like an “obligation to provide a platform” is being mooted.

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      • I think if the guy with the opposing view honestly is seeking real dialogue (hah!) then yes, you should go out of your way to engage in dialogue.

        I don’t think David Duke is honestly openminded about his stance. So I don’t see inviting him to speak as an attempt to foster dialogue.

        Now, this means that most folks who are invited to speak somewhere probably don’t deserve to be, because most folk aren’t terribly open-minded, but I don’t see a freedom of speech infringement by not asking David Duke to show up. Or even Condi Rice.

        Me, I wouldn’t ask her to speak because I think she’s a blithering incompetent.

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    • A commencement address is not exactly the place where free speech of the speaker get’s interrogated; it’s perhaps the least likely forum on a college campus where students and faculty have a forum for rebuttal I can imagine; the only effective protest being foregoing your own graduation ceremony.

      While Rice has not been charged or convicted of war crimes; nobody in the Bush admin. upper circle has even been investigated for war crimes, let alone charged or tried. This does not mean they did not commit war crimes, and there is some distress in the land that we have not investigated potential criminality, that there has been a lack of accountability and responsibility. People who feel that distress, and express it also have rights of free speech. Graduating students who feel that distress have a right to say that a commencement speaker is so offensive that they’d prefer another in a ceremony that should reflect their achievement first and foremost.

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      • Was it the student body protesting Rice, or the faculty, or both? Because if it was students, I’d say they have a point; but faculty, not so much.

        As to war crimes, wasn’t Obama supposed to do something about that?

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      • As to war crimes, wasn’t Obama supposed to do something about that?

        Yes, he is. I’m expecting it to start soon, too; useful for changing the topic from Obamacare in the midterms my inner-cynic suggests. There’s been growing voice of discontent that it hasn’t happened, too.

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      • There have been no formal protests by the Rutgers student body at large against Rice, although the student newspaper has editorialized against her selection. It was the Rutgers faculty who voted to pass a resolution that Rutgers should disinvite Rice.

        It is one thing for the Rutgers faculty to oppose the selection of Rice, but to go as far as to pass a resolution asking for her to be disinvited shows an ironic lack of respect for freedom of speech.

        Remember what Voltaire said. Of course, the fact that you don’t believe in freedom of speech is your right, zic.

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      • What I remember is that when I spoke out against the war, I was told I was unpatriotic, I was told, “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists.”

        And that had real-world repercussions for me. Musical and theatre performances my husband and I participated in (He’s a professional musician) provoked heavy police presence — sometimes to the point of frightening away audiences — and not because we were doing anything threatening other then using our free-speech rights to make art that protested the wars.

        One, in a small bar in a rural town had over a dozen police cars parked out front — waiting for a riot I suppose. The performance was an update on the play, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and stayed true to the original story but updated the language with War on Terror language, renaming the performance, “Jesus Christ Terrorist.” It was, for anyone familiar with the story of Jesus told in the play, a wonderful way to help people understand the WOT language from a distinctly Christian perspective.

        When Condi and her crew ran the ship of state, they definitely violated my free-speech and free-press rights. I was a reporter, my beats were doing business with the military and leaving the military for civilian life, and small business, including international trade for small businesses. I had my phone calls tapped every time I spoke with someone overseas, we all did; and with Snowden’s revelations, I suspect every phone call I made was tapped because of the kinds of people I was speaking with (meaning people with security clearances).

        There is good reason to protest Rice as a commencement speaker.

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      • It does seem to be a nice sign of American progress that a student body can vote to not permit a black woman to speak at their graduation ceremony, and people’s response is “right on, you tell ’em!” rather than “here’s another shocking example of how America is a racist anti-woman society”,

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      • That’s part of the beauty of being able to grant immunity for testimony.

        /said sarcastically.

        I know,

        I’ve just begun to feel it’s time. It’s Hanley’s fault I feel that way, he prodded my conscience. And then I realized I people were talking about it all over the place, and realized, yup, it’s time. Even if it hurts. Cleansing wounds and setting broken bones causes pain before you heal.

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      • My approach to a great many things would have been vastly different from the current President’s. But then I wouldn’t have been shooting for a second term, so that gives me a bit more leeway.

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  22. I’ve only read through about half of the comments, so this may have already been touched on, but I think there is a separate issue going on here that is lost in the “freedom of speech/freedom not to listen” points of view.

    I agree that we should allow people to (largely) say what they wish and that we should allow people to (largely) react to such statements as they see fit. These days, however (and I blame the internet, cable news, etc) it seems like people are constantly being primed to be offended at the slightest disagreement by someone else. It feels very much to me that we have taken the public line of, “that opinion is outrageous, we mud band together through social media (or whatever) and eliminate it” has been yanked way over to the side of mundane.

    If Facebook is any guide, people today are so ready and wanting to be constantly outraged that they don’t even bother to wait for actually outrageous stuff anymore.

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    • This is probably true, but this is a game that those who feed off outrage have set the table to play.

      Those who get elected by outrage are following a Prisoner’s Dilemma. If they don’t play the outrage game against their opponents, their allies will play the outrage game and get them out.

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    • Having quit watching cable news for nearly two years now, I find that when it’s on, it makes me feel very anxious. Like I need to go chain smoke to calm down. And it seems that people who watch constantly have this edginess they’re often unaware of — anecdotally, I’d say the more they watch, the greater the edge; almost anxiety, like the kind you get from watching a close sporting event or playing video games.

      The world’s divided up into sides, and there’s supposed to be a clear victor and a loser.

      It’s really disturbing.

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      • On the upside, though, cable news doesn’t really draw all that many viewers. April 24th’s numbers:

        Total Day P2+ (000s) 25-54 (000s) 35-64 (000s)
        FOXN 1,033 200 417
        CNN 309 93 146
        MSNBC 371 102 191
        CNBC 126 36 57
        FBN 50 10 24
        HLN 188 85 112

        I mean, that’s a lot of people, and all… but they’re averaging 1.7 million viewers a night over at Fox and there’s 306 million people in the country.

        I expect the vast, vast majority of Americans find all of that to be just nonsense on both sides of the aisle.

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  23. The desperate desire to protect bullies and bigots from even the faintest hint of their own medicine never ceases to amaze. Heaven forbid that there ever – EVER – be a negative consequence for an abhorrent view.

    In 29 states, it’s legal to fire somebody for being gay. Just for being gay. But one Brendan Eich comes along and suddenly we have to drop everything to make sure that his side knows that they can be safe in their own bigoted skin.

    What a bunch of hooey.

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  24. What a nice sentiment. Very thoughtful for anyone who believes that a fundamental aspect of a modern civilization is the free and open exchange of ideas, supporting that which you truly think is right and best for yourself and your country, without the fear of loss of livelihood or other such repercussions.

    Unfortunately, I think it’s become clear that the number of people who subscribe to that ideal are now so few in number that they are basically inconsequential in the political and social realm.

    For one thing, take a look at your own example for liberalized societies: the protestants and the Catholics both agree not to kill each other, and thus liberalized societies come to be.

    Liberalized societies. Plural. More than one. Namely, a Protestant society and a Catholic society. In other words, a society of people who have fundamental beliefs and views largely in common, and for whom open debate and discussion of ideas takes place with those beliefs serving as the basis for conversation. You need fundamental beliefs and like-mindedness in common to have any possibility of a liberalized society at all, because if multiple sides gravely disagree across the board on enough basic concepts, then cooperation is not possible. All they can do is either split apart, or have one side so thoroughly dominate the other that the equivalent of cultural genocide takes place.

    Note that you can even have a lot in common, but if enough of those Most Important Things are not as a matter of fact close enough, all hell breaks loose. You can believe that Christ is God, that Christ was resurrected, that Christ died for our sins, etc, etc, but if what really and urgently matters is the primacy of the bishop of Rome, well, get ready because you’ve got a good chance of being killed. Or if you believe communism is something that should be exported to all nations versus focused on in the nations that embrace it. Or just about anything else, given the right situation.

    Right now, at this very moment, the Most Important Thing for a sizable number of so-called “progressives” – people who are numerous and quite powerful in some industries – are a number of key issues, and genuflecting at the LGBT altar is one of them. If you oppose gay marriage, you don’t merely disagree about about what role marriage should play in society. You’re a hate-fueled anti-gay monster who would probably knock the teeth out of a sobbing, quivering 12 year old boy if he said he was attracted to other boys – and if you’re not that, well, then you’re at least somehow providing justification or even inspiration for acts like that just by virtue of having the views you do. At least you are in the minds of many people, who may well think that either due to media and cultural influence, or some weird personal phantoms they have, or a combination of both.

    Oh, and by the way? The feeling is in the air that that kind of animated, visceral hatred of people who disagree is, however intellectually distasteful it may be, actually quite a nice thing to have around if one is thinking purely in terms of success on a given issue. If your main goal in life is to pass laws of type X and strike down laws of type Y, and it turns out hateful, warped caricatures of your opponents are more effective than calm and reasoned debate in a civil manner, the caricature choice is a no brainer. It’s starting to look as if treating people in that way is one of the ingredients for cultural and political success on various issues.

    This should probably help realize the work you have cut out for you. The decision to fire Eich isn’t some kind of tactic itself – it’s actually a side-effect of what really seems like a heretofore successful culture war strategy. You are asking people to scale back the demonization of their opponents even though they think their method is working – which would also mean treating as a live option the possibility that gay marriage is a bad idea. And for what? Support of a broad intellectual ideal? For that they should deny themselves the pleasure of ruining the lives of people who they hate and fear? Or sacrifice some perceived success in a culture war, again, against people who they hate and fear?

    If you really want to do that, I’m afraid you’re going to need another approach than what you’ve laid out here. Good words, good writing, but if you think of it as a serious attempt to persuade people to change their minds on this topic, you will need something else.

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  25. Great, great stuff, but one quibble, re McCarthyism/Hollywood Ten/blacklisting:

    You said “legally protected” but in fact under the Communist Control Act of 1954 it was illegal to belong to the Communist Party.

    We can argue about whether or not that was even constitutional etc but…

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  26. The problem is that the left doesn’t believe in freedom of speech either as a principal or as a protection under the 1st amendment. Civil rights, sexual harassment laws and their ever expanding definitions have made freedom of association and freedom of speech illegal even in private enterprises. Leftists force others to tolerate their beliefs and social standards but then provide no legal protection for people with beliefs they don’t share.

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