I Unequivocally Support the Right to Speech I Support the Right To


James Hanley

James Hanley is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.

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194 Responses

  1. Avatar Will Truman says:

    The jury is still out on whether Cohen is real. I go back and forth on it myself.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      Regardless, her prescriptions obviously should stand in for the views of everyone else who counsels good judgement in word and deed. Obviously every act of bad judgement, we say, ought to carry a punishment of 25 years to life imprisonment.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      I think I completely missed the Tanya Cohen thing and the fact that it is on Thought Catalog does not make feel like most people will be listening to her argument. Thought Catalog might be less intellectually serious than Live Journal.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        It made the rounds on Twitter and got a fair amount of attention*. I thought it was real when I first read it, because misguided people say misguided things. It was actually Charles C. W. Cooke (of the National Review) who I first saw raising the “hoax” spectre.

        Cohen doesn’t seem to have much in the way of Internet tracks, unless it’s the same Tanya Cohen who is a literary editor (or maybe agent). There is a Twitter account, but it appeared very shortly before the ThoughtCatalog appeared.

        None of this is dispositive, and there was a lot of work put in to that piece. And it’s pretty well written, if you accept certain priors. It strikes me as the sort of thing that a very passionate and intelligent but misguided and not-world-wise undergraduate might write.

        So I go back and forth.

        * – Of the critical sort. Maybe there were supportive comments to and they didn’t appear on my feed because the people I follow are among those least likely to accept such arguments, but it was rejected and mocked in the mentions I saw.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        On further reflection, I’m with @will-truman on this. 50/50 this is some form of parody.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I hope so. I’d be much happier to have been had than for this to be real. But Poe’s Law remains unassailable.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I will confess that the University of Iowa has shifted my goalposts as to what seems fake.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        In what way?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        In a place where that happened, less is fake than I previously thought.Report

    • TBH, I’m thoroughly convinced it was parody.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      This is Thought Catalog, the publication that I sarcastically like to refer to as the most important magazine aimed at millennials since Highlights.Report

  2. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    I wonder if you are not confusing either taste or legality with judgement, which can (I believe) be pretty objective.

    When my kids were young they went through a period when they started asking why, if Dad was right that words themselves were harmless, they weren’t allowed to use certain ones. The response I gave then, and which I still believe, is that part of being a grown up means using good judgment with your words. It is one thing to drop an f-bomb with your friends on the play ground, I explained; it was quite another to throw it out to the teacher in class. And if you’re sitting there saying “but they’re children and it’s different,” consider that amount of bad judgement it would take to tell you gay boss in a staff meeting that he’s a fa**ot and his husbands an ugly wh**e, even if those were the words going through your head at the time.

    As you know, I am not a believer in god, and there are certain churches I find more credulous than others. That does not mean that showing up at a service and announcing loudly in the middle of it what I think of their beliefs is not bad judgement. Neither is my making a vulgar, bride-insulting toast during a wedding reception. And if someone were to have told me that they once got beaten up for having gone into a bar populated by blacks and just started shouting the n-word, I would have had no hesitation telling them they they used stupendously poor judgement.

    I actually agreed with Jason’s post on mockery. And I am in no way jumping on board with those who are laying the blame of a terrorist attack on a cartoon, regardless of whether or not it was in questionable taste.

    But this backlash-y idea I see springing up everywhere in the wake of the “the real problem was Charlie Hebdo” backlash, that it is somehow anti-free speech to suggest that people use good judgement about their words, seems equally over reaching and needlessly polemic.

    I am struggling to see how free speech survives if no one uses a “good judgement” filter, and I just don’t see how it does.Report

    • Avatar Doctor Jay says:

      I think you get to boot people out of your private space, be that your home, your church, your conference room, or your comment thread, for saying stuff you don’t like in a pretty arbitrary fashion.

      The government doesn’t get to do this, though it does get to secure its premises, and remove disruptions. This is probably really important to self-government.

      The grounds of a publicly held university, or the pages of a student newspaper of such a university are tricky.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        I agree with all of this, but don’t know that it addresses my point. (Unless it was just riffing off of it, in which case have at it.)Report

      • Avatar Doctor Jay says:

        Well, most of your remarks about judgement were about speech in private places. So not really an issue for “free speech” as a right enshrined in the constitution. That’s what I was thinking. But maybe that’s just riffing.Report

      • Avatar Lyle says:

        So if I understand Brandies is a private institution, so the institution should be able to censor speech on its campus as needed. The question becomes twitter speech is that on campus or off campus? As a private university Brandies can define free speech as it likes.Report

      • Avatar Dave says:


        The grounds of a publicly held university, or the pages of a student newspaper of such a university are tricky.

        Respectfully, I don’t think it’s that tricky at all. If a government-run institution, limitations on government apply. School administrators have run into this problem when trying to enact campus speech codes, as there have been successful challenges them on First Amendment grounds.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      How confident are you that judgement and legality will remain separated by those in authority?

      I have conflated them, purposely, because I think those who have spilled more ink criticizing Charlie Hebdo’s judgement than they have criticizing the murder of its staffers are implicitly, even if unintentionally, providing support for the heckler’s veto. And the heckler’s veto has been the root of suppression of speech by law, and continues to be the root position of those who argue today for the suppression of speech, whether by law or by university action, or through the disapproval of permits to build mosques or put up an atheist display on court house grounds next to the Christian one, etc. etc.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        1. The amount of ink doesn’t necessarily reflect the depth or lack of qualification of the sentiment. Indeed, the more qualifications to a sentiment, the more ink.

        2. The amount of ink spilled on a question is highly influenced by how much resistance it meets. The endorsement of good judgement could have been met with universal agreement and would have resulted in little ink spilled. But it was, for some reason, met with a lot of resistance (whereas condemnations of the murders was, unsurprisingly, not), so more ink was spilled discussing the disagreement.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I pretty much agree with this, @james-hanley, but I find it an incredibly common thing, akin to that nasty word ‘privilege.’

        On the Burt’s post, I brought up the issue of threats and threatened harm; and I think that appropriate legal limit to free speech. You don’t get off with a free-speech pass for having a 14-year old in your porn collection, threatening a woman with rape, a congregation with bombing their church; that’s intimidation, not mockery.

        But I do think it’s important to point out that someone discussing limits on free speech is, in fact, exercising their right to it; and there’s often this reaction to equate discussions of political actions with actually limiting by political action. Just as someone being offensive isn’t poking another in the eye, talking about how inappropriate it is when someone’s offensive isn’t limiting their right to offend via speech.

        I’m also really, really amused by the victim blaming this discussion encapsulates (not just here at OT, but in general). It’s like Charlie was drunk and naked at the party, and so we’re blaming him that someone else raped him. The someone who raped is the guilty party, not Charlie. His offenses, drunk or naked, might be subject to ridicule, to public condemnation, even to violation of local law, but that’s another matter.

        When people commit crimes, they are responsible for their actions, not the people who are victim of that crime. Your religion, your ignorance, your traditions and your honor are no excuse for criminal action, ever.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        @james-hanley “How confident are you that judgement and legality will remain separated by those in authority?”

        Not very, although I would beg to make a distinction between people who are in positions of authority through government mandate and those who are in positions of authority otherwise. (i.e.: Telling your congressman you think he’s a bastard should be relatively consequence free; telling your boss she’s a b**ch shouldn’t.)

        Still, I think your conflation too casually tosses aside the notion that there is such a thing as good and bad judgment with what we say. It’s tempting to say that there isn’t these days, especially round these parts where there’s a kind of built-in heckler’s veto that (IMHO) sets up classes of people who you are and are not able to mock/denigrate/criticize. But to jump from that point to the one where there is no such thing as bad judgement with one’s speech will carry you well short of the other side of the canyon.

        (This is where I generally part ways with those who state and stand by political theory — these moments where you have to be all-positive or all-negative in a muddy and complex world.)Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        Agreed with every jot and tittle of your comment. I almost wrote a qualification about what even a free speech “absolutist” like me agrees are legitimate limits, but didn’t want to get into those weeds. I figured they’d get brought up somewhere in the threads anyway, and then I could express my agreement.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        to jump from that point to the one where there is no such thing as bad judgement with one’s speech

        I never said there was no such thing as bad judgement. I only asked who gets to make that judgement for the individual.

        Zic’s victim-blaming comment and rape analogy is actually on-target. A woman can exercise bad judgement and have a bad outcome, and as a father I can reasonably warn my daughters to try to exercise good judgement. But when rape happens, and we either write about the victim’s bad judgement, or write generally about how women should exercise good judgement–and particular if we dwell long and in detail about their judgement, rather than the rapist–damned if it doesn’t look like we’re at least half-excusing the rapist, and no amount of “rape is terrible, but…” makes it look any better.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        Some of what you’re saying in these comments gets pretty close (or at least suggests) something I’ve been trying to put my finger on in all this massacre mess. And I think it’s this:

        If a person subjectively determines that they wouldn’t (and don’t) engage in broad judgments of people based on religious beliefs and identification, expressing – or worse, even holding that view – is judged by the free speechers as being (as Matt Yglesias said) a form of “appeasement” (presumably in an active War?). That is, the mere fact that a person expresses the view that their own judgment would proscribe against making certain types of expressions, those folks are not only apologists for the killers (victim blamers), but they’re categorically wrong (immoral, whatever) in doing so.

        So the question is this: how does a robust defense of free speech entail that a person needs to take a specific view on the actions of others? Isn’t that inconsistent with the *free* part of free speech?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Remember the whole “authentic yes” thing from Feminism? Feminism is more than robust enough to handle a woman who says “you know what, I don’t want to be a CEO. I want to be a good mommy, a good wife, a good cook, a good homemaker, and a good person.”

        There’s no problem at all with that.

        There was, in some circles, a deep suspicion that someone who would choose that particular route would be doing so out of adherence to, for lack of a better term, a false consciousness. An internalization of culture that would be inauthentic despite however authentic it may appear and without the imposition of culture, maybe the woman would have chosen to be a CEO. Maybe she’d have come to terms with her latent homosexuality rather than sublimating it. Maybe she’d have been free to choose her own authentic yes.

        It’s more than a little presumptuous, of course, to tell anybody “you’re not thinking what you think you’re thinking”. It’s fair, however, to note that this dynamic probably does exist out there without pointing to any given instance of it.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        @stillwater I’m not sure that the question you pose in itself is not setting up a false dichotomy. My short answer is that you are allowed to use bad judgement with your speech. That does not, however, mean that there is no bad judgement.

        My longer answer is this:

        The example I used about going into a black neighborhood bar is actually not, for me, a theoretical one. I guy I used to know did that once. He was a white 22 trust fund kid, drank to a self-destructive degree, and was one of those people who seemed to think admitting that he was an asshole (that was the actual word he used, over and over) justified his behavior.

        He showed up for drinks one night with bruise on his face and some blood on his shirt. He was a sales guy, and when he was supposed to be out making cold calls decided to swing into a bar he happened to be driving by and get hammered. When he went in he was the only non-African American in the joint, and after a few quiet shots she decided it would be hilarious to start loudly using the n-word. (Examples cited by him included, “HEY, THERE SURE ARE A LOT OF N**GERS IN THIS PLACE,” “WHERE IS THAT N**GER BARTENDER,” and similar stuff.) He got punched in the face by another guy at the bar.

        Stepping back out of the Way Back machine, I would say that there are actually three questions being asked here under the guise of one. The first, which I do not believe anyone is Currently arguing for, is whether or not any of this speech should be made illegal. The second is where I disagree with Yglesias: his insinuation (from the quote used, anyway) that satire should not offend. The last question, where I disagree with what James is unintentionally arguing here, is this: That that guy I knew in my 20s wasn’t a huge fucking dumb-ass for doing what he did.

        In fact, in an argument that sounds exactly like the one James is arguing against in the OP, I put it to you that that guy from my 20s did and should have had the freedom to say what he did, that even if he was offensive the violence he provoked was not justified and should not be legal, and that despite all of that his decision to do so showed astoundingly bad judgement.Report

      • Avatar Dave says:


        How confident are you that judgement and legality will remain separated by those in authority?

        As far as speech is concerned, I’m very confident. They’re not going to have much of a choice because First Amendment jurisprudence has very robust protections of speech. People can try to change the law or institute policies (i.e. campus speech codes) in order to address speech that they believe is in poor judgment, but I’m not sure how far they get if they’re challenged.

        And the heckler’s veto has been the root of suppression of speech by law, and continues to be the root position of those who argue today for the suppression of speech, whether by law or by university action, or through the disapproval of permits to build mosques or put up an atheist display on court house grounds next to the Christian one, etc. etc.

        I agree with this and I like that you covered a wide range of issues; however, and I may be as much as a First Amendment absolutist as you (and unapologetically so), I perceive the hecker’s veto more of an annoyance (or a very limited threat) than a genuine threat to speech, at least in this country.Report

      • Avatar Dave says:


        So the question is this: how does a robust defense of free speech entail that a person needs to take a specific view on the actions of others?

        It doesn’t and it shouldn’t.

        Isn’t that inconsistent with the *free* part of free speech?

        It’s not inconsistent with free speech, but it’s inconsistent with intelligence. That someone would believe that a person’s views about making expressions towards religion somehow means that they are apologists for the killers only makes sense in the idiotic world of the Fox News crowd or the narrow minded world of political punditry. That’s where I’ve seen most of this:

        That is, the mere fact that a person expresses the view that their own judgment would proscribe against making certain types of expressions, those folks are not only apologists for the killers (victim blamers), but they’re categorically wrong (immoral, whatever) in doing so.

        To hell with the pundits. 99% of them are useless anyway.

        To be fair, if you held those views and we were talking about what happened in France and you expressed those views while I was denouncing religious fanatics, I may not understand why you would bring your view up in the context of our discussion. However, I wouldn’t think poorly of you for believing what you believe.

        I’m not sure if this completely answers your question, but I hope it was a good first shot.Report

  3. Avatar LWA says:

    James makes good points, but I think it is worth stepping back and reflecting on where our concept of free speech originates.
    Not the history, which everyone here knows well, but its purpose, and why we value it.

    As I mentioned on the other threads, this sort of discussion is very old within the Western world- the Voltaire quote everyone loves was made several centuries ago. The different groups in our culture- Church, intellectuals, politicians have all worked out a negotiated peace, after having fought battles such as the publishing of 120 Days of Sodom, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Hustler, and the Pentagon Papers.

    But we’re not arguing with each other anymore. The Catholic Church has long ago made its peace with French satirists. The Muslim world hasn’t. They don’t have our centuries of discussion and negotiation regarding this.

    It is futile to just keep chanting “free speech” and hurling quotations at them- we might as well be speaking a foreign language.

    Further, it isn’t possible anymore to adopt a posture of triumphalism and imposition by fiat- of demanding that they comply with our notions of secularism. The non-Western world is becoming our equal, both in the relationship between our nations, and within. In some cities, the majority of the electorate is comprised of people for whom Voltaire is the guy who invented electricity.

    So it gets back to our fundamental goals- how do we want to interact with the people who are ambivalent or rejecting of the Enlightenment?Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      As my brother would say, Liberal Democracy always needs to deal with the illiberal problem (both foreign and domestic illiberals) and you are right that there are plenty of non-Western societies that have never fully debated and engaged with Voltaire and the Englightenment. There was a story yesterday about a Saudi Arabian man who is being subjected to 10,000 lashes, 10 years in prison, and a monumental fine because he allegedly insulted Islam.

      George Packer’s essay in the New Yorker is good. Enlightenment can’t be enforced at gun point but we have to deal with the fact that Islam contains a vocal minority that is very willing to use catastrophic violence to support their point of view.

      “A religion is not just a set of texts but the living beliefs and practices of its adherents. Islam today includes a substantial minority of believers who countenance, if they don’t actually carry out, a degree of violence in the application of their convictions that is currently unique. Charlie Hebdo had been nondenominational in its satire, sticking its finger into the sensitivities of Jews and Christians, too—but only Muslims responded with threats and acts of terrorism. For some believers, the violence serves a will to absolute power in the name of God, which is a form of totalitarianism called Islamism—politics as religion, religion as politics. “Allahu Akbar!” the killers shouted in the street outside Charlie Hebdo. They, at any rate, know what they’re about.”


      Liberalism is hard but it works slowly and surely. Look at the protests in Hong Kong. Look at the fact that there was a blogger willing to risk it to bring a secular view to theocratic Saudi Arabia. I think Islam can and will reform and modernize but it will take time. I once talked to a Pakistani woman who said she wished there was an Islamic equivalent of Reform Judaism. Given enough frustration, there will be one day.Report

      • Avatar LWA says:

        I agree, and I adopt the same posture towards the Tea Party that I adopt towards Islam; that is, while I disagree with a lot of it, within their worldview are perfectly valid points, and things which we have in common, and places to cooperate.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      My own take on the purpose of free speech–which I state as my own, not as “the” purpose–is that it’s a crucial tool for self-governance, for controlling the power of the state, and that controlling the power of the state through self-governance is crucial for human flourishing. So I don’t see free speech as an “inherent” good as much as an instrumental good; but an exceptionally valuable instrumental good, perhaps more than the vote, because voting without information provided by free speech (broadly including freedom of the press here) is less of a constraint on the state than unconstrained speech without the vote. Speech without the vote can at least lead, if necessary, to revolution, whereas votes without the information provided by speech can work to provide an aura of legitimacy to a corrupt/abusive government.

      More broadly, any organization that seeks to assert itself over others is the reason we need speech.

      But we’re not arguing with each other anymore. The Catholic Church has long ago made its peace with French satirists

      Aren’t we? American Christians are still trying to impose religion in the public schools, via coerced prayers, displays of the Ten Commandments, and the teaching of “Intelligent Design,” and they intentionally seek elected seats on school boards to do so. Aren’t we secularists (“we” meaning whomever is, and not trying to wrangle you into that group if you don’t so identify) still arguing with them?

      And aren’t we always in an argument with the state, to ensure it doesn’t overstep its bounds, even if we have disagreements about where those bounds are?

      And how confident are we that if we don’t keep mocking, if we don’t keep shouting free speech, that the Catholic Church will remain peaceful with religious satirists? If those Muslims who advocate blasphemy laws get their way, and the French government demonstrates a willingness to enforce those laws, evenly, can we say with confidence that the Catholic Church will not see its opportunity to relinquish peace with the satirists? Especially with the true strength of the Church, and the majority of its priests (I believe) coming from the less secular cultures of Latin America and Africa?

      If I read you right, you appear to see a war won. I see battles won, in a war that likely has no end.

      So it gets back to our fundamental goals- how do we want to interact with the people who are ambivalent or rejecting of the Enlightenment?

      I wouldn’t call that a fundamental goal. For me the fundamental goal is keeping government within its limits (again, even if you and I disagree about those limits). But to the question, how do I want to interact with those who are ambivalent about or reject the Enlightenment? I want first of all to persuade them that they should accept the Enlightenment with open arms. Barring that, I want them to understand that we will not surrender to their anti-Enlightenment preferences, that we will grant them a good deal of autonomy over their beliefs within their own private sphere,* but they do not get to force others to abide by their beliefs.
      *E.g., as much as I dislike circumcision, I wouldn’t seek to ban it, and I think French secularism went too far–was actually anti-Enlightenment itself–in banning headscarves for Muslim school girls.Report

      • Avatar LWA says:

        Actually, like you, I see this (Charlie Hebdo) as merely one opening skirmish in a decades long struggle.
        I think one of the best ways to reach the goal of freedom is to acknowlege the validity of its limits. A fundamentalist mentality such as that taken by Charlie Hebdo, where there literally is no sacred ground, no limit whatsoever to speech is as dangerous to me as its counterpart, because they traffic in the same all or nothing triumphalism.

        In the same way that we have decided that freedom of religion means THIS, but it doesn’t mean THAT, where we place limits on rights based on shared moral norms, indicates to me that there is a place where we can say freedom of speech means THIS but not THAT.

        I say this fully aware that the definitions of THIS and THAT could be fair or unfair from my own perspective. For instance, the Catholic Church can use wine as a sacrament, but Native Americans can’t use peyote.

        But overall, the more important goal is to bring Muslims into the discussion, and find where they want the dividing line to be, and see where the points of agreement can occur.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        A fundamentalist mentality such as that taken by Charlie Hebdo, where there literally is no sacred ground, no limit whatsoever to speech is as dangerous to me as its counterpart, because they traffic in the same all or nothing triumphalism.

        I get your point, but I think you have a category error. Charlie Hebdo’s approach is not truly all or nothing, because they don’t demand that all others be irreverent or suffer death as a consequence. Their “all” is, in the end, infinitely less than a true fundamentalist’s “all.”Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        French secularism went too far because they were dealing with a tougher opponent than the American government had to deal with, the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church was entrenched in the French state and society in away that no Protestant church was in the colonies that became the United States. The Roman Catholic Church was not going to give up its position or powers without a fight in the way that many established Protestant churches in the United States did. When the Third Republic separated religion and state, it had to take the strict form of lacite because that was the only way to prevent Church meddling with the French state. Women were denied the right to vote in France until 1945 because they were perceived as much more religious and Catholic on the whole than men. Its why Ataturk based Turkish separation of religion and state on the French model rather than the American model. Islam was simply too closely in contact with the Ottoman state and society for American style separation to work. It might be desirable to separate religion and state but some religions are easier to separate from the state than others.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Enlightenment societies really can’t coexist peacefully with illiberal societies or large amounts of illiberal people within their society. The tension is too great and the illiberal have a certainty about them that allows them to use force to get what they want. The battle over slavery in 19th century America or civil rights latter could basically be seen, at least partly, as a fight between liberal and illiberal America. As @james-hanley, we still have a lot of illiberal people in the United States that are fighting against modernity and enlightenment with full force. They might not be using violence but they are using all the tools prevailed upon them by American democracy to teach religion in schools through intelligent design or deny LGBT people equal rights. In the past, these American illiberal groups have used violence to terrorize African-Americans and others they did not like to maintain the supremacy of Anglo-Protestant America.

      The Islamic world is going to have to make peace with the Enlightenment in the same way that the West did or that other non-European countries like Japan, South Korea, India, and Thailand did. They didn’t quite fully adopt Voltaire or the Western philosophical tradition wholesale but they took the essentials of philosophical liberalism necessary to run democratic governments. They still have their illiberal people, especially in India, but not the extent of the Muslim-majority countries. In those countries, there is an explicit rejection of modernity that occurred.Report

      • Avatar LWA says:

        I agree, but its also useful to point out that even within illiberal traditions, liberalism can be defended, in fact it depends on religious norms for its existence.
        The battle against slavery and for civil rights was led by the religious for example. Adopting the essential parts of the religious tradition is a good way to isolate the more illiberal parts, and find common ground.
        I think this is why for example, the fundamentalists want everyone to say “I am Charlie Hebdo”- the tactic of heightening the contradictions, and of vanishing the middle ground.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Bellow is a pretty good link from Slate on Charlie Hebdo and where it fits in the French anti-clerical tradition:


      The various French governments have been waging war against the Roman Catholic Church since the French Revolution. By the time Muslims began to immigrate to France in large numbers, France was a thoroughly secularized and libertine place fully steeped in Enlightenment values. Most of the population was already post-Christian. It was the height of second waive feminism and the sexual revolution. Needless to say, having to assimilate hundreds of thousands of really religious people with strict sexual discipline was not going to be easy. The French government did the best it could but failed miserably. Our religious devote and prudish Evangelicals probably made absorbing Muslims into the United States easier. They didn’t seem as weird or as out of place as they did in France.Report

  4. Avatar Chris says:

    “I support the right to bear arms, so people should carry assault, openly, everywhere they go.”

    If you feel this is a necessary belief, and any suggestion that maybe people should, of their own volition, refrain from taking their guns some places for a variety of reasons (safety, a lack of intimidation, etc.), then you do not support the right to bear arms, then I can understand why you might think people should never, under their own volition, avoid saying things out of consideration for others.

    All people here, at least, have said is that there might be moral reasons to avoid saying certain things to certain people. Quite literally every non-sociopathic person on the planet believes this. Hell, more than one of the people “defending” free speech hereabouts has suggested that the people who hold this view should, of their own volition, avoid expressing it right now to people who don’t hold it, because it’s in bad taste after the deaths, and some people might misinterpret them (one person at least seems to have misinterpreted them write egregiously, so the “defenders” were right about that).

    I don’t think there’s any way in which this position harms free speech. Other positions invoking the law? Sure, but this is not that.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      why you might think people should never, under their own volition, avoid saying things out of consideration for others.

      I was wondering who would misread me this way first. How unsurprising that it’s the guy who lashed out at me for reading others fairly.

      As I said in my email, accusing others of what you’re doing, or at least what they accuse you of doing, has become your go-to move.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        My analogy is just the mirror image of yours. If it misinterprets you, what does that say about your analogies? But again, y’all have circled the metal wagons, making it difficult to see when someone responds to you with hyperbole modeled on your own.

        I don’t think you hold the view I expressed here, but in order for your analogies to work, you’d have to.

        Without it, you haven’t criticized anything anyone here has said, just a internet parody of the Jaybirdian sort.

        Anyway, like I said on the other thread, responding to the Defenders of Free Speech is, at this point, pointless. I’ll schedule a post for 6 months from now, when enough time had past.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I see, Chris. Once again, you are innocent of all charges. Others interpret others uncharitably, and you can see that clearly even when they can’t themselves. But you never interpret others uncharitably, and you can also see that clearly yourself even when those others can’t.

        I mourn the loss of the commenter I knew at PL.

        But to address your analogy, suppose people lawfully carrying in public were killed by anti-gun zealots, and on the blogs some folks’ primary concern was to say “I support the right to bear arms, but they should’ve exercised better judgement,” rather than their primary concern being to say, “it’s inexcusable for anyone to kill someone for exercising their rights.” I’d certainly think that their concern about only exercising 2nd Amendment rights in “appropriate” ways trumped their defense of those rights and their objections to the murders.

        But, contra your initial claim, nothing in that suggests that I “might think people should never, under their own volition, avoid saying things carrying their guns out of consideration for others.” Saying people shouldn’t be condemned for doing X in a way that is not accordance with our own judgement doesn’t even begin to lead us toward saying nobody should ever make their own choice to not do X on their own volition in cases where their judgement happens to accord with ours.

        That ridiculous leap is where you read me wrong, and it has absolutely nothing to do with either your analogy or mine, so you can’t excuse it on the basis of my analogies, even if my analogies themselves are wrong.Report

  5. Avatar Will Truman says:

    To me, the context of such comments matter a lot. It seems to me that we, as citizens, do have an obligation to try to “police” one another’s speech to some extent or another. That policing occurring almost exclusively through More Speech or economic action (one having a much lower threshold than the other). I get the hesitation that some have with government officials making such suggestions, but as long as they are suggestions, it doesn’t raise my ire.

    On the other hand, when the context changes, so does my response. Talking about what we should and shouldn’t say in light of people being killed for saying The Wrong Thing is likely to draw an adverse response from me. Not always, but often. The context here matters, too. Whether it’s a statement they put a lot of thought in to. Whether I leave with the impression that blasphemy (and racism and bigotry) is a key component in current events. Whether they are merely reiterating what they’ve actually been consistent about, or whether it seems selective and they selected recent events as a platform to talk about it. And on and on.Report

    • @will-truman

      I recall on the NewsHours a couple days ago they had on a political cartoonist who said that he does draw personal lines on what he will and won’t say, but that now’s not the time to be discussing that particular point. I think that was a good answer to whatever question he was asked.

      I’m still trying to decide whether some of the recent posts here at OT and especially whether my own comments in some of those threads are actually “too soon” types of comments. I don’t see myself as blaming Charlie Hebdo when I suggested in one thread that mockery is not always to be celebrated. But I do realize the context of that thread might suggest otherwise. But then if someone offers such a post, they’re inviting the argument, unless they really expect people only to agree and nothing else.

      In some ways, this all reminds me of the discussions that arise in the wake of mass shootings. Some gun rights advocates start using the shootings to defend their positions and some gun control advocates start using them to defend their own positions. Sometimes it’s the rights advocates who speak first and sometimes it’s the control advocates who speak first, and whoever speaks first is accused of taking advantage of the tragedy for political purposes. But there is some point at which it’s okay for the discussion to take place, and the event having happened, must serve as a datum what’s discussed.Report

  6. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Good post, Professor Hanley.

    I do think there is a split on the left on these issues that has sprung up again in the past year or so. I’ve seen rather passionate debates on the left about the trigger warning movement with friends equally and passionately on both on sides.

    The civil libertarian stance seems to be the hardest to teach and there does seem to be something in human nature that wants it both ways as the title of your post suggests. Freedom of Speech means nothing unless it means freedom for the thought you hate.Report

  7. Avatar Pinky says:

    There are two concepts here, I think: free speech as a right, and prudence as a virtue. A person can support both. Indeed, the Founders wrote oodles about how a free society must have a moral foundation. Those were practical observations. The litigious framework (what is allowed) doesn’t have to conflict with the social framework (what is reasonable to most). The only conflicts come into being when people confuse them, it seems to me.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      This is a very sharp framing of the issues at play.Report

    • Avatar Roger says:

      Plus three.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      I agree. But I think prudence can be, and is, used as a cudgel against the right. And that’s what I’m critiquing, not prudence itself.

      Anyone in France who ever thought about drawing a cartoon depicting Mohammed, and then said to themselves, “Nah, I have friends who are Muslim, and I don’t want to offend them,” or “I don’t think that’s an effective means of influencing Muslims,” or “that just seems crass and immature, and I’d rather not be crass and immature,” or any of innumerable other reasons for not drawing the cartoon, they are not the subject of my critique.

      Those who say, “they have a right to draw cartoons of Mohammed, but they shouldn’t because in my judgement it’s offensive/ineffective/crass and immature,” are my target.

      And of course we can point out the irony of me saying that in my judgement they shouldn’t say that–not that anyone here has, but of course it’s an irony that’s out there and can’t be wished away.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        If I believe something is wrong, morally, I should say so. I might even be compelled to.Report

      • Those who say, “they have a right to draw cartoons of Mohammed, but they shouldn’t because in my judgement it’s offensive/ineffective/crass and immature,” are my target.

        But to go back to Will’s point, context matters here. What if we’re talking about Family Guy and not about religion but, say, that episode where Peter makes fun of an AIDS patient in a hospital. I am prepared to say that the producers of that show shouldn’t have done that “because in my judgement it’s offensive, etc.” I don’t, however, go from there and say the state should ban it. I won’t even go part way and say something like, “it should be banned during Prime Time or during after school hours.” (For the record, while I don’t watch Family Guy much anymore, I have watched and enjoyed it quite a bit in the past.)

        I haven’t thought it out fully, but I wouldn’t rule out boycotting or complaining to the network in some circumstances, with a different show, say. And if others want to boycott Family Guy’s advertisers or complain to the Network, then I concede their right to do so, even if my initial response is “just don’t watch it if you don’t like it.”Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        If I believe something is wrong, morally, I should say so.

        Do you recognize a distinction between a statement that you think is morally wrong (say, for example, telling a 13 year old rape victim that she deserved it because she’s such a whore) and a statement that you think is just crassly inappropriate (say, calling the pope child-fucker, although feel free to substitute your own examples if mine don’t work for you)?Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Yes, but of course, no one’s saying what you think they are. In fact, I suspect that all of us largely agree, but the context has led you, like Jaybird, to see demons in differences of emphasis.

        Now you’ll tell me that’s what I’m doing, and then tell me I’m doing the I know you are but what am I thing. Meanwhile, many of us are actually having a conversation now.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Actually, Chris, I was just asking to make sure I didn’t misunderstand you.

        If you don’t think I’m engaged in the conversation, though, I have to wonder why you bothered to comment on my post.Report

  8. Avatar Pinky says:

    Less seriously: was Cohen offended on behalf of garden gnomes?Report

  9. Avatar Roger says:

    Cohen writes:

    “Hate speech doesn’t merely CAUSE violence. Hate speech IS violence.”

    I really need to submit a guest post on Types of Harm. There are at least a dozen different categories of harm, and we constantly confuse the distinctions. Each has its own peculiarities and dilemmas. In many cases, harms in one category are used (or justified) to limit harms on another. And some types of harm are intrinsic in human interaction and life in general.

    Oddly I am unaware of any resource anywhere that attempts to parcel out the various types of harm. Any suggestions would be welcome.

    Speech can indeed harm others, but it is not the same kind of harm as violence, and conflating the two is itself harmful to rational understanding (ooh look, I used three types of harm in one sentence!)

    I agree with James And disagree completely with Cohen.Report

    • Avatar Pinky says:

      “Oddly I am unaware of any resource anywhere that attempts to parcel out the various types of harm.”

      I’m not sure what you mean by that.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      Oddly I am unaware of any resource anywhere that attempts to parcel out the various types of harm. Any suggestions would be welcome.

      I found this at the top of the search-page for “Types of Harm.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Oh hell, that’s useless. I shoulda read it before posting. Looked promising on a skim tho!Report

      • Avatar Roger says:


        Actually it does tangentially get to some of the issues. Thanks.


        The distinctions I am playing around with are things like harm via coercion of force, harm via restraint, harm via accident, self harm, harm via deception, harming another’s reputation, harm via refusal to cooperate (rejecting romantic advance or not hiring), harm via unfair interaction, or harm by consuming scarce resources, harm within a game as per agreed rules of the game, and so on.

        I find that people constantly switch back and forth between types of harm. They confuse and or conflate them as Cohen does in her article. All are real, but each is different with different characteristics, solutions and side effects. Solving one often involves propagating another. But I am unaware of any comprehensive, modern attempts to consolidate these types of harms and how we weigh them and balance them.

        My guess is a utilitarian or classical liberal type philosopher has already done all the work here, and I am just unaware of it or have forgotten. Libertarians like Henry Hazlitt do touch upon some of the distinctions.

        I think shining a light on the types of harms, distinctions and caveats is essential to human knowledge.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        Stanford has an online Encyclopedia of Philosophy, here:


        I did a bit of searching there, cuz I’m interested in that topic too, but didn’t find anything specifically addressing those issues.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:


        Maybe I could send you what I am working on and you can give me thoughts or add to it. Over time I continue to either find new types or to expand my definitions to be more inclusive.

        As you might expect, as a classical liberal I am a lot less aware or cognizant of harms that may resonate with others such as harms of unfairness which may arise in voluntary interactions with unequal power.

        Mockery, for a current example, is clearly a type of harm. Yet we have a libertarian or two — people who are usually against harming others, touting the value of mockery. Not trying to restart that controversy, just using it as example of the broader issue. What are the types of harm and why are some ok and others not? What makes them differen?. Those are the issues I am trying to clarify.Report

      • Avatar Will H. says:

        harm via coercion of force
        Robbery, extortion

        harm via restraint
        false imprisonment

        harm via accident

        self harm
        guardianship hearing

        harm via deception
        constructive fraud, fraudulent transfer

        harming another’s reputation

        harm via refusal to cooperate (rejecting romantic advance or not hiring)
        alienation of affection, loss of consortium, employment discrimination

        harm via unfair interaction
        tortious interference

        harm by consuming scarce resources
        sounds like an injunction hearing to me

        harm within a game as per agreed rules of the game
        this one is more along the lines of breach of contract.

        The problem I see here is that, apart from the criminal offenses, all but two are actions under the common law; meaning a money judgment– property.

        Actually, I believe Jason K., Pinky, and CK were on the right track in the other thread: freedom of expression stemming from freedom of inquiry stemming from freedom of conscience.

        I say peel the onion back in layers.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:


        Thanks for jumping in. You seem to be trying to give legal terms for them or convert them into torts or crimes. And you are right that common law probably has gone down all these paths and may be a source for further exploration.

        Just to clarify, I am including harms which are outside the scope of law, many for good reason which may be buried in case law. Silly example. When Dallas scores a touchdown they harmed Green Bay. Granted it was within the mutually agreed rules. But it is a type of harm. If they cheated to score, it would be different.

        When I choose to drink Pepsi, I “harm” Coke by not buying from them. Indeed I harm every human alive who would have been interested in selling me a beverage. When I hire Joe for a job I harm every person alive who would have been interested in that job. When I lay Joe off because I no longer need him I harm him too.

        But laying someone off or not buying a drink from a stranger or cheating at a game are quite different from harms of violence. To the extent they need to be controlled at all, they probably need to be controlled differently. And the very act of trying to control them itself can be categorized as a form of harm.

        These are the issues I am trying to explore. To go back to the trigger for the comment, Cohen was conflating two types of harm. Violence and mockery. I think she is making a mess of the distinctions.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I think there’s also harm from coercion from tradition; something that does great harm to women, to people of other religions, people of no religion. This may also include market coercion, demonstrated by the demand for synthetic derivatives that fed an appetite for risky mortgages and a lot of the racial harm Coates documented in his argument for reparations.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Oops, I had this written up a long while ago and forgot to post it.

        Roger, I’d definitely read it if you thought doing so would be helpful. I can’t promise I’d contribute anything useful, of course.

        Type of harms in broad categories: (Off the top of my head…)

        The effect:
        physical injury
        psychological injury
        restrictions of opportunity

        The cause:
        moral agents
        institutional structures
        norms (scare quotes on that one)

        Principles in play:

        Moral properties in play;
        natural rights
        utility (in some more objective sense of that word)
        stability (??)
        maybe even communitarianism??

        apriori stuff
        pragmatics (which definitionally includes, I think, consequentialism)Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @stillwater on moral properties, would communitarism be the commons? The air, the water, the soil have downstream flows in physical space now; they also flow into the future. Harm comes from abuse of the commons not only to other humans, but to other species, too. To whole ecosystems and future generations of their offspring.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        Communitarianism is a view about the relationship between an individual and the community that person resides in. The commons seems like a separate issue (to me anyway) since the idea of a commons is that it’s a so-to-speak communal good which can suffer various tragedies.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Oh, and too that last part, I take what most people would view as an uncomfortably broad view of physical harm such that I think even the killing of a single tree requires a justification. Which isn’t to say that the justification can’t be provided, but just that for me the presumption is that the trees life carries moral considerability. In and of itself, not just instrumentally for us human types.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I’m going to be that middle-of-the-road guy that says “you both have a point!”

        That is, Stillwater’s right, I think, that the commons isn’t communitarianism per se, and doesn’t necessarily entail it–the tragedy, after all, happens in those cases where individual interests trump the collective interest (or more precisely, where individual rationality produces a perverse collective outcome).

        And in some cases the tragedy of the commons can be prevented by privatizing the resource–destroying not the resource itself, as in the tragedy, but it’s characteristic as a common good (e.g., privatize a park; sell off water rights to a river, and so on).

        But to the extent a non-privatization solution is found to preventing a tragedy of a particular commons, it can often be described as communitarian. I’m not sure I’d classify top-down solutions, imposed on the stakeholders from above, but certainly those that grow up indigenously , relying on local rules and customs, and enforced in a distributed manner (everyone has some ability to enforce through punishment of the violator,* but there may be no authoritative figure who is “the” enforcer).
        *Examples of distributed punishment include collective irrigation systems, where violators of the rules may find that others don’t run any water into their field when it is those others’ turn to open and shut gates to distribute the water to everyone’s fields, or sometimes just social shunning, as with the cofradias in Spain, a group of fishermen from a particular village that have sustainably managed their village’s specific and exclusive (until the EU, sadly) fishing grounds for hundreds of years.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @stillwater a big part if what disturbs me is the measure of harm as only harm to a specific individual — in our legal system, requiring standing, for instance, and not harms that aren’t so much measured in individual but in statistical terms. One tree might be doing well, but the species might not. I would have loved to see a chestnut. I miss elm trees. I worry about white pine.

        There’s some restraint necessary, too; just because there’s harm doesn’t mean we should always do anything about it; the question is how you decide. Trend lines matter; the decline in deaths from drunk driving, disabilities from polio, return of wild turkeys and bald eagles to Maine, and rivers that don’t catch on fire show, trends do justify a lot of our chiding speech and regulations on the commons.

        Don’t drive drunk and vaccinate your kids is a good kind of social pressure. There will still be drunk-driving deaths, still a few victims of polio since we failed to eradicate it.

        And there’s always human hubris; do we have a moral right to eradicate polio? I’d say of course, but I’m like only 98% sure of that.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:


        I certainly have considered harm caused by coercion and harm caused by restriction of action. But are you suggesting another type of harm by tradition? Could you elaborate? Obviously traditions are enacted and maintained by human action… Which human actions were you thinking of? I want to make sure I am not overlooking anything.

        On the harm caused by markets, what action (category) caused the harm? Was it a mistake/accident? Fraud or deception? Simply a natural feedback loop? Or were the victims of this harm treated unfairly? Harm agreed to within the terms of the contract? Or something else?

        Under the racial heading, again I have considered coercion, refusal to cooperate, reputational harm (harming another by lowering their status or reputation) and unfairness. Does this miss anything?Report

      • Avatar Roger says:


        What types of actions led to the statistical harm? ( I am focusing entirely on harms to humans to keep it manageable)Report

      • Avatar Roger says:


        Thanks for the thoughts. There are countless ways to categorize. I am focusing on the type of action/type of harm. Which is more like the top part of your list.

        On causes, you have norms and institutions. Could you clarify how a norm or institution is translated into a harm? I want to make sure I am not missing something. (I am not disagreeing with the concept just making sure I don’t overlook anything you are considering).Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @james-hanley And in some cases the tragedy of the commons can be prevented by privatizing the resource–destroying not the resource itself, as in the tragedy, but it’s characteristic as a common good (e.g., privatize a park; sell off water rights to a river, and so on).

        This is a nettle; both good and bad fall out of it. In general, I think that there are ownership philosophies that determine the good/bad outcomes; some owners have a strong incentive to protect long-term investment; others have short-term gain and flipping in mind. Deeper down, it requires owners to have stewardship in mind; and there is great incentive to rent seek on the commons because it’s not always clear what the commons-destroying actually is. But I don’t trust that the presumption of stewardship is always present any more than you trust that the presumption of good is always present in a government action.

        @roger examples of harm by tradition abound; the plight of women in many cultures today; much residue still on our own are my most obvious examples; cultural traditions that allow for women’s sexual and physical abuse, that prevent them from receiving education or working or take control of their reproduction away from them. But there are lots of examples. In markets, in 2006, any sane fund manager would be considered bonkers for not investing in synthetic derivatives; it was a culture of bubble; many sane people were deep in the culture of purchasing homes at ever-escalating prices. Obviously, this isn’t as deeply rooted as tradition harms, but millions upon millions of people were harmed when the bubble burst. I gave examples of statistical harm; Coates argument for reparations; and you don’t want to go there, but elm and chestnut and white pine; monarch butterflies. The whole contraceptive mandate brohaha came out of the statistical harm done to women who didn’t have reproductive health care (including maternity care, some cancer screenings, etc.) included in their health care. Legally, statistical harms are those generally covered by class-action suits; not enough harm to any given individual to rise to the level of standing, but still harm spread across thousands of individuals.

        So yes, I am proposing harm from tradition; any given set of traditions might be harmful to some people born into that tradition. Catholics and birth control or divorce might be an example. The standards of chaste behavior that lead to sex workers being raped without recourse. The traditions of menses as unclean, so that girls basically cease getting and education when they become women because there are no facilities to maintain cleanliness at their schools.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        it requires owners to have stewardship in mind;

        From this perspective, no, it doesn’t. If a resource is private and it’s destroyed, then there’s no tragedy of the commons, precisely because, no longer being a commons, none other than the owner have a claim over it. We might wish the owner viewed its value in the way we view is value–rather than valuing it in its changed state, like, say, filling in a pond), but 1) we have no actual claims, so we are not truly harmed, and 2) if we truly valued it in its original state more than that owner valued it in its changed state, we should be able to buy her out (either singly, or, if we can overcome the free rider problem, as a group). That does actually happen; e.g., the Nature Conservancy.

        Of course that’s the basic example, and it assumes there are no negative externalities caused by the change in the resource’s state. If there is, then that’s another matter, although it’s still not a tragedy of the commons. And even there, theoretically the owner can compensate those negatively affected, and then the status-change of the resources is once again of no harm to the group.

        Of course I’m not going to pretend that negative externalities normally are compensated If only.

        and there is great incentive to rent seek on the commons because it’s not always clear what the commons-destroying actually is.

        Well, I suppose it can be called rent-seeking, but that’s limited to the commons, and to the privately-owned resource with uncompensated negative externalities. But if the resource is privately owned and there are no net harms to others, then there’s no rent-seeking involved.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:


        To clarify, I am not in any way arguing any of your points I am just inquiring and trying to make sure my categorization doesn’t miss anything . On tradition, sexual and physical abuse are forms of coercion. Preventing them from getting something is either a harm caused by restraint of freedom, and/or of unfair distribution of social goods. Failure to provide birth control is interesting as it is possibly a type of harm caused by failure to provide something to another (I have a category of harm via neglect). I also have a type of harm which involves lowering another’s status. Thinking poorly of women or getting them to think poorly of themselves is itself a type of harm.

        I know this sounds argumentative, but HOW were they harmed when the bubble burst? I am assuming you mean they were harmed by lower home values or net worth. Or perhaps because they lost their job or house, but the bubble was the ultimate, not the proximate cause, which was someone refused to renew their employment or claiming the house according to the terms the person agreed to as a consenting adult. Again, if fraud or deception was involved, that changes things and adds a new category of harm. If we own an asset, every action by every human on the planet can have minute affects on the value of that asset real or relative to someone’s projections. Are these types of harm?

        I still am not following what a statistical harm is. How do I harm someone statistically? Being unfair to black people or dismissive of their reputation and social standing is certainly harm. Is there some other deeper thing I am missing?Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @roger when I say statistical harm, I think I mean that to any given individual the harm is small; but all told, it’s large; someone who finds a way to skim $1 off $10,000,000 bank accounts is still stealing $10m; a huge amount of money. Yes, that’s obviously theft. Perhaps a good example of what I mean might be in the burden of traffic tickets for things like brake lights, particularly on lower-income earners; they couldn’t afford to fix the brake light, they get pulled over, and get a ticket so now they not only have to pay the brake light, but the ticket, too, potential time to go to court to plead their plight.

        I’ve been dealing with a misfiring dragon (oil-burning furnace) all weekend, I have a bad headache from low levels of carbon monoxide in our house, and can’t think clearly. But over and over, we see things that are often evidence of statistical harm — the impact of incarceration on black families goes deep, far beyond the harm of being incarcerated. Those other harms, to children, to spouses, to parents, to neighborhoods, are real, and the measure of them is often in statistics of outcomes.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:


        I hope you feel better!

        Thanks, I think I have these types of harm. Small harms, even ones that are negligible can build up into large harms cumulatively over time.

        Furthermore, there are negative externalities. Unintended harms arising out of actions (the actions can themselves be either benevolent or not).

        I might add that I think I hear you saying statistics can be a way to measure these subtle, cumulative harms.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        Regarding institutions and norms as causing harm: ….. ummm ……

        Well, let’s seehere. I’m not very familiar with lit on this stuff so I’m not comfortable in the framework, but I think it goes like this:

        Sometimes harms can be incurred by an individual (an “agent”) in which the specific intent of the action was not to incur a harm, yet that’s the outcome. Workplace harrassment seems like one such example, treatment of blacks in a wide array of contexts might be another. The idea is that the agents themselves are merely acting in accordance with perfectly accepted and unchallenged practices or institutional structures, so their agency, on this view, is not the cause of the harm.

        Harms from norms would probably have receive a similar account. A cultural history (for whatever reason) in which certain living beings are viewed as less than, or taboo, or as serving the interests of another can result on harms to others, even tho the “agent” in those contexts believes he or she is acting perfectly morally. One example might be the traditional family, where children are viewed as the property of the parents. (Or wives of husbands, for that matter.) I’m sure once you get into the literature the examples are endless.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:


        Thanks. I have not been assuming agency or intention was necessary for harm. Disparate treatment, personal demerits against another’s social capital (thinking less of someone), offending someone subjectively or inadvertent harassment would all be captured within my framework.

        That said, my list of types of harm continues to expand. Thanks for helping.


      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        I’m not so sure that agency and intent can be completely divorced from a concept of harm. I think that’s one of the reasons the concept is a tricky one. Eg, if a tree branch breaks and during the fall breaks my leg, it doesn’t make sense to say that I’ve suffered a harm. If the branch is cut by an agent in such a way as to fall while resting beneath it, it’s a harm.

        Institutional and norm-based injuries (let’s neutrally call them that for now) constitute harms – or are argued as sufficing for harms – because the institutional intent, even tho opaque to those acting in accordance with that intent, is predicated on the infliction of injury to others to advance the self-interest of the agents acting within it.

        Something like that anyway. So it seems to me.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        But you have suffered a harm when a tree branch falls or you catch a disease. Granted, I don’t think natural harms are all that interesting, and my first harm basically sweeps then away to get to the juicier ones.

        For those caused by an agent, a significant number are unintended or accidental in nature. Intentional harms can (preventing someone from driving after a drink) sometimes be used to prevent accidental harms. Intended acts of benevolence can sometimes lead to greater unintended negative externalities (harms). Helping one often comes at the cost of harming another. These are what I am exploring.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Roger, if you’re coming at this topic from a moral perspective, then a naturally occurring act can’t constitute a harm but is instead an injury (or whatever). (Unless you have a really robust conception of the powers of God and think the falling branch was the result of an intentional process.) My take on it is this: generally speaking, a harm results from the actions of a moral agent that negatively effect a moral property. The clear cases are … well … clear. More interesting ones – like institutionally caused harms – rely on teasing out the roles people play within institutional structures that result in human action causing injuries.

        Something like that. And if that’s a bit too deep in the weeds then just forget about it. And why isn’t Chris over here correcting all wrong stuff I’ve been saying?Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        Thanks. I am using the word in conventional usage.

        “: physical or mental damage or injury : something that causes someone or something to be hurt, broken, made less valuable or successful, etc.”

        Again, natural harms are pretty much irrelevant to any interesting discussion. So, in fact all the important issues do relate to harm caused by an agent to themself or others. Thanks for the clarification from a moral philosophy standpoint.Report

  10. Avatar greginak says:

    I support the right to free speech ( with a few careful limits likes on threats) also. I think what is being missed, especially in the reactions to what Jason wrote, is people want to see how free speech, or mockery or satire or bad puns ( okay there are really no bad puns) is how they can also cause harm. That doesn’t imply they should be illegal. Just that righteous mockery can just as easily be used on a weak oppressed group as on a powerful figure who “needs” to be mocked.

    Analogy: Booze should be legal. Booze can be fun to drink and tasty. Booze leads to violence and in some people will lead to life destroying addiction. Booze should be legal even though some of the results of that will be really bad for some people.

    If you truly want to say to believe is some great thing you would do well to look at its dark side or how it works poorly. Doesn’t mean the belief isn’t good at all, just that nothing is perfect.Report

  11. Avatar CK MacLeod says:

    This post, like prior posts on this topic, makes some sound arguments, and in its critique of examples of circular reasoning gets close to two interrelated problems that constantly undermine the discussion. It is very difficult to have a discussion about something without agreement as to what the something is or, if we are engaging in discussion about the idea as an idea, what it is held to be. In other words, what do we mean by “freedom of speech”? A related problem, easy to overlook or underestimate, will be that under some definitions of or approaches to this freedom it will include the freedom precisely to define for oneself what that freedom is or how it ought to be understood.

    The weakness and incompleteness of Burt Likko’s arguments in defense of freedom of speech reflected these two problems. If you do not know what you are defending or where it is located, or if it is constantly moving away from you, it is impossible to decide where to dig your moat. I think the Professor is right about the key social and political, practical as well as historical, question on the topic: “[T]o what authoritative office do you want to give that power to determine whether your exercise of your rights meets the standard of good judgement?” More attention to this problem might have strengthened the defense of freedom of speech as a case against the suppression of speech or of certain types of speech. We will also tend to cross over the line, as another commenter pointed out on the Likko thread, to consideration of related and overlapping freedoms: of conscience and of inquiry. Conscience in this sense represents a kind of “inner speech,” but the fact that “no one can look into another person’s soul” hasn’t always prevented people from trying, or from reasonably recognizing that what goes on in people’s minds has a bearing on what they end up doing.

    Tentatively: “Inquiry” represents a kind of middle ground between conscience and free expression. At the origins of the Western doctrine of free speech is the question of freedom of inquiry, as the realization of freedom of conscience in material and commonly accessible form, always potentially the subject of expressions deemed consequential and therefore potentially harmful. So we have three types of freedom of speech: An atheist disbelieves in God: Freedom of conscience, as a kind of freedom of “inner” speech. An atheist records her thinking in a diary and shares it with close friends, and together they develop their atheistic ideas further: Freedom of inquiry. Others discover their work, broadcast it to the world, potentially leading to consequences, good and bad: Freedom of expression.

    These abstractions might seem far from the initial inspiration in this discussion, but the attack on Charlie Hebdo at least in part represents an attempt to establish an alternative set of authorities and associated regime of definitions, if not precisely an “authoritative office,” for public safety against noxious intellectual substances.The question of freedom of speech as a social and political question is therefore a question of the formal and informal criminalization of speech, and not as an absolute question, since we find it very difficult to imagine a real existing social order in which no speech acts of any type are subject to punishment. Somewhere there is, no doubt, an anarcho-libertarian theorist convinced that we could utterly do without proscriptions on fraudulent and threatening speech in various forms (i.e., including also libel, conspiracy, and so on – which also consist of “speech acts”), but general practice and assumptions of a different type predominate, and not just in the West. The notion that in rejecting one set of would-be authorities or one alien regime we have nothing to fall back on other than a pure anarchy of speech acts is therefore absurd. In that strict sense, we are always arguing about which speech acts to criminalize, and which not, not about an impossible paradoxical regime of no regime, or of absolute de-criminalization or absolute freedom as criminalization of criminalization and suppression of suppression.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:


      • A plus one sign being the marker of analogical agreement–wherefore made ultimately non-variable under certain contingencies and yet homologous to any anarcho-libertarian (from which distance one smells whiffs of the anarcho-capitalist or even anarcho-syndicalist “stink,” which as first glance seems far removed, but still hypothecated on similar notions of the just) formulation of “the good” or “the adequate”–I am constrained to admit a certain disposition toward said agreement and in no way really–with the “really” authenticated, perchance, unobtrusively and going back to the initial plus one under discussion–agreeing because after all, what could be more exciting than positing the agreement in the midst of discussion?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Invoking your right to mock, I see.

        Well played, sir.

        I have to admit that one was too opaque even for me, and I usually understand him.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Or I just liked the comment, had nothing significant of substance to add at the moment, and wanted to subscribe to the comments.Report

    • Avatar Citizen says:

      “will include the freedom precisely to define for oneself what that freedom is”
      CK is clear here.

      greginak commented nearly the same the other day, but was deficient in mentioning the anarcho-libertarian possibility of doing without proscriptions.Report

      • Avatar Citizen says:

        ?”That is because there isn’t an actual One and True answer. We all get to decide the right answer for ourselves and each of us has to live with that. ”

        greginak IMO had the best comment of that day.Report

  12. Avatar greginak says:

    This could deserve a post of its own but there is a case in front of the supremes re: free speech. The Elonis case. It relates to the boundaries of free speech. I would assume others have read about.

    Abusive husband made threats over facebook but is trying to argue they weren’t really threats because it was on social media, satire and “art”. While i’m sure some would see me as a CLINO i’ pretty far onto the almost absolute free speech end of the spectrum. But this guy, Elonis, is guilty and full of it. Anyway, more grist for the mill.


    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      I don’t know enough details to make any absolute assertions in this case, but from what I have heard, assuming it’s accurate, I agree with you.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        The overriding detail here is the protection-from-abuse order he’d just been served; he’d been told by the legal system to keep away from her.

        That is why what he said isn’t ‘art’ but ‘terrorism.’Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      On this one, I go back to my stand on threats. And while this may well vary by state, a Protection from Abuse order generally means no contact, and such a post would be considered not only contact, but threatening contact. Dude deserved to serve time, is my take.

      Statistically, the most dangerous time for an abuse victim is immediately after the abuser is served with such an order or has had their actions curtailed by a judge. And anecdotally, every such curtailing by a judge I’ve witnessed in courtrooms brings fourth a cry about the abusers constitutional rights being limited, too. It’s like a reflexive knee-jerk. These are the moments I step in and offer shelter to people; I’m unknown to the abuser, never would think to search for their victims there, there’s no credit-card record of hotel charges, etc.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Funny that knee jerking, since the protection order is granted only after due process is completed (i.e. the abuser had an opportunity to fight the order in front of a judge & lost – which is exactly the mechanism we have for restricting an individuals rights).Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @mad-rocket-scientist this will vary by state, but in general, I don’t think it’s quite correct.

        An abused person can request, and receive, a temporary restraining order; some states from a judge, others from a police department. It’s sort of an emergency stop to allow the process you describe to — the legal process — to take place. A more permanent order, lasting from a period of months to years — requires that legal process. In serving a temporary order, there’s usually very clear guidelines about no contact whatsoever, and clear instruction about the importance of appearing in court to have it rescinded.

        So not knowing, I won’t 100% suggest that the man in this case had a permanent order restraining him from all contact; but I’d certainly guess that this was the case, and part of why he was found guilty. But there’s some slim chance that it was a temporary order, and the only person telling him to refrain from all contact with her was a cop.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        It was long term restraining order so the perpetrator had has day in court to argue against the RO. He lost and he ex got the RO.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        TROs usually have a very quick hearing date (within 2 weeks), so abusers have little time to stew over constitutional questions.Report

  13. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I dunno, Prof. I see something of a spectrum here:

    A) I support your right to say things I agree with.
    B) I support your right to say things that I don’t necessarily agree with, but which seemed harmless enough to me.
    C) I support your right to say things that I disagree with, but be advised that there is probably some jagoff out there who will react badly if you say that thing.
    D) I will pretend to support your right to say things I disagree with, but because I fear that jagoff, I’m not really going to support your speech rights when the rubber meets the road.

    C does not equal D.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      And again, precisely.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      C does not equal D.

      True. C does, though, provide good cover for D.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Wait, because something can and sometimes is used for bad ends, it is always bad? Well, at least we’ve settled the mockery debate, then.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        because something can and sometimes is used for bad ends, it is always bad

        Doubling down on the misrepresentations of my comments today, eh, Chris?

        Man, do I miss that guy who used to comment at PL. He was a good guy.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Chris, I don’t think that’s what James is saying. I think the better challenge is to wonder on which grounds he thinks C is cover for D. I mean, that’s an empirical issue, it seems to me, but as I’m learning all too keenly lots of folks think there’s some sorta a priori entailment between the two. Eg, if I say that I wouldn’t express those opinions I am ipso facto not a supporter of free speech and in fact actually arguing for restrictions on certain types of expressions.

        I mean, the whole debate here (well not the whole debate, but a pretty significant chunk of it) is that libertarians argue that holding C entails D, and the rest of us are denying that it does.

        Seems to me, anyway.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        And just to be clear, I’m neither reducing the debate specifically to the content expressed in C and D, nor am I saying that anyone in particular holds C or D. I’m just using the as an example of what I take to be the dynamic in play.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        libertarians argue that holding C entails D

        Maybe some do, but I think your brush is a bit too broad.

        Better would be to say that free speech absolutists–which includes a lot of libertarians–suspect that some significant number of people claiming C, even sincerely believing they’re at C, will actually end up at D come crunch time.

        That doesn’t logically entail believing all C are actually D, just being wary of Cs.

        There’s also the matter of phrasing. Not to critique Burt here, as I doubt the specific phrasing was the result of a very careful conscious choice (how often is the phrasing in our comments here the result of that, after all?), but there’s an important difference between “I support your right, but there’s a jagoff out there” (which, to me, seems to imply a “so what did you expect,” and “it’s your own damn fault,”) and “beware that there’s a lot of jagoffs out there, but I’ll support you against them.”

        As much as anything, I feel like I’m seeing more of the “defend, but” than the “jagoffs, but” in those who are tut tutting about good judgement.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        Yes, “free speech absolutists” is MUCH more accurate. I knew even as I hit submit that “libertarians” wasn’t the right word, since it put the amPHAsis on the wrong syLLAble, so to speak.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        I know we’ve had our run-ins in the past, and I know I’ve relentlessly hammered people who use the “libertarians are (all)…” line. This one just struck me as odd coming from you this late in our experiences with each other, as in, “Surely Stillwater’s not really going down that road here, is he? Nah, I don’t think he is.”

        I’m glad I listened to that voice this time instead of getting out my hammer.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Oh, I’ve learned my lesson. 🙂Report

      • Relevant: http://highclearing.com/index.php/archives/2015/01/10/18333

        Thinking about it, Henley I think hits the nail on the head as to why a lot of the criticisms of Charlie Hebdo in the last few days have so strongly rubbed me the wrong way. Bringing it back to this subthread specifically, I think Henley’s point also probably provides a good rule of thumb for when C, above, can/should reasonably be regarded as a cover for D. Indeed, as phrased, C rubs me the wrong way in much the same way as D.

        It would not rub me the wrong way nearly as much if it was phrased “there is some jagoff who will react badly if you say that, but I support your right to say it.” Indeed, that is how the apocryphal Voltaire quote itself is structured.Report

      • And now I see that someone beat me to the punch on that link. Damn Henley’s stuff travels fast when he actually writes.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Which part comes before the “but” and which part after, is extremely important.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        I’d say that if what comes before and after a comma-but is *really* important – like REALLY important – then the whole issue resolves to psychological stance rather than anything substantive in the real world, and the so-called defense based on a “but” is in danger of signalling a tribal affiliation more than anything else. (I think free speech is more important than you cuz it comes BEFORE my but but after yours, dammit!) And we should be really clear about that. Of course, context matters a great deal when ordering clauses in claims, but that may not stop people from viewing those claims thru the lens of their ordering. (See what I did there?)

        In my view, this is of a piece with the “robustity of support!” arguments folks were making a few days ago, which I criticized then, as now, as being ridiculous. It presupposes there is a correct way – a logically entailed way!!! ???? – to defend freedom of speech. I find Henley’s argument irrelevant, but I still defend freedom of speech. (See what I did there? I care more about Henley’s argument than freedom of speech!!!)


      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        And btw, Will, I think what I said up there about psychological stances is largely correct. All I’m trying to convey is that if that’s right, then let’s be really clear about what the argument really reduces to: psychological properties and not properties in the real world. I don’t think anyone *really* wants to go down that road, tho. Especially free speech absolutists.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Still, yes, I know it was unfair. That was sort of my point. Starting with the first thread, when North preemptively decried blaming the victim, even saying the were “jagoffs” at all has been equated with not just D (see, e.g. Jaybird’s first two days of comments, but wishing the Islamic extremist’s comments had been made by liberals), then this post and its use of a hoax.

        At this point, I see no reason to take anyone advocating the Jaybird-Hanley position seriously, because they are arguing against ghosts and jihadists.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        Well, when you say it like that…

        I’ve gone rounds and rounds with Jaybird about the Liberal Decoder Ring without any success. We just went one more round with him the other day, and he appeared to concede he was wrong in that instance, tho I’m sure he won’t fundamentally change his logical ordering: that liberals must demonstrate to him that they aren’t saying the things he attributes to them irrespective of what they actually said. It’s like a disease, actually, in my view. An intellectual disease. (Glyph the other day was talking about intellectual viruses…)

        And I admit I see the same sorta apriori analysis of other people’s words in other people, where they attribute beliefs and motivations to their interlocutor which clearly haven’t been expressed. (That Henley thinks clause ordering constitutes compelling evidence strikes me as exactly the same sorta thing: the idea is that folks can’t help but reveal their true intentions if you just look closely enough (and view them thru the “right” analytical filter!!!)) That’s why I focus so much on the analysis stuff, actually, since it’s really easy – like trivially easy! – to construct an analysis which explains away the claims made by folks one is predisposed to disagree with. It’s all of a piece, actually – and entirely circular. I wish I was smart enough to formalize this view, but I know my limitations.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I’m about tapped out of this conversation, so don’t take it personal if I don’t respond further. But I’ve got a few minutes before going shopping, so… the part that comes before the comma-but is not completely without importance (well sometimes it is, when it’s said perfunctorily, but usually isn’t), but it is typically superseded or qualified by what comes after. The primary point of the Voltaire quote is not that he disagrees with the speaker. If someone says, “I will defend your right to say it, but I disagree with it” then I take the primary point to be the disagreement.

        Which is not remotely restricted to this conversation. If I say “A, but B” then you can pretty much take “B” to be the thing that I consider more important, or at least more important to the conversation at hand.

        Do I believe that someone who says “I believe in free speech, but…” doesn’t actually believe in free speech? Absolutely not. If I say “I believe in free speech, but I don’t believe you can yell fire in a crowded theater”… the latter does not render the former irrelevant. Unless, that is, someone believes that free speech entails yelling fire in a crowded theater.

        To the point at hand, I don’t believe there is any contradiction between urging prudence when it comes to blasphemy and believing in freedom of speech (and have said so, but with all the comments it is most assuredly hard to keep track). But I still believe “I believe in free speech, but you shouldn’t say that” isn’t the same comment as “You shouldn’t say that, but I believe in free speech.” As a matter of emphasis, if nothing else, and in these sorts of discussions, emphasis matters.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        And just to clear up one potential confusion, I see this type of apriori analytical explain-away thinking in all sorts of folks: left, right, center, other. And for that matter, I’m quite sure some folks see it occurring in me.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        I’m happy to let it go, and (not “but”!) thanks for the response.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        If I say “A, but B” then you can pretty much take “B” to be the thing that I consider more important, or at least more important to the conversation at hand.

        “I will go to Mordor, though I do not know the way.”

        I honestly think the most important part of that is that he’ll go to Mordor.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I tend to think that “I believe in free speech” covers both “I believe in your right to say X” and “I don’t think you should say X.” Anyone who doesn’t believe in free speech isn’t going to bother saying “I don’t think you should say X.” It’s a position that implies that you can say X.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        At this point, I see no reason to take anyone advocating the Jaybird-Hanley position seriously, because they are arguing against ghosts and jihadists.

        Again we see Chris asserting that he understands us perfectly, and the problem is that we don’t understand him and those aligned with him. It’s almost as though he’s decided to just parody himself.

        But it’s news to me that Bill Donahue is either a ghost or a jihadist.

        Of course Chris hasn’t actually provided any evidence that nobody takes the position I critique. He’s only asserted it. Like his absolute assertion that the Cohen piece is a hoax. I think we all recognize now–me a little later than others, to be sure–that it could be a hoax, that it might even probably be a hoax. But Chris cavalierly dispenses with such faint-hearted qualifications–he asserts unequivocally that it is a hoax, evidence be damned!

        For the record, I used to like Chris a lot. We’ve known each other since the old days at Jason K.’s Positive Liberty, where he was a highly respected non-libertarian commenter at a pointedly libertarian blog. I knew him as a thoughtful and fair-minded person. His trollish comments here (“So when you say X, you really mean this outlandish other thing…”) were not part of his repertoire then.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        Bottom line, I don’t agree with Will about the ordering within a comma-but compund sentence mattering so much, but I guess I agree it can throw into doubt the relative priorities. As Mike says, it doesn’t seem to me that first always implies subordinate. “I agree people should be free from non-speech resistance to say whatever they want, but I also think that they should use good judgement about what to say and when to say it” to me doesn’t subordinate one to the other. But I guess some might feel it does.

        That’s why I’ve felt that the better thing is to just write two sentences. “I agree people should be free from non-speech resistance to say whatever they want. I also think that they should use good judgement about what to say and when to say it” shouldn’t raise any doubt that the person really believes the first sentence. If we’re still hung up on the order of the sentences, then we’re really just micromanaging people’s language and deciding what they prioritize from essentially no outward evidence. Which we have the prerogative to do, but if there’s no evidence for it what we conclude, then we won’t be justified in concluding it as true. We can suspect all we want, of course, but if we’re just critiquing the language itself, it really wouldn’t be there to draw that conclusion from.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Chris, I don’t think I disagree with that at all.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I don’t think “though” equals or functions as “but” in that sentence. He’s not saying, “I’ll got, but I don’t know the way.” He’s saying “I’ll go despite not knowing the way.”

        That said, the Henley Rule of Buts may not be an absolute iron-clad rule, true in every single instance without any conceivable exceptions, but I think it’s a probably a darned reliable rule of thumb.

        As Henley wrote, think of an apology: “I’m sorry, but what you said made me angry” as opposed to “What you said made me angry, but I’m sorry.” The second position, he notes, is normally the dominant one, so it matters that you put the apology in the dominant position, otherwise “you’re not apologizing; you’re excusing your own conduct.”

        Now, what Chris said above–“I tend to think that “I believe in free speech” covers both “I believe in your right to say X” and “I don’t think you should say X.” Anyone who doesn’t believe in free speech isn’t going to bother saying “I don’t think you should say X.” It’s a position that implies that you can say X.”–is logically correct. But some people are illogical, whether intentionally or not, and so it’s not uncommon to hear people say, “I believe in free speech, but you shouldn’t be allowed to say this particular offensive thing.” They violate the logic Chris presents–when they say “I believe in free speech” they don’t actually mean “I believe in your right to say X.”

        Sometimes we have to go beyond the bare logic, and try to figure out if people are really operating off that logic, or whether they are spouting phrases they’ve heard and know that they’re supposed to espouse, but whose logic they have never actually thought about. Sure, Chris actually means the logic when he says it, and you mean that logic when you say it, and I actually mean that logic when I say it, but I don’t think any of the three of us are naive enough to believe that everyone means that logic when they say it. And so the actual construction that’s used matters, because it can–not always, not perfectly–reveal whether or not the person really means that logic.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        Bill Donahue’s position is certainly one you can critique. But it is not the position you announce in the OP that you will be critiquing. Since you say you’ll be critiquing one position in the piece and then go on to critique a position far more radical than either that one or even than Donahue’s, I suppose that probably won’t matter to you much. But it does matter and should matter for what people will and should think of your arguments about the position you started out saying you would critique. It suggests that you apparently feel you need to go about critiquing the position you start out saying you will critique it by moving on from it and critiquing other positions instead.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        It seems to me that if someone said “I believe in free speech but I think saying X ought to be illegal”, you’d have a logical problem on your hands. Otherwise, the whole analysis you’ve just outlined presupposes that searching sentential constructions for abnormalities reveals something about that person’s intent. I’ll go back to the earlier point I made to Will: if the entire debate (as far as this is concerned) is around clause ordering as a revelatory practice, then all we’re talking about is someone’s psychological state wrt the relevant clauses. What does that have to do with issues out in the external world? Does it mean (suggest, entail) that a person who actually thinks prudence ought to constrain certain speech acts won’t be right there with you (well, not necessarily you!) on the barricades defending speech when the freedom castle is stormed? How can that question be answered without begging the question?

        It seems to me that the reluctance of free speech advocates to concede what strikes me as obvious – that each of us individually, based on our considered judgment, determine the norms governing our expressions and actually act consistently with those norms – is somehow entailed by something as trivial as “appropriate clause ordering”. (Robustness!) I mean, it just strikes me as incoherent to say that a person can’t support a robust conception of free speech while also claiming that some things, in their considered judgment, are better left unsaid. Eg, “I believe in a robust conception of free speech, but I believe some things are better left unsaid.”Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I can’t tell from your comment who it is you think I set out to attack, who you think I attacked, and how the two differ.

        But silly me, before I listened to you telling me who I was attacking and not attacking and when I was and was not attacking them, I thought I was consistently attacking those who claim to be supporters of free speech but who are in fact selective or weak-kneed about such support.

        And as it turns out, for those willing to check things out, Donahue’s organization does claim to support free speech; just read their “about us” page, where they claim to be “Motivated by the letter and the spirit of the First Amendment.”

        Sounds like my target to me. And I know this is crazy talk, but maybe, just maybe, I have a better idea of who I was critiquing than you do.

        Nah, that is crazy. I’ll tell you what, next time I write a post I’ll ask you and Chris to read it before publishing so I can get the authoritative statement on what I really mean.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        “I will go, but I do not know the way.” vs.
        “I do not know the way, but I will go.”

        Yeah, I’ll have to give it more thought, but I’m starting to see it.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Btw, I’m not accusing you of holding the last view I was objecting to. But it has been expressed repeatedly over the last few days here at the ole OT. A view I find incomprehensible, actually.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:


        I take James’ point as a precautionary matter. (I don’t think that extends very far, though. If he wants to say ‘Don’t say it in a comma-but construction,’ that’s fair enough. If he wants to add to that, ‘And don’t say it in the next sentence either, (because it threatens free speech)’ then where does that leave us regarding people feeling free to express their actual views, the better to discuss them and then perhaps some people change them. (If the claim were, ‘I don’t think saying it in the next sentence (at this time) exhibts the best judgement, and I think better judgement would be better here,’ then we’re talkng about a different claim as I understand the claims here.)

        But you’re right about divining intent. If I were going to draft a statement laying out my view on free expression and judgement, and I decided I wanted to say it all in one comma-but sentence (which I’ve said I don’t think is the best choice and isn’t, I don’t think, what I’d do – I certainly wouldn’t be now), it certainly wouldn’t have occurred to me to signal that I don’t subordinate my affirmation of free speech to my sense that it’s also good to show good judgement in what you say by being sure to put the statement that it’s good to show good judgement before what I have to say about free speech. I don’t think most people would if they hadn’t recently read something like Henley’s post. So I don’t think it’s right to read intent and priorities back onto the speaker from that particular construction choice. I agree with you there.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Will, I tend to think everyone here agrees with that. It’s why, when push comes to shove, the only people James and Jay can criticize are extremists or in liberals in their heads (Jay, to his credit, came around eventually, but not before saying some pretty unfair things). We might disagree about the value of mockery or blasphemy, but we don’t disagree about the things people keep saying we disagree about.

        Also, if Pinky, Stillwater, Roger, and I are all on the same page, either something has gone horribly wrong, or what we’re saying borders on self-evident.

        James, If you feel that strongly about me personally, I recommend ignoring me. You’ve been reading me uncharitably for months, so it’d be nice for me if you did.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        Sometimes it’s intent, sometimes it’s just never having thought about the contradiction, and sometimes it’s just an incautious phrasing of the moment.

        And of course I’ve never said that nobody can say, “I think some things are better left unsaid.” What I do say is that when someone says, “I support free speech, but I don’t think anyone should say that,” it gives reason to doubt their support for free speech. It doesn’t automatically mean they won’t support it, but there are people who go beyond saying, “you can, but ought not” to saying, “shalt not,” and in the process conveniently define the offensive thing as not part of free speech, so they can continue believing they’re strong supporters of free speech. Because those people exist, because they’re real, “I support free speech, but…” gives rise to uncertainty about which type of person we’re dealing with.

        And I’ll go further, and say that in the immediate aftermath of someone being killed for free speech, focusing on the badness of the speech rather than the badness of the killings is suggestive–not dispositive, but suggestive–of misplaced priorities, of at least hinting that the killings may not be wholly unjustified. That is, it smacks strongly of victim blaming.

        I get your argument, but I don’t think it really discounts any of that. It seems to me that it only says that these hints, these suggestions, these possibilities, should not be treated as irrefutable evidence. I have no problem with that position.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        If you know who Donohue is, you won’t find it surprising that even other conservative Catholics find his views on this matter embarrassing, or that the closest position to his is that of a radical cleric.

        Remember “the great desecration?”Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        I took you to announce near the top of your piece that you were critiquing saying “I think people should show good judgement about what to say when” in proximity to “I support free speech.” By the end, you were critiquing someone who thinks we should send people to jail for 25 years and reeducate them if they use “hate speech.” At the very tippy-tippy top, you do talk about a university president who imposed a restraining order on someone.

        So I grant that it was maybe a litle less clear than I took it to be what your target was. You talk about different things throughout. But the main argument in the paragraphs where the introductory matter is over and the thesis is usually presented seemed to be about talking about using judgement when also endorsing free speech. But if it wasn’t, fair enough. I’m not telling you what your primary targets really were, I’m telling you what the seemed to me to be.

        Regardless of what you announced you would critique, in fact you critiqued many importantly different positions. You can certainly argue that it’s important to deliberately collapse those distinctions, but others can disagree and continue to think some or all of them are important or even crucial.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        You’ve been reading me uncharitably for months, so it’d be nice for me if you did.

        There it is again, the attack on someone else for uncharitable reading, while on this very page you’ve engaged in multiple uncharitable readings of that very person.

        And your claim that if I don’t like what you say, I can just ignore you, which comes after you pointedly note that I’m not contributing to the conversation, which, far from ignoring what I said that you dislike, you actually came to the threads of my post, in direct response to me, to say.

        This is like nothing so much as you flinging poo while yelling “stop flinging poo!”Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I took you to announce near the top of your piece that you were critiquing saying “I think people should show good judgement about what to say when” in proximity to “I support free speech.”

        Really? You didn’t read my first line? It’s sitting there, all by its lonesome, a one-sentence paragraph specifically to highlight it as setting the terms of my critique.

        Instead you skip down to the third paragraph, and assume it sets the terms of the debate, instead of being subsumed under that first sentence, set off by itself in a one-sentence paragraph specifically to highlight it as setting the terms of my critique?

        By the end, you were critiquing someone who thinks we should send people to jail for 25 years and reeducate them if they use “hate speech.”

        Actually, I was critiquing someone who claimed to support free speech, but thinks we should send people to jail for 25 years for hate speech, which is perfectly in line with that contradiction I emphasized at the beginning. In fact I saved that one for last because I thought it most clearly and undeniably embodied that contradiction. (Assuming it’s real, which puts me in the weird position of hoping the essay was real and not a hoax, although the latter would be better for the world and all people in it.)Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        James, I agree on the timing issue. It makes a pretty awful impression on me for someone to think that the important thing to talk about here are the sins of the slain. It’s not proof of anything, and it’s not something that can’t be overcome, but at best it’s tone-deaf (to me) and at worst it looks to me like you’re wanting to either inject ambiguity into an unambiguous situation or (this one being in between, I suppose) shift the conversation from uncomfortable ground to comfoirtable ground.

        (I myself can be guilty of tone-deafness. Of all three, really. I actually feel bad for something I retweeted this week on the basis of Now Is Not The Time. My only real defense is that I was flagging it for later use, but I should have favorited it for that purpose.)Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        Now that I think about it, what framed that as the main focus of the piece for me was the tagline on the front page, “James Hanley critiques the “good judgement” pseudo-defense of free speech.”Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        OK, I can see that.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        inject ambiguity into an unambiguous situation

        I think that’s a nice way of putting it; wish I’d said that. Of course someone might disagree that they’re injecting ambiguity into it, or even disagree that the situation is unambiguous. But I’d disagree with them in either case.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        What I do say is that when someone says, “I support free speech, but I don’t think anyone should say that,” it gives reason to doubt their support for free speech.

        As phrased, I disagree with this claim. People in the US do this sorta thing all the time, and do so presumably while embracing a roust conception of free speech. As examples, people say “I don’t think white people should call black people the N word”, or “I don’t think anyone should say the word “rape” without a trigger warning,” or any other derogatory, inflammatory, insulting, etc words and phrases and terms.

        Now, you can disagree with their views on this, but it doesn’t follow from the expression of those views that those folks think we oughta pass a law to prevent others from so expressing themselves. On the other hand, of course, you don’t have to site hypotheticals of advocacy and even enactment of laws prohibiting certain types of speech. So there’s that.

        At the end of it, I’m becoming more convinced that free speech absolutism (while a real thing) distinguishes itself from other views merely by signalling devices (like clause ordering) with the purpose of circularly distinguishing that view from what could only be called a rejection of free speech absolutism. Hence, we get Jaybird and j r, who conclude that anyone who doesn’t prioritize their clauses properly (j r, and yes, he actually argued this view explicitly, down to the clause ordering part) or mentions the bare fact that folks determine their own speech-act-related norms (Jaybird) are revealing themselves as enemies of free speech.

        Seems absurd to me, but there we are.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Dude, since you’re not paying attention, I’ll repeat that my uncharitable reasons were deliberate.

        But man, you are being too big of an ass to bother. I promise you, this will be my last comment to you for some time. Feel free to anything I say, of course, but I won’t read it.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        People in the US do this sorta thing all the time, and do so presumably while embracing a roust conception of free speech.

        I’m not persuaded that so many do embrace a robust conception. In concept our country does–it’s part of our political tradition, and so of course everyone says they do–but that doesn’t mean all individuals really do so. And that’s an “of course” point, because for any belief we can say with confidence that “some” individuals don’t really hold it, even if they mouth the words.

        But that “of course” point is just setting the ground for my real argument. Having established the obvious truism that “some” people don’t hold a robust conception of free speech, the meaningful question becomes how many?

        As I noted in the OP, a recent poll showed that 1/3 of Americans support bans on hate speech. Additionally, 1/4 aren’t sure–the number who oppose hate speech bans barely exceeds the number who support them (within the margin of error). Further, 51% of Democrats support bans on hate speech.

        In another question, respondents were shown a picture of a teenager pretending to sodomize a statue of Jesus, and asked if he should be prosecuted. 36% of Americans said yes, and 51% of Americans who say religion is “very important” to their lives said yes.

        The First Amendment Center annually polls Americans and writes a report on the State of the First Amendment. Here is their 2014 report. 38% of Americans believe the First Amendment goes too far in protecting rights. In the 15 years they’ve been doing this survey, that number has fluctuated, going as high as 49% in in 2002 and as low as 13% in 2012. The high point would look like a statistical fluke except for the year it occurs, following 9/11, so instead it looks to me like it indicates that for a lot of people have fairly soft support for the First Amendment, being comfortable with its freedoms in normal times, but not when crisis events happen. The report also notes that support for the First Amendment had been declining since then, but the trend reversed in the year of the Boston Marathon bombing. So in all, support for First Amendment freedoms seems less than robust, but dependent on political events that make people feel safe or scared.

        Do a majority of Americans have a robust conception of free speech? Well, in 2002 51% of Americans said yes, so with the survey’s margin of error there’s a 95% confidence level that between 48% and 54% of Americans robustly support the First Amendment, by which I mean they’re staunch enough to say its freedoms don’t go too far even in a time of national crisis.

        Now there is some slipperiness there, since that survey asks about the First Amendment generally, and not free speech specifically. But I think it works for our subject for two reasons: First, it comports with the other survey; Second, when asked to name any of the rights in the First Amendment, free speech was far and away the one most commonly named, by a majority every year (the only one that ever receives a majority) and with a spread between it and the second most commonly mentioned right (religion) of ~40 percentage points that is fairly consistent year after year, so it’s probable that most respondents are thinking about speech when asked about First Amendment freedoms.

        So all in all, I just don’t see the evidence that “the people in the USA” really embrace a robust conception of free speech. Lots of people in the USA do, but lots of people in the USA also don’t.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        Hence, we get Jaybird and j r, who conclude that anyone who doesn’t prioritize their clauses properly (j r, and yes, he actually argued this view explicitly, down to the clause ordering part) or mentions the bare fact that folks determine their own speech-act-related norms (Jaybird) are revealing themselves as enemies of free speech.

        I did what?

        By the way, the phrase “enemies of ….” is a really daft statement that is almost always more about political and ideological signaling than it is about trying to honestly flesh out the parameters of a disagreement. You will likely never see me using it. If I have used that phrase, then by all means, point it out and I will refudiate myself without prejudice.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      What about E (which may be a variant of C or D): I absolutely support your right to publish that, but I’m not going to stock it at my newsstand because I don’t feel obligated to put my employees and customers in danger.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Speaking only for myself, I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t have any Mohammed cartoons on my office door, and don’t think I have any duty to put them there.Report

  14. Avatar Kolohe says:

    I trust nearly nothing I read out of the Free Beacon (I know they have published items in which their sources flat out lied to the journalist, faking expertise and inside information that they didn’t have) and equally distrust anything usingBen Shapario as its brand name.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      And Michael Piccione is a different person than Khadijah Lynch. The latest order at first blush seems to me to be about physically separating two uber trolls, not about impinging Kael’s ‘rights as a journalist’. (as I just read the piece that Kael published, without any prior restraint)Report

  15. Here’s a good post:


    I think it makes a lot of sense not just for this issue, but similar controversial issues.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      Wow, Henley came out of retirement. That’s a pretty bfd.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      I don’t think most people will get the difference, but awesome linky goodness


      Awesme linky goodness, but I don’t think most people will get the difference.

      Awesome linky goodness, @gabriel-conroyReport

  16. Avatar Will H. says:

    There are a number of provisions regarding First Amendment protections which should be (but aren’t) common knowledge.
    Perhaps the biggest of these is that the First Amendment protects only public speech. Seriously. Private speech is beyond the capacity of government to regulate.
    Where it gets tricky is that public speech can be made in a private context, and private speech in a public one. The test in such cases is typically whether the speech in question was directed at a single individual in specific.

    I agree with Ms. Cohen that the ‘artist’ should be “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law[.]”
    But that famous cross-burning case, Virginia v. Black, indicates that a ‘true threat’ is necessary for such speech to be actionable (same as Ted Nugent’s death threats against Pres. Obama).

    It is said that the devil is in the details, and I am sure that this is often the case. However, on occasion, the devil can be seen to jump up with a snap kick to the chin.

    This story has all the outrage, miscarriage of justice, and perversion of honor and dignity as a Tyson-Cooney fight.
    Thank Giod I’m connected to the internet so I’ll know what to be enraged about from day to day.Report

  17. Avatar James Hanley says:

    For the record, from Bill Donahue of the Catholic League.

    Killing in response to insult, no matter how gross, must be unequivocally condemned. That is why what happened in Paris cannot be tolerated. But neither should we tolerate the kind of intolerance that provoked this violent reaction.


  18. Avatar Damon says:


    James, kids these days, they are being taught the gov’t GIVES them rights.


    “Because the government gives us rights, we have the duty to be good citizens.” (She’s since backtracked from that writing. Go figure.)

    That being the case, it’s easy to conclude some rights should be taken away for the betterment of all. You know..and let the “folks who are more equal than others” make the decisions.Report

    • Avatar Will H. says:

      I want to respond to that, because from a pragmatic view, the source of rights is very much like my birthplace: it left a mess in this one spot, but now it can tell me very little as to whether I should turn to the left or to the right.
      The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of Americans have no rights whatever under the Constitution.
      Understanding why that is the case shows the true problems I see in American government; that a fundamental makeover is needed.

      Basically, you have two types of rights: recognized rights and enforceable rights.The contours of recognized rights are always a bit indistinct, but their demands are more informal. If the right is not recognized, then it must be enforceable, or it is no longer a right but a wishlist.
      For a right to be enforceable, an enforcement mechanism must be in place; even if the enforcement mechanism is “Assemble an ad hoc gang of vigilantes, as needed.” Enter here standard arguments about entry barriers and regulatory capture.

      Essentially, having no rights under the Constitution is the flip-side of being judgment-proof.
      In the English system, everything is property: a right, a liberty, and a property interest are all essentially variant aspects of the exact same thing.

      My own position is that this is no longer workable in the American system, and a fundamental restructuring of our basis of law, due to the fact that holding property (or religious affiliation) is longer required in order to vote.
      It’s as fundamental a shift as that from the gold standard to fiat currency.
      The material world is outdated, and will eventually become a vanity item.


    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Rights are special privileges the government gives you

      The only correct part of that sentence is the subject-verb agreement.Report

  19. Avatar Chris says:

    @will-truman here at least it wasn’t the critics of mockery, blasphemy, or incivility who raised the issue. It was raised by people criticizing them preemptively: North, Jay, and the others in that subthread and related ones. In fact, the conversation really started when some of us suggested no one was blaming the murdered for their murders. The attacks came, and people are now blamed essentially for defending their views in the face of rather rank unfairness.

    In the months, years in fact, after 9/11, as the war drums were beaten, those of us who were anti-war were told that in the aftermath of 9/11 it was in bad taste, perhaps even treason, to criticize the administration and the march to war. Any time someone tells me it’s too soon, I think of that time and what came of it.

    On Twitter, early Wednesday, I saw people saying the same thing to the people who cautioned against blaming Muslims: too soon.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      @chris I have no beef with the people here who were responding directly to things people said. Nor, for that matter, against publications and people explaining why they were not reproducing the comics. The context matters (and I wasn’t clear on that in that particular comment).

      Regarding “don’t blame (all) Muslims for what these people did” I am very supportive of those comments. Those statements had urgency as anti-Muslim violence was a concern (and has happened).Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      too soon

      And it is, insofar as the massacre is viewed thru the lens of human tragedy. But lots of folks wanted and still want to view it exclusively as an attack on free speech. That was the not only preferred lens thru which to view this tragedy, it was the only acceptable one. And if that is the lens we’re viewing it from – luxuriating in the view that crazy Muslims hate our freedoms – then there is no “too soon” it seems to me.

      When I countered that that wasn’t the right lens from which to view this massacre I was very quickly deep in the weeds defending that view from ROBUST(!!) objections.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I still disagree with that view, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable. And having seen these threads now, I’m tempted to sign on to it for practical reasons.Report

  20. Avatar Kazzy says:


    I’m a little confused by this piece. Why do you assume that those who call for “good judgement” are seeking to enforce it via rule of law? If anything, that ceases to make it good judgement.

    I encourage everyone to use good judgement in all that they do. However, I have no interest in legally requiring good judgement in the vast, vast, vast, vast, VAST majority of situations (e.g., I think outlawing murder is just fine and dandy).Report

    • Avatar Patrick says:

      I’m reminded of the threads about boycotting folks for having what the boycotters regard as odious belief system. Some of the same folks who on all these recent threads are the closest to “free speech must be defended absolutely” were, on those threads, arguing that organizing boycotts of people or organizations because of their political views disturbed them.

      Is my impression of that colored by my own biases, or is that an accurate representation of the dynamics on those two issues?

      If it is, well. Then. Is free association subordinate to free speech?

      I would argue that it is not. I would argue that most of the things we’re arguing about as “rights” are confused because some folks are talking about “rights” in the context of “if we don’t call these rights, then somebody is going to suggest that there ought to be a law”. Some other folks are talking about “rights” in a rather naive sense where there’s no acknowledgement that they are constantly held in tension with each other.

      But, of course, that’s not relevant as an observation if free association is in fact subordinate to free speech.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Some other folks are talking about “rights” in a rather naive sense where there’s no acknowledgement that they are constantly held in tension with each other.

        This, for sure. The “somebody’s going to suggest that there ought to be a law” stuff, at least at this blog, is just people arguing with ghosts.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        “Some of the same folks who on all these recent threads are the closest to “free speech must be defended absolutely” were, on those threads, arguing that organizing boycotts of people or organizations because of their political views disturbed them.”

        Well, not me. I said that I am pretty much OK with boycotting people or organizations for any reason, or none at all, since boycotting them is pretty much just like deciding you don’t like their product and buying another instead. Boycotts are perfectly cromulent (though they may or may not be effective, and any given one may be totally stupid).Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        “Cromulent” goes on the language thread, damn it!Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Sorry, I really kwyjibo’d that.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Apologies embiggen us all.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        I think boycotts are a perfectly acceptable way to express an opinion. I also think that in many ways, they are almost useless today unless there is a significant majority agreement that the target needs boycotting, because for every call for a boycott, there is usually an equal call to resist it and actively support the target, so the effectiveness of boycotts is iffy.

        I have more concern when activists target the opportunities of someone they disagree with, rather than just encouraging others to boycott (e.g. demanding a university rescind a speaking invitation, or a city revoke a building permit, or a publisher drop an author, etc.). That starts heading out of the territory of protest and meeting speech with speech, and into the realm of censorship.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        The “somebody’s going to suggest that there ought to be a law” stuff, at least at this blog, is just people arguing with ghosts.

        Or perhaps they are making the case for those who might stop by to read, but don’t take the time to comment.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        I have more concern when activists target the opportunities of someone they disagree with, rather than just encouraging others to boycott (e.g. demanding a university rescind a speaking invitation, or a city revoke a building permit, or a publisher drop an author, etc.). That starts heading out of the territory of protest and meeting speech with speech, and into the realm of censorship.

        I’m of two minds of the first. The Towers of Academia are supposed to be all about discourse, so encouraging the administration to rescind an invitation to discourse is dicey. On the other hand, the students at a University are community members, and I don’t see anything wrong with members of a community arguing that their community ought not to provide a platform for ideas the community finds objectionable.* That cuts back to the free association part.

        The second I agree is utterly risible. It’s clearly crossing the border from community to the law (the * in the previous paragraph applies to public universities, which pulls them into this paragraph). We’re now asking an agent of the state to use the power of the state against someone we don’t like. That I find objectionable.

        The last (publisher and author) I don’t find objectionable, per se, but I don’t think it’s effective. It’s attaching a utility assessment on a market chain, rather than an end product… but I think people have the right to do that. I think it’s similar to “I will boycott Apple because I think they get their copper from slave mines”, but taken to an extreme.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        On the other hand, the students at a University are community members, and I don’t see anything wrong with members of a community arguing that their community ought not to provide a platform for ideas the community finds objectionable.

        This flows off onto a tangent regarding the mission of the university. Part of a well rounded education is being exposed to ideas, platforms, and speakers one finds objectionable & being able to deal with that. I always thought of such events as the intellectual equivalent of inoculations Probably not the best analogy, but I think you get the point. The world outside academia is not always a pleasing echo chamber, and new graduates should be able to deal with that, and part of being able to deal with that is having been exposed to such things in that past.

        Re: publisher & author – as with many things, while I find it of concern, I do not object to it such that “there ought to be a law”. Rather, I find such actions to be more telling of the person making the demand, in that such a person is not satisfied with refusing to patronize X and encouraging others to do the same, but wants to try to ruin X by trying to execute an economic “Heckler’s Veto”. As you said, it’s something taken to the extreme, and I find people willing to go to that extreme (absent a very compelling reason) to be rather irrational. The kind of irrational that inspires me to talk in soothing tones while I back away slowly & try to find an exit.Report

    • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

      “Why do you assume that those who call for “good judgement” are seeking to enforce it via rule of law?”

      Well, sometimes the dumb thing you do doesn’t have immediately bad effects. If I stick my hand in a fire then my hand gets burned right away. But if I drink a large soda it might be years before I get diabetes from it.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Wait a minute. Is calling for good judgment a dumb thing to do, or is using good judgment a dumb thing to do? And if using good judgment isn’t a good thing to do then how is using good judgment to not call for using good judgment a good use of judgment?Report

      • Avatar Citizen says:

        Is acknowledgement of risk a descent from ideals?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        It’s one thing if only you would be affected by your bad judgment. But if your bad judgment results in externalized costs, it’s incumbent either on you to modify your behavior or to not be surprised when the perfectly predictable response of other people modifying your behavior happens to you. Which I don’t condone.Report