The Sleepwalker Statue and Freedom of Speech

sleepwalker

On the Wellesley campus, the Davis Museum is showing an exhibit of sculptor Tony Matelli’s work, including the above statue set up outside the museum. A student objected to this, on the grounds that the statue could potentially be “triggering,” and started a petition to move “Sleepwalker” inside the museum.

From the petition:

We also stand firm that art, particularly outdoor art installations, are valuable parts of our community. We welcome outdoor art that is provocative without being a site of unnecessary distress…

Although to bring Frederick Douglass up in this context is rhetorical overkill – he had much more crucial fish to fry – I just can’t help but be reminded of this quote from Douglass:

Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters.

sleepwalker-snowIt’s good to think about how public art affects all members of the community. But I still disagree with the petition. The cost to art, and the art-loving public, of insisting that no public art that could even hypothetically cause distress should ever be seen is too high. And the list of things that are potential triggers is simply too long – a friend of mine has PTSD that can be triggered by teddy bears, for instance, and Dylan Farrow finds it difficult to look at toy trains. I don’t say this to make fun of my friend, or of Farrow. The suffering they experience is real, but trying to remove all potential triggers from public art would essentially require removing all public art.

Charlotte Alter in Time writes:

Our new Awareness Culture has done a lot of good in the world, especially when it comes to forcing us to acknowledge issues that affect people in the minority. It’s because of Awareness Culture that we rightly call Blurred Lines sexist, Paula Deen racist, and keep our pronouns straight when talking about transgender people.

But the problem with Awareness Culture is the expectation that once offended – or, in most cases, once a hypothetical offensiveness has been identified – the world must immediately act to make the “bad thing” disappear. There’s something spoiled about our knee-jerk reaction to abolish anything that could be considered even remotely insensitive. The message is, “it’s possible that someone somewhere might feel momentarily bad because of this, so get rid of it right this second! And by the way, you’re an asshole if you don’t agree.”

sleepwalker-dressedAlthough I agree with the above quote, at other times Alter’s rhetoric soars high above reasonableness – i.e., “It’s the refrain of a generation of sheltered children who grew up to insist on sheltering themselves as adults,” as if the people who have signed this petition represent their entire generation. In fact, lots of young people in the area have been responding to “Sleepwalker” in other ways, such as taking selfies, starting a twitter feed from the Sleepwalker, and building it a snow friend. (See also “Boobtube”‘s take on it.). And anytime you find yourself typing “Soviet-level censorship” about campus activists circulating a petition, you’re in serious need of a chill pill mixed liberally with some perspective wine.

But for true silliness, we need to turn to the right-wing libertarian Reason site. Zenon Evans, in “Is Wellesley’s Underwear-Clad Statue Too Scary For Free Speech?,” writes:

So, she started a petition demanding the university stick Sleepwalker inside the museum, away from the public eye. 722 people, about one-third the school’s student population, have signed.

Wow, that sure makes it sound like a third of the student population signed the petition! But, actually, the change.org petition doesn’t have any way of limiting signers to students. The “recent signatures” feature on the petition page lists where the signatures are coming from, and (currently at least) not one of the recent signatures are from Wellesley. Of course, it’s possible that someone who lists themselves as being from Texas is nonetheless a current Wellesley student. It’s also possible someone listed as from Wellesley isn’t a student. I have no way of knowing whether or not the people signing are Wellesley students, and neither does Mr. Evans.

sleepwalker-armsBut that’s a minor point. My major complaint is that Evans – who calls the petition an attempt to “censor” the statue – and whoever wrote the headline seem to have no idea what free speech is. It is not an affront to free speech for a Wellesley student to start a petition asking the administration to move a piece of public art. On the contrary, it’s hard to imagine any free speech regime which would not include students starting petitions regarding all sorts of public matters. Conservatives really don’t seem to understand that freedom of speech does not include freedom from criticism.

Amanda Marcotte, not for the first time, has the most sensible take I’ve seen:

I’m sure this story is on its way to a conservative media outlet near you, where some white, privileged man in tighty-whities will roll his eyes about the hysterical feminists, which, in this case, well—good call. Still, one thing I’ve been trying to keep in mind is that the women getting wound up about the statue are really young and just starting to explore the identity of “feminist.” College is a time for taking everything too far, from drinking beer to sports fandom to sexual drama to using your fancy new vocabulary words picked up in women’s studies courses. Which doesn’t mean that one should refrain from having a laugh over this, of course. Let’s hope Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are taking careful notes for the next season of Portlandia.

See also: Sleepwalking Man in Underwear Sculpture Is Unpopular at a Women’s College | Slog

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35 Responses to The Sleepwalker Statue and Freedom of Speech

  1. 1
    Phil says:

    My major complaint is that Evans – who calls the petition an attempt to “censor” the statue

    It sounds like you’re saying that a petition to remove an artwork from public display is not an attempt to censor it. (You even use scare quotes.)

    While it is true to say that there is no First Amendment issue involved when a group tries to lobby an institution to make some form of communication less visible, it definitely is, in fact, an attempt to censor that communication. It’s not an attempt to suppress free speech, as we understand that term. But censorship need not be done by the government to be censorship. A person can self-censor. An offensive newspaper article submitted by a writer can be censored by an editor. (And so can an inoffensive newspaper article.) Etc. Censorship isn’t inherently bad.

  2. 2
    Ben Lehman says:

    I have never understood the idea that the proper reaction to provocative art is muted, unexpressive appreciation. Sleepwalker is definitely provocative art! It provoked some things! The students interacting with it (by demanding its removal, taking selfies, making snowman, laughing at it) are having honest reactions because some provocative art provoked them. Yay! Mission accomplished.

    The idea that someone being upset by art is “the death of art” particularly in an era where so much art strives to be upsetting, is just absurd.

  3. 3
    Ben David says:

    This blog is the first place I’ve seen photos of normal (and to my mind more healthy than navel-gazing) college-campus reaction – dressing him up, the snow-companion. Terrific!

    On any other campus he’d of had a beer can in each hand within a day.

    There’s a point at which “the personal is political” gets ridiculous. Not everything needs socio-semiotic analysis.

  4. 4
    Manju says:

    It is not an affront to free speech for a Wellesley student to start a petition asking the administration to move a piece of public art.

    I recall folks demanding that the Ground Zero Mosque be moved. That was an affront to Free Speech. So you haven’t actually demonstrated that the Students aren’t trying to censor.

    On the contrary, it’s hard to imagine any free speech regime which would not include students starting petitions regarding all sorts of public matters.

    Our free speech regime allows for anti-Muslim bigots to start petitions demanding that a Mosque near ground zero be moved. The fact that freedom of speech includes the right to argue for censorship doesn’t contradict the idea that such speech is an affront to freedom of speech.

  5. 5
    Manju says:

    It’s not an attempt to suppress free speech, as we understand that term.

    It’s not an attempt to suppress a first amendment right, but it could very well be an attempt to suppress free speech as we understand the term.

    Academic freedom is a well-established principle. Most universities enter into a contractual free speech agreement with their students, professors, and other campus personnel. They don’t have to, think Bob Jones U, but who the hell want to be a laughing stock like BJU?

    It is on these grounds that groups like FIRE have been able to go after censorious universities via our court system. I haven’t looked into the specifics of Wellesley to know for sure if they would be in violation if they acceded to the demands of the protesters…but it seems likely that the Reason folks have a point.

  6. 6
    Ledasmom says:

    It’s not as if this is something you don’t see in Wellesley dorms on Sunday mornings.
    However, he does look cold.

  7. 7
    Elusis says:

    “I’m sure this story is on its way to a conservative media outlet near you, where some white, privileged man in tighty-whities will roll his eyes about the hysterical feminists”

    Anybody remember the NEA controversies? Mapplethorpe in Cincinnati?

    The Right is for unbridled expression, unless it’s against it. Petitions and outrage are deeply, deeply important to the well-being of the nation, unless they’re started by liberals (see also: Chick-Fil-a, etc.)

  8. 8
    Denise says:

    The issue with demanding that the Ground Zero Mosque be moved was that it was also discriminatory.

    I don’t see this petition as censorious. Freedom to make art does not include the freedom to force others to interact with your art, and public art necessarily requires the public to interact with it, even if the interaction is as benign as it being in your field of view as you walk by the area. So I think the public has a right to talk about whether they want to do so.

    Would we have a problem with a petition to remove a really ugly piece of public art? A piece of public art that ruins a nice view of nature? Public art that includes loud, horrible shrieking noises? What if the public art is a performer taking a shit on the grass?

  9. 9
    Tristan says:

    “The Right is for unbridled expression, unless it’s against it. Petitions and outrage are deeply, deeply important to the well-being of the nation, unless they’re started by liberals (see also: Chick-Fil-a, etc.)”

    ———————

    Here’s my path through life:

    In the 1980′s, I saw a comment by Marilyn vos Savant (supposedly the women with the highest IQ in the world) that blind obediance to specific political parties is a sign of stupidity.

    I didn’t agree with that statement at all. I was convinced that Republicans were 100% right and Democrats were 100% wrong.

    So then I started seeing idiots on the right, like Christian fundamentalists and Bible thumpers. And generally smug idiots who were handed everything in life because they had the good foresight to choose the right parents. And lots of other irritating crap.

    But I still saw all of the comparable stuff on the left – I won’t cite it because I don’t really want to be banned.

    So now – decades later, I think that Marilyn vos Savant may be right. I just kind of pick and choose my ideas. The Political Right certainly has no monopoly on idiotic ways of thinking.

    Anyway, Elusis, blind obedience to a set of ideas may not be so cool after all.

  10. 10
    Copyleft says:

    I always laugh when someone complains about “triggering” and demands “trigger warnings” to shield people from exposure to images and ideas that might upset them. And no, the topic or form of expression involved makes no difference.

  11. 11
    Jake Squid says:

    Do you also set off fireworks near veterans suffering from PTSD?

  12. 12
    Ampersand says:

    Tristan:

    I don’t think Elusis has ever said that blind obedience to a set of ideas is cool, so your last sentence seems a little out of the blue, and needlessly insulting.

    But I still saw all of the comparable stuff on the left – I won’t cite it because I don’t really want to be banned.

    I’d be interested in knowing what you mean here. If you like, could you expand on what you think would get you banned on the open thread?

  13. 13
    brian says:

    My triggers include easily offended people and those who take things far too seriously. What about MY rights in all this? Who do I petition about the petitioners demanding all art be inoffensive, non-triggering and hopefully match the couch?

    It did remind me of an art installation in my home town that got a similar following and caused some hand wringing. I hope this link appears and isn’t blocked, it’s a good story. http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1994-10-15/news/1994288008_1_buddha-huynh-feast

  14. 14
    Ben Lehman says:

    Copyleft: uh, no. no. I think it is absurd to try to filter out any triggered by a crazy person who has just been triggered is in real, genuine, legitimate suffering and needs help and support not disdain.

    Yes “triggered” gets overused to mean “offended” or “upset” or “squicked” but that does not mean that triggered mental illnesses (including, but not limited to, PTSD) are not real things that cause real harm.

    brian: if you really do have triggers re: people being offended I truly believe that following politics is not going to be a healthy plan for you until you get a handle on those triggers. It is okay to take a break until you have worked shit through.

    When you are triggered, please remember to take deep breaths, find tactile or smell sensations that can ground you in your present experience, and have a friend on hand that you can call on to talk you down. Staring at a clock has been really helpful for me, other people have reported that napping and exercise can both be a good “reset.” Things like watching TV can help you dissociate, which is good for dealing with the panic and fear, but ultimately can make things worse because you are putting off addressing the emotions.

  15. 15
    Toby Deutsch says:

    A few years ago whimsically painted sculptures of various things…cows or pigs, for example…were all the rage in cities. My town, Sarasota, chose clowns as appropriate for the winter home of the circus. Immediately there was concern because some people have clown phobia, but they were placed around town and I never heard of any bad outcomes.

    It seems to me that people who are offended by or react badly to something like the man in his underwear can just avoid going near it; everyone cannot be protected from everything that upsets them.

    Jake Squid, nobody should deliberately set off fireworks near someone suffering from PTSD, but that doesn’t mean that fireworks should be banned from all public areas because someone with PTSD might be nearby. That’s the perfect example.

  16. 16
    Hugh says:

    @Toby: Can people just avoid it? I don’t know about the layout of this campus but I’m guessing at least some people on their way to classes can’t avoid it without unnecessary detours?

  17. 17
    Manju says:

    Do you also set off fireworks near veterans suffering from PTSD?

    Snyder v. Phelps (protesting at Marine funerals with signs like “You’re going to hell”, “Fag troops”) may be relevant here.

    long/short: such speech is protected.

  18. 18
    Manju says:

    The issue with demanding that the Ground Zero Mosque be moved was that it was also discriminatory.

    No, it was a simple first amendment issue.

    To the extent that discrimination is important to a 1A case, it’s viewpoint discrimination (the state can’t take action against one set of beliefs while holding another to a different standard). So if the ground zero protesters had demanded that this statue be removed, similar free-speech issues would’ve been raised…even though there would be no bigotry involved in the protest.

  19. 19
    Ampersand says:

    Snyder v. Phelps (protesting at Marine funerals with signs like “You’re going to hell”, “Fag troops”) may be relevant here.

    That was a public political demonstration in a public area, a context in which such behavior is protected by the First Amendment. But that case wouldn’t apply nearly as well to other contexts. For instance, someone sneaking up behind veterans who are triggered by loud bangs and deliberately setting off fireworks near them at unexpected moments (which is what I imagined when I read Jake S’s comment) would not be protected by the First Amendment.

  20. 20
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Marcotte implies that this shouldn’t be a big deal because “college students are crazy.” There’s an implication that of course we should know that reasonable people–liberal or not!–would never suggest something so ridiculous as to try and censor the statue. Move on, folks.

    But it’s getting press precisely because it isn’t’ outside the scope of either the demands of Awareness Culture*, or the liberal response to it. I’m happy that this particular issue is being resolved correctly, but as someone who follows this sort of thing I think Marcotte is deliberately understating the problem.

    But in any case I’m glad that the people here are relatively universal in decrying the attempts to take it away.

    *more properly called Protectionist Culture, I think. It’s almost unheard of for someone to call for folks to be more “aware” of a group’s selected issue, without a specific or implied demand for those folks to act differently and protect the group in question.

  21. 21
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Jake Squid says:
    February 12, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    Do you also set off fireworks near veterans suffering from PTSD?

    Deliberately doing so would be akin to following a rape survivor around yelling “rape!” in their ear: horribly obnoxious and rightly condemned, although protected speech.

    The “triggering” argument usually comes up in a different situation, where towns forbid fireworks anywhere in town boundaries on July 4 “because some veterans might be triggered.” As a practical matter, triggering defenses rarely seem to include an analysis of “OK, some folks might be upset. What’s the balance here? Should we tell everyone else what to do in order to protect the potentially-upset folks? Can those folks manage to take their own actions to avoid the problem?” Instead, they tend to prioritize protectionism over broader social freedoms.

  22. 22
    RonF says:

    On any other campus he’d of had a beer can in each hand within a day.

    Back when I hung around the Wellesley campus he’d have had a lit joint sticking out of his mouth before the sun went down. And given the fact that it’s the middle of winter and there’s plenty of packable snow around, my guess is that his anatomy would have been … augmented.

    WTF happened at Wellesley? That used to be a bunch of strong young women who were determined to take charge of their lives (not to mention other people’s). The last thing in the world you’d have heard then is a group of them lining up to tell everyone they were scared of a statue and it had to be taken down. Standards have slipped over there.

    Of course, when I first heard about the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, my initial reaction was – and I’m serious – “Since when do Wellesley girls put up with this kind of shit?”

    It’s not as if this is something you don’t see in Wellesley dorms on Sunday mornings.

    Or Saturday morning. Or Friday night, for that matter. I was there for a concert one weekend. Back when MIT was pretty much all male the MIT Concert Choir (it was called the Glee Club back then, but we did classical music like a Haydn mass) used to combine with the local women’s school choirs and do on-campus concerts. We would show up Friday night, practice, party, sleep in the dorm rooms (the girls would double up and have us sleep in the thus opened rooms) get up the next morning, hack around campus, practice, goof around, have a dress rehearsal, party, sleep in the assigned rooms (unless you were able to make alternate arrangements …), stagger out of bed the next morning, hack around campus, rehearse with the orchestra, do the concert and go home.

    MIT students have a reputation for not exactly being socially adept. So I was a curiosity. I dragged the two guys assigned to my room with me to a drinking/smoking bout with a bunch of the girls. Great fun. Then we went back to our room. They went to the bathroom and each one stood guard while the other one changed into the kind of pajamas that you see in movies from the ’50′s or ’60′s. I stood in the middle of the room, ripped all my clothes off and hopped in the bed. The next morning we were awakened when 3 Wellesley girls popped into the room and loudly announced that we had to get up. My two compatriots, shocked that girls were in their room while they were in their pajamas, pulled the covers up on the cushions up over themselves on the floor and the sofa (they had declined to share the bed with me). I just laid there and gave no reaction. At which point they ripped the covers off the bed. Finding me a) nude and b) lying on my stomach, the 3 of them just stood there for a few seconds and looked at me – and then one of them leaned over and smacked me right on the ass.

    At which point I said “Good Morning!” and started to roll over, at which point they shrieked and threw the covers back over me and then stood there laughing.

    Somehow I don’t see them freaking out over a statue.

  23. 23
    RonF says:

    “The Political Right certainly has no monopoly on idiotic ways of thinking.”

    True. But I think it’s only fair that I note that neither does the left. For sure.

    Elusis, I remember those controversies. But there were two different issues. One was that the art itself was provocative and that people were protesting the thought being expressed. But the other thing that caused people to go after the NEA was that people thought it was an outrage that taxpayers’ money should go to fund such things. People have no right to stop someone like Mapplethorp from taking and exhibiting the kinds of pictures he takes or from exhibiting a crucifix in urine. They have every right to at least attempt to stop such a thing from being paid for by public money.

  24. 24
    Myca says:

    Manju:

    Snyder v. Phelps (protesting at Marine funerals with signs like “You’re going to hell”, “Fag troops”) may be relevant here.

    long/short: such speech is protected.

    Gin-and-Whiskey:

    The “triggering” argument usually comes up in a different situation, where towns forbid fireworks anywhere in town boundaries on July 4 “because some veterans might be triggered.”

    In this case Jake was responding specifically to Copyleft’s post:

    I always laugh when someone complains about “triggering” and demands “trigger warnings” to shield people from exposure to images and ideas that might upset them. And no, the topic or form of expression involved makes no difference.

    My impression was not that he was calling for any sort of ‘ban’ on triggering speech, and I find that interpretation, honestly, extremely bizarre. It seems to me that Jake was responding to the repeated claim that being ‘triggered’ is a matter of oversensitivity, should not be taken seriously, is equivalent with demanding not to be ‘upset’, etc.

    He was illustrating that ‘being triggered’ is actually not necessarily a matter of overreaction by whiners, any more than a veteran with PTSD’s problem with explosions is a matter of overreaction by a whiner.

    Gin-and-Whiskey:

    The “triggering” argument usually comes up in a different situation, where towns forbid fireworks anywhere in town boundaries on July 4 “because some veterans might be triggered.” As a practical matter, triggering defenses rarely seem to include an analysis of “OK, some folks might be upset. What’s the balance here?

    I think that the ‘balance of harms’ discussion is a good one to have, and, like the vast majority of people here, I think the statue ought to stay where it is. That having been said, I think it’s interesting that the discussion you point to as ‘usual’ hasn’t occurred at all, and the discussion you bring up as ‘rarely’ occurring has been, as I said, agreed with by the vast majority of commenters here and … jeez … 100% of the links in the post, whether feminist, libertarian, etc.

    Do you have an example of a town that’s banned fireworks “because some veterans might be triggered?” I’d be surprised.

    So it seems like you’re arguing against a strawman of your own creation. Apart from a few college students, nobody’s saying “some people somewhere might be offended, therefore we need to ban everything.” Certainly nobody here is saying that.

    What IS being said, though, multiple times, is stuff like:
    Copyleft:

    I always laugh when someone complains about “triggering”

    brian:

    My triggers include easily offended people and those who take things far too seriously.

    And of course, I see these responses pretty much every time the topic of ‘triggering’ comes up. So let’s talk about these ‘usual’ responses. In my experience, the only way to have a reasonable ‘balance of harms’ discussion is to have a reasonable idea of the harms to both sides. Makes sense, right? Otherwise your sense of balance is off.

    These kinds of responses inhibit our ability to actually have those discussions, then, in that they ignore the possibility that there are trade-offs and costs on both sides. The equivalent would be, “fireworks are stupid,” or, “nobody likes art anyway,” which, once again, I just don’t see happening.

    —Myca

  25. 25
    Jake Squid says:

    It seems to me that Jake was responding to the repeated claim that being ‘triggered’ is a matter of oversensitivity, should not be taken seriously, is equivalent with demanding not to be ‘upset’, etc.

    Yes.

    I thought that was pretty obvious. I guess I was wrong. I’ll try to be clearer next time.

  26. 26
    Copyleft says:

    In the U.S. if you want to have a discussion about what images, sounds or words might need to be constrained due to ‘triggering,’ you’re going to face an uphill battle based on the starting-point rule of free expression: by default, everything is permitted unless you can demonstrate specific, unavoidable harm that massively outweighs the benefits of free expression in a democratic society.

    So if anyone wants to have a discussion with that fudamental principle understood and agreed to, by all means have at it. But the note that “some people suffer from psychological sensitivity disorders” isn’t going to get you far when trying to limit artistic expression on a college campus, or an online forum discussing (for example) rape.

    Thus the laughter.

  27. 27
    Jake Squid says:

    Copyleft,

    Your comment #26 is discussing a completely different issue than the trigger warnings you so cavalierly dismissed @10. Comment 26 has no relation to your comment 10 or my response at 11. I still hold that comment 10 represents callous disregard of others, with the most generous reading possible, and has nothing to do with free speech as you move on to in comment 26.

    Somehow, some way, goal posts have been moved to a different field in the sports complex.

  28. 28
    JutGory says:

    My only complaint about this is that it is too realistic (and its placement). I have not seen a map, but it appears to be on the side of some road. Depending on the road, the statue, particularly given how realistic it is, could be a traffic hazard.

    Imagine driving down a busy freeway at night and suddenly you pass this statue on the shoulder. Would freak the crap out of me, and could be a hazard.

    Maybe that is not an issue, given where it is placed, though.

    Now that I think about it, what may be bugging me is “context.” I come across this in an art museum and my context is, “this is art and this is where it belongs.” My mind gets it right away. Or, if I am out in the world and I see a statue, I can say, “that’s a statue, and it belongs there.” Or, pick your favorite piece of weird art out in public (20-foot tall lawnchairs, or what have you). We can put them in the proper context as art, even if they are out in the “real world.”

    With this statue, you don’t readily identify it as such because it is so realistic and so you have the wrong context for it (though I heard it is located near the museum). I could see how that could cause some of this uneasiness.

    -Jut

  29. 29
    Manju says:

    Deliberately doing so would be akin to following a rape survivor around yelling “rape!” in their ear: horribly obnoxious and rightly condemned, although protected speech.

    You could craft a law, within the guidelines of the 1A, that would ban such behavior. There are time, manner, and place restrictions and the concept of a “captive audience”. But any law relying on these exceptions must be content and/or viewpoint neutral.

    So, for example, you can ban speaking thru a loudspeaker at 3am. But you can’t ban speaking racist stuff thru a loudspeaker at 3am.

    In your example, the State could simply make it illegal to follow someone around while yelling in their ear.

  30. 30
    closetpuritan says:

    But the note that “some people suffer from psychological sensitivty disorders” isn’t going to get you far… or an online forum discussing (for example) rape.

    That’s funny, I could swear I’ve seen online forums with norms and/or explicit rules about trigger warnings for rape, disordered eating, etc.–or even rules about swearing, with no claim that it would cause anyone severe distress to see swear words. Or even rules about politeness, to foster better discussions.

    Oh, are we playing the game where we equivocate between the actions of the government and of private citizens?

  31. 31
    closetpuritan says:

    Similarly, @Manjoo, I don’t think that laws are the best way to get people to not be assholes to PTSD sufferers.

  32. 32
    Myca says:

    Everything Jake says is right and true, pretty much across the board.

    But I’d like to add, Copyleft, when you say:

    But the note that “some people suffer from psychological sensitivity disorders” isn’t going to get you far when trying to limit artistic expression on a college campus, or an online forum discussing (for example) rape.

    1) You are conflating two very different things. I think of the social mores surrounding an online forum (like this one) as being akin to the social mores surrounding having a discussion in Ampersand’s living room. The free speech rights you have on a public street are not the same free speech rights you have on a private college campus, which are not the same free speech rights you have in someone’s living room.

    You can get away with shouting racial slurs on a public street. You’d be less likely to get away with it on the campus of a private college (well … unless it was Bob Jones U, I guess). And in someone’s living room? You’d be lucky to just be bodily ejected.

    2) I don’t think anyone here has challenged the constitutional right of people to say and do egregiously offensive things in public. There is a moral wrongness to it, though, in the same way that there’s a moral wrongness to deliberately triggering someone’s PTSD and laughing about it.

    —Myca

  33. 33
    Myca says:

    Now that I think about it, the ‘conflating two very different things,’ that I refer to in my last comment, and that closetpuritan talks about in comment #30 seems to be the source of a lot of confusion for people who are absolutely convinced it’s their constitutional right to wander in here and piss on the drapes, and who are just shocked they’d be ejected for such behavior.

    —Myca

  34. 34
    RonF says:

    Seems to me that there’s a question of intent here. It would be one thing to say or do something that someone else reacts to in a fashion that causes them injury while having no idea that such a thing would happen. That would be much less likely to be actionable than knowing that such a person is likely to react in such a fashion and deliberately saying or doing the thing that will provoke that reaction. The former would enjoy First Amendment protection, the second would not.

  35. 35
    Grace Annam says:

    Ampersand:

    For instance, someone sneaking up behind veterans who are triggered by loud bangs and deliberately setting off fireworks near them at unexpected moments (which is what I imagined when I read Jake S’s comment) would not be protected by the First Amendment.

    Not only would they not be protected, but in my jurisdiction, depending upon the fact pattern, it’s possible that they could be charged criminally. Disorderly Conduct might apply, as might Criminal Threatening.

    Grace