Defending Free Speech

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I have three complaints about the way mainstream pundits treat the “campus speech” issue.

First of all, they vastly exaggerate the scope of the issue. Second, most of them barely acknowledge campus censorship coming from the right (Reason Magazine is an exception).

But, third and most importantly, they give little or no attention to much more effective attacks on free speech. The people most vulnerable to censorship are the people with the least privilege and standing in our society, such as sex workers, undocumented immigrants, and prisoners.

I’m not saying that genuine censorship on campus shouldn’t be reported on and editorialized against. But the attention campus speech gets, compared to the way pundits almost totally ignore other forms of censorship, is infuriatingly disproportionate.

And it’s hard not to see it as an unconscious bias based in self-interest. Columnists writing for major magazines and newspapers know that they will never be censored by laws targeting sex workers, or I.C.E., and it’s extremely unlikely any of them will spend significant time in prison.

But all of them either have been campus speakers, or can imagine themselves being campus speakers. All of them have friends and colleagues who speak on campuses. And that makes any threat to campus speakers seem far more immediate and significant to them, than objectively more threatening and harmful censorship against the less powerful.

* * *

Here’s an essay on this by Noah Berlatsky.

* * *

Panel one is exciting, to me, because I didn’t trace it, or use a perspective grid, or use the computer equivalent of straight-edges to help me draw. I just drew the capital building freehand.

That probably won’t seem like a big deal to you. But to me, it’s a great advance. I never would have attempted freehand drawing of this complex a building a few years ago!

I’m constantly jealous of cartoonists who are great at drawing architecture freehand – done well, it looks amazing. It’s much more expressive than the merely accurate results I can get tracing a photo. Panel one isn’t a great drawing of a building – but it’s certainly passable, and I’m proud of having achieved that. :-)

* * *

Here are a few links with more info about the issues mentioned in the first three panels.

Panel 1, on censorship of sex workers by Congress:

With FOSTA Already Leading to Censorship, Plaintiffs Are Seeking Reinstatement Of Their Lawsuit Challenging the Law’s Constitutionality | Electronic Frontier Foundation

Why FOSTA’s Restriction on Prostitution Promotion Violates the First Amendment (Guest Blog Post) – Technology & Marketing Law Blog

Panel two, on I.C.E. targeting undocumented immigrants who criticize I.C.E.:

ICE arrested activist just hours after he recited a poem criticizing the agency – ThinkProgress

ICE Keeps Arresting Prominent Immigration Activists. They Think They’re Being Targeted. – VICE

Panel 3, on censorship of prisoners:

Inmate Says He Was Thrown In Solitary for Talking to Reporter

Do American prisoners have free speech?

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As always, thank you so much for supporting these cartoons! There are a lot of terrific cartoonists out there, but I think I have a point of view, and an approach, that is pretty unusual in editorial cartoons. Thank you for making it possible for these cartoons to exist!

I won’t be posting this cartoon in public for at least a week, but if you’re pledging at the $5 level or above, feel free to show (or post) it without waiting.

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TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON

This cartoon has four panels, plus a small “kicker” panel below the bottom of the cartoon.

A large caption, at the top of the cartoon, says “DEFENDING FREE SPEECH.”

PANEL 1

This panel shows the Capital Building in Washington, D.C., where Congress meets. Two word balloons come from inside the building.

SPEAKER 1: Our new law will force websites to silence sex workers!

SPEAKER 2: Good plan!

PANEL 2

Two men, wearing jackets and hats that identify them as I.C.E. agents, stand talking to each other outside a depressing blocky-looking building. One of them is angrily pointing to something on his tablet. The other is grinning and holding up a forefinger to make a point.

ANGRY I.C.E. AGENT: An illegal immigrant wrote a poem criticizing I.C.E.!

SECOND I.C.E. AGENT: We’ve got our next target!

PANEL 3

Inside a dirty-looking prison, a prison guard in uniform leans on a cell door, talking to the prisoner within. A small barred window is in the cell door, and through the window we can see part of the face of the prisoner. The guard is grinning; the prisoner looks angry.

GUARD: Let’s see you talk to any more reporters from here in solitary!

PANEL 4

A large caption at the top of the panel says “THE PUNDITS REACT!”

Inside a room with a sofa and a vase on a table, two pundits – one male, balding and wearing a necktie, the other a woman with black hair and glasses – are talking. The man is looking at something on his phone screen and looking panicked; the woman is striking a heroic pose.

MALE PUNDIT: Oh no! A wealthy writer with a huge following and plenty of access to media was protested on campus!

FEMALE PUNDIT: This is the worst threat to free speech ever!

SMALL KICKER PANEL UNDER THE BOTTOM OF THE COMIC

The male pundit looks serious as he speaks to a self-portrait of the cartoonist.

MALE PUNDIT: If wealthy powerful pundits don’t stand up for the wealthy and powerful, who will?

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37 Responses to Defending Free Speech

  1. 1
    Michael says:

    I think that the issue with prostitution is that most people that support “free speech for prostitutes” actually oppose punishing prostitutes legally. Most people that support outlawing something oppose advertising that thing. No one would say that someone that supports outlawing assault weapons would be anti-free speech because they support banning advertisements for assault weapons. The test is usually do they support banning people who advocate legalizing prostitution or do they support banning people who advocate legalizing assault weapons. (That being said the consensus seems to be that FOESTA had negative consequences overall.)
    That being said, Berlatsky is exhibit A for how some leftists want to supress free speech. Look at these articles he wrote:
    https://qz.com/1053957/charlottesville-neo-nazis-and-the-case-against-free-speech-for-fascists/
    https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/28/opinions/free-speech-nazi-salute-wisconsin-berlatsky/index.html
    He clearly supports outlawing fascists. “But what about pornography, prisoners and undocumented immigrants” is his alibi. It’s a tu quoque defense. And your constant “But the right wing is worse” arguments are also tu quoque defenses, although you don’t share Berlatsky’s views.

  2. 2
    Joe in Australia says:

    I really like the way the way you drew the building in the first panel. It’s not a straight architectural depiction at all: it’s stylised and has mass and heft the way your figures do, and the exaggerated perspective you use on your figures works particularly well on this building.

    The only part that doesn’t quite work for me is the dome, and I’m really not sure why. Maybe the way it bulges makes it look too light, as if it were inflated? Or maybe it’s the height of the dome in proportion to its surroundings? It’s also more vertical than the building beneath, where I think the perspective means it should be receding. The building as a whole works well though, much more so than a non-exaggerated depiction would have.

  3. 3
    Kate says:

    He clearly supports outlawing fascists.

    I didn’t get that impression from either article. He’s saying that protecting the free speech rights of fascists doesn’t protect the free speech rights of marginalized people, and that maybe progressives shouldn’t spend our limited time and resources defending fascists. The two quotes I took away were:

    “For people who see themselves as anti-racists and anti-fascists first, however, the insistence that free speech will save us all rings somewhat hollow after this weekend. Given limited energy and resources, maybe defending the rights of violent bigots isn’t the noble choice in every case—especially when those bigots predictably use their platform to silence others. Free speech absolutists insist that free speech is the foundation of anti-fascism. But maybe anti-fascism is the basis of true free speech—in which case, defending the speech of bigots can, at least in some cases, leave us all less free.” (my emphasis) link

    “In fact, in practice free speech for Nazis is often itself a threat to free speech for everyone else, because Nazis use their freedom to violently suppress their opponents. Giving free speech to fascists to rally can reasonably be expected to curtail the free speech rights of other people, which means that organizations like the ACLU, and judges, need to balance interests, rather than just treating free speech for fascists as in itself increasing free speech.” (my emphasis) link

    I don’t see either of these as radical statements. I don’t see any conservatives rushing to the defense of Black Lives Matter or ANTIFA.

  4. 4
    Grung_e_Gene says:

    Why hasn’t Ben SShapiro and the Churning Point Campus Free Speech Assailants rushing to defend the Free Speech at the Washington Ballpark?

  5. 5
    Michael says:

    @Kate#3- The quote I took away was:
    “A Nazi salute is a threat. When people start making them freely, the speech, and the lives, of non-Nazis are endangered. In a society with a racist history and a racist present, “free speech for all” in practice will very often mean free speech for white people and silence for everyone else.”
    Moreover, you have to look at it in the context of everything else Berlatsky wrote. He’s defended silencing racists by heckling them:
    https://psmag.com/education/why-do-pundits-keep-getting-student-protest-so-wrong
    And in this article he argues for hate speech laws:
    https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/first-amendment-too-broad-case-regulating-hate-speech-america-ncna832246
    “In practice, the U.S. already restricts speech in many ways — the courts have allowed limits on death threats, on libel, on slander on advocating violence. Many free speech advocates are willing to try to balance free speech harms and free speech goods — except, it seems, when it comes to hate speech against marginalized communities.

    Other countries are willing to take the health and safety of their most vulnerable citizens into account. Were the U.S. to properly recognize the danger of hate speech, we wouldn’t look like Orwell’s “1984.” Instead, Delgado told me, we’d “look like France, Germany, The Netherlands, Canada or Sweden, all of whom regulate hate speech but where the political climate is just as free and healthy as our own, if not more so.””

  6. 6
    Kate says:

    I don’t see anything factually incorrect in the quotes you pulled out. A Nazi salute IS a threat. Right wing extemists are silencing critics. They killed about 50 people in mass shootings in 2018 and over 30 so far this year. Hate speech laws in countries like France, Germany, The Netherlands, Canada and Sweden don’t lead to Orwell’s “1984”. I mean, what do you disagree with there? Do you think Jewish people are being silly when they feel threatened by people making Nazi salutes, carrying torches and chanting “Jews will not replace us”? Even after at least two mass shootings in synagogues in the past year? Do you think those countries with hate speech laws ARE like Orwell’s “1984”?
    Personally, I don’t think hate speech laws do any good. White supremacists already tend to use euphemisms so they don’t spook the people they call “Normies”. Charlottesville reminded them that being direct in public is not in their own best interest. I think we’d be far better off if they were really clear about what they believed so centrists couldn’t be in such denial.
    I also don’t think hate speech laws are responsible for the lower levels of violence in those other countries. I attribute that to less milatarized police and fewer guns. But, I certainly don’t think the possibility of laws against hate speech should be out of bound of mainstream discourse. I DO think white supremacy and fascism should be outside of those bounds.
    But, it’s still not even clear to me that Berlatsky is advocating for hate speech laws. It seems to me like he’s just saying that it’s o.k. to spend our energy defending the free speech rights of marginalized people and trust that, if Nazi’s can’t defend themselves and wind up having their free speech restricted, it won’t be the end of the free world.

  7. 7
    Gracchus says:

    @Kate: I don’t disagree with what you are saying, but I think the assumption that Berlatsky is making that is not necessarily true is that some hypothetical defeat for the free speech of Nazis would not rebound beyond Nazis or the far-right generally. In practice, though, this is usually not the way laws are written or court decisions are made. A law/judgement restricting Nazi speech probably wouldn’t restrict any specific political sentiment, but would be more likely to generally refer to “extremist speech” or “violence-provoking speech” or anything similarly vague, both of which could potentially have legal repercussions for non-Nazis.

  8. 8
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Gracchus – this is not a hypothetical scenario, though. Many European countries have laws that specifically limit Nazi symbolism and speech. And generally, attempts to apply these laws to non-Nazi groups have been blocked by courts in the relevant countries.

    In any domain, the argument that overly vague laws can lead to unwanted repercussions is an argument for better written laws, not a valid argument against there being laws. This is true in the case of hate speech laws, hate crime laws more generally, gun control laws, domestic violence laws, sexual harassment laws, anti-abortion laws (to give an example where I would not support the law regardless of how vague it is, but I still don’t think the threat of vagueness is itself a good argument), etc.

  9. 9
    Celeste says:

    And your constant “But the right wing is worse” arguments are also tu quoque defenses, although you don’t share Berlatsky’s views.

    It’s not a tu quoque fallacy. The relative strengths/weaknesses of the left and the right on free speech issues are not irrelevant to the claim “The left is especially bad on free speech issues.”

    I mean, come on. If you actually care about free speech, it should be more than a partisan cudgel. The hypocrisy of your selective outrage is both obvious and tedious as fuck.

    Treat us, and yourself, with more respect than that.

  10. 10
    Kate says:

    A law/judgement restricting Nazi speech probably wouldn’t restrict any specific political sentiment, but would be more likely to generally refer to “extremist speech” or “violence-provoking speech” or anything similarly vague, both of which could potentially have legal repercussions for non-Nazis.

    But, Berlatsky’s point in the article which inspired Amp’s column is that the free speech rights of marginalized groups like undocumented immigrants, sex workers and prisoners already do have legal reprocussions. Now, Michael is right that they tend to be targeted for breaking other laws or rules*. However, the same could be done for Nazis and other white supremacists who do things like brandish weapons at rallies, make terroristic threats on internet forums, or stalk and harass ANTIFA protesters (the reason why those protesters feel the need to cover their faces). But, we don’t do that. In fact, we have to raise hell to get them prosecuted for actually beating the shit out of people after the fact because the police refuse to intervene and arrest them in the moment. Why is that?

    And in the articles linked by Michael and responded to by me, it is clear that people concerned about protecting the free speech rights of Nazis don’t seem concerned at all about the rights of Black Lives Matter Protesters:

    Free speech absolutism also elides the issue of race. Neo-Nazis may be expressing hated views, but they are still white, and law enforcement, the courts, and the state will treat them accordingly. In Ferguson in 2014, mostly black anti-racist protestors were met with an overwhelmingly militarized response; 155 people were arrested. In Charlottesville, by contrast, despite numerous incidents of violence, police arrested only four people. link

    …or even people protesting the Trump administration:

    Currently the federal government is prosecuting 200 people for being present at the protests during Donald Trump’s inauguration, including journalists and street medics. The ACLU’s decision to defend the Nazis in Charlottesville didn’t magically prevent the government from arresting, harassing and attempting to imprison many peaceful protestors for decades. link

    Why are the people so concerned about the rights of conservative pundits silent on the issue of the journalist who were arrested covering these left-wing protests?

    *The very laws and rules that they are protesting against, but that’s another matter.

  11. 11
    Michael says:

    @Celeste#9- I never said the left was WORSE than the right on free speech issues. What you’re using is a classic fallacy: “Not as bad as”:
    https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Not_as_bad_as
    Yes, I agree that the right is horrible on free speech. That doesn’t make me a hypocrite. I agree that, for example , that Jordan Peterson is a hypocrite for talking about free speech and then threatening to sue for defamation but that sort of hypocrisy involves more than excessive criticism of one side.
    I’m under no more obligation to spend most of my time criticizing the right than feminists are under an obligation to spend most of their time criticizing Islamic countries because sexism is “worse” there.

  12. 12
    Kate says:

    I’m under no more obligation to spend most of my time criticizing the right than feminists are under an obligation to spend most of their time criticizing Islamic countries because sexism is “worse” there.

    I’m confused. In this analogy, are the feminists meant to be the pundints screaming from the pages of their high profile publications about their free speech being violated because someone criticized them, or Nazis demanding that we pretend that they aren’t threatening violence at all and just want to express their opinions? Both?

  13. 13
    Gracchus says:

    @Eytan: I am familiar with the European laws banning Nazi symbolism. They dont really prevent European neo-Nazis from staging mass rallies where they intimidate minorities, though. They just prevent them from using certain symbols in doing so. Germany and Poland both have these laws in place, but they have also seen numerous neo-Nazi rallies of the kind we are discussing here.

    So while it may be possible to craft laws that are both specific to the far right and effectively prevent their demonstrations, European countries do not offer a model.

  14. 14
    Michael says:

    @Kate#12- The feminists are supposed to be the “Dear Muslimas” complaining about being criticized when other people are worse.
    I have no issue with prosecuting Nazis who make terroristic threats or stalk. I’m not disputing that Richard Spencer, for example, is evil. The problem I have is with the idea that some speech is so dangerous that it endangers lives “indirectly”, and that makes it okay to ban some of them and make other people miserable in the guise of “criticism”. Look at how Barry was “criticized” in the Younger case for “supporting pedophilia” or whatever. (And I’m not disputing that there’s a big difference between a New York Times columnist, for example, and Barry.)

  15. 15
    Ampersand says:

    I think that the issue with prostitution is that most people that support “free speech for prostitutes” actually oppose punishing prostitutes legally. Most people that support outlawing something oppose advertising that thing.

    I feel like this – the first paragraph of the first comment – is literally the only time the discussion here has been on-topic. :-p (Plus Joe in Australia’s compliment about the drawing in panel 1 – thank you, Joe!).

    You’re not exactly wrong, but I’m not sure how that undercuts the cartoon’s point. Suppose being a foot doctor was illegal, and as a result of that many forums for foot doctors to talk were shut down. My guess is that we’d mostly agree that’s an act of censorship, because we agree that it would be unjust to outlaw being a foot doctor.

    The pundits I’m criticizing in this cartoon are usually libertarians or liberals; it is likely that many or most of them, if asked, would say that sex work should be legal (with the usual exceptions). I think it’s likely that most of my readers would also agree with this. So for both the people my cartoon is criticizing, and the people reading the cartoon, will for the most part not be the people saying “that’s okay censorship, because outlawing and censoring sex workers is just.”

    More importantly, maybe, I’m definitely among those who think that outlawing sex work is unjust. So if you take the cartoon as an expression of my view – which it is – then again, the problem you’re talking about doesn’t come up.

    There’s also a way that Fosta-Sesta is censorship that, say, a law making it illegal to sell stolen cars is not. The way Fosta/Sesta works is not just “selling sex is illegal”; it makes website owners legally liable if someone uses their site to sell sex.

    If someone is caught selling a stolen car on Ebay, the police can (and should) go after the seller, but they can’t fine or shut down Ebay itself. That’s the rule – people providing a forum on the internet aren’t legally liable just because someone used their forum to commit a crime. If there were an exception for car thieves – if the law said Ebay is legally at fault if anyone uses Ebay to sell a stolen car – Ebay would probably respond by making selling used cars on Ebay entirely illegal, because they can’t risk any car thieves slipping through. In effect, such a law would force Ebay to not only get rid of illegal car sales, but to also get rid of any legal discussions that are adjacent to illegal car sales.

    And your constant “But the right wing is worse” arguments are also tu quoque defenses

    I don’t think you understand what a tu quoque argument is. Wikipedia sums this up well:

    Tu quoque “argument” follows the pattern:

    Person A makes claim X.
    Person B asserts that A’s actions or past claims are inconsistent with the truth of claim X.
    Therefore, X is false.

    It is a fallacy because the moral character or actions of the opponent are generally irrelevant to the logic of the argument. It is often used as a red herring tactic and is a special case of the ad hominem fallacy, which is a category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of facts about the person presenting or supporting the claim or argument.

    I wouldn’t say that I’ve never made a tu quoque argument about censorship – I’ve probably argued about censorship thousands of times in my life, and I can’t guarantee that I’ve never screwed up in this way. But claiming that this is a “constant” error for me is ridiculous.

    The argument I frequently make is more like

    Person A claims X. X in this case is “the main danger to campus free speech is from the left.”
    Person B says that in fact, there’s an equal or greater danger to campus free speech from the right.
    Therefore, X is false.

    That’s not tu quoque.

    Also, it’s very off topic for this thread.

    It’s true that I cited one article by Noah in my post. That doesn’t really make completely different articles by Noah on topic for this thread, either.

    Now that it’s already going on, I don’t want to cut off the lively discussion that’s taking place here. So I’m not telling you or others to cut it out. I’m just saying, in hindsight, I wish you hadn’t thrown us off-topic by introducing incendiary but irrelevant arguments in the Very! First! Comment! on the thread.

  16. 16
    Kate says:

    The feminists are supposed to be the “Dear Muslimas” complaining about being criticized when other people are worse.

    Yes, I caught that. My snarky question was meant to hilight that this is a false equivalency.

    The problem I have is with the idea that some speech is so dangerous that it endangers lives “indirectly”, and that makes it okay to ban some of them and make other people miserable in the guise of “criticism”. (my emphasis)

    So, the right should be able to promote genocidal ideologies which would kill millions if carried to fruition, but the left must not criticize conservative pundents if that makes them “miserable”?

    [cross posted with Amp…sorry for the derail]

  17. 17
    Ampersand says:

    Kate (and everyone), I don’t mean you should stop talking about it! At this point, there’s a lively discussion going on here (even if it is off-topic), and I don’t want to kill it. Feel free to keep commenting!

  18. 18
    Michael says:

    @Ampersand#15- I’m sorry- I didn’t realize this was off topic.
    But Chait’s argument, for example, seems to be that the Left is A danger to free speech. (I’m not sure if he’s ever said that the Left is a GREATER danger to free speech.) Under those circumstances, your response and Berlatsky’s are a Not As Bad fallacy.(Maybe I should have said Not As Bad instead of tu quoque.) It’s a way of excusing (or at least mitigating) the Left’s excesses.

  19. 19
    Michael says:

    @Kate#16- (a)if I wasn’t clear enough I meant bloggers and academics and normal people tweeting, not pundits and (b) I’m thinking more of Erica Christakis and Justine Sacco.

  20. 20
    Ampersand says:

    Michael, what specific response of mine, to Chait specifically, are you thinking of?

  21. 21
    Michael says:

    @Ampersand#20- I’m sorry- I mean I assumed this cartoon was a response to critics like Chait and Conor Friedersdorf. My point is that their argument is not that the left is the Greatest threat to free speech but it is A threat to free speech.

  22. 22
    Ampersand says:

    Michael, this cartoon is meant as a response to free speech pundits like Chait and Conor and others. However, it doesn’t make the argument you think it does – to my mind, this cartoon isn’t about left vs right. It’s about the well-off versus the marginalized.

    Remember, SESTA was voted for by 99 out of 100 Senators. (The sole exception was Ron Wyden). The Democrats co-own that law with the GOP, so I wouldn’t have chosen that example if I was making a “the left is not as bad” argument. The Democratic party has been pretty bad on prisoner rights, too, so I wouldn’t call the censorship of prisoners a specifically right-wing thing, at least not unless we consider mainstream Democrats to be right wing.

    The argument of this cartoon is that the media is focusing on relatively unimportant threats to the free speech of the well-off, while much more consequential attacks on the free speech of marginalized people are ignored.

  23. 23
    Gracchus says:

    @Amptoon: Don’t “left” and “marginalised” overlap almost totally, at least when talking about free speech? While individual undocumented immigrants, sex workers and ICE detainees might not be on the left, overall those groups are being censored in order to suppress left wing views. Nobody is censoring sex workers because they are worried sex workers will call for lower taxes, or that undocumented immigrants will advocate for gun rights.

    Indeed when it comes to free speech I don’t think we can talk about a “marginalised right”. To the extent that a marginalised right can be said to exist, it would have to include poor white people who support Republicans. And while it’s debatable that this group really is marginalised, even if we accept they are marginalised, they are not marginalised in the area of free speech – there are no measures, direct or indirect, aimed at preventing poor white conservatives from exercising free speech.

  24. 24
    Michael says:

    @Gracchus#24- It’s not that simple. Sometimes social stigma can prevent people from talking about real problems. One classic example is late in life virgins. Are they really afraid of violence if they reveal their virginity? No. But can it be said that they all just coincidentally choose to keep their secret of their own free choice? Of course not!
    Another major example is mental illness. A lot of people with mental illness don’t even realize they have a mental illness because they’re afraid of how people will react if they find out. In this case, of course, “stigma” can mean being suspended from school, losing your job or losing custody of your children, so one can definitely say that they’re not choosing freely to remain quiet.
    I’ll freely admit that the latter has to do with my skepticism of feminists being the arbiters of free speech. There’s something I know but am afraid to say openly for fear of a reaction that might hurt certain mentally ill children. And it arguably doesn’t reflect well on feminists. And I’m reacting the way I am in part because I cannot speak openly.

  25. 25
    Ampersand says:

    @Amptoon: Don’t “left” and “marginalised” overlap almost totally, at least when talking about free speech? While individual undocumented immigrants, sex workers and ICE detainees might not be on the left, overall those groups are being censored in order to suppress left wing views.

    I was thinking more in terms of who is doing the censoring, rather than who is being censored. When it comes to censoring sex workers and prisoners, I think that’s pretty centrist. Censoring undocumented immigrants is pretty right-wing, though.

    Caring about the free speech rights of sex workers and prisoners isn’t exactly a left-wing view; it’s one of those views that are shared by the far-ish left, and the Reason-Magazine style libertarians.

    Edited to add: “I think that’s pretty centrist” – by which I mean, supporting those policies is a mainstream position among centrist Democrats; you have to go to the far left of the Democrats to find people who oppose those policies. (Or, among the Republicans, you have to go to the libertarians). I think we could make a reasonable argument that centrist Dems are actually a bit right wing by world standards.

  26. 26
    Kate says:

    But Chait’s argument, for example, seems to be that the Left is A danger to free speech. (I’m not sure if he’s ever said that the Left is a GREATER danger to free speech.)

    Yea, and I’d disagree with that. I don’t think the left in the U.S. today is a danger to free speech, at all. I think framing minor issues like deplatforming speakers at colleges, being rude during protests, and arguing for rules against hate speech as “threats to free speech” are all straw men being used to minimize and deflect attention from the very serious threat to not just free speech, but democracy itself coming from the far right, which has hijacked the Republican Party.

    The Democrats co-own that law with the GOP, so I wouldn’t have chosen that example if I was making a “the left is not as bad” argument. The Democratic party has been pretty bad on prisoner rights, too, so I wouldn’t call the censorship of prisoners a specifically right-wing thing, at least not unless we consider mainstream Democrats to be right wing.

    I totally agree with you about the Democratic party being bad on these marginalized populations. And, of course they are not “right wing”. But, they are not “of the left” either. Most Democrats are centrists. The furthest left mainstream discourse in the U.S. goes is center left Democratic Socialists. There really is no authoritarian left in the U.S. comparable to the authoritarian right which has taken control of the Republican party. Even the radical left (which is not represented by the Democratic Party at all today) currently tends towards anarchism. That is a good thing! I think all authoritarian approaches should be out of mainstream political discourse.

    @ Michael: Both late life virgins and people with mental illness exits across the political spectrum, including among feminists.

  27. 27
    Gracchus says:

    The closest thing to a substantial authoritarian left in the USA is a group of leftists who support authoritarian regimes like Syria, Venezuela, Cuba etc because they believe they are bastions of anti-imperialism. But even then, these leftists aren’t themselves authoritarians and don’t advocate authoritarian policies by the US government, and certainly don’t compare to the authoritarian tendencies on the American right.

  28. 28
    Petar says:

    I’ve never thought that ‘free speech’ is more than a propaganda idiom. No one in the world believes in free speech. It is possible to do grievous harm through speech, so every society I’ve heard of bans some kinds of speech. If speech is so worthy of protection, what’s up with that ‘Fire! in a theater’ finagling?

    It’s all posturing. MIT has no problem hiring veterans who have killed in the line of duty… even if they have done so while wearing the uniform of a Communist state. Harvard has admitted at least three freshmen who had committed murder or manslaughter while juvenile. I do not know whether any Ivy league institution has admitted murderers convicted as adults, but it would not surprise me in the slightest. But all of a sudden, some asshole who has said racist things to his friends when he was 16 is refused admission to Harvard? Selective application of unclear principles.

    White supremacists preaching the superiority of the Nordic races are despicable. So are Nation of Islam scholars who preach that White people were created by evil scientists through a process selecting for liars and murderers.

    Both kinds of speech are harmful. I agree with detractors prioritizing those who have a broader audience and more power in society. But anyone who rails against one and defends the other based on the concept of ‘free speech’ is a hypocrite.

    Some people think that walking on the name of Allah printed on an ISIS flag is hate speech, but burning an American flag is free speech. They are using reasoning that I cannot and probably do not want to understand.

  29. 29
    J. Squid says:

    And here to validate Michael’s claims of the repression being wrought by left wing college students is… the Student Government Association of the University of Alabama!

    Through their repression of free speech, they have truly proven themselves to be out of control, PC, leftists shutting down opposing opinions on campus, once again. Oh! How much longer must we put up with the radical left shutting down right wing voices? How much longer must we stand by while leftist organizations like the Student Government Association of the University of Alabama trample on the constitution in its attempt to impose left wing fascism?

    Why does the left hate and fear freedom and why will this blog not condemn them for the actions that the left, and only the left, take to shut down free speech?

  30. 30
    J. Squid says:

    OMG! Another example of the left no-platforming a right wing figure!

    What’s that, you say? It wasn’t the post-modernist radical left that booed Trump Jr. off stage? It was the fascists you say? Because Trump Jr isn’t fascist enough?

    Huh. How about that. Fox must’ve been screaming about nothing else since that happened. They’ve hardly mentioned it? The devil, you say!

    There’s that fair and balanced they blare at us all the time. Because the right is truly concerned only about free speech and not, say, just condemning the left wherever they can find an angle. Why, that would be dishonest.

    I’ve had enough of the hypocritical and obviously partisan propagandizing, bloviating, and pontificating about “free speech” from the right. There’s no credibility from right wingers on the issue.

  31. 31
    Sebastian H says:

    Kate, I’d say that the danger of the academic left specifically is that it is creating a bunch of intellectual frameworks for sharply reducing free speech, which then legitimate censorship by moderates in a way that wasn’t ok when the dominant intellectual frameworks were supporting free speech. SESTA/FOSTA is a direct product of that intellectual effort.

    I sort of feel that focus on the bad side of SJWs is like focusing on the bad side of libertarians. It isn’t that their critiques are useless, it is that their bad ideas end up getting used with far greater frequency than their good ideas. Similarly about both groups there seems to be complaints by people nearish to them on the political spectrum that they aren’t really that numerous. Which is true. But both groups end up having a greater influence than their strict numbers because of the ways they leverage the power of different important institutions.

  32. 32
    hf says:

    SESTA/FOSTA is a direct product of that intellectual effort.

    You say that, but I have no reason to believe it. I’ve seen only opposition from (admittedly my personal taste in) leftist sources. Googling the bill’s name together with the words ‘academic’ and ‘support’ shows an association of trained professionals opposing it, harsh criticism in Psychology Today, the EFF obviously tearing it a new one, and an edu-domain pdf calling it “A hostile law with a human cost.” The one link offering support is from ECPAT, which was founded in 1990 and does not appear to have changed its views since. Their chair, Carol Bellamy, graduated from Gettysburg College (not known as a center of the academic left) before getting a New York law degree (see pdf above).

    There’s also the hard-to-calculate chance that going back in time and weakening “the academic left” would send more people to US evangelical churches or other groups more into the censorship of sex workers.

  33. 33
    hf says:

    Another source of support: Facebook and other large companies.

  34. 34
    Ampersand says:

    I’ve seen only opposition from (admittedly my personal taste in) leftist sources.

    Yes, same, except I’ve also seen opposition from some libertarian sources.

    Sebastian, it’s a little ambiguous so I may be misreading you. But it sounds like you’re saying “SJWs” and the camp on the left that supported SESTA/FOSTA are the same. I’m sure there are individual exceptions, but it’s my impression that it’s just the opposite. SESTA/FOSTA was largely supported by mainstream democrats and also by TERFs, and largely opposed by the social justice left (aka “SJWs”).

  35. 35
    Kate says:

    I see conservatives and centrists united in favor of SESTA/FROSTA and both libertarians and the left divided, with some for and some against. It seems silly to focus on that, probably minoroty segment of the left that is for such laws, when the dominant factions of both political parties (conservative Republicans and centrist Democrats) are the ones actually making things happen.

  36. 36
    hf says:

    The argument appears to be that ideas promoted by “the academic left” gave cover to Facebook and one of Ralph Reed’s organizations. Except, again, I’m not seeing any channel or mechanism of influence which makes this remotely credible.

    In the absence of … whatever comment 31 was talking about, you don’t get a groundswell of support for free speech. You get people pretty consistently telling pollsters they want to restrict speech, while social conservatives get one of their own fired from her orange juice job just for mentioning homosexuality. The fundamental demand of social conservatism is silence.

  37. 37
    Sebastian H says:

    “Sebastian, it’s a little ambiguous so I may be misreading you. But it sounds like you’re saying “SJWs” and the camp on the left that supported SESTA/FOSTA are the same.”

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to be confusing. I’d trace it differently than that. I’d say that on free speech, SJWs and liberal/left proponents of SESTA/FOSTA are both heirs to the leftist anti-free speech movements of the late 90s and 00s and show a lot of overlap though not a one-to-one identity. There are a couple of major intellectual vectors that relate to that. One is the rise of social constructionism in feminist studies. That perspective argues that you can’t just restrict speech which causes violence or is likely to cause violence because it argues that the speech itself strengthens structures of harm (and it historically isn’t interested in balancing harms or analyzing how bad a harm something is). You can see that in the 90s with things like “Uncoupling Free Speech” by Frederick Schauer and Catharine A. MacKinnon, Feminism Unmodified. Both sources inverted the traditional legal question on free speech “why should we regulate this speech” to a much easier to attack position “why should we protect this speech?”

    This leads neatly to the MacKinnon/Dworkin concept of the alleged harms of sexually oriented materials. They argued that the societal harms caused to women by the existence of pornography were a form of violence that removed sexually oriented materials from the protection of free speech. Their main factual assertion (that pornography increases rape and violence) has been definitively rebutted, but their method of argumentation (that speech itself is harm because it changes how society constructs itself) has been adopted widely on the left.

    Third (or maybe 2.5) social constructionism suggested that the market place of ideas concept of protection of free speech wasn’t particularly powerful because getting to “truth” wasn’t a possibility anyway. (The inversion of both sides on this topic in the last 20 years without anyone admitting they were wrong should be stunning but now it is the right that claims the politicization of science and ‘facts’). This left the idea that free speech was really about governing and communication between the government and the governed, which opened up essentially all non-political speech to regulation, and even political speech if it caused ‘harm’ (with a sharply increased view of ‘harm’ that went far beyond violence).

    So back to SESTA/FOSTA. The academic left of the 90s and 00s worked hard to play up the harms of free speech (though in the porn area they were wrong about the harms), undermined the public rationale for free speech, and inverted the norm about the legal question to be asked regarding free speech. There is a troubling large contingent of people who would like to attack the ability to disseminate porn for ‘moral’ reasons, and the intellectual framework provided by 20 years of weakening free speech norms on the left allow ‘liberals’ to join in on it.

    SESTA/FOSTA is kind of a perfect storm of government evils, so that isn’t the whole story. It combines the above with moral panics (see previous incarnations in marijuana panics, Satanic preschool panics, and homosexual panic defenses), with overreaction to the internet, and with grotesque political marketing (no one wants to say they are against anti-trafficking measures). It also offers a good illustration of overly-broad laws in that it inspires over-cautious corporations threatened by enormous liability to crack down on LGBT speech in a much more general way (illustrating that the old “chilling effect” jurisprudence had a point).

    SJWs are heirs to the much of the strain of thought which led to SESTA/FOSTA but are divided on whether or not the problems of sex workers should be privileged over the fear of sex trafficking.

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