Fundraising for 2020/2021: Currently at $1580. Fundraising has begun, see the global post for options. Paypal Donation Links US dollars CDN Dollars

Freedom of Thought/Expression

For discussion of religion and politics

Moderators: LawBeefaroni, $iljanus

Post Reply
User avatar
Kurth
Posts: 3684
Joined: Tue Jan 04, 2005 1:19 am
Location: Portland

Freedom of Thought/Expression

Post by Kurth »

A Letter on Justice and Open Debate was just released by Harpers. It reads:
July 7, 2020
The below letter will be appearing in the Letters section of the magazine’s October issue. We welcome responses at letters@harpers.org

Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts. But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity. As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second. The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy. But resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion—which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting. The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.

The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms. Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes. Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.

This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time. The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other. As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes. We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences. If we won’t defend the very thing on which our work depends, we shouldn’t expect the public or the state to defend it for us.
It's signed by a diverse group of academics, writers, intellectuals from all sides of the political spectrum. It sums up much better than I could a fundamental and growing anxiety I've had that we are creeping ever closer to an illiberal society where thought and expression are fenced in by fear of public shaming/firing/internet shaming for straying too far from "acceptable" dogma.

I know we've covered this topic some in the "Death of the 4th Estate" thread, and it's certainly relevant to that topic, but I think it's much more pervasive today.Reading the NYT coverage of the letter, I was struck by the level of animosity the letter and the signatories are receiving:
In a world with real problems, who even knows what this is actually about?
Joel D. Anderson
Okay, I did not sign THE LETTER when I was asked 9 days ago,” Richard Kim, the enterprise director of HuffPost, said on Twitter, “because I could see in 90 seconds that it was fatuous, self-important drivel that would only troll the people it allegedly was trying to reach — and I said as much.
Richard Kim

I just don't get these perspectives, and it only raises my concern about the current dangers to freedom of thought and expression.
The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it -- John Gilmore

User avatar
hepcat
Posts: 40436
Joined: Wed Oct 13, 2004 3:02 pm
Location: Chicago, IL Home of the triple homicide!
hepcat’s avatar
Loading…

Re: Freedom of Thought/Expression

Post by hepcat »

I agree with the letter. But it was bound to get vitriolic reviews in this current political clime. The last thing you want to tell someone who's fighting intolerance in their mind is that they've become intolerant themselves in the process.
I beat a camel to death with a monkey. Can I do that?
-Mr Bismarck

You have to whack a few rabbits before you are ready to punch a camel.
-Coopasonic

malchior
Posts: 12207
Joined: Wed Oct 13, 2004 12:58 pm

Re: Freedom of Thought/Expression

Post by malchior »

I've been tracking this and almost added this in a couple threads today but agree this is its own thing. Popehat even kind of gave the letter some side eye but then went on to say that the reception might have proved their point. What the backlash is showing isn't just that the complainers themselves are intolerant. It has distinct notes of populism of an illiberal bent from the left. This is part of the driving force behind the phenomena of attacking individuals based on their beliefs that I was remarking about yesterday in the racism thread.

User avatar
LordMortis
Posts: 63104
Joined: Tue Oct 12, 2004 11:26 pm

Re: Freedom of Thought/Expression

Post by LordMortis »

I think we're nearing a point where "freedom of expression" is largely relegated to a) "Nothing left to lose" and B) those who have enough that don't care what you take from them. It's probably always been a tendency but it's been heightened by the Internet age, which politics, people, and governments simply do not know how to handle.

Being in the people categories, I don't have an answer and am not sure I'd recognize it if I saw it. We have desperate people everywhere. We have people with no voices everywhere. We have disenfranchised people everywhere. We have other people and groups taking advantage of these people. Some, in my world view, are behaving with a righteousness I can't attack. Some with a righteousness I can't defend.

I don't know enough about the world outside of the US borders but my nation is in crisis and either I'm not smart enough to recognize the leader who can get us through it or they aren't evident. (Note, supported Merkley for president, then O'Rourke, then Booker. I thought I recognized anyone of those three, and it never even got to my state to support any of them. So, I'm off there. After the presidency, what's next? Start local? How? When you work and rest and work and rest and work and rest?)

malchior
Posts: 12207
Joined: Wed Oct 13, 2004 12:58 pm

Re: Freedom of Thought/Expression

Post by malchior »

This is a take that I am shaking my head at. It is akin to, "The kids are just blowing off some steam. We have to accept some expect collateral damage since the cause is righteous!"

Last edited by malchior on Thu Jul 09, 2020 8:48 am, edited 1 time in total.

malchior
Posts: 12207
Joined: Wed Oct 13, 2004 12:58 pm

Re: Freedom of Thought/Expression

Post by malchior »


User avatar
Max Peck
Posts: 8418
Joined: Fri Aug 05, 2005 8:09 pm
Location: Down the Rabbit-Hole

Re: Freedom of Thought/Expression

Post by Max Peck »

Ken White has some words (20 tweets worth) to share regarding free speech, the First Amendment and The Letter.

Time and tide melt the snowman.

There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea's asleep and the rivers dream, people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice and somewhere else the tea is getting cold. Come on, Ace, we've got work to do.
-- The Doctor

User avatar
Kurth
Posts: 3684
Joined: Tue Jan 04, 2005 1:19 am
Location: Portland

Re: Freedom of Thought/Expression

Post by Kurth »

I have a lot of respect for Fed and agree with much of what he writes, but I think he's really missing the mark on this one. For someone who spends a lot of time writing with precision and clarity about what falls under the First Amendment and what doesn't, I feel like he's blurring that line here.

The Harpers Letter is a warning about an illiberal cultural movement that is resulting in a chilling effect on public thought/expression. It doesn't have anything to do with the government shutting down speech. It's not a First Amendment issue, and the Harpers Letter never even mentions it.

His "motte and bailey" argument falls flat for me, too: In tweet 7 in the thread, he states:



First, this isn't about the First Amendment. Second, there's really nothing wrong with what he's attacking here. Cultural pendulums swing. When they swing too far, it's a positive thing to try to correct (moderate) them. Why does Fed think, "this emphasis has the natural and probable effect of conveying to people that "the deal" is bullshit." What is he talking about? It's entirely consistent with "the deal" that we value freedom of thought. There's no contradiction, and people that see one are missing the point.

And what's with the argument that because assholes have used "cancel culture" as a knee jerk response to appropriate outrage over inappropriate actions is a really, really bad reason to look at the Harpers Letter sideways. That's just weak sauce.

There's a lot to tackle in Fed's Popehat tweet thread (20 tweets worth), but these are just some of the points that jumped out at me the most. I've rarely found myself so squarely opposed to what Fed's serving. I'm going to reread the letter and also his 20 tweet thread.

In the meantime, consider this:

The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it -- John Gilmore

User avatar
El Guapo
Posts: 35101
Joined: Sat Jul 09, 2005 4:01 pm
Location: Boston

Re: Freedom of Thought/Expression

Post by El Guapo »

I had some discomfort / disagreement with what Fed was saying on this, BUT I think his core point is really just that the way the letter is written, it's unlikely to persuade the core type of progressive folk who are skeptical of the importance of free speech rights. They tend to see free speech as something invoked by the powerful to assert impunity for saying offensive things. He's saying that the letter doesn't really engage with that argument, and that it should emphasize things like who speech restrictions would empower right now (e.g., Trump and Bill Barr).

Hence the 'it's fine as a statement of principles but not as persuasion' part.

User avatar
LordMortis
Posts: 63104
Joined: Tue Oct 12, 2004 11:26 pm

Re: Freedom of Thought/Expression

Post by LordMortis »

There's a lot to tackle in Fed's Popehat tweet
I can get through writing. I can't get through long tweet chains. I don't know why. Normally, Fed is enlightening for me but this seemed dense (not stupid dense put packed too tightly for me to parse) and yet broken by the tweet format. And beyond my not being able to digest what he was saying, it felt off. Like he was missing the target. I can't I thought he was missing the target because I simply couldn't put it all together. :oops:

Not feeling like what was supposed to cogent broke though my thick skull, when it was said and down I felt the disjunct where he writing and I was reading was at:

Enlarge Image

User avatar
RunningMn9
Posts: 23246
Joined: Tue Oct 12, 2004 11:55 pm
Location: The Sword Coast
Contact:

Re: Freedom of Thought/Expression

Post by RunningMn9 »

My initial reaction to the letter was that it's the obvious and sensible thing to want. Bad speech is countered by good speech, not firing everyone. I think that where the line has been muddied for me is whether or not everything is up for debate.

Health care policy? Sure. Police reform? Yeah. There are policy debates that should happen, and clearly someone disagreeing with me shouldn't be grounds for someone to be censored or fired by their employers. Especially since I might believe wrong things.

But the current climate and the intolerant raging about that's happening with it isn't really about policy debates. I'm supposed to counter "bad speech" that is actively harming people that I care about, with "good speech"? F that noise.

I mean, sometimes, yeah, I guess. It depends on the harm being caused. What's happening with the police right now, where citizens are effectively being murdered? I'm not interested in a policy debate over whether or not police should be allowed to murder citizens. How to reform the police? Sure. Whether to reform them? No.

We had a situation in my town where a young lifeguard who is African American and openly gay, had to sit there at work while some shit bird is cursing him out, calling him a fag, and telling him how the KKK's presence is growing in town and he better watch out. There were security guards on hand. Their response was to stand there laughing about it. I'm not interesting in having an open debate with those two clowns on whether they made a mistake. I want them fired immediately because they failed to do the one thing they were hired to do. The police didn't do anything, but tried to be accommodating. Beyond the security guards, the town is going to try this "counter with good speech" business and is holding a rally at the town hall in support of this kid next week. I know the town well enough to know that's a wasted effort. But it's what we're supposed to do. And at least this kid will see that a lot of people in town are on his side.

So I guess I'm cool with the letter as long as we understand that what is happening in this country isn't intolerance of health care policy preferences. Millennia of open sexism (including free passes for sexual assaults and rape). Millennia of open racism. If we finally reached a point where we are no longer willing to debate or tolerate sexism and racism, good.
And in banks across the world
Christians, Moslems, Hindus, Jews
And every other race, creed, colour, tint or hue
Get down on their knees and pray
The raccoon and the groundhog neatly
Make up bags of change
But the monkey in the corner
Well he's slowly drifting out of range

User avatar
El Guapo
Posts: 35101
Joined: Sat Jul 09, 2005 4:01 pm
Location: Boston

Re: Freedom of Thought/Expression

Post by El Guapo »

RunningMn9 wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 9:43 am
My initial reaction to the letter was that it's the obvious and sensible thing to want. Bad speech is countered by good speech, not firing everyone. I think that where the line has been muddied for me is whether or not everything is up for debate.

Health care policy? Sure. Police reform? Yeah. There are policy debates that should happen, and clearly someone disagreeing with me shouldn't be grounds for someone to be censored or fired by their employers. Especially since I might believe wrong things.

But the current climate and the intolerant raging about that's happening with it isn't really about policy debates. I'm supposed to counter "bad speech" that is actively harming people that I care about, with "good speech"? F that noise.

I mean, sometimes, yeah, I guess. It depends on the harm being caused. What's happening with the police right now, where citizens are effectively being murdered? I'm not interested in a policy debate over whether or not police should be allowed to murder citizens. How to reform the police? Sure. Whether to reform them? No.

We had a situation in my town where a young lifeguard who is African American and openly gay, had to sit there at work while some shit bird is cursing him out, calling him a fag, and telling him how the KKK's presence is growing in town and he better watch out. There were security guards on hand. Their response was to stand there laughing about it. I'm not interesting in having an open debate with those two clowns on whether they made a mistake. I want them fired immediately because they failed to do the one thing they were hired to do. The police didn't do anything, but tried to be accommodating. Beyond the security guards, the town is going to try this "counter with good speech" business and is holding a rally at the town hall in support of this kid next week. I know the town well enough to know that's a wasted effort. But it's what we're supposed to do. And at least this kid will see that a lot of people in town are on his side.

So I guess I'm cool with the letter as long as we understand that what is happening in this country isn't intolerance of health care policy preferences. Millennia of open sexism (including free passes for sexual assaults and rape). Millennia of open racism. If we finally reached a point where we are no longer willing to debate or tolerate sexism and racism, good.
This is definitely an area where there's a high risk of people talking past each other, because there's often a high amount of agreement on the principles, and a lot of disagreement on the particular application of them. In the case of the town lifeguard, that's harassment (and arguably a threat) and not 'debate'. The security guards shouldn't have tolerated that, weren't doing their job, and should be fired. Similarly, if someone were going around talking with people about how they should join the Klan, and that person's employer found out, it would seem eminently reasonable for that employer to fire them. I don't think anyone serious is arguing that no one should ever suffer personal consequences (including losing their job) for saying obnoxious things.

But there's a line that these things can easily cross into stifling debate. The David Shor case is the clearest example - I suspect you know the details already, but just in case he was a left-of-center data guy who shared a peer reviewed article that argued that violence in protests is generally counter-productive to the cause of protests. That was interpreted by people as anti-minority, anti-protest, and he was expelled from the listserv he was on and fired from his job. And that stuff is part of a broader trend in some progressive circles towards treating whole categories of speech as likely or inherently illegitimate - it's the kind of stuff that can follow from saying it's good that "we are no longer willing to debate or tolerate sexism and racism" - that kind of thing is true in general, but you wind up with cases where good faith arguments and discussion about race and gender get branded as sexist and racist and get shut down without discussion.

Of course, then there's a lot of debate over how prevalent things like the David Shor matter are.

User avatar
RunningMn9
Posts: 23246
Joined: Tue Oct 12, 2004 11:55 pm
Location: The Sword Coast
Contact:

Re: Freedom of Thought/Expression

Post by RunningMn9 »

El Guapo wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 10:11 am
But there's a line that these things can easily cross into stifling debate. The David Shor case is the clearest example - I suspect you know the details already, but just in case he was a left-of-center data guy who shared a peer reviewed article that argued that violence in protests is generally counter-productive to the cause of protests. That was interpreted by people as anti-minority, anti-protest, and he was expelled from the listserv he was on and fired from his job. And that stuff is part of a broader trend in some progressive circles towards treating whole categories of speech as likely or inherently illegitimate - it's the kind of stuff that can follow from saying it's good that "we are no longer willing to debate or tolerate sexism and racism" - that kind of thing is true in general, but you wind up with cases where good faith arguments and discussion about race and gender get branded as sexist and racist and get shut down without discussion.
Right, and I think that's why my initial reaction to the letter was "yeah, I can dig all this".

I would like a clearer line though on the things that really aren't up for debate. The things that are gonna get you fired because you believe atrocious things and we're not dealing with that anymore.

As a simple example, if someone starts pontificating on their Facebook page about wanting to resume the practice of owning slaves, you get what's coming and you don't get to bitch about people being intolerant of your beliefs. Your beliefs are intolerable. Sorry.

Right now, there is *clearly* an over-reaction on the sexism and racism fronts. That's what happens when a dam bursts - you get a raging flood and collateral damage.

I think that what this letter is trying to convey is definitely something that people should try to keep in mind as the pressure is released and everyone is going bonkers.
And in banks across the world
Christians, Moslems, Hindus, Jews
And every other race, creed, colour, tint or hue
Get down on their knees and pray
The raccoon and the groundhog neatly
Make up bags of change
But the monkey in the corner
Well he's slowly drifting out of range

User avatar
Alefroth
Posts: 5289
Joined: Thu Oct 14, 2004 1:56 pm
Location: Bellingham WA

Re: Freedom of Thought/Expression

Post by Alefroth »

#goyaway

Are boycotts the stifling of free expression, or consumers exerting their economic power? Maybe they are both.

User avatar
El Guapo
Posts: 35101
Joined: Sat Jul 09, 2005 4:01 pm
Location: Boston

Re: Freedom of Thought/Expression

Post by El Guapo »

Good news - there's going to be some sort of counter-letter today. No doubt calm, rational debates on Twitter will follow.

User avatar
Alefroth
Posts: 5289
Joined: Thu Oct 14, 2004 1:56 pm
Location: Bellingham WA

Re: Freedom of Thought/Expression

Post by Alefroth »

Alefroth wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 12:21 pm
#goyaway

Are boycotts the stifling of free expression, or consumers exerting their economic power? Maybe they are both.
The CEO and Junior think it's suppression.
Unanue wrote:"It's suppression of speech," he said. "I'm not apologising for saying - and especially when you're called by the president of the United States - you're gonna say, 'no, I'm sorry I'm busy no thank you?'"
Junior wrote:"the leftist mob wants to cancel one of the largest Hispanic owned companies in America because they recognise that the president has shown great leadership? (Not very woke)".

User avatar
Kurth
Posts: 3684
Joined: Tue Jan 04, 2005 1:19 am
Location: Portland

Re: Freedom of Thought/Expression

Post by Kurth »

RunningMn9 wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 11:20 am
Right now, there is *clearly* an over-reaction on the sexism and racism fronts. That's what happens when a dam bursts - you get a raging flood and collateral damage.

I think that what this letter is trying to convey is definitely something that people should try to keep in mind as the pressure is released and everyone is going bonkers.
This.
The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it -- John Gilmore

User avatar
Alefroth
Posts: 5289
Joined: Thu Oct 14, 2004 1:56 pm
Location: Bellingham WA

Re: Freedom of Thought/Expression

Post by Alefroth »


User avatar
Unagi
Posts: 18803
Joined: Wed Sep 20, 2006 5:14 pm
Location: Chicago

Re: Freedom of Thought/Expression

Post by Unagi »

paywall,

User avatar
gbasden
Posts: 6267
Joined: Wed Oct 13, 2004 1:57 am
Location: Sacramento, CA

Re: Freedom of Thought/Expression

Post by gbasden »

Washington Post wrote:ESPN suspended its top NBA reporter, Adrian Wojnarowski, after he sent a profane email to Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), multiple people familiar with the situation said Sunday.

Wojnarowski had been scheduled to travel to Florida soon to cover the restart of the NBA season, but he will not make the trip as originally planned. He is still expected to be part of ESPN’s coverage of the resumption of play at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex outside Orlando — but at a later date. His suspension is between one and two weeks, according to those same people.

The suspension came after Hawley tweeted an image of an email from Wojnarowski on Friday in which the reporter responded to a news release from the senator’s office with an expletive.

Hawley’s release had publicized a letter he wrote to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. Hawley criticized the league for deciding to allow messages that promote social justice on its jerseys this summer but not allow messages that support law enforcement or are critical of China’s Communist Party.

In the email sent to Hawley’s press office, Wojnarowski wrote, “F--- You,” without censoring the expletive.

Hawley posted an image of the email on Twitter with the message: “Don’t criticize #China or express support for law enforcement to @espn. It makes them real mad.”

Wojnarowski tweeted an apology Friday, writing: “I was disrespectful and I made a regrettable mistake. I’m sorry for the way I handled myself and I am reaching out immediately to Senator Hawley to apologize directly.”

User avatar
Isgrimnur
Posts: 66149
Joined: Sun Oct 15, 2006 12:29 am
Location: Chookity pok
Contact:
Isgrimnur’s avatar
Loading…

Re: Freedom of Thought/Expression

Post by Isgrimnur »

Hawley's a hypocrite, not that that should be surprising to anyone.

Image

Post Reply