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Freedom of Expression and the Flight from Reason

The last few years have seen acrimonious public clashes about the value of free speech, with activists both on the Left and the Right accusing the other side of trying to silence them. ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ are, admittedly, not particularly informative terms, since there are significant differences within each camp. But each is concerned that the other is trying to silence it, whether by means of censorship or intimidation.

It is hard to be sure of the true extent of this hostility to free speech, since much of the evidence is anecdotal and, of course, the plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘compelling data.’ For example, much of the conflict about free speech is focused on university campuses. I have taught thousands of students in the UK, including, more recently, American students studying in London, and I have rarely encountered petulant ‘snowflakes’ crying out to be protected from offence. Nevertheless, there is plenty of credible evidence that my experience is not wholly representative. There is reason to believe that an increasing number of young people regard unbridled free speech as a threat, showing themselves to be in the grip of rigid and intolerant ways of thinking about disagreement. But what are the intellectual tendencies behind this new intolerance, and how do they creep into popular discourse? The following list is not comprehensive, but nonetheless seems to me to cover the key problems.

1. Excessive Trust in the ‘Authority’ of Strong Feelings. Angry rhetoric seems to demand acceptance just because it is angry; to question it would be an affront to the feelings of angry people. We are living in a culture that celebrates intense emotions, spreading the idea that disregarding these emotions somehow invalidates the people who experience them. Patiently trying to unpick the reasoning being angrily expressed is seen as an affront.

2. Indifference to the Principle of Charity. How often do you hear that ‘X says A, but is really saying B’? It is hard to defuse the suspicion created. For example, if you were to remark in the wake of #MeToo that some people accused of sexual assault are innocent, it may be assumed that you don’t care about the victims of assault, or that you think everyone who makes an accusation is a liar or fantasist. The inference is a non-sequitur, of course, but because there are some people who mask their indifference to victims by loudly standing up for the accused, it is assumed that you are one of them. Some people have difficulty seeing that taking complainants very seriously, and being concerned about giving the accused a fair hearing, is not a zero-sum game.

3. Guilt by Association. Make a point that is also made by a widely despised source, and many people will assume you agree with most of the other things the source says. This fails to allow that you can agree with it on one issue, without sympathising with it in general, or that you can agree with it, while having completely different reasons for doing so. You may also falsely be accused of getting your ideas from the hated outlet. In the UK, leftists will contemptuously suggest that you got your views from the Daily Mail, a popular right-wing newspaper that is hated with a vengeance by the Left. Right-wingers will sneer that you got your opinions from The Guardian, a left-leaning newspaper derided by the Right. If you agree with one thing that the paper says, it is assumed that you agree with that paper’s stance across the board.

4. Normalisation of Hyperbole. This is now so pervasive that it goes unnoticed. The mainstream media regularly talk up ‘epidemics’ and ‘traumas’ – even if the mundane reality is that there has been a modest, and perhaps short-lived, incidence of a bad thing, and some people suffer some distress. If you question whether there really is an epidemic, you may be accused of denying the occurrence of the bad thing in question, since the term ‘epidemic’ is increasingly used to mean ‘incidence.’

5. The Genetic Fallacy. In textbooks on informal logic, this is roughly defined as the error of basing conclusions about a thing solely from facts about its origins. For instance, saying that ‘Man is really a hairless ape’ suggests that, because humans are descended from ape-like ancestors, humans must be ape-like. Novel versions of the genetic fallacy appear in discussions of several contentious issues.

Take, for instance, the campaign to remove ‘whiteness’ from university curricula, or at least to balance the curricula with ‘non-white’ ideas. This movement has genuine merit. If curricula were originally designed by people with power and influence, some of the ideas they promote probably reflect those people’s interests and viewpoints, to the detriment of other genuinely important perspectives. But it is easy to be led from this to another idea: that the perspectives themselves are ‘white’ and must be bad for that reason. Christianity, science, and the ideas of the Enlightenment were exported to much of the world by white European colonial powers. But it does not follow that the ideas spread by colonisation were intrinsically ‘white European ideas’ (except in the banal sense that the people exporting them were white Europeans). Nor does it follow that the ideas were bad, just because colonial rule was unjust and oppressive in numerous ways. To suppose otherwise shows something like magical thinking: anything touched by, or associated with, something bad must itself be bad.

Moreover, in certain corners of academe, the free speech ideal is being attacked for a related reason: it is oppressive. For example, in an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Kate Manne and Jason Stanley argue that:

The notion of freedom of speech is being co-opted by dominant social groups, distorted to serve their interests, and used to silence those who are oppressed and marginalized. All too often, when people depict others as threats to freedom of speech, what they really mean is, “Quiet!”

So, at least on one reading of this somewhat ambiguous passage, the very notion of free speech is suspect, because it is used by people who wish to maintain their dominance over others. On the other hand, perhaps the authors mean that, although the ideal of free speech is admirable, it is misused by people who want to silence the oppressed. That would suggest that the ‘dominant social groups’ do not really care about free speech at all. But if this charitable interpretation is the correct one, it isn’t clearly spelt out.

What is one to make of this? Certainly, articulate, assertive and well-educated people might express their opinions very effectively and to a wide public, making it difficult for people who lack some of these attributes to answer them. This may be partly because their parents didn’t have the money to buy them a better education. But this is hardly a good criticism of the “notion of freedom of speech.” At most, what has been shown is that more people should have freedom of speech, not fewer. And I suggest that we bring this about not by silencing discussion, but by spreading it. Curtailing speech because the speaker is privileged risks suppressing good ideas as well as bad ones, and in the long run that is good for no one.

6. Opportunistic Relativism. An opinion might appear doubtful or arbitrary, because it is only from ‘a particular perspective’ that it seems true. This observation is not entirely misguided, since it is obvious that a perspective that is shaped by a certain social background is susceptible to bias (though it is unlikely that the perspective is shaped only by that background). If a British Tory minister proclaims that the state benefits system in the UK is working well, it is certainly worth asking whether he or she has ever had to use it. But the ‘Only from the perspective of X’ rhetoric is responsible for muddying many waters. For example, to say: “It is only from the perspective of evolutionary biology that the theory of natural selection seems true” or: “It is only from the perspective of western medical science that western medicine seems efficacious” conjures up the seductive idea that there must be equally legitimate perspectives from which these things should be rejected. To ask what these alternative perspectives are, and whether they are good ones to adopt, attracts the knowing glance, the sigh and the eye-roll – for these questions naively ignore the fact that talk of what is ‘true’ and ‘good’ is indelibly tainted by some sort of supremacism.

7. A Manichean Mindset. This cannot tolerate the idea that bad things – such as racism and sexism – come in degrees. For example, some behaviour of men towards women is very sexist, while other behaviour is mildly sexist and hence not very bad. But the Manichean mindset perceives the denial that something is very bad as a denial that it is bad at all. This way of thinking is found among many mainstream commentators, frequently exemplified in right-wing TV channels in the US and left-liberal news outlets in the UK, and contributes to the normalisation of hyperbole that I referred to – which, in turn, gives fuel to moral panics.

8. The ‘Born-Again’ Experience. This is a powerful ally of the Manichean mindset. Fresh converts to belief systems can now confidently interpret their pre-conversion lives through the prism of an all-encompassing, all-explaining world-view. Every bad personal experience now ‘fits’ that new view. The convert to a fundamentalist religion now thinks that his new-found faith can perfectly explain everything that was wrong with his life up to that point: perhaps Satan caused his problems, and his conversion is the work of God. The convert to the ‘alt-right’ now ‘sees’ that all his failures and frustrations in life were caused by ‘political correctness,’ whose real aim was to belittle and silence him. Many converts to what now passes for feminism perceive the way their lives have gone as explained by an all-powerful ‘gender hierarchy,’ which only those who accept the interpretations urged by gender studies courses are equipped to detect.

Since so many things in these converts’ lives fit the proposed explanation, they now seem to confirm that explanation. As philosopher Stephen Law points out in his book Believing Bullshit, this leap is easy to make, and hard to refute, even if it is wrong. It is fertile ground for conspiracist thinking. For the underlying evil – be it ‘Satan’, ‘political correctness,’ or ‘patriarchy’ – is exceedingly cunning and well-hidden, and can be unmasked only by initiates who have internalised the necessary theories. Consequently, evidence that might disconfirm that new belief system is not sought, or if it is inadvertently found, is shoehorned into the favoured explanation, by means of immunising strategies.

9. An Absence of Mercy. When you do something wrong, the decent thing is to admit it, apologise, try to do better, and perhaps make reparations. And while the person receiving the apology may be within her rights not to accept it, it is often decent and reasonable to accept it and let go of the matter. But for constitutionally angry people, apologies are nothing but an admissions of guilt, which demand humiliating punishment. Those who hunt down ‘heretics’ and ‘deviants’ make endless demands for apologies and reparations, even though it is obvious that these remedies will never be enough. ‘Offenders’ are reduced to grovelling and even to inventing new charges against themselves, especially if they were once enthusiastic witchfinders who have found themselves hoist by their own petard.

10. Ideological Hypervigilance. The word ‘ideology,’ used colloquially, refers to social or political beliefs, but in the original Marxist context it denotes myths the real, hidden purpose of which is to justify power and hierarchy. The hypervigilance can apply to both these things. It takes the form of challenging the language used or the assumptions beneath what is said. Whether the challenges show excessive vigilance is a moot point that merits discussion. Certainly, challenges can be reasonable: for example, far fewer people than in the recent past now talk of ‘spastics,’ the ‘mentally subnormal,’ or ‘illegitimate children.’ Language like this was among the concerns in the air when the phrase ‘political correctness’ appeared in the early 1990s. Certain ways of referring to people – especially women and minorities – were deemed to, and often genuinely did, reveal a contemptuous attitude towards them, and sometimes functioned to justify their subordination. Drawing attention to this did some good, and I hope the phrase ‘political correctness’ disappears; it has outlived its usefulness and is now mostly uttered by peevish commentators and saloon bar bores.

Nevertheless, whether a form of words is denigrating, or correctly describes something undesirable, can be hard to tell. The hypervigilance shows itself in the unquestioned assumption that the words are harmful, and leads to endless demands for corrections which can make it impossible to say what needs to be said. It also holds up the flow of discussion, re-directing it into unproductive tributaries that go nowhere, and from which there is no way back, since its original subject has been forgotten.

In academia, hypervigilance takes on a more refined form, which is particularly noticeable on social media. In the ‘community’ of academics that I inhabit, there are individuals who enjoy tripping up political opponents on minor points of logic, of demanding precision where none is possible, and finding pedantic, snarky ways to insinuate that people who disagree with them are stupid or professionally incompetent. I am all for intellectual rigour and am embarrassed when shown that I have committed some gaffe. But when the dispute is all about the gaffe and not about finding a charitable way to interpret it, it leads to intellectual strutting and ‘smartness-signalling.’ Intellectuals excel at this, taking cleverness to indicate wisdom.

*     *      *

Here, then, are ten signs of the intolerant mindset. I could add more, but these explain much of the current hostility to freedom of expression and the hawkish obsession with secular ‘sin’ and ‘heresy.’ People who disagree with intolerant people, or implicitly signal their adoption of wrong opinions, are not only mistaken but wicked – and wickedness must be suppressed. Sometimes, indeed, the targets of wrath really are objectionable. The anti-fascist (‘Antifa’) movement in America is intolerant, but its targets – when they genuinely are white supremacists – are even worse. However, bearing Freudian projection in mind, we see how easily censorious fanatics detect their own vices in those they despise. “They don’t want us to speak freely, so why should we let them speak freely?” “They are full of hate, so why shouldn’t we hate them?”

J.S. Mill’s ‘On Liberty’

I have long thought that the intellectual solution to this is the classical one, applicable to almost any place and time, and articulated by J. S. Mill in mid-Victorian England. For anyone wanting to understand today’s free speech debates, Mill’s On Liberty should be required reading. Mill’s arguments are not beyond criticism, and the last thing he would have wanted is for his own views to join the ossified dogmas that he so eloquently warns against. But his two most powerful arguments still stand, and have a wonderfully evergreen quality.

First, anyone who wants to stop others from expressing their opinions is, in effect, assuming his own infallibility, and is trying to deprive would-be hearers of the opportunity to decide the matter for themselves. Mill warns that an opinion being suppressed may be true, and that anyone should have the right to work out whether it is true. This is perhaps the most powerful argument for free speech, and in the current climate it deserves to be continually aired.

Second, Mill reminds us that there is usually some truth on all sides of a dispute, even when most of what is said by one side is nonsense. However awful the personality and pronouncements of Donald Trump, there is some truth in what he says. Even if some radical leftist theories are overblown, there is also truth in what they say – for instance, that we should be alert to ideological thinking, in the Marxist sense, and we should acknowledge that many people’s views are unheard because they don’t have the confidence or education to air them persuasively.

But the solution is not to abandon the idea of reason and objectivity, or silence views just because they offend. Instead, the media and institutions of learning should spread an intellectual culture of reason, and an ethical culture of patience, humility, and charity. These intellectual and ethical resources have tremendous power, and for all we know, the future of civilisation – or at least civilised discourse – will largely depend on them.

 

Piers Benn is a Visiting Lecturer in Philosophy at Heythrop College, University of London, and an Adjunct Professor at Fordham University London Centre. He can be followed on Twitter @PiersBenn 

41 Comments

  1. The notion of freedom of speech is being co-opted by dominant social groups, distorted to serve their interests, and used to silence those who are oppressed and marginalized. All too often, when people depict others as threats to freedom of speech, what they really mean is, “Quiet!”

    This touches on what I perceive as a real gap in the intellectual defences of the defenders of free speech. Which is that two speakers cannot speak freely at the same place and the same time. The one interferes with the other. So a speaker who wishes to speak, and listeners who wish to hear him, do require “Quiet!” from other speakers in order for the communication to take place.

    Attempts to disrupt other people’s speech by obstruction, occupation, chanting etc are often portrayed by the disrupters and their defenders as mere attempts to put their own point of view. And so in turn, attempts to prevent the disruption can be portrayed as attempts to suppress the speech of the disrupters.

    In practice, of course, it is usually pretty easy to see that such complaints are disingenuous, because the protesters have gone out of their way to synchronise their protests with the original speaker’s speech, when they have a choice of a thousand other times and places to make their point. But it seems to me that the defenders of free speech have paid insufficient attention to creating a rhetorically effective algorithm to determine who has priority when two speakers wish to speak in the same place at the same time.

    The second point which I think is overlooked is the obverse of the freedom of speech and that is the freedom to listen. In both cases, the freedoms “to” must also contain the freedoms “not to”. We lack a good algorithm for determining when and how an unwilling listener can signal his unwillingness to listen.

    In both cases, the problems are fairly easy to solve on private property (including private print and electronic property.) It is easy enough for the property owner to set the rules. But in the public space the solutions are more difficult. It’s easy to say for example that an unwilling listener can protect himself against speech he doesn’t want to listen to, by moving out of earshot. But that might sometimes be easier said than done (perhaps you live at No. 24 Demonstration Alley.)

    And as for the conflict between two speakers for the same time and place, the public space has to have some way of creating the necessary “Quiet” – some way of carving out a small temporary right for a speaker an his listeners to speak and listen unmolested by hecklers – but which does not prevent the hecklers expressing their own views at a slightly different time or place.

  2. Dave C. says

    Very well thought out article. My one and perhaps major criticism is that I do feel it understates the suffocating effects, and explosive side-effects of a now terribly intolerant “political correctness”…..and the quotation marks used in the article might indicate to some that you feel “political correctness” is not a huge issue to write home about. Perhaps you felt that political correctness was too vague a term to pay it much due, and you may be right about that, but I need to say what follows.

    I live in California, and I would submit that many of the items you listed in the article are very possibly side-effects of a political correctness that has choked the permissible range of conversation out of many spheres of public life since the mid 90’s.

    73% of Republicans and 58% of Independants in the US report feeling they cannot openly say things they believe, as opposed to 47% of Democrats.
    So majorities of every political leaning other than Democrat say they are essentially afraid of being exposed as guilty of Wrongthink. This is not a healthy state of affairs.

    I lean left politically, and yet I have been horrified by the constant condemntion of every view that is even slightly to the right of MSNBC or the NYT. In amazement after Trump’s election I watched as first Antifa, and then every major media outlet save FOX(for obvious reasons)began slandering and conflating anyone essentially not with “The Resistance” as being Alt-Right or playing footsie with the Alt-Right, even if they weren’t at all fond of Trump. It’s not just “social justice warriors” on college campuses that are doing this, but major media outlets have slipped into this habit more and more over the last decade, and now I can find examples of sloppy and shoddy conflation just about every day in HuffPost, the NYT, MSNBC, CNN, The Washington Post, The Guardian.

    In conjunction with this I am also amazed at the impramatur of these large corporate media groups to condone, genuflect to, and celebrate authors of articles that proudly use the terminology of “toxic whiteness” whereupon it is smugly paraded in front of millions in the public square. It is perceived by at least half of America as blatant racism being openly honored, despite the apparent presumption that this same half of America should have the elite training to grasp that racism in the 21st century is understood by the elite educated class to only be something that white people can meaningfully be guilty of(an idea which itself epitomizes racism). Because this “Republican, conservative, Alt-Right” half of America doesn’t accept this definition of racism, they are condemned as racist. See Kafka’s “The Trial”.

    This ill-conceived project to reduce hundreds of millions of people of a certain skin color(all of whom so obviously have wildly varied histories, national origins and status in the socioeconomic spectrum from destitute to the 1%), into a monolithic generic oppressor class is such a betrayl of the Civil Rights Movement and ML King Jr.
    This rigid and blinkered worldview has indoctrinated whole portions of the last two generations of college students with regressive and blatantly racialized thinking dressed up as enlightened Critical Theory, which ironically enough has it’s roots in various theories of The Frankfurt School, a white male european system of thought which is purportedly the very target category of it’s own analysis.

    By contrast MLK Jr. appealed to the “American Civil Religion” as it has been called, asking every American to live up to the noble vision of America’s founding ideals as written by the framers of the Constitution, despite the failures and betrayls of those principles historically. Not anymore.

    Now college students memorize totalizing “matrices of intersectional oppression” diagrams and condemn their diversity and equity departments for failing to acknowledge their oppression. If they could only see how utterly privileged they are as compared to the vast majority of people in the world….

    To all those who dismiss this phenomenon as some trifle, I insist they are blind to how naively dangerous it will be in the long term as it leaks out ever more onto the cultural landscape.
    The insistence -and it has now crept into certain niches in most corporate media- that it is not just intelligent and right, but a moral imperative to denounce “whiteness”, systems of whiteness, structures of whiteness, the whiteness of whiteness-is asinine, pernicious and self-destructive. It gives tacit permission to the “Alt-Right” to indulge in the same racialized, toxic form of group identity politics. The sacrilization of every identity group, based on the accidents of race, gender and class in that order, coupled with the selective and approved public condemnation of a single group -whiteness (implicit is right-leaning white people who are supposedly too racist not to understand that they represent a system of hateful oppression and so refuse to denounce themselves out of said racist hatred) , is the most divisive social and political project I can imagine.

    I know the Right has it’s own day time radio talk-shows and FOX that can do variations of the same conflating and hyperbolic condemnation, but there is a feeling very clearly in the air for over a decade now all up and down the west and east coast and in most large urban centers that conservative views are not permissible in the open, whereas liberal views are overwhelmingly blessed and genuflected to in the public arenas of high culture.

    I come from the Left and so know it best, and am trying to apply some tough love to people I used to feel kinship with…. I would hope those on the Right are doing the same within their own circles of friends. The Left, the liberal corporate media, and the Democratic establishment need to have a reality check here, they are undoubtedly the major architects of the present regime of political correctness, unlike in pre 1960’s America when the Right authored much of the Orthodoxy.

    But when in 2017 only 7% of journalists identify as Republican, there is a major problem, which was reflected in the apocalyptic shock and horror of the entire spread of big broadcast media(with the exception of a gloating FOX)when Trump won the election. This is a side effect of political correctness run horribly amok, just as the shock and horror in the UK over Brexit was a sign of a society left unable to gauge it’s own reality due to sociopolitical orthodoxy-induced deafness and blindness.

    In higher education the political homogeneity is undeniable, and there are liberal professors like psychologist Jonathan Haidt who are seriously concerned about it. Surveys show liberal vs conservative professors at 5 to 1, and in social sciences and cultural study programs where students learn about their fellow human beings it is around 25 to 1. This has long term destructive effects not visible at first glance to those who might celebrate the seeming triumph of their value system.

    Many studies over the past three decades have shown a clear tendency for groups that both think alike and dominate a given arena to push each other inexorably towards more and more extreme positions, by virtue of the always cited “echo-chamber” and confirmation bias loops among other mechanims. When there is no appreciable or consistent counterforce of diverging political ideology in the journalistic and academic spheres, the professionals that work in those fields become unaware or unconcerned of the potential errors and internal contradictions in their own point of view, which then begin to coalesce into fiercely defended dogmatic ways of thinking that brook no dissent especially when defended by institutional power. The errors and excesses of any given political ideology compound on themselves and magnify as the generations go by if they are not continuously challenged by people of good will who do not agree. So, to me and many other more learned commentators, it is undeniable that the political correctness that has developed has been titanic and malignant in both major media and academia, and was a significant factor to Trump’s win.

    However, I must say America has pulled through many dark moments in it’s history, is remarkably resilient on the ground where real life happens, and so I would say my confidence level in my own pessimism is low.

    • I appreciate your response, which is well thought-out; thanks for taking the trouble. I put ‘political correctness’ is scare quotes not because I think there is *no* use for the term, but to highlight that I think that from the mouths of the saloon bar bores I mentioned, it is can be a reflex aimed at automatically denigrating a concern for real injustice. But I agree with the thrust of what you say. Here in the UK, I suspect the situation is not as bad as in the US. And all of us, whatever our politics, are susceptible to confirmation bias, seeing examples of things that confirm our views while ignoring things that don’t. Hence elements in the ‘Left’ see racism, patriarchy etc. everywhere and often fail to recognise scenarios where these things could show themselves, but don’t. Elements in the ‘Right’ see ‘political correctness’ everywhere and perhaps overestimate its dominance. But your points about the dominance of a certain view in the media is well-taken, and it does indeed trickle down to the young – who are so used to hearing about things like ‘toxic masculinity’ that they come to seem normal; things it is fine to refer to without ever asking what they really are, why they are meant to bad, and how widespread they are.

      I am not so naive as to think that patient reasoning will get through to everyone who thinks like this. But a little of it might get through to people whose minds are not yet made up. Arguments like mine are not really meant for fanatics – for they are unreachable. They are meant to compete for the attention of those who are stil listening.

      • Dave C. says

        Thanks for the response Piers, much appreciated. Your article was extremely articulate and considered, and I admit that some of the phenomenon you described may be more accurately described outside the sort of barstool banter idea of political correctness. Perhaps sociopolitical Orthodoxy is a better or more accurate term.

        I never went to college, and although not teaching classes my father is a professor of Art Philosophy….. I talk with him about the climate in academia from time to time and he certainly has Tales of Orthodoxy to haunt me with. Part of my alarm with this subject, other than a national unraveling, is that I have an 8 year old daughter and for obvious reasons I pay extra close attention to what is progressing(or regressing under the guise of progressing)in our educational system.

        Anyhow, I thought you might be interested to see the following video of a discussion between social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson, specifically about the topic we’re all discussing. Very illuminating perspective from the psychological angle. Haidt is being interviewed by Peterson so it’s really mostly Haidt describing what has been occuring in the US Academy. I think you’re right in saying that things are further down the rabbit hole in the US…..that is also Haidt’s assessment. He has been looking into this phenomenon since about 2015 and describes it as an existential crisis for the Academy, due in part to the fact that surveys show close to 75% of Republicans now believe college is doing more harm to society than good, an increase from 40% just 3 years ago. Haidt has a very revealing chronology he describes as to some major factors that have led to the present situation.

        Peterson in my view has been horribly smeared over the past year by the conflation-slander machine that is in high gear, due to his confronting the Canadian Human Rights board about implementing a new bill, C16, which de-facto made alternative pronoun usage for non-binary and transgendered people something compelled by law. He made the very cogent argument that compelled speech for any reason is a very dangerous idea, totalitarian in nature, and has been in a pitched battle with the established Orthodoxy since that time. His warnings about the unintended consequences of bill C16 have already been vindicated just within 6 months of the bills passage by an incident at Wilfred Laurie University. He is passionate and outspoken, which makes him a threatening and very public challenge to the gatekeepers of dogmatic Orthodoxy. The interview is a good 45 minutes long or so, but well worth the time if you haven’t seen it yet.

        Carry on Piers, I look forward to reading your next piece!

        https://youtu.be/4IBegL_V6AA

  3. Greg Lorriman says

    Free political speech is very different to free speech. Humans have a quality we call weakness and our laws should reflect that. Laws that constrain porn, Marylin Manson (a horrific influence on teens) etc are needed. Even a liberty to political speech should perhaps be limited to the debating chamber and/or private ‘publications’ (we don’t seem to have a word for that).

    Spiked’s (spiked.com another free-speech rag, with a marxist twist) version of free speech, perhaps like Quillette’s, is the fanatical type of taking it to its logical conclusion. This is the same thing that liberal capitalists/anarchists do that logically must result in monopoly and corporations replicating the socialist, command-and-control hierachy in microcosm. And which is rightly criticised by Leftists. But a conservative capitalism, with intelligent restraint and constraint against the private monopolist and race to the bottom competition etc, is a humanised capitalism that is integrated in to the rest of reality instead of being put in to a conceptual vacuum where it becomes a monster. Similarly, free speech needs to be humanised, within the context of human needs and the need to avoid undue influence of the uneducated, immature etc We aren’t robots or AIs or disembodied angels, and there are realities which our ideas must conform to; rather like “grace on nature”.

    • “Laws that constrain porn, Marylin Manson (a horrific influence on teens) etc are needed”
      So you want to give the govt power of censorship based on broad nebulous categories?

      • Without a shared set of universal values there cannot be agreement about porn, violence, reason, truth, good or evil. Religion as provided those common values. Atheism, scientology, demonism, and tree worship have reduced the influence of our Judeo/Christian heritage. There is no way forward through this maze. There is a return to immutable truths or there is chaos.

  4. Maurice says

    Dave C.,
    I completely agree. It’s why I can’t support the Democratic party anymore. What concerns me is that people are not becoming more reasonable- it’s just the opposite. They’re becoming more extreme, more fanatical. How long can a country exist like that? I know there is the idea that, “There have been problems before, America will be fine.” But I think, Everything is fine… until it isn’t. Nothing lasts forever, and America is no exception. I don’t think it will be tomorrow, or next week. But I don’t see a bright future for the United States.

  5. Robert Paulson says

    There have been a lot of these kinds of well-reasoned, “classically liberal” thought-pieces about the current state of our public discourse. They all follow basically the same format: observational summaries about the current state of affairs, then expression of befuddlement and dismay at the intolerance on “both sides”, a careful argument about how said “both sides” have their own merit, followed by the inevitable invocation of JS Mill along with a plea for everybody to calm down and to be more rational.

    Waving a copy of “On Liberty” won’t stop the mob of angry totalitarians from storming his office and dragging him into a struggle session to confess his cis-white-male privilege. Once that happens, maybe he will realize that these people are not just poor souls led astray by emotions and ideology that can be brought back into the fold though a carefully reasoned argument about the importance of the “marketplace of ideas”. These people (the the ideologies that process them) are only interested in one thing and one thing only – power.

    You rightly cite Mill’s point that people who do not believe in free speech believe they are infallible. This isn’t a defect of the ideology, its a central feature. These people cannot be reasoned with because truth isn’t the goal – they already have the Truth – power is. The sooner thinking people like him begin to realize that the sooner we can mount a resistance – we have less time than we may think. Today’s campus radicals are tomorrow’s teachers, judges, managers, lawyers and lawmakers and millennials are already moving into our institutions, bringing their “therapeutic totalitarian” creed with them.

    • @Robert
      As a classically liberal milennial (maybe even gen z?) currently in college, I am completely with you.
      But what is the strategy? How do we resist their illiberal totalitarianism?

      • Robert Paulson says

        @Max

        I don’t know. There has been some discussion in Christian circles about something called the “Benedict Option” (after St. Benedict, the Christian monk that created the monastic system and helped keep Western civilization alive during the Dark Ages) in recognition that Christians have lost the culture war and that now they are fighting a rear-guard action that requires them to basically withdraw from public life and focus on preserving the faith through what they consider to be a new cultural dark age.

        Now I’m not a Christian, but I can see why they are discussing taking such extreme measures and I think that it could offer some lessons for “ideological dissidents” such as ourselves, namely the need to form independent communities and networks of like-minded people with the long-term goal of building institutions that can withstand a hostile culture (for example, private K-12 schools that offer a traditional liberal education).

        I think that the battle is already over in some places like California (where I live) and other “blue areas”. Places like these are gone and can’t be recovered. As the culture continues to fragment, people will continue to sort geographically separate into places based on values (see “The Great Sort” by Bill Bishop). I see no reason why this can’t be an opportunity for people to start thinking about the long term and begin to vote with their feet.

        I know this seems drastic, but if you are thinking on a time-scale measured in decades, it makes sense, especially for an ideological minority that may never have the numbers to make a difference nationally, but maybe make a difference in states and regions.

      • Good point. In my classes, I try to present different views and then tease out the reasoning Socratically. It sometimes works – and in any case, I don’t think most millennials think in this Manichean way. But the ideas are in the air, they are picked up, half-understood, and gain some casual assent, without (in most cases) having a particularly toxic effect. Most people grow out of them, anyway. As real responsibilities slowly take over, they fade into the background.

        • Robert Paulson says

          Thanks for the reply. I agree, most people have lives, jobs and families and better things to do. This is both a curse and a blessing. First a blessing because there is more to life than politics (thank goodness), a curse because what you are left with are the small but dedicated ideologues who can make an large impact disproportionate to their numbers. All you need are some critical positions filled by people with a radical ideology and you can make large changes (as some of my examples in another reply illustrated).

    • @Robert

      Hatching under your comment, because it reminds me of an even more fundamental ideology (a meta-ideology?) which pervades contemporary thinking. That would be postmodernism – which I admit is tough to define and is relentlessly obfuscated – but seems, at its core, to posit that Truth Is Relative. And while the following is debatable, I personally have little doubt that the teaching of postmodernist thinkers (e.g. Foucault, Derrida, etc.) has influenced the relativism found within academia. Note: I don’t think these thinkers and their ideas are necessarily *wrong*; I just feel it important to acknowledge that the diffusion of their ideas in academia might have set up some trouble for present and future generations – and, naturally, future civilization.

      Scott Alexander of SlateStarCodex recently put it like this, and I paraphrase out of laziness: both postmodernists and [scientifically-minded people] understand that obtaining the Truth is a lofty and occasionally futile endeavor. And upon this realization that obtaining the Truth is nearly an impossibility, postmodernists say “let’s go shopping!” while the [scientifically-minded people] buckle down and go “well we better start getting really really good at finding Truth”. Some hyperbole, sure, but the obvious variance within the dichotomy, as could be illustrated from anecdotal or mediated examples, has its merits.

      Which I bring up to mention this: Ascertainment of the Truth is often discarded by radical types, who cling to the relativism of Truth – which, as Professor Benn mentions, has its merits; but this relativism *does not generalize* to all contexts, and this is important for everyone to remember. On a multiple choice test, you either get the question right or wrong; whether the knowledge required was constructed and introduced to you by [x group in power] is a separate can of worms or tweetstorms.

      But on the notion of mediated examples (i.e. coming from media), I’ll add that (and we should be mindful of) the availability heuristic and attentional biases, on top of this pandemic of heightened tribalism, which seem to heavily distort our thinking about these ‘political issues’. As an undergraduate at a *very* Left campus myself – New York University – I don’t see this radical stuff going on with my own two eyes; and I’ll mention anecdotally that I have had native class discussions about the Left’s intolerance. Of course, I think these things are in the minority, and there are selection effects curating my experience. For example, I don’t get laid.

      • Robert Paulson says

        @Dave

        “I don’t see this radical stuff going on with my own two eyes; and I’ll mention anecdotally that I have had native class discussions about the Left’s intolerance.”

        That is because the changes happen slowly over time and there is no visible change in the aesthetics, unlike in 20th century revolutions where people wore uniforms and movements had their own flags etc. What I think is happening is the slow spreading of ideology through our institutions, slowly transforming them from the inside without people necessarily realizing it, but it is definitely happening. People are educated in leftist ideologies eventually end up in decision-making positions inside powerful institutions, like bar associations, government agencies and corporations.

        A great example of this happening is the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights which was responsible for the “Dear Colleague” letter that created the current draconian sexual assault tribunals on college campuses, which was obviously written by feminists and victims-rights advocates. Another example of the OCR was their mandate that transgender students get to use the bathrooms of their choosing. That decision affected hundreds of thousands of schools and millions of students. It was eventually repealed when the Trump administration came in, but it goes to show what can happen when you have radicals inside a powerful institution like the OCR. Transgenderism and this whole idea that you can choose your gender is straight out of Queer Theory and Gender Studies, yet here it is being imposed on a country of 320 million people by the federal government. Why? Because the people working for the OCR have a political agenda. The only thing that is really up for debate is the merit of this particular decision regarding bathrooms, but I think the argument that ideologues were running the OCR until recently is indisputable.

        I was recently looking at the FBI’s uniform crime reporting system and I noticed that they had an announcement about a change in the definition of rape. They changed it to remove the word “forcible” (what normal people generally think of as rape). In the notice they said they had done so in consultation with something called the National Women’s Law Center, which is a feminist legal organization. Regardless of the merit of this particular change to the definition of rape (it seemed reasonable to me), the purpose of the change was to expand the definition, which is in keeping with the general feminist push to expand and redefine “gender crimes” to include more and more people and more and more behavior. The point is that the FBI is being influenced by advocacy groups like the National Women’s Law Center, and nobody would be the wiser unless you happen to be on the FBI’s website or are somehow involved in that field of law.

        Another example of existing institutions being radicalized comes from Ontario, where the child protection law was recently changed to include gender expression as one of the “rights” children have under Ontario law. What this effectively means is that the state could theoretically confiscate your children if you refused to affirm their gender identity choices. That represents a massive intrusion of a radical ideology into the private lives of citizens using the coercive power of the state.

        In all of these examples, an already existing institution was hijacked by ideology. No visible changing of the guard took place (although I recently spotted a transgender flag flying above city hall in a neighboring town).

        • I believe the NWLC guidance on rape definition was arrived at because of the burgeoning incidence of assault on unconscious victims.

          Numerous defenses made claims to the effect that it wasn’t “forcible” if the victim fails to resist. Thus the legal reasoning made this kind of assault unprosecutable.

          That is how perverted male privilege works.

      • Robert Paulson says

        @Dave

        Your points regarding postmodernism are well taken. Its a multi-headed hydra of a beast that is difficult to locate or disentangle from existing doctrines. I’ve been calling these people “postmodern leftists” for lack of a better term. The problem with scientifically minded people is that while they are busy hunting for truth, postmodern-types are busy hunting for power, and once they get it, they will have the power to define truth (or at least, that is the goal).

    • You are sadly right that reason does not reach those with the totalitarian mentality and it would be naive to think such people can be influenced by earnest discussion of Mill et al. Some of them, as you say, are after power and not truth. What needs to be done is present those who might be influenced by nonsense with counter-arguments, conducted in an open-minded way, before it is too late.

  6. Laws that constrain porn, Marylin Manson (a horrific influence on teens) etc are needed

    Not only is your example woefully out of date Gramps, but giving the state control over relatively trivial pop cultural matters makes their case for political censorship stronger.

    If they can control over what kids listen to on their headphones or in the privacy of their bedrooms they can dictate what is said in the public square.

  7. Pingback: Freedom of Expression and the Flight from Reason - Telzilla

  8. Carl Sageman says

    There are some wonderful comments in this thread. In particular, it was important to mention post modernism and the relativity of truth. I openly admit I’m one of those people who seek truth and see little benefit in relative truth over objective truth.

    The following links include a detailed assessment of history taught across all universities in Australia, showing how far our systems have been impacted by identity politics. This highlights how extreme things have become.

    http://ipa.org.au/ipa-today/rise-identity-politics-audit-history-teaching-australian-universities-2017
    http://ipa.org.au/ipa-today/left-parading-social-science-history
    http://ipa.org.au/publications-ipa/in-the-news/universities-value-identity-politics-western-civilisation-heres-proof

    During my holidays with family, I’ve taken time to listen to different people about TV and newspapers in Australia. I’ve asked some specific questions (eg. Why are most of the news readers female? Why are there so many pink logos on TV, especially when the colour schemes involving pink are gaudy and clashing? Why is Australia Day being labelled as offensive, etc). Many people were shocked at how obvious some of my statements were, but they’d never quite worked out why they have grown to dislike certain TV stations who exhibit these characteristics (ABC was mentioned frequently). After some quizzing, one term that was consistently agreed on was divisiveness of the media. It is causing a lot anxiety across most age groups that I spoke with.

    I believe the author has tried to keep an open mind as many of the points raised are valid. However, I do not support seeing our societies as “too white”, nor do I simplify the past down to oppression of women and minorities. When men were forced to go to war, or poems like “that’s what girls are made of”, or boys who were physically destroyed from working in Sicilian mines by the start of adulthood – were these oppression of women and minorities, or are these just isolated facts in a much more complex world? Many women voted in the U.K. In the 1840s (before most men could). Was that female privilege / matriarchy, or simply a set of much more complex circumstances? Keep in mind there is a totally one sided reporting on sex on similar topics, almost everywhere (BBC, NYT, The Guardian, Sydney Morning Herald, etc).

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-politics/9933592/Women-voted-75-years-before-they-were-legally-allowed-to-in-1918.html

    I highlight these examples because (a) the author specifically stated about the adversity of women and minorities (b), because the modern reviews of history are usually very skewed (most likely because of gender studies) and (c) because it is these exact emphases of narrow facts that drive divisiveness. Whether it be the author’s comments about “whiteness”, those poor “women and minorities”, or how racist Australia Day is… it’s all designed to fragment society, to generate animosity among people. They don’t look for the commonality in humanity, they selectively highlight differences. They also seek to generalise and stereotype people based on their biology. Even worse, views and facts are almost always presented from one ideological perspective only.

    Minor clarification required. There have definitely been injustices in the past and there will continue to be injustices. I am colour blind because I don’t care about your skin colour (in post modernism that makes me racist), I do care about your socioeconomic status and I don’t care about your sex. I do not believe women are weak and they certainly don’t need special privilege. These views are extremely unpopular in today’s media. Most people will be diplomatic and tiptoe around these topics but I won’t. These ideas need to stop being taboo and need to be discussed. Like Dave C, I believe the situation is dire. Declining birth rates in every western country, violence on university campuses, an extreme majority dis industry and identity politics are but a few of the significant challenges.

  9. nicky says

    Excellent points in an excellent article, Great Job Piers!
    On PoMo (which several commenters mentioned) I’d like to add that the idea itself was essentially good. Why would ideas of more ‘primitive’ societies be written off off-hand? Our own ‘modern’ society has it’s own myths and unevidenced ‘truths’. However, it deteriorated into the idea that “all ‘truths’ are equal”, and that there is no real ‘truth’.
    That is a perversion, eg. the cosmogenic ‘truth’ or ‘truth’ of descent found in science is way superior to the ‘truths’ of medieval belligerent revelation, the sordid promise of eternal life about 2k years ago or the teachings of the angel Moroni.

  10. Re: Normalisation of Hyperbole

    We are drowning in it. How many “Bombshell” stories have we been subjected to over the last two years, when really there was only one – on Nov 8, 2016?

  11. David says

    Interesting and well worth reading.

    I suspect, though, that the author is just a little shy of appearing conservative. The content of nearly all the points in the list of 1 to 10 apply to the Left. Yet the author says at the start that both the Right and the Left try to silence each other. Unless he means by the Right only the alt-Right, then this statement is incorrect. In general, shutting down the opponents is what the Left does. Most of the points in this article show that. The author then finishes by saying how awful Trump’s pronouncements are. It’s seems fairly clear from the rest of the article that he’s of the right. Therefore I think the jibe against Trump, as well as the first paragraph are him striving to appear centrist in the eyes of his peers. On issues like this, I don’t believe anyone can genuinely be called centrist. That’s how this otherwise good article comes across to me.

    • David: that’s a perceptive remark you make about me being shy of appearing conservative. Much depends on what you mean by conservative (and bear in mind I’m British). I don’t trust the present UK conservative government on public services; I voted to remain in the EU (though with significant reservations); I’ve written in support of gay marriage; I have reservations about state-funded religious education and I think neo-liberal economics are largely an excuse for predators. Nevertheless, I was aware that most of those who wouldn’t like my piece would be from the Left, or more accurately, the Cultural Left, and you’re right that I had them mostly in mind when I thought up my list of problematic tendencies. So I am not sure what that makes me, and never really have been.

      • David says

        Thanks for your reply, Piers. Much appreciated. I think my views pretty much match yours, on the issues you’ve mentioned. Deeming someone of the Left or of the Right is admittedly not always straightforward and is perhaps not really necessary. My views on neo-liberal economics concur with yours, and indeed, from what I gather, a great number of those who’d consider themselves conservative in their views are also opposed to neo-liberal economics. I voted Leave in the EU referendum. I believe it’s far easier for corporations to successfully lobby a relatively distant and often anonymous organisation and the EU fits that description. I also greatly value immigration, but am opposed to what I would call mass immigration, which I believe primarily serves two groups. First and foremost corporations. Second, those I consider to be indulgent and essentially vain, agenda-driven left-wingers, who are effectively opposed to the idea of the nation state with defined borders, and who are obsessed with identity politics, and especially with race. So, I cannot be called a Thatcherite, or a left-winger (though I do think many utilities should be government-run and owned), or a supporter of the UK Conservative Party. In a sense I could be called a social conservative. Yet I’m not opposed to gay marriage, for example. If pressed, I’d say I was opposed to abortion in most circumstances. I am not an atheist, but am not a church-goer and have concerns about some of the central beliefs of Christianity. Why do I say all this? Perhaps to now demonstrate to myself that my comment to you was perhaps lacking enough depth to be meaningful.

        Russell – thanks for the link. Indeed people on the Left criticise the Left. Many of Steven Pinker’s views and those of Sam Harris could be considered opposed to some key aspects of modern leftism. Another writer I admire is Brendan O’Neil. He always says he’s left-wing, though often one would struggle to find him disagreeing with most of the articles and even comments on Breitbart, for example.

  12. Stuart says

    I enjoyed your thoughtful article. I only have one bone to pick.

    The claim that white supremists are even worse than antifa.

    You *might* make the claim at an ideological level, but even there it is contestable, antifa are an intolerant violent movement, the fact their intolerance doesn’t fall across current social taboos is a questionable benefit (for example doesn’t stop them attacking and spitting on police who are also people of colour, in fact some of the most vile racial abuse lives here, but at least it isn’t written into their charter so you know swings and roundabouts)

    But at a practical level they are obviously worse.

    You might *might* be able to find 10,000 white supremists in the US. Outside of that their views are universally rejected. It is a wholly defunct ideology.

    So I ask you who is worse miniscule irrelevant minority of political thought or a bunch of violent intolerant assholes who continually play up and radically overstate the threat to justify street violence.

    I might add who’ve successfully punched almost no Nazis.

    And who enjoy this ambiguous status in high faluten thought, as demonstrated in this article.

    The principle of charity is important but if you’re extending intellectual charity to people who beat people with bike locks in the street you’re doing it wrong.

    It doesn’t need to be over thought.

  13. Todd Parola says

    Thank you for the terrific article.

    I’m afraid I might come across as an apologist for a form of Left reaction, but will sally forth anyway.

    Our society is obviously deeply fractured. We simply do not live on the same planet – Others have written about this epistemological crisis more insightfully and succinctly than I can. I believe in short that the reaction on the left is a result of the broad deviation american society has made since Reagan into an all too real dystopia. We are not slouching into it with Trump. We are fully in it.

    See the conflict zones around the world where US forces are active. See the reauthorization of FISA. See the numbers of incarcerated. See the daily citizen video coverage of police murder of citizens. See the black lives matter movement. See the stop and frisk policies of the NYPD. See Charlottesville. See the Trump response to Charlottesville. See the brazen GOP assault on democratic norms starting with Mitch McConnell’s declaration that his first priority was to sink the Obama administration. Se him later deny Obama his SCOTUS nominee.

    There is no loyal opposition. There is no intellectual honesty. There is nothing but a constant goring of civilized values brought about by the cynicism and corruption of a Right Wing which considers education degenerate, and which would define American values by arming every citizen.

    This is not civilized. This is declaring America a wilderness.

    I would say that what some consider to be a slide into ideological intolerance on the Left is in fact the fair expression of horror at what is going on.

    It is a lie that US campuses are bastions of Stalinism. Rather our campuses have become completely corporatized. There are no public or private institutions in this country that can function without massive corporate sponsorship, and there’s a dwindling of granting for science and technology research that isn’t aimed at defense applications – at least obliquely.

    We are literally living in the death throes of democracy and it is not because of a few pissy feminists and politically correct student groups.

    On the matter of the University as a defender of liberal thought, it is a shame there aren’t more conservatives. But conservatives have obviously lost any ability to work credibly in anything less than their own orthodoxy of right wing radio ranting.

    The fact is that every cable personality who cries out “Censorship” is engaging in the most filthy intellectual dishonesty. The Coulters, the Milos Yiannopolises, and the rest of right wing cable star firmament already have immensely amplified voices.

    When NY police commissioner, (thug, convict, etc) Bernard Kerik was booed down at Brown – this was characterized as exemplifying Leftist intolerance. But the fact is that while the university must stand as a site for free discourse it cannot allow itself to be turned into a mouthpiece for normalizing fascist, unconstitutional tactics, like the NYPDs stop and frisk policy. This policy was real unconstitutional and by the way crime has continued to plummet in New York without this police state behavior.

    The State has all the communications power in the world to justify it’s power abuses. The cable media all have vastly more amplified voices than anyone in history.

    So the University would not be remiss to accept the role sometimes of taking a more active curatorial role in discerning the voices which need amplification and those which absolutely do not.

    As we are clearly swimming in a very deep and filthy soup of Christi-Fascism, American universities should not mistake their mission to define worthy discourse with handing the megaphone to the cheapest most cynical and violent personalities in the history of Western Civilization.

    • Daniel PV says

      Todd, what would you like to see in place of the NYPD stop and frisk policy? Forgive my cynicism, but you seem to attach a significant amount of emotional investment into what sounds like a pretty mundane thing. This is police powers for them to stop and search people (searching for drugs? weapons?) I’m not sure what such a policy would look like in NY. I’m from the UK and the police have similar powers here.
      I don’t think “booing down” anyone is a productive way forward. If you don’t like a proposal or policy, let the person making it or proposing it talk about it – and then challenge the idea; ask difficult questions, suggest how things could be done better, and why. Point out the glaring holes and problems in their idea if they exist.

      • Hi Daniel,

        The NYPD practice of random profiling, stopping and frisking was found to be unconstitutional – as it violated the 4th and 14th amendments protecting citizens from unreasonable search and seizure, and equal protections.

        The policy was used against brown people primarily, the vast majority of whom were found to be not engaged in anything illegal. Moreover, crime rates were dropping, (as they have continued to drop). (The Trade Center bombings provided cover for a wide range of corrosive politics which have militarized America domestically, and justified a multitude of atrocities around the globe.)

        This article is about not only the Constitutional right to free speech, but more pointedly, promoting the intellectual and moral concomitants of Reason and freedom of expression – a responsibility that we should all take seriously as central to democratic citizenship.

        However, as I observe, we have long ceased to be operating within any normal sphere of open democratic discourse. We are operating in a condition of 24/7 state-corporatist assault on free thought, expression, and simply “being” of which Bernard Kerik is an example. This is the culture that makes summary police execution of children and adults legal. Thus we are at war, and must make a choice about how we reckon with brazen police abuses which in some quarters of the US, have been brutally occurring for decades. We were all just too “white” to see it.

        You can pretend that things are OK, and we’re just going through a phase. This is the “reason” of torturers and rapists.

        Here is what freedom of expression gets you:

        “The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ […] ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do’.

        – Bush counselor Karl Rove to journalist Ron Suskind in a 2004 NYT article.

        But this isn’t new. This is Nixon and Kissinger, etc.

        So I believe it should be patently clear we have fully entered a post-humanist, post democratic police state that masquerades as a free world.

        I believe that universities have become bastions not of Marxism, but of crypto-fascism, (if not explicitly realized centers of militarist corporatism), where no one is really interested in any thoughtful liberal discourse.

        Thus, I think that campuses must pivot from offering the simulacrum of a respectful discursive field to one of modest partisanship in curatorial support of intellectual honesty; otherwise completely lose any credibility as locations of free liberal humanist discourse.

        Why not have Yale endow a chair for the the Flat Earth Society?

        It is simply absurd to claim that the Right Wing in this country is in any way a minority in need of being heard. They have chosen to denigrate pretty much all science and learning. Having made this choice, isn’t it they who’ve banished themselves from the temples that would protect reason and civil expression?

        The answer is as obvious as obvious can be.

        • And yes: “Booing down” is certainly less than becoming.

          But it’s really not that hard for campuses to craft criteria. Voices which are anathema to freedom; or which have no need for amplification and legitimization because they already have massive internet/cable audiences do not belong on campus.

          If students want to invite media personalities whose primary objective is pugnacious exploitation and profiteering rather than pursuit of truth, they are free to do so, but there’s no reason for a college campus to contribute to their delinquency.

          • Todd’s view – a standard fascist approach to the problem of dissent – essentially rests on the stipulation that there is an “emergency” – a war or civil confraglation which justifies the suspension of ordinary classical liberal norms such as the freedom of speech. But there isn’t.

            American society is not a hellhole of fascism (or Bolshevism) and to imagine that it is, is to be in the grip of fantasy. This is extreme political neuroticism, where a stubbed toe presents as a life threatening injury. The incoherence of the notion is exemplified by the constant refrain that if we don’t watch out, the conservatives will send us back to the 1950s. Which would presumably have to be worse than now. And this Kerik fellow was active 15-20 years ago. If you think he’s Satan, it must be better now, right ? But “now” we are in a situation so bad that we need to suspend the freedom of speech. Go figure. Or rather, and this would be my general advice to all the Todds of the world – you really need to get out more.

            Moving on :

            “The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ […] ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do’.
            – Bush counselor Karl Rove to journalist Ron Suskind in a 2004 NYT article.

            Just out of interest, what is so terrifying about this ? If there’s something about the reality that confronts him that he doesn’t like, does Todd not reflect on whether he can change it to something better ? Changing the rocks into bacon may be beyond him. But tidying his room is probably not.

  14. sonny says

    The person of privilege in #5 who is calling out white women (cis is a slur there is only one kind of woman, a biological one) and hiding the fact he is a biological male.

  15. Lee Moore exemplifies the playing of the conservative victimization card in a media environment that is dominated by culture-repressing marketing, and corporatist white supremacist values.

    He thinks things are jolly good. (‘We had a black president!)

    But he and his buddies think they’re being bullied, and the natural order of the world being overturned when we show that their rhetoric – when it’s not utterly deliberate dishonesty – is typically overrun with all ten of the criteria written about here.

    Things are not jolly good, Lee, and you have to be willfully negligent/ignorant to pretend otherwise.

    Conservative lies, sycophancy, towering hypocrisy, and towering cruelty clearly rule the day. So it’s a bit ridiculous to call the modest measures I described as fascist. It’s no more censorship for a university to require a speaker to meet certain general criteria of decency- to keep the abject hate pornographers of the Right mediasphere off campuses – than it is to require a tie and jacket be worn in a nice restaurant.

    Go talk elsewhere. Conservatives already proved their contempt for kindly discussion when Reagan and cohorts insisted on the destruction of the very meaning of liberalism, and now you delight in falsely claiming that the fascist/Nazis were actually leftists. This is what Rove was saying: “I’m murdering the neighbors. I’m raping your children. I’m robbing you and pissing in your face. Fuck evidence! Fuck history. Fuck you, and your objective reality. “

    The US is the wealthiest most dominant society in the history of world with global powers of military projection. If Christianity, private property and capitalism are so miraculous in their civilizing virtues why the need for the atrocities?

    This is global gas-lighting, pure and simple. And we all have the duty and right to call the BS for what is.

    You are not victims Lee. You are the oppressors. You are the empty ashen faced men steering the Death Star. And most of your conservative voters are too beat down by the “free market” So utterly impoverished of mind and heart that they can’t see it.

    “It’s just all those “others” taking our jobs!”

    Trump is a fraud and a money laundering criminal. He is a disgrace and constitutional timebomb and the seconds are ticking away.

    Will you be among those who supports law, order, and due process ?

    Or will you insist it’s a “deep state” coup when the final indictments come down?

    • David Carroll says

      Todd,
      I would like to kindly suggest that you may be stuck, rigidified, in a “moral matrix”. Moral matrices are deeply felt axioms about categories of right and wrong in the world, which are obviously important for navigating reality, but when they posess us without any self-reflective inquiry they tie us to the group/party/tribe/cause that most sacralize that particular matrix, and simultaneously blind us to the reality that other axioms and matrices, equally valid, exist and deserve our consideration.

      Someone somewhere made the very insightful observation that “people don’t have ideas, ideas have people”. I find that a great insight to ponder.

      Much of your commentary portrays a good guys vs bad guys landscape, an all out battle for what is right and good. I see the fervor and outrage in your words. This is the most ubiquitous recurring theme throughout human history, and I nor anyone else can claim to be free of it completely. This tribal instinct appears no less so in our age of secular reason- although reason seems to have regressed on all sides of the spectrum in the recent era. Though I think the notion that “catastrophe is imminent” itself may also be largely due to our trapped-in-the-current and inevitably biased lens, fed by an explosive media overload that we’re all still trying to grapple with.

      So this ancient tendency towards moral conviction, dogmatism, has it’s roots in our tribal origins, and of course you feel your “tribe”, your “point of view”, is in the right and has the correct arguments and every justification for what is essentially indignant rage and self-evident certainty. So too does every other tribe believe as fervently as you do about the correctness of their particular matrix, and will likewise have all the attendant evidence to justify their views.

      These deeply felt moral matrices tie you to your cause with others that share your matrix, and blinds you to everything that is true and valid outside it, which is an ancient evolutionary instinct for group survival.

      I think what is happening everywhere right now, on all sides, is the objectification of evil, whatever evil means to you. This is to say we are bombarded 24/7 with torrents of bad news(from whichever perspective you are captured by) from “out there”.

      I think what is missing everywhere is the immensely difficult task of acknowledging and staying firmly in awareness that the “line of good and evil runs down the center of our own hearts” in every moment, as Solzhenitsyn wrote of in the Gulag Archipelago. This is extremely difficult to truly accept in these divisive times when all attention is compelled outward to some great external evil and appears to be justified in doing so.

      When you choose to exclusively condemn an external object, person(s), political stance, system etc… for the cause of all that is broken and terrible in the world, you have abandoned your own responsibility to yourself- in that reality itself where you stand is what deserves your greatest attention, care, and consideration. Reality as a practical human matter is where you stand and breathe, it can be and is often immensely bewildering, tragic, and in many ways we are all adrift in a stormy sea both internal and external. So it seems to me that the real conundrum of life begins in your immediate circumstance, not “out there” on some culture war battlefield.

      I am not saying that having a cause or moral conviction is a bad thing, I think it’s necessary for navigating life. But it must be first oriented towards your own fallibility, tempered with some humility and real willingness to consider fully the case of the other side, the other point of view. There is another side my friend, and it is not characterized by implicit evil anymore than your own side.

      I think the overwhelming majority of people are not on the extremes, but it is largely the extremists that make the news cycle, which in itself has become a constant and addictive mechanism that swoons us into externalizing all that is broken with the world as “out there.”

      Since when did you ever here a newscast that called each one of us to pause in our indignant outrage with the external world, soberly acknowledge our own very real capability for malevolence, and then pointed out that this capability has nothing uniquely to do with either right leaning or left leaning views, it is just a fact of being.

      I would say first things first and do so to myself as often as I can summon the courage- take responsibility for your own heart, mind, and body where you already exist. Recognize your own capacity for chaos and malevolence, tread carefully, honor and respect your own destructive potential, pay attention to your immediate life circumstance for real, tend to the disorder in your personal physical environment and in your personal relations to friends and family of which all human beings have their fair share, read books which intelligently articulate the politics you imagine you despise, challenge your own viewpoints, broaden your scope. The world needs you.

  16. James Kierstead says

    An important piece which I’ve shared. But, if I may hold Piers to his own excellent standards, calling people who complain about PC ‘saloon bar bores’ is not an argument (though there may be good arguments against the concept of PC.)

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