All posts filed under: Free Speech

Reflections on the Revolution at Yale

Three years ago this Fall, Yale University descended into what can only be described as a fit of mass psychosis. On November 9, 2015, over 1,000 people—about one fifth of the undergraduate student body—walked out of classrooms and into the quad to participate in a ‘March of Resilience.’ An a cappella group led the crowd in a medley of “We Shall Overcome.” Native Indian performers formed a drum circle. “We are not victims,” a student organizer affiliated with the school’s Latino cultural center declared. “Today, we are on our way to being victors.” Against what sinister forces did Yale’s students feel compelled to summon up their stocks of ‘resilience’ in righteous battle? The first grievance cited by the student protestors was an alleged ‘white girls only’ party thrown by one of the university’s fraternities. Word of this event had gone from a Facebook post to international headlines, tarnishing Yale’s good name in the process. Had such a party actually taken place, it indeed would have been cause for protest. But it’s hard not to be …

Headline Rhymes

Once, the butler did it under the parlour chandelier Now it’s murder by bad-wording inside the Twittersphere  Views on the news, delivered in twos. This week’s inspired by: I Sold My Soul to Twitter. Now I’m Trying to Buy It Back I Was the Mob Until the Mob Came for Me Do you have a Headline Rhyme? Take a stab in the Comments. Please try for PG 13.  Sentiments are not necessarily shared by everyone at Quillette.  

Banning Bitcoin to Complete Big Tech Censorship

Bitcoin’s survival might prove intolerable to our Internet gatekeepers. To rid the web of troublesome opinion makers you ban them from online platforms while terminating their ability to raise funds from supporters.  Corporate giants can use their control over Internet and financial chokepoints to almost accomplish this, but Bitcoin’s decentralized network means that regardless of how much corporate America hates some commentator, it can’t stop you from sending her cryptocurrency.  If a Democrat wins the Presidency in 2020, I predict a serious attempt to close this loophole by criminalizing Bitcoins. Big tech has awoken to its power and started suppressing views it deems hateful.  The Nazi website Stormfront was kicked off the Internet.  Facebook, Apple, YouTube, and Spotify all decided, on the same day, to deplatform Alex Jones.  Islam critic Lauren Southern has been kicked off Pateron, a service many use to raise funds from supporters.  YouTube has demonitized and restricted videos from Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin, and Gad Saad.  President Trump has accused social media of “totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices.” Big tech wants …

Nobody Should Listen to Twitter Mobs

Last fortnight, the New York Times stood behind its new editorial board hire Sarah Jeong, after critics on the right dug up Jeong’s offensive tweets sarcastically mocking white people, saying things like “oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men,” and using a #CancelWhitePeople hashtag. The Times argued that Jeong’s tweets were a sort of counter-trolling response to sustained harassment she endured as a young Asian-American female technology reporter.  Jeong’s critics noted that her offensive tweets weren’t in direct response to any harassment, and that they displayed a degree of hostility to white people that would be considered racist and out of bounds if directed toward any other group.  Nonetheless, the Times did not fire her. This was the right decision.  People shouldn’t lose jobs and opportunities over old tweets.  But if the New York Times did the right thing here, then, by the same standard, several prominent media companies, including the Times, have made wrong decisions in the recent past. Nobody should be …

Do Britain’s Muslims Have a Right Not to be Offended?

Religious freedom is one of the core principles of any modern liberal society. As a secularist, I defend the right of religious people to send their children to faith schools, have their children circumcised, or wear the burqa. This does not mean I approve of any of these practices; they should be permissible but not protected from criticism. We should be free to ridicule, lampoon, chastise, critique, etc. every aspect of religious belief that we tolerate. This is, more or less, what the U.K.’s former Conservative Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson wrote in his now infamous newspaper column in the Telegraph last week. Yet all hell has broken loose. It was greeted by near-hysterical outrage and shrill denunciations of Johnson’s alleged dog whistle racism; reports of civil war in the Tory Party over the matter; the now ubiquitous demands for an apology for causing offence (or else), which was backed in this instance by the Prime Minister. Boris’s is now the subject of an internal Party inquiry. It’s worth untangling this sorry tale as a snap-shot …

The Death of the Author and the End of Empathy

In 2015, President Obama described the Nation as “more than a magazine—it’s a crucible of ideas.” If it was ever entitled to this descriptor, it isn’t anymore. Academic identity politics may be importing an obsession with phantom victimhood into the business world and the media, but The Nation’s editors are now taking aim at language itself, reducing the complexity of human communication to a primitive understanding of words. In late July, the magazine’s poetry editors issued a groveling apology for a poem they had published earlier that month. “How-To,” by Anders Carlson-Wee, was an ironic critique of social hierarchies, couched as a manual for successful panhandling: “If you got hiv, say aids. If you a girl,/say you’re pregnant,” the poem opened. It went on to suggest begging gambits for other presumed outsider groups, including the handicapped: “If you’re crippled don’t/flaunt it. Let em think they’re good enough/Christians to notice.” The poem, in its entirety, reads as follows: If you got hiv, say aids. If you a girl, say you’re pregnant—nobody gonna lower themselves to listen …

Free Speech Doesn’t Protect Nazis. It Protects Us From Nazis

Free speech has recently become a cause célèbre of the nationalist and racist right-wing in the United States, as provocateurs like Milo Yiannopoulos bring their roadshows to college campuses, flout the values of progressive students, and then publicize and ridicule those students’ emotional or sometimes violent responses. As a result, some on the Left have become skeptical of the benefits of the First Amendment. Prior to last year’s violent confrontation in Charlottesville, VA, during which an alt-right protester rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman and injuring others, the ACLU defended the right of neo-Nazis and white nationalists to demonstrate in support of Confederate monuments. For this, the ACLU was widely criticized by progressives, and since then, some progressives have begun to argue that a society with unfettered free speech is one that fails to protect marginalized communities. Former ACLU legal director and Berkeley law professor john a. powell recently told a reporter from the New Yorker that absolutist free speech rules in the United States fail to weigh the value …

Free Speech and the Capitulation of the SPLC

Two years ago, when the (once-) venerable Southern Poverty Law Center published a “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists,” there was widespread outrage over the fact that the SPLC’s list included not only bona fide Muslim-bashers but also British liberal Muslim Maajid Nawaz—the head of the anti-extremist, reformist Quilliam Foundation. Nawaz later announced his intention to file a crowdfunded defamation lawsuit against the SPLC. Now, he has won an impressive victory. The SPLC, which had already removed the “Field Guide” from its website in April, issued a retraction and an apology—and agreed to pay Nawaz a $3.4 million settlement. This week, Nawaz is scheduled to meet with SPLC president Richard Cohen, hoping both to find out more about the circumstances of his listing and to “educate” Cohen about the conflict between fundamentalism and reform within the Muslim community. A happy ending? Certainly, for Nawaz and his supporters: Commentary contributor Sohrab Ahmari writes that “it’s good to see the SPLC held to account for at least one of [its] smears” against people who don’t toe the progressive party …

The Historian’s Hubris

Niall Ferguson is a compelling writer, wry and puckish, intellectually curious. He has a knack for converting his deep knowledge of history and finance into narratives the average reader can grasp. There’s a generosity and a sense of excitement to his writing that have helped propel him to stardom in the publishing world and on the small screen. But for all his qualities, Ferguson didn’t know enough to pause before hitting ‘Send.’ Instead, by gleefully attempting to crush a coterie of left-wing Stanford University students who were trying to gain influence within his invited speakers series Cardinal Conversations, he threw gasoline on the blazing free speech wars and turned his own, noble-sounding words into ash. Ferguson has vowed to retreat “to [his] beloved study,” where presumably he will hunker down, reassess his methods and motives, and even, one hopes, re-emerge a better man. One of our era’s most recognizable defenders of free speech, Ferguson co-founded Cardinal Conversations to foster open debate at Stanford. When it was announced that Charles Murray, author of the infamous 1994 monograph, The Bell …

Giving the Devil His Due: Why Freedom of Inquiry in Science and Politics is Inviolable

In the 1990s I undertook an extensive analysis of the Holocaust and those who deny it that culminated in Denying History, a book I coauthored with Alex Grobman.1 Alex and I are both civil libertarians who believe strongly that the right to speak one’s mind is fundamental to a free society, so we were surprised to discover that Holocaust denial is primarily an American phenomenon for the simple reason that America is one of the few countries where it is legal to doubt the Holocaust. Legal? Where (and Why) on Earth would it be illegal? In Canada, for starters, where there are ‘anti-hate’ statutes and laws against spreading ‘false news’ that have been applied to Holocaust deniers. In Austria it is a crime if a person “denies, grossly trivializes, approves or seeks to justify the national socialist genocide or other national socialist crimes against humanity.” In France it is illegal to challenge the existence of “crimes against humanity” as they were defined by the Military Tribunal at Nuremberg “or in connection with any crime within the …