All posts filed under: Free Speech

The Cultural Diversity Case for Free Speech

American campus speech codes and informal speech norms discriminate against foreign students and faculty, and that’s an important but neglected reason why they should be challenged. Speech codes often claim to protect ‘cultural diversity’ on campuses, but they often do the reverse. They impose narrow American norms of political correctness on foreign grad students, post-docs, and faculty who can’t realistically understand what Americans will find offensive. From neurodiversity to cultural diversity In an article for Quillette last year, I argued that campus speech codes discriminate against ‘neurodivergent’ people who have Asperger’s syndrome, bipolar disorder, PTSD, ADHD, or other conditions. These disorders make it hard to understand and follow speech codes that prohibit saying or doing anything that others might find offensive. In a follow-up article, I outlined how neurodivergent people could use the Americans with Disabilities Act to challenge such discriminatory speech codes. These neurodivergent conditions are all heritable, and they make people’s brains different from the ‘neurotypical’ average brain, so they could be called ‘genetic neurodiversity’. But beyond genetic neurodiversity, there’s ‘cultural neurodiversity’: different …

Our Tribes and Tribulations

Disagreement has made disagreeable individuals of us all. News channels are littered with platitudes masquerading as thoughtful discussions. Individuals, convinced that the volume of their speech corresponds to the correctness of their arguments, contribute to the cacophony of tirades. The print media publish headlines assassinating opponents’ characters rather than their ideas. Swipes and scrolls lead us to trivial online quarrels which bleed into our personal conversations. Research from the Pew Research Centre suggests that 91 percent of Republicans and 86 percent of Democrats hold unfavourable views of the other. It would be unfair but tempting to lay the blame at the feet of politicians, public intellectuals, and journalists. But we, the people, are also complicit in this potentially slippery slope. Gathering by the campfire in our ideological tribes, we bask in the warm glow of unchallenged beliefs. We caricature arguments that do not fit neatly into our canonical jigsaw. Foregoing uncomfortable rumination in favour of rhetoric, we have helped to create and perpetuate a climate in which dissent is tolerated only for as long as it …

In Defense of Offense

“The urge to censor is greatest where debate is most disquieting and orthodoxy most entrenched…” –Chief Judge Alex Kozinski In September of last year, conservative speaker, Ben Shapiro, spoke at the UC Berkeley campus for approximately 90 minutes. The cost of security for the physical protection of Mr. Shapiro, an American citizen, and Harvard-educated lawyer came to approximately $600,000. Prior to Mr. Shapiro’s visit at the Berkeley campus, right-wing British speaker and internet provocateur, Milo Yiannopolis, was prevented from speaking on campus due to security worries caused by approximately 150 masked agitators who committed various acts of vandalism, arson, and violence, resulting in the harm of several innocent Berkeley students and local citizens and totaling around $100,000 in property damage. In May of last year, at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, biology professor, Bret Weinstein, refused to participate in the “Day of Absence” in which “white students, staff, and faculty,” were, “invited to leave the campus for the day’s activities.” Weinstein’s refusal resulted in him being surrounded by an angry mob of 50 students …

Buy Banned Books

What is lost when we insist that literature be ‘authentic’ and that some portrayals – even journalistic narratives – may only be authored by their real life counterparts? If the latter half of the 20th century witnessed the death of the author, then the social media age hails its return as a mutant zombie. Increasingly, we are living in a time in which the written word not only cannot stand on its own merits, it must not. If this sounds alarmist, consider one of the recent controversies surrounding the question of who should be allowed to write what. While it follows an increasingly familiar and depressing pattern, the incident also represents a Rubicon-crossing moment in social media age censorship. The book in question is an American YA (Young Adult) novel entitled American Heart, and the author is a white, non-Muslim named Laura Moriarty. Released this week, the story portrays a dystopian future America in which Muslims are being rounded up and thrown into detention centres. Within this nightmare is the Huckleberry-esque journey of a 15-year-old white Midwestern …

Why Free Speech Matters

From 1980 – 2003 the number of countries with a free press grew from 51 to 78. This increase was also proportionately significant. In 1980 34% of the world’s then 161 countries had a free press. In 2003 41% of the world’s 193 countries had newspapers free to criticize their own governments and inform their citizens without censorship. Those of us growing up in that period thought we belonged to a generation that could take free speech for granted and see this principle become universally entrenched. But 2004 would mark the beginning of a constant decline in global press freedom lasting until this day. From the high-water mark in 2003, we’re down to 31% of the world’s countries where journalists don’t have to worry about being imprisoned (262 reporters were behind bars in 2017). Or put differently: Only 13% of the world’s 7.4 billion people enjoy free speech. 45% live in countries where censorship is the norm. Venezuela, Russia, and Turkey are among the worst offenders. But In liberal democracies, free speech has also become a …

The Internet Is Not a Children’s TV Channel

As we enter 2018, we are only a few months away from the British government’s proposed deadline for imposing age verification obligations on porn sites. The measures were introduced as part of the Digital Economy Act 2017, and require commercial providers of pornography to ensure that their material cannot be accessed by anyone under 18. An appointed regulator, subsequently revealed to be the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), will have the power to order Internet service providers to block sites which fail to comply. Unsurprisingly, the law has provoked a range of criticisms. Online freedom campaigners such as the Open Rights Group are concerned about yet another attempt to censor the web — there is no opt-out, even though most British households have no children — while some members of the adult entertainment industry worry about the implications for user privacy and the financial impact on smaller sites. Even Private Eye have questioned the commercial wisdom of allowing a company which operates several large porn sites to also provide the age verification service that …

Margaret Atwood: Tried on Social Media, Convicted by the Press

The struggling economics of news organisations these days means that it’s cheap to report debates and controversies taking place on social media and so these rows, especially when they involve well-known people, get more prominent coverage in newspapers and news bulletins than they deserve. Recent reports have focused on the savaging Canadian author Margaret Atwood has received on social media for an article she authored in which she claimed that the #MeToo campaign was a symptom of a broken legal system. Referring to a case in which a Canadian academic lost his job after allegations of sexual harassment, she claimed that the campaign has become a “witch hunt” in which the idea of due process – that people must be presumed innocent until found guilty under the law, is being threatened by mob rule by which an anonymous allegation (usually of some kind of sexual misconduct) is enough to unleash a reputation-destroying avalanche of negative comments. It begs the question of what the role of social media should be in modern public debates. Scholars have …

“Hate Speech” Does Not Incite Hatred

The United States Supreme Court has recently reaffirmed that “[s]peech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground” is protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. However, the protections of the First Amendment extend only to government efforts to punish or censor speech. Private entities remain free to take action against people who engage in speech which ostensibly demeans others, and private actors from Harvard University to Facebook and Twitter have punished or censored individuals whose speech they have found to be “hateful.” Those who advocate the censorship of so-called “hate speech” claim that it causes various ills, but perhaps the most common claim is that “hate speech” engenders hatred towards particular groups, and thereby causes violence against members of those groups. Such claims have been particularly common in recent years, and have included allegations that “anti-police hate speech” on the part of Black Lives Matters supporters has led to violence against police officers; that Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric has led to an …

Catherine Deneuve, #MeToo, and the Fracturing Within Feminism

The letter signed by Catherine Deneuve and 99 other French women offering their take on the #MeToo movement and feminism has stirred many reactions both in France and internationally. Among the responses, the novelist Leïla Slimani wrote a beautiful and heartfelt piece in Libération affirming her right to freedom from being “importuned”. The use of the expression is deliberate to contrast with the original letter’s title which defended the freedom to importune. Slimani’s article has been shared by many to express their disagreement with the Deneuve Letter. That the two opinions are made to sound opposing is, however, more the result of unclear vocabulary rather than conflicting ideologies. The list of odious behaviours that Slimani pleads that we should be free from—“a boss asking for sexual favours in exchange of a promotion” or “a man ejaculating on a woman’s coat”—shows that she and Deneuve are not talking about the same thing. No sensible person could possibly refrain from condemning these acts. The fault perhaps lies with the writers of the original letter, for not using more …

Free Speech Leftists Still Exist

In brighter times, the reprimanding of Lindsay Shepherd at Wilfrid Laurier University would have found strong condemnation among left intellectuals. Instead, left publications largely chose to ignore the issue. You will find no pieces on Vox covering Wilfrid Laurier or Bret Weinstein’s clash with overreaching faculty at Evergreen, nor will the incrimination of BDS activism by US lawmakers find exposure outside of niche outlets like The Intercept. The free speech debate, in other words, has become too partisan. When Lindsay Shepherd revealed that Jordan Peterson’s fears about Bill C16 were well-founded, and that pointing out that sex differences exist was considered by Wilfrid Laurier’s administration to be comparable to Adolf Hitler, the response of left publications was either disinterest or full-throated attacks on Peterson as a reactionary monster. If one sought to hear out Lindsay Shepherd, the outlets willing to speak with her were mainly conservative or libertarian YouTube channels belonging to figures like Stephen Crowder and Stefan Molyneux. The perception, understandably, follows that the right is in favor of free expression, and the left has become wholly illiberal. But the hyper-partisan atmosphere …