All posts filed under: Free Speech

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 …

Femen’s Inna Shevchenko: Fear of Causing Offense Has Cost Too Many Innocent Lives

Editor’s note: As we enter 2018, brave women are protesting Islamic modesty culture and laws in Iran. Jeffrey Tayler has documented women’s protests against modesty culture in Europe for years. What follows is an interview conducted by Tayler with Femen’s leader, Inna Shevchenko, in 2017. A female activist has just sawed down a giant Christian cross on the central square of the capital city of Ukraine, in protest against the prison sentence meted out to Pussy Riot band members for the “punk prayer” they had performed in a Moscow cathedral earlier that year. What fate awaits her when she flees, personally threatened by her country’s president for her audacious deed, to France, the self-proclaimed “homeland of human rights?” Upon her arrival in Paris, do orchestras greet her with rousing renditions of La Marseillaise? Do accolades of support pour in from the French media? Does she settle, finally, into secure environs, certain, for the first time in her young but politically active life, that she can pursue unhindered her feminist struggle for human rights and the propagation of …

Deliberation Not Boundaries: A Reply to Wessie du Toit

In a Quillette piece entitled “Does Free Speech Need Boundaries to Survive?”, writer Wessie du Toit presents a case against what might be called free speech absolutism; that is, the position that no boundaries should ever be imposed on expression. In what follows, I will make a radical case for free speech absolutism, that goes beyond merely defending the principle. Let’s begin with du Toit’s own arguments. He makes a compelling case as to why we might have reached, or at least be approaching, the point at which liberal institutions are threatened by free speech: It wouldn’t be misleading to say that the greatest threat to free speech today comes from free speech itself. In particular, it comes from the sheer volume and chaotic nature of that speech. The current polarization of politics is rooted in an endless, sprawling argument about values taking place online – an argument that is now spilling over into demonstrations, acts of violence, and other culturally charged spectacles. He further explains how this poses a problem for free speech absolutism: …

Stigmatizing Legitimate Dissent: A Response to J. Oliver Conroy

Editor’s note: this is a reply to an article published on October 29 titled Get on the Bus or Get Under It: Shouting Down Free Speech at Rutgers by J Oliver Conroy. In the spirit of constructive disagreement we have published this formal reply here, but it will also be posted at the Heterodox Academy. If you would like to join the debate please email claire@quillette.com.   Can a threat to free speech masquerade as a defense of free speech? We believe it can, if that self-styled defense denounces and stigmatizes legitimate dissent by unjustly framing it as illegitimate. Just as a false accusation of abuse or harassment can itself be a form of abuse or harassment, falsely tarring dissent as a threat to speech when it is not can itself be a threat to free speech. Unfortunately, many people seem to be highly sensitive to such threats from their political opponents and entirely tone deaf to such threats from their political compatriots. When someone on the Right condemns leftwing threats to speech, they may be correct …

Does Free Speech Need Boundaries to Survive?

 “Opinions,” Walter Benjamin wrote, “are to the gigantic apparatus of social life what oil is to machines. No one goes up to an engine and douses it in machine oil; one applies a little to the hidden spindles and joints one has to know.” Those defending free speech today may recoil from this advice. The idea of society as a machine, which came naturally to the Marxist Benjamin, is a long way from the ideal of free and creative individuals that many of them cherish. Nonetheless, it strikes me as a useful metaphor, if only because of the image it brings to mind of the era we’ve now entered: an engine drowning in so much oil that it has begun violently shaking, sputtering and threatening to collapse. It wouldn’t be misleading to say that the greatest threat to free speech today comes from free speech itself. In particular, it comes from the sheer volume and chaotic nature of that speech. The current polarization of politics is rooted in an endless, sprawling argument about values taking …

Sarah Haider on Normalizing Dissent: A Conversation

After a couple of false starts, Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA) finally kicked off its Normalizing Dissent Tour at the University of Colorado Boulder. On the evening of Thursday, October 5, more than 90 people assembled to hear a panel of three Ex-Muslim women – EXMNA co-founder Sarah Haider, Saudi activist Ghada, and writer and editor Hiba Krisht – discuss “Islam, Modesty, and Feminism.” At the request of Secular Students and Skeptics Society (SSaSS), the student organization that invited EXMNA, campus security took the unusual precaution of searching all bags for weapons as the audience filed into the lecture hall where the event took place. Fortunately the event, which included an hour-long Q&A, proceeded civilly. Krisht, who was raised as a Shi’a Muslim in Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon, said in her opening statement: “I felt I was lying with every movement, lying with what I was wearing, lying with my actions because I would pray in front of them [her family] even though I didn’t believe in God.” Ghada described an upbringing nearly as harsh. When as …

The Pragmatic Case for Understanding Neurodiversity

I live in a Himalayan village. Today, I woke up to a mountain dog chewing my shoes and pulling the strings of my bamboo chair. He was glad I was up early. He wanted to take me out to show me his friends in the valley. I wasn’t mad, but this is not because dogs are cute. If a cute girl had done this, I wouldn’t have seen this as a charming eccentricity. I don’t overestimate the cognitive sophistication of dogs. I know this is stereotyping, but sometimes stereotyping can make us tolerant. I’m an Aspie. Hill people are unusually tolerant of my social ineptitude, unlike in the cities where I grew up and worked. They attribute my social faux pas to cultural differences. We tolerate the “social ineptitude” of foreigners because we know cultural differences are a great source of misunderstanding. We expect them to become culturally assimilated, but we won’t set the bar too high if they’ve limitations. I don’t expect my dog to be good at writing anytime soon. Similarly, I think people …

A Policy of Censorship More Extreme Than Google

By now, we’ve all heard about James Damore, the software engineer who authored a memo suggesting that the tendency of more men than women tend to pursue careers in technology may be explained at least in part by biological differences. Qualified scientists have confirmed that the scientific facts cited by Damore are accurate to the best of our knowledge at this time, but Google nonetheless fired Damore for “advancing harmful gender stereotypes,” raising concerns from many that the company is inhospitable to those who do not conform to a very narrow, politically correct ideology.1,2 From my own experience as a software engineer who has worked at several companies and holds degrees from two universities, I can attest that this problem is not unique to Google but is widespread in both industry and academia. In response to the Google memo, one company saw it necessary to lay down the law for its own employees, setting out a policy that is even more censorious than Google itself. That company is MongoDB, a New York-based database startup employing …

Fake News is Old News

“Fake news,” disinformation, and propaganda is saturating social media and driving the content of important political conversations among citizens in otherwise enlightened democracies. News and information thus become weaponized and aimed against the very institutions and values that free speech was supposed to protect. That, at least, is the fear among many politicians and pundits. These fears have been given impetus by the role of alternative and social media in the 2016 American Presidential election and by a number of studies exploring the “eco-system” of alternative media and the misinformation sown, grown, and distributed by such outlets. This scenario has precipitated a collapse of public trust in democratic institutions, and governments fearful of populist nationalism have scrambled to find policies aimed at combatting fake news. Germany recently adopted legislation obliging social media companies to pay fines up to EUR 50 million if they fail to delete illegal content within 24 hours. While ostensibly aimed at hate speech and defamatory slander, German minister of Justice Heiko Maas has blurred the lines between these categories and the ill-defined concept of “fake news.” Italy introduced a bill aimed at “preventing the manipulation …

Mental Health ‘Disabilities’ as Legal Superpowers

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer or a disability rights expert, and I am not offering legal advice. I’m just a psychology professor offering one possible strategy that neurominorities could use to stand up for our free speech rights at American universities. In an earlier article for Quillette.com, I outlined how campus speech codes discriminate against people who show various forms of ‘neurodiversity’ such as Asperger’s syndrome, bipolar disorder, or ADHD. I promised a follow-up article on how neurodivergent people might be able to use the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 to fight these discriminatory speech codes at U.S. universities. This is that follow-up article. I’ll get much more specific about what you can do, at your university, if you have a genuine diagnosable ‘mental disorder’, to advocate for your free speech rights. Mental disorders are highly stigmatized conditions, but they have a hidden upside: they can give you legal super-powers, including a surprisingly formidable set of rights under the ADA. If enough neurodivergent students, staff, and faculty use the ‘ADA strategy’ that …