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The Value of Exercising Civility—in Both Oikos and Polis

“I’m done with my grandfather,” a friend confided in me after a recent family gathering. “He compulsively talks about how George Soros is to blame for everything—and then refuses to recognize any evidence to the contrary,” she said. “He has his talking points, and there’s no changing his mind. It’s not even worth having a conversation.”

In our polarized moment, we sometimes struggle to fulfill basic social or professional obligations with family, friends and co-workers who hold views we find objectionable. But we ought not cut people off without thinking carefully the consequences. It’s not just that we risk losing important relationships. People whose ideological or political opinions we oppose may still have something to offer. Cutting them off leaves us both intellectually and emotionally poorer.

Most of us have stories like the one my friend told me. And while the details differ, they all go to a central question: What is the unspoken social contract that governs how we discuss ideas? At what point do we no longer have to listen to what another person has to say?

When we discuss free speech, the conversation typically is framed in relation to the government’s power to shut down views within what Greek philosophers called the polis. But on a day to day basis, the more socially urgent task of defining the boundaries of legitimate speech often takes place within the oikos—the family and its domestic environs.

My friend’s grandfather fits the definition of fanatic that often is attributed to Winston Churchill: “one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” But even at the height of her exasperation, my friend still would acknowledge that her relationship with him is about more than the edification and enjoyment she derives from their conversations. When she says “I’m done,” what she means is that the irritation she associates with their political discussions is so acute that—in that moment, at least—it overwhelms everything else she gets from that relationship. The challenge is to take a long-term view, and remember that such moments do pass. There’s more to life than politics.

I have a relative—a Canadian—who enjoys living in the United States, and yet speaks incessantly about how America is the root of all evil in the world. As you might imagine, I disagree with her: I’m a proud American, even as I acknowledge that my country has an imperfect record of acting on its professed ideals of freedom and equality. Nevertheless, I have an obligation to her—to be kind, to speak with her about other things, and perhaps even occasionally listen to her arguments about the United States, even if I have heard them before and don’t find them persuasive.

The marketplace of ideas has private and public stalls—and they operate differently. In the private sphere, whether at the dinner table or in the family car, you’re stuck in a one-channel universe: You can’t change your relatives or friends with a remote control or a mouse click. But in the public square, things are different. We have no pre-existing obligation to listen to anyone. We listen to someone because we believe or hope that he or she has something interesting or insightful to say. If they don’t, we move on. No one can read, watch or listen to everything; and we all have to prioritize.

Even amid the polis, however, we aren’t entirely bereft of obligations. Yes, citizens have the ability to shut out any viewpoint they find challenging or mistaken. But responsible citizens know that they mustn’t abuse this right. They must make at least some effort to expose themselves to contrary ideas. And so we must consider what overarching principles guide us when defining our obligation to expose ourselves to contrary opinions in the public sphere.

In a recent Quillette editorial, editor-in-chief Claire Lehmann wrote that “intellectual self-policing is happening more and more often, particularly for those living in tight-knit and politically homogenous communities.” Regarding the question of what range of opinions citizens should tolerate, radical ideologues have a clear answer. As Lehmann writes, “their position is that [any] debate “normalises” unsavoury people.” Quillette readers will immediately know that this is the wrong path. But if that’s not the answer, what is?

In his classic 1999 book Civility, Yale Law professor Stephen Carter provides helpful advice in this regard. He urged consistency in the principles we use to exclude people from public debate. Carter observed that there are many people we admire, even though they are morally flawed or hold certain abhorrent views. Charles Dickens was a cad who tried to have his wife sent to an asylum—but that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) stop us from enjoying Oliver Twist or teaching Dickens’ books in schools. Martin Heidegger became a Nazi—but the ideas he expressed in Being and Time still are regarded as important contributions to philosophy.

If we decide to listen to, and learn from, these flawed but eminent figures, however, we must be willing to extend the same charity to all—even (and perhaps especially) to our own relatives and friends in the oikos. If we are inconsistent in this respect, we risk indulging what Carter called a “genius license”: When people are sufficiently accomplished and famous, we ignore their vices and focus on their virtues, or assume that their world-class excellence in one area somehow defines their overall essence in a way that renders their flaws meaningless in some cosmic sense. But if they don’t clear that high “genius” bar, we dismiss them.

Carter agrees that certain truly extreme opinions deserve outright condemnation. But he categorically disagrees with “the notion that people whose views are virulently hateful should be totally excluded form the possibility of saving conversation.” He also rejects the idea that the hateful nature of a person’s views in one area always serves to disqualify them from serious consideration in other areas. (Of course, the converse is also true: Not everyone with outrageous views is masking some hidden genius. And sometimes, we really do need to make hard-and-fast value judgments. Should The New York Times offer op-ed space to the North American Man/Boy Love Association? I’m inclined to say no.)

When Columbia University invited Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak on campus in 2007, critics denounced the school for offering such a platform to the anti-Semitic President of Iran, a terrorism-sponsoring country. Columbia’s President, Lee C. Bollinger, invoked academic freedom and free speech to defend the university’s invitation. But that rang untrue to me: This was not the case of a modern Dickens being invited to read from his latest novel, or a 21st-century Heidegger with insights to offer on phenomenology. Ahmadinejad was a known political entity, visiting the United States in his official capacity as Iranian President, and there was no real question of what sort of message he was going to deliver. It wasn’t as if there were any realistic chance of him offering some interesting and important address on the issue of, say, feminism, gay rights or ancient Persian artistic traditions.

Pseudonymous blogger Scott Alexander wisely cautions that “every time we invoke free speech to justify some unpopular idea, the unpopular idea becomes a little more tolerated, and free speech becomes a little less popular.” And so in some cases, it helps to ask what motivates a particular speaker. Is the aim just to inflame and provoke, à la Milo Yiannopoulos or Ann Coulter? Or is it to educate and persuade his or her audience in good faith. What, for instance, was New Yorker editor David Remnick’s purpose in inviting former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon to the 2018 New Yorker festival? My sense is that it was about engaging with Bannon’s ideas, and providing a speaker who could give voice to the tens of millions of people who voted for Bannon’s former boss, Donald Trump. That’s why it was wrong for Remnick to then renege on the invitation.

It is a tall order to listen to someone we find morally repugnant in the hope that they may teach us something. We are all inclined to prejudice and self-justification. But in order to grow—and in order for any pluralistic nation to function—we must be willing to be challenged in our beliefs. A willingness to listen requires us to first recognize that our shared humanity means that we have more in common than that which divides us.

Abraham Lincoln modeled in his First Inaugural an impressive statement of humility and conciliation on the eve of the Civil War, speaking of slave-owners: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.” He knew that “though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”

Prior to delivery, Lincoln sought feedback on this speech from his incoming Secretary of State William H. Seward, who gave him six pages of suggestions for how to improve it. Lincoln accepted many of Seward’s recommendations, including Seward’s evocative ending: “The mystic chords…will yet again harmonize in their ancient music when breathed upon by the guardian angel of the nation.” But Lincoln edited Seward’s contribution slightly, resulting in a line that is among Lincoln’s most celebrated: “The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

The distinction between Seward’s “guardian angel of the nation” and Lincoln’s “better angels of our nature” is important. One appeals to a divine force from without, the other our divinely inspired nature within. Lincoln knew that it was only through individuals choosing to summon their inner, celestial virtue—mercy, forgiveness, empathy, understanding—that our nation had hope of enduring a period of deep social division. The same hold true for us today.

Alexandra Hudson is an educational consultant at the Indianapolis-based Liberty Fund, and is writing a book on civility. Follow her on Twitter @LexiOHudson.

Featured image: “A Club of Gentlemen,” by Joseph Highmore, c. 1730.

81 Comments

  1. Ghatanathoah says

    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia actually provides an example of another benefit of free speech and academic freedom: Giving people enough rope to hang themselves with.

    Ahmadinejad made a complete fool out of himself at that speech. People laughed when he made absurd gaffes, like saying Iran had no homosexuals. If they’d disinvited him he could have portrayed himself as a victim of censorship, who had important ideas that were being suppressed. But they didn’t, so we got to see him for the doofus he is.

    Sunlight really is a wonderful disinfectant. It’s important that people with horrible views have platforms to express themselves so that the public at large can see what ignoramuses they are. Otherwise their views will be cloaked with an undeserved mystique from being suppressed.

    • George G says

      @ Ghatanathoah

      Totally agree, if let someone speak freely and sometimes they accidently tell you exactly what they mean.

    • True that. Also, if people are swayed by being told obvious nonsense, this shows problems in those people’s education. Hiding these problems by shutting up nonsense-spouters will come back to bite us in the neck at some point…

    • david of Kirkland says

      Indeed, and he wasn’t just anybody with bad ideas.

  2. Saw file says

    “Pseudonymous blogger Scott Alexander wisely cautions that “every time we invoke free speech to justify some unpopular idea, the unpopular idea becomes a little more tolerated, and free speech becomes a little less popular.” ”

    I have to ponder who the “we” are and how it is decided which ideas are so “unpopular” that they have to be justified, so that freedom of speech needs to be invoked to simply express them. Why should we be cautious about it?
    So what if that would lessen the popularity of free speech? Rights don’t exist based on popularity. They are fundamental.

    Off the top of my head I can think of scores of ideas that where unpopular with the majority in their time that are now the popular ideas with the vast majority. Think of so many of the Rights that so many minorities have today? These Rights only came to be because freedom of speech allowed the expression of (then) unpopular ideas. Also the freedom to express unpopular ideas that changed the minds of the vast majority (then religious) that has brought us to our current truly secular society.

    I fail to see the wisdom in ”Scott Alexander’s ” caution.
    Maybe I am utterly missing his point?

    • david of Kirkland says

      Well, as we see today, the unpopular ideas have become more tolerated while at the same time the love of free speech is at near lows, with social medias’ scarlet letters.

    • Rights don’t actually exist. They aren’t a real thing. This is true even if written down on a piece of paper, such as a constitution. A cursory glance at history books will tell you that. Freedom of speech only exists as a useful concept in the real world if other people let it exist. To take Scott’s example to its extreme, if the only time “the right” to freedom of speech is invoked is in relation to pro-pedophilia activists and unrepentant nazis, people are going to be less inclined to think that “the right” is a good thing, and it will be less enforceable.

  3. Evander says

    Someone please edit the title pronto: it’s oikos, not oikis.

    • That was my first thought. It’s actually difficult to read an article with such a glaring error in the headline, but I will try.

  4. E. Olson says

    Most left-handed people I know are almost ambidextrous in large part because the whole world is designed for right-handed people, so they are forced to use their right hands reasonably well in order to do many everyday tasks. On the other hand (literally), right handed people are almost always disasters if asked to do some simple task with their left hand, because they have never needed to be left proficient unless they have had the misfortune to have serious injury to their right hand/arm.

    Now reverse everything with regards to political viewpoints. Right leaning people are forced to hear the viewpoints of the Left every day as they navigate through daily tasks. 90% of the media are Left, which means Right leaning people who read newspapers or watch TV news are overwhelmingly exposed to adoring interviews, editorials, and news stories by Leftist journalists about Leftist politicians, business leaders, academics, and celebrities. Righties also see that their own Right leaning viewpoints are subject to vicious critical media stories and editorials, as Leftist journalists seek to crucify anyone on the Right who dares to question or push back on the Leftist narrative. Educators and academia are also 65-95% Leftist, which means Right leaning students are going to mostly be overwhelmed with Leftist viewpoints from the social sciences, humanities, and increasingly in STEM and business. Right leaning students must also learn to keep quiet as their teacher rants about Trump, the greedy rich, the unfairness of patriarchy, and bathroom rights for trannies lest they be penalized with poor grades or refused a letter of recommendation. Corporate HR departments are also 90+% Leftist, and Right leaning people must therefore learn how to keep silent about political issues during job interviews if they wish to be employed, and silently listen to mandatory Leftist diversity and inclusion seminars during their employment.

    On the other side, Leftists can easily avoid hearing “hate” speech from the Right by staying away from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and unfriending their Right leaning relatives and (former) friends. As a consequence their Leftist viewpoints are almost never challenged unless they go out of their way to expose them to the sunlight of the real world by interacting and fairly debating the ideas and viewpoints of the Right, which unfortunately very few Leftists ever do. I believe this is why the Left quickly resorts to name-calling when confronted by ideas they dislike, because they have almost never seriously exposed themselves to, or seriously considered any alternatives and hence are unable to provide any real defense of their Leftist viewpoint.

    In fact, it is often only after someone on the Left is injured by attacks for being insufficiently woke from their fellow Lefties, or gets mugged by the reality of trying to make Lefty theories work in the business world, education, or law enforcement that they venture into Right field. It seems that many of the Quillette article contributors and commenters are reformed Leftists who have seen the error of their ways (or are on their way to seeing), and the Rubin Report on YouTube is filled with interviews with former Leftists who have discovered by painful experience that the Right isn’t as deplorable as they were led to believe by their Leftist “friends”.

    The big problem for the Left is that the admittedly unfair world that often drives Leftist “fairness” reforms and policies almost always collides with the realization that their well-meaning reforms and policies never actually solve the “fairness” problems of the real world, and in fact more often makes them worse. This no doubt is very frustrating for the Left, but violent intolerance of dissent and more realistic viewpoints, and/or hiding in Leftist bubbles are not going to make such uncomfortable facts disappear.

    • Lydia says

      E Olson,

      Great comment. It’s just cruel when the Puritanesque left relative lectures me that I should be open to hearing other views without considering these views are in my face, all day, in my career. It’s their normal so they can’t see how unbalanced it all is. I just went through this over the weekend. Frankly, I don’t argue with these types as they aren’t really about ideas but being morally Superior. Their goal is to make disagreement out to be evil. I consider that to be a mental health problem.

      Ironically, my 18 year old navigates this leftist drivel daily and had a pretty good comeback to being interrogated after insisting she didn’t want to talk politics. Her interrogator Aunt asked her if it was because she doesn’t know enough about the issues to debate them or if she just didn’t want people to know her positions. My 18 year old said kindly, “Whichever one you want. Both have worked well for me just trying to get through high school”.

      To maintain relationships with people who are looking for an argument to win is hard. I figured out a long time ago that I am reluctant to say to them what they have no problem saying to me. I self censor because I have boundaries toward others.

      What is even worse is the the people we know like this are older, educated, well-heeled and insulated. The aging University faculty crowd, in this respect.

      • E. Olson says

        Thanks Lydia, and happy to hear your daughter has become adept at not antagonizing the Leftist gatekeepers of her life, but it sounds like she has a very smart mother. Your story also fits with my first instinct when reading the opening paragraph of this article about the granddaughter being “through” with her Soros blaming grandfather. I would be willing to bet serious money that it is the granddaughter who is the initiator of all topics where Soros is a possible response, and she is utterly shocked by someone (grandpa) responding with something that doesn’t fit the Leftist narrative (i.e. all problems are caused by Trump, Koch brothers, etc.).

    • bumble bee says

      Thanks for your comment. So true!

      So I guess what the article is advocating for as well is to not attempt to understand another perspective, but like the example, we should patronize the old buzzard with his Soros conspiracies by not jumping down his throat and just politely smile and nod. Yup, more condescending and hypocrisy from the enlighten ones on the left who firmly believe they are never wrong about anything. They are so sure in fact that they do not need to waste their time listening and comprehending what another has to say. If there was ever a case for mass brainwashing, the left should be evaluated.

    • @ E. Olson

      ” 90% of the media are Left”

      I doubt it. You have habit of inventing such things.

      ” that their well-meaning reforms and policies never actually solve the “fairness” problems of the real world”

      Many Leftist ideals have greatly advanced the world… we all know it. This is what I detest about your comment. The utter lack of any nuance. You post such utter shite in virtually all the comments sections.

      • E. Olson says

        Amin – as you may be aware I wrote the following:

        “I believe this is why the Left quickly resorts to name-calling when confronted by ideas they dislike, because they have almost never seriously exposed themselves to, or seriously considered any alternatives and hence are unable to provide any real defense of their Leftist viewpoint.”

        Thank you for providing such a perfect illustration in support of my view. As for the 90% Leftist journalist figure, you might wish to view the recent Lara Logan interview.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0HdxZ5adkM

        • @ E. Olson

          “Thank you for providing such a perfect illustration in support of my view.”

          Nope. You have simply illustrated what I have said about you. You make up whatever you like… you simply made a wrongful assumption about me.

          “I believe this is why the Left quickly resorts to name-calling when confronted by ideas they dislike”

          Hmm… hypocrisy.

          ” As for the 90% Leftist journalist figure”

          Nope.

          You are full of shit. And you post it all over the comments section ad nauseam.

          • E. Olson says

            Amin – in case you are unaware – name calling is NOT calling some other group “name-callers”, but instead is defined by saying a specific person is “full of shit” or something else unpleasant, unless you happen to be a medical doctor and believe the person you are shitting on has some sort of constipation problem. If you are a doctor, however, I might suggest you work on your bedside manner.

          • @ E. Olson

            “but instead is defined by saying a specific person is “full of shit””

            That is not really name calling you either. I have not called you a twat yet. Twat.

            I like how you found time to point out just the supposed personal insult and dropped everything else. Telling.

        • You mean anti-Trump and even then not the whole media. And try reading your own source before posting it

          • You keep telling people that the vast majority of the media isn’t left wing but you give no numbers or opinion what you think it is. Care to try and not only try source it even in a minor way?

          • Kencathedrus says

            @Amin: please refrain from name-calling and swearing. It completely detracts from any point you’re trying to make.

        • david of Kirkland says

          In a corrupted political system, donors give to all viable candidates as they cover their bets. That you pretend to believe that a donation means love and respect rather than getting what you pay for means you are not being serious.

          • E. Olson says

            David – do you mean the 5% cash given by journalists to Republicans is to cover their bets? If so, I guess the journalists figure they don’t need to distribute their cash contributions evenly between the two main parties since they give Republican candidates so much free positive coverage in their news stories and editorials.

          • mike87122 says

            david of Kirkland — so the fact that they don’t feel a need to give to all candidates to cover their bets (96% donations to Hillary) is telling, is it not?

        • @ Kevin Herman

          “You keep telling people that the vast majority of the media isn’t left wing”

          I have done no such thing. Else quote my comments back at me.

      • Sarah Allsop says

        You are correct Amin. I think it is closer to 95%. On another note, I found myself disappointed with this article. I agree with the commenter above that free speech for all will give some speakers enough rope to metaphorically “hang themselves”, and expose their ideas are illogical, irrational and based on fake not real compassion.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @E. Olson

      “Most left-handed people I know are almost ambidextrous in large part because the whole world is designed for right-handed people,”

      The Dextrocracy! Every day I confront Dextrocentrism a hundred times. Weep for me. I am exposed every day to the Violence of hearing words like ‘sinister’ and ‘gauche’. I am told to do the right thing. I am made less than human when I hear certain ball players called southPAWS. When will it stop? Some imagine that slavery is over, but left-handed pitchers are openly — openly! — bought and sold by baseball teams as a commodity. My handedness is linked by the very structure of dextriachal language to the SJWs and I want it to stop now.

      • E. Olson says

        Ray – you are so right – Left-handedness should be at the top of the intersectionality hierarchy and social justice remedies. Front of the line for you my good sir.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @E. Olson

          But in all seriousness I dare say that my entire perspective on Victimhood is informed by my left-handedness. That the world is dextrocentric is hardly surprising. Am I oppressed? Well, I am disadvantaged to be sure. But am I Oppressed? No time for such BS, I get along as best I can. What I would like is to be able to buy a left-handed drill press tho. And we lefties are not identical to righties. Our brains are noticeably different. We are more likely to be crazy … or geniuses. More likely to be politicians. And we are in fact clumsy. Interesting thing is that none of the above has been turned into a Victimhood — everyone just goes about their day. If I hear someone say ‘gauche’ I am not wounded in the slightest. There are no Equity cops worrying about whether there are enough lefties here or there. So I ask myself, if my very, very real disadvantage is no issue, surely to God we can do without Victimhoods that are almost entirely imaginary?

    • ga gamba says

      E, agreed.

      Years ago when the right, usually the Evangelical right, complained about certain topics being positively depicted in the mass media, the left’s response was “Change the channel” and “Read something else.” Pithy it may be, nonetheless this retort aligned with my thoughts.

      Something very peculiar has happened. I think everyone would agree that we have more media and information options than ever in human history. In the US there are hundreds of TV channels, SiriusXM radio offers 460 stations, about 800 films are screened annually, more than a million books are published per annum (including self published), and I haven’t even mentioned the internet. The US Department of Education’s College Scorecard states there are 7175 schools of higher education, and I presume many of these schools offer hundred of courses as well as a wide array of extracurricular events. Yet, the way progressives go on about some people being allowed to speak in front of a group of what’s usually a few dozen people, you’d think we live in 1970s Cuba where we’re required to view 7-hour-long harangues by Fidel.

      • E. Olson says

        GG – you raise an excellent point about the great number of choices we have today for news and information, which is exactly why the Left is so angry. In the old days of 3 US Networks, a couple of major wire services, and outside the US typically one state controlled TV/radio station in each country, virtually all the news was controlled by the Left. Cronkite might not have been as overtly biased as Rather or whoever is doing CBS news now, but we now know that he was very much a Lefty and a Leftist slant was always present in how the stories were presented on CBS (and competitors NBC and ABC). Of course it is much easier to judge how Leftist the mainstream media is today because we now can access some real contrasting viewpoints via Fox News, Breitbart (and the Internet), Limbaugh (and talk radio), etc. The Leftist information monopoly is finished, but as with the end of most monopolies, the people who benefited from it mourn its demise – and unfortunately the Left are not quiet sufferers.

        • “E. Olson ”

          “The Leftist information monopoly is finished”

          Huh!? You really are a twat.

          • K. Dershem says

            @Amin, I think you’re raising some valid points (I’ve also criticized commenters who make sweeping generalizations without providing evidence to back them up), but the name-calling is not helping your case. Ad hominem attacks allow you to express your frustration but contribute nothing to the conversation. The target of your insults will not be persuaded by being called a “twat,” and people who read the exchange are less likely to take your views seriously if you offer insults rather than arguments and evidence.

            On a more substantive note, I would argue that the mainstream media tends to be liberal on social issues (homosexuality, abortion, religion, racism, etc.) but has a corporate bias when it comes to economic issues (such as taxation, free trade, labor unions, and regulatory policy). This is not surprising since the majority of outlets are owned by media conglomerates. Outright censorship of stories is relatively rare, but it’s very likely that reporters self-censor regarding issues that could affect their employer’s bottom line.

          • Peter from Oz says

            Amin
            I hope you are using ”twat” to rhyme with ”hat”. Twat that rhymes with ”hot” is after all grossly sexist. 🙂

          • Are you trying to sabotage the civility here or are you just unfamiliar with civility in general? There’s no need for vulgarity and you’re influencing no one.

          • Peter says

            Amin,

            regrettably you make the point that some idiots really need to bet blocked from such comment streams.

  5. Eurocrat says

    “Nevertheless, I have an obligation to her—to be kind, to speak with her about other things, and perhaps even occasionally listen to her arguments about the United States, even if I have heard them before and don’t find them persuasive.”

    You do not have any obligation whatsoever. Perhaps you have an inner urge to be kind, because you are a very kind person, or for some other psychological reasons, but there is no obligation. In fact, your kindness is what is enabling relative of yours to bore you and insult you, every time two of you meet.

    I also doubt the effect of your book. The fact is that civilised people are loosing a battle against Internet mob, aggressiveness of “progressive” media and marginal groups who became trend-setters. Being more civilised can work if you have power over un-civilised. It’s good to be Athens, but sometimes you need Sparta for Athens to survive.

    • “You do not have any obligation whatsoever. Perhaps you have an inner urge to be kind, because you are a very kind person, or for some other psychological reasons, but there is no obligation. In fact, your kindness is what is enabling relative of yours to bore you and insult you, every time two of you meet.”

      Exactly. In fact, my “kindness” is not unleashing the forked sarcastic tongue I own. I often change the subject hoping they get the hint.

      I call this kind of vague admonition to kindness, the “totalitarian niceness”. Why? Because we are always the ones who end up on trial for not being nice enough in our responses when they are trying to corner us. Who defines? How about they learn manners? I don’t go looking for political debate but it’s everywhere now. Not everything is-political but has been made to be so they are surprised when people have had enough. These are not self aware people. They aren’t even real adults.

      Their real stupidity was the shame censoring or “be accused, marginalized or lose your job” over the past decade or so. They didn’t see Trump coming. They had no idea what many of the shame censored were really thinking.

  6. GregS says

    The quote from Winston Churchill has two parts. We can live easily with “one who can’t change his mind” but not so with those who “won’t change the subject” or more accurately, will not shut up about it.

    In 2016, I cut off my relationship with several friends and a few family members because they wouldn’t shut up about their hysterical views on Trump. The Donald wasn’t my first choice, Rubio was, but I voted for him anyway and wished for the best – but then it became impossible to have a beer with the old crowd or attend family functions. These events became shouting matches, not because those with opposing opinions were shouting at each other – but because members of the #resistance kept competing for volume.

    One cannot enjoy “the other aspects” of a relationship, if the only dimension to the relationship is how aggrieved one side is about the other.

    Things have calmed down and life is mostly back to normal……. I say this as we approach 2020.

    • david of Kirkland says

      Trump is special, but you are right that non-stop grumbling about him is as annoying as the right grumbling about Obama, or the left about Bush 2, or the right about Clinton, or …..
      There is a reason why politics and religions aren’t suitable topics for polite conversation. If you want to argue, they are perfect; they are not designed for agreement as both are mostly nonsense faux talk about love and concern and care from all powerful entities that love to punish the outgroup.

      • One could be marginalized or ruined as racist for grumbling about Obama. People have mortgages. Some found fellow travelers now and then and they whispered in car parks.

    • Is politics unavoidable to talk about in your family? I find that it only comes up as a sidebar, so whatever I might disagree with, it’s very passing in conversation so these “shouting matches” or “bad Thanksgiving dinner” situations are mythical things concocted by silly op-ed writers.

      • GregS says

        “bad Thanksgiving dinner” situations are mythical things concocted by silly op-ed writers

        For two years, half our clan avoided all family events. I talked to people at work and they complained about the same thing. It wasn’t until my mother’s funeral that we all played nice and promised to keep our rants to gatherings of the like minded.

        Think of it this way, there are eleven siblings in the family and four of them actually believe what they read in The New York Times.

        • George G says

          @GregS

          “four of them actually believe what they read in The New York Times”

          is there a gofundme we can contribute to get them a subscription to a better source of news?

  7. While it just seems like common sense that organizations that promote and try to normalize harm against children are not given platforms, I am not seeing a lot of discernment in the MSM and academia in distinguishing between that sort of agenda and the points that normal people that are merely concerned about the effects of mass illegal immigration on their wages and on the welfare system want to make. In fact, sometimes it seems like those voices with an agenda that is truly despicable are portrayed as “marginalized” while normal people with opinions that were the default just 10 years ago are now portrayed as being beyond the pale. Sometimes it does feel like a mass psychosis.

    • david of Kirkland says

      There may be some change in the future regarding children, as we’ve moved the age of childhood from ending at 12 (or thereabouts in many cultures) to 15, to 17 and now to 20, with some law assuming your “child” can be as old as 25. It may be child abuse to make children suffer second class citizenship for over a decade longer than once accepted.

  8. “Is the aim just to inflame and provoke, à la Milo Yiannopoulos or Anne Coulter?”

    How do you know their purposes? Is it not possible that they have strong beliefs that they wish to share? To inform? To educate?

    In general, these two have been invited by campus groups like the YAC, to speak to an audience very much interested in their ideas. No one is forced to attend. How is what they are doing any different from what a left wing speaker is doing? Is Ezra Klein not inflaming or provoking?

    • Do you notice how its always people on the right that are brought up as these sorts of examples even in stuff that gets published in Quillette? How about dolts like Cenk Uygar and Keith Olbermann on the left just to pull two random left wing lunatics out of thin air. I could name a million more but its Coulter and Milo and the rigth that are just around to inflame.

        • Jed says

          I wondered at that exception, too, especially as they are on the Right. As Jordan Peterson asks, “How do we know when the Left has gone ‘too far’?” The writer says if “the aim [is] just to inflame and provoke…” then we don’t have to listen. Who decides it’s inflammatory or provoking?

    • david of Kirkland says

      Even pretending to be liberal (liberty loving) often shows implicit bias.
      After all, can you imagine how awful it is that someone attempts to have provocative ideas?

  9. I’m amazed quite frankly that someone would allow themselves to get bent out of shape defending George Soros to the point it could cause familial problems. Plenty of stuff is made up about him but plenty of stuff isn’t. I feel like he is definitely not an overall good in the world even if he isn’t the source of all its ills like Granpappy thinks.

  10. Morgan Foster says

    “Abraham Lincoln … speaking of slave-owners: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.”

    It’s only a matter of time before his statues are torn down by the Left.

    • david of Kirkland says

      Indeed. He even contemplated “back to Africa” and other separate but equal ideas, plus GOP.

    • E. Olson says

      Do you know who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?

      Answer: a slave owner.

      Maybe its time for a name change? After all, it is very close to Harlem.

  11. Harrison Bergeron says

    “Pseudonymous blogger Scott Alexander wisely cautions that “every time we invoke free speech to justify some unpopular idea, the unpopular idea becomes a little more tolerated, and free speech becomes a little less popular.” ”

    I do not invoke free speech to justify an unpopular idea. I defend free speech because it is a right that we are all born with. It’s popularity or value to society is irrelevant. Whether we should listen to everyone’s ideas is a different issue. No one has a right to be listened to.

    • ga gamba says

      “every time we invoke free speech to justify some unpopular idea, the unpopular idea becomes a little more tolerated, and free speech becomes a little less popular.”

      This is a wordier way to claim the ideas one dislikes will become “normalised” if allowed to escape from Pandora’s box.

      I hear all kinds of things and that hasn’t changed my opinion. Does this make me unique? Do I have some forcefield around my noggin that prevents some ideas from talking hold? No and no.

  12. ga gamba says

    The essay is a repackaging of the same argument used recently by academics and university administrators to ban speakers from publicly funded campuses.

    And so in some cases, it helps to ask what motivates a particular speaker. Is the aim just to inflame and provoke, à la Milo Yiannopoulos or Anne Coulter? Or is it to educate and persuade his or her audience in good faith.

    OK, who do we ask this question? “Hey Milo, what’s your motivation?” “It’s to entertain.” Well Ms Hudson, what do you do then? Do you convene a panel to assess?

    What is lost in this “are they educating in good faith or not?” argument is many others also are invited to speak and perform on campuses to include authors of fiction, poets, musical acts, and comedians. Do we ask them their motivations too? If they are “political” and thought by some to be “provocative” and even “inflamatory” do they get the boot as well? Would you ban the Clash, Public Enemy, the Dixie Chicks, George Carlin, Kevin Hart or even someone as bland as Taylor Swift because she is (was?) the poster girl for the alt-right?

    • E. Olson says

      GG – I agree with you completely, but I believe you are going too far in considering a ban of George Carlin, or Lenny Bruce for that matter.

      • ga gamba says

        I liked how Milo Yiannopoulos or Anne Coulter were cited as the inflammatory and provocative ones. Probably the speaker deemed the most inflammatory presently is Charles Murray, and he’s an academic. I reckon if Nobel laureate James Watson were invited to speak on campus a lot of people would argue he’s inflammatory and claim he has nothing of educational merit to present.

        “To educate and persuade his or her audience in good faith” is a pretext. The “good faith” argument is used in bad faith. Don’t get taken in by this subterfuge.

        • E. Olson says

          Yea – Charles is a real flame thrower – constant name calling, constant calls for violence and oppression against victim groups, toxic masculinity oozing out from every pore. A total menace to civilization – definitely needs to be on the “no speech” list.

  13. Mark Beal says

    “Pseudonymous blogger Scott Alexander wisely cautions that ‘every time we invoke free speech to justify some unpopular idea, the unpopular idea becomes a little more tolerated, and free speech becomes a little less popular.'”

    “We” don’t invoke free speech to justify an unpopular idea, “we” invoke it to be able to express ideas, popular or unpopular, some of which will prove to be correct or useful, and some muddle-headed and detrimental. There is nothing inherently wrong about the unpopular becoming a little more tolerated – any moderately educated person can list a number of once unpopular ideas which are now taken for granted, and any number of formerly popular ideas that we nowadays find risible.

    Nor does free speech necessarily become less popular because unpopular ideas are expressed. A majority of people disagree with the ideology of transgenderism, but very few such people openly advocate banning transgender ideologues from speaking. Transgender ideologues, on the other hand, are forever waffling on about “hate speech” and trying to shut their opponents up.

  14. mike87122 says

    “He has his talking points, and there’s no changing his mind. It’s not even worth having a conversation.”

    In my opinion, this applies to almost everyone. It seems to me that there are very few people who are capable of having a rational conversation. Therefore, my default position is that it’s not worth trying to have a conversation about politics.

    • K. Dershem says

      I think it can be worthwhile to try to understand someone else’s perspective even if you’re unlikely to change their mind, or they’re unlikely to change yours.

  15. Peter from Oz says

    What gets me is the idea that the progressives will often try to ban someone not for what he is going to say but for something he said or did in the past.
    Thus if you used the word ”negro” in 1946, the left will try to stop you giving a talk abut flower arranging now. The reasoning seems to be that if anyone who once said or did something wrong is given any attention then that will lead to normalisation of bigotry.
    This sort of behaviour on the part of the left must be resisted. That is the true resistance we need now.
    I’m happy for the left to say that Joe blogs is a nasty person because he said ”negro” in 1946. But I will fight them tooth and nail if they try to supress Mr Bloggs’ speech.

  16. Peter from Oz says

    ”Pseudonymous blogger Scott Alexander wisely cautions that “every time we invoke free speech to justify some unpopular idea, the unpopular idea becomes a little more tolerated, and free speech becomes a little less popular.” ”
    Free speech can in fact make an unpopular idea more popular, not just tolerated. But if the idea becomes popular, then it might be because it is a good idea that deserves popularity. It may be that the left wing idea that it replaces is now unpopular and seen as wrong.
    In that case, free speech may become less popular with left-wingers who see an idea they don’t like gain acceptance whilst their point of view suffers. But free speech actually will become more popular overall if the ideas that emerge from its use are popular.
    So poor old Scotty is really talking absolute poppycock, from the point of view of an ideologue.

  17. Fickle Pickle says

    What hope have the “better angels of human nature” got when the Liar In Chief and life long professional Grifter now resident of the White House actively invokes and empowers all the worst aspects of possible human action and behavior every time that he tweets and opens his mouth.

    There is zero evidence of mercy, forgiveness, empathy and understanding to be found there, and in his entire life.
    He is quite literally an in-your-face manifestation of the emotionally retarded characters portrayed in the 1996 movie Beavis & Butthead Do America.

  18. CapitalistRoader says

    “One who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”

    That’s how Jane Wyman described her third husband, Ronald Reagan, before she divorced him in 1948. He, like Churchill, was a talker.

    • E. Olson says

      CR – interesting, but apparently she misjudged him, because Ronnie was a New Deal Democrat in 1948, but apparently changed his mind sometime later to become a conservative Republican of some note.

  19. Stephen J. says

    “Is the aim just to inflame and provoke, à la Milo Yiannopoulos or Anne Coulter?”

    The thing is, this question isn’t really accurate. Neither Milo nor Ann seek to inflame and provoke just to inflame and provoke. They seek to inflame and provoke because they believe that ideas have to be publicly tested and challenged in order to be properly evaluated, and because they believe that many people need to have their shock and outrage provoked before they will think about a particular idea, issue or assumption at all. Hard as it may admittedly be to tell when one is on the receiving end of it, this is different from those who seek to provoke outrage solely because they enjoy hurting the feelings of those they’re provoking.

    (Which is not to say that Milo or Ann don’t often enjoy the reactions they provoke. I think somewhat less of them insofar as they do, because I’ve always believed that hurting others’ feelings for one’s own amusement is just another form of bullying, which I condemn no matter how “deserving” some may think the target to be. But it is a universal human temptation and one I’ve felt myself, so there’s only so much I can criticize it.)

    But the key point here is that deliberately provocative speakers are (in their own mind at least) abandoning a surface civility in order to promulgate what they see as a deeper civility: they are trying to knock people out of their comfort zone because they want to educate and enlighten them, because they want their listeners to be better for the challenge. They are, quite literally, attempting to be “cruel to be kind”. Which then leads to the questions: What gives people the right to make the judgement that others need this harshness? Are the people about whom we are most likely to judge this correctly — i.e., the people we know best and love, our friends and family — the ones to whom we are most obliged to speak bluntly, or the ones we are most obliged to treat gently and supportively? How are we to know the difference? Can we, in practice, be both honest and kind?

  20. William Papke says

    “Nevertheless, I have an obligation to her—to be kind, to speak with her about other things, and perhaps even occasionally listen to her arguments about the United States, even if I have heard them before and don’t find them persuasive.” There is no categorical imperative to listen to anyone spouting nonsense and wasting your time. Get over yourself.

  21. Andrew says

    >every time we invoke free speech to justify some unpopular idea, the unpopular idea becomes a little more tolerated, and free speech becomes a little less popular.

    Instead I’d say: every time we ignore free speech to suppress an unpopular idea, the unpopular idea becomes more attractive and free speech becomes a little less popular.

  22. Beau J says

    When David Remnick from the New Yorker reneged on his invitation to Steve Bannon – because of threats of non attendance from others at the symposium – it crossed a significant line. It showed that “progressives” were not prepared to engage with anyone sympathetic to Pres Trump.

    As a long term subscriber to the New Yorker, it’s a shame how obsessively anti Trump it is – every article needs its dose of anti Trump.

  23. James says

    “I’m done with my grandfather,” a friend confided in me after a recent family gathering. “He compulsively talks about how George Soros is to blame for everything—and then refuses to recognize any evidence to the contrary,” she said. “He has his talking points, and there’s no changing his mind. It’s not even worth having a conversation.”

    Sorry, I don’t believe this conversation happened, at least in the way it’s reported. No-one talks to their friend using a mixture of Latin vocabulary and mid-20th-century expressions like ‘I’m done with’.

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