All posts filed under: Free Speech

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 …

The Commodification of Learning and the Decline of the Humanities

In “The Dying Art of Disagreement,” published in The New York Times last Autumn, Bret Stephens discusses our failure to have reasoned discussions, stating: “We no longer just have our own opinions. We also have our separate ‘facts,’ often the result of what different media outlets consider newsworthy.” Stephens elaborates on the ways in which the polarisation of opinion has become personal, to the extent that facts remain up for debate, weighed against feelings he claims are “purchased at the cost of permanent infantilization.” He implores his readers to embrace an education model that does not seek fixed answers but instead opens up texts and ideas to interrogation. Many of us in academia have struggled with this very problem—how are we to revive a spirit of inquiry in the classroom during an era of great pressure to conform to fashionable theoretical trends and hip analyses? One interesting facet of Stephens’s text is that he calls up the 1987 Allan Bloom best-seller, The Closing of the American Mind.  Yet, Stephens has reframed the prevailing and more …

Why We Marched to Defend Free Speech in the UK

Writers Helen Dale and Shazia Hobbs both attended the ‘Free Dankula’ protests on Monday April 23, Shazia in Airdrie, Scotland and Helen in London, England. Here, they report exclusively for Quillette. Helen: I’m not sure speaking at a protest was ever on my bucket list but at least I can say I’ve done it now. In circumstances I still find peculiar — outlined here to American journalist Tim Pool at 17:10 — I finished up speaking at the London ‘Free Dankula’ cum ‘Free Speech’ protest. Shazia: I arrived at Airdrie Sheriff Court on Monday morning not knowing what sort of turn out to expect. I was delighted to see lots of people had travelled from England to support Markus Meechan, but I was disappointed to see Scots hadn’t turned out in their thousands. Scottish law is different from English law and Scottish people should have been a more visible presence, since the outcome of the case could curtail their freedom of speech. This man was also at risk of ‘going in the gaol’ as Scots …

The Scientific Importance of Free Speech

Editor’s note: this is a shortened version of a speech that the author was due to give last month at King’s College London which was canceled because the university deemed the event to be too ‘high risk’. A quick Google search suggests that free speech is a regarded as an important virtue for a functional, enlightened society. For example, according to George Orwell: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Likewise, Ayaan Hirsi Ali remarked: “Free speech is the bedrock of liberty and a free society, and yes, it includes the right to blaspheme and offend.” In a similar vein, Bill Hicks declared: “Freedom of speech means you support the right of people to say exactly those ideas which you do not agree with”. But why do we specifically need free speech in science? Surely we just take measurements and publish our data? No chit chat required. We need free speech in science because science is not really about microscopes, or pipettes, …

Online Hate Speech and the Nazi Pug

In 1941, the German embassy in Helsinki interrogated a Finnish man accused of training his dog to raise its paw in response to the word “Hitler.” This act was considered disrespectful to the Third Reich but, fortunately for him, no witnesses were prepared to come forward and the prosecution was dropped. A Scottish court has now succeeded where the Nazis – on this count, anyway – failed, and convicted a man over a Hitler-saluting dog. Markus Meechan, aka “Count Dankula,” is the self described “internet comedian and shitposter” recently convicted under the Communications Act for publishing a short video of his girlfriend’s pug to lifting its paw in response to the command “Sieg Heil!” Meechan uploaded the clip (now disabled) to YouTube in April 2016 under the category “Comedy.” He explained: My girlfriend is always ranting and raving about how cute and adorable her wee dog is. So I thought that I would turn him into the least cute thing I could think of, which is a Nazi . . . I’m not a racist, by the …

The Feminist Case for Free Speech

“I will teach you to learn your place as a woman in this world. Then you will eat my cum.” “SHUT YOUR WHORE MOUTH… OR I’LL SHUT IT FOR YOU AND CHOKE IT WITH MY DICK.” “WOMEN THAT TALK TOO MUCH NEED TO GET RAPED.” These were just a few of the tweets sent to British journalist Caroline Criado‑Perez when she campaigned to include women on British banknotes. Criado-Perez is hardly alone. On average, American men receive (and send) more online abuse than women. But gender-based online abuse targets women twice as often as men. In the UK, prominent female journalists receive about three times as much abuse as their male colleagues. Understandably, many women feel deeply uncomfortable participating in public debates in which ‘arguments’ consist of abusive messages, including threats of rape. The problem of online misogyny may be among the reasons why significantly more American women than men favor online safety over freedom of speech (63 percent vs. 43 percent). Women are also less supportive of tolerating hate speech than men (51 percent …

The Meaning of Freedom

“Lock them in and burn it down!” someone cried to scattered whoops of approval as protesters barricaded the doors with garbage bins. Someone else banged on the stained-glass window of the historic Grant Hall at Queen’s University until it broke. The building was completed in 1905. It used as a military hospital during the First World War and a meal hall for troops during the Second. “Shame On You!” the protesters chanted, and “No Freedom For Hate Speech!” and “Whose Campus? Our Campus!” and “Attending Is Complicity!” and the now-ubiquitous slogan “Fuck White Supremacy!” The mob was protesting the appearance of University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson, who had been invited to deliver a lecture on compelled speech in Canada. It was the first talk in a series on individual liberty and its central role in liberal democracy and Western culture. Inside the hall, Peterson’s remarks were briefly interrupted by two protesters who mounted the stage and unfurled a banner that read “Freedom To Smash Bigotry.” They were booed and catcalled until they left, …

“You’re Fake News” The Unfortunate Reality of the Ad Hominem

When Donald Trump tweets, stock prices can tumble. Trump can wield greater influence with 280 characters than some world leaders can with entire economies. Reaching the public directly, Trump is able to personally attack an individual, agency, or company, and impact the news cycle for days, if not weeks, at a time. How can Trump’s attacks be so effective if the restrictions imposed by Twitter’s character limit leave so little room to formulate an argument? Anyone who followed the bitter presidential race between Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016 could be excused for thinking the evidence is already in. Trump and Fox spent months ceaselessly browbeating CNN and Clinton with attacks on their integrity, their associations, and their alleged motivations. Attacks ranged from accusations of corruption and criminality to anti-American intent. Clinton and CNN responded in kind, drawing parallels between Trump and Hitler, and painting him as exploitative and predatory in his business practices, narcissistic, sexist and racist. Behind these shouting matches, various news channels were busily scrutinizing every statistic, accusation, and proposal, consulting experts …

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 …