Monday, November 26, 2007

"Anti-fascist" Students Storm Oxford Union Debate, Riot

The debate at the Oxford Union between BNP leader Nick Griffin and anti-Holocaust historian David Irving did not push through as planned, although the speakers were allowed to continue in guarded rooms.

Scuffles broke out as anti-fascist groups yelled "Shame on you" at members filing into the union building, and the police shut the gates with the chamber only half full. While a handful of students crushed against the main gate to create a diversion, others scaled the wall and barged past the tight security, occupying the area around the debating table until they were hauled out by guards. ...

Access to the meeting itself, entitled The Free Speech Forum, was restricted to about 450 Oxford Union members. It went ahead after students voted in a ballot by 2-1 not to cancel, despite pressure from MPs, and from Jewish and Muslim societies, who combined with Unite Against Fascism to organise last night's protest. About half of those with tickets found their way barred after demonstrators barricaded the entrances.

Well since the Nick Griffin and David Irving debate didn't work out so well, let's run our own face-off here on a different topic. The subject of Free Speech. Posters please indicate whether you are for the affirmative or the negative. Proposition: some persons and ideas are so reprehensible that even a society which espouses "free speech" cannot allow them expression. Take your sides, let the debate begin.

Nothing follows.


Blogger RDS said...

I stand AGAINST the proposition.

Some ideas are indeed so reprehensible that any private group would be stupid or sinister to give them a venue -- HOWEVER, should they choose to do so, opponents can make their point by protesting WITHOUT disrupting the event.

Otherwise they are nothing but thugs who have appointed themselves as more equal pigs.

And "free speech" then devolves to whomever is the strongest.

That's no way to run a railroad.

For example, I think burning an American flag is ridiculous and a travesty. But an amendment outlawing it would be a far greater desecration to the Constitution and the cause of Liberty than any pathetic flag-burning demonstration. Indeed, such an amendment would be invalid on its face, because Inalienable Rights are not granted by the Constitution and cannot be taken away by any majority, no matter how large -- otherwise they wouldn't be inalienable, would they?!?

This is the same slippery slope.

11/26/2007 05:53:00 PM  
Blogger Brock said...

I like my idiots where I can see them. They do less harm that way. Why, if Rosie O'Donnell (or Ron Paul) weren't allowed to speak their mind you might not know they were nutcases until it was too late and you had mistakenly entrusted them with some responsibility.

Plus, context is important. So if Joe Smith approaches you with conjecture Y, it is helpful to know that he also believes A, B and C to be true as well. This helps you properly frame the worldview that shapes his arguments, and promotes meaningful discourse.

I deliberately do not make any appeals to "universal human rights." Not everyone believes in those. But everyone believes in keeping crazy people away from the trigger switch.

11/26/2007 06:00:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

I am in favor of free speech and detest the concept of Political Correctness which attempts to stifle it by prohibiting the expression of certain "unacceptable" concepts.

That being said, the legal concept of "free speech" is often horribly abused, usually by judges in order to give their personal beliefs the force of law.

NRO's Bench Memos Blog lists a good example:
2004—Objecting to government policy on homosexuals in the military, many law schools restricted the access of military recruiters to their students. In response, Congress enacted the Solomon Amendment, which provides that in order for a law school and its university to receive federal funding, the law school must offer military recruiters the same access to its campus and students that it provides to the nonmilitary recruiter.

In FAIR v. Rumsfeld, a divided panel of the Third Circuit rules that the Solomon Amendment violates First Amendment speech guarantees by “requir[ing] law schools to express a message that is incompatible with their educational objectives.”

On review, the Supreme Court unanimously reverses, in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts. Roberts makes short work of the Third Circuit’s reasoning. The Solomon Amendment, he explains, “neither limits what law schools may say nor requires them to say anything.” Rather, it “regulates conduct, not speech,” as it “affects what law schools must do—afford equal access to military recruiters—not what they may or may not say.”

If this last barrier had failed, a grave injustice would have been foisted on the public by agenda-driven judges.

11/26/2007 06:06:00 PM  
Blogger 49erDweet said...

I join the conservative side against the question. "Anti-fascists" have the right to demonstrate, but not to disrupt. THEIRS is the shame.

And Brock's point is extremely important. Always keep the idiots in your field of view. Once they manage to drop out of sight all kinds of nuisances seem to crop up.

The reasoning that allows "super-equals" to disrupt other's discourse eventually and inevitably gives rise to anarchy. Imho.


11/26/2007 06:21:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

But when is "free speech" trumped by "hate speech"? Are we not now bound by the politically correct and laws passed which tell us we are, literally, not allowed to use certain words or denigrate certain people or religions?

If we're going to have "free speech" then we must needs repeal these laws which enable certain segments of humanity to hide their misdeeds behind an enforced silence.

11/26/2007 06:21:00 PM  
Blogger Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Let the absolute assholes reveal themselves for what they are.

11/26/2007 06:25:00 PM  
Blogger El Baboso said...

I've always liked the saying "The freedom to swing your fist in the air ends where it intersects my face," which I've seen attributed to Will Rogers and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Translating that from action to speech, I believe that all political speech is permitted except for that which incites violence. I believe that commercial speech should be less well protected. For example, governments may restrict the ability of tobacco companies to advertising, but should never stop someone from speaking out for a law that would end the prohibition of smoking in bars. I also support laws that allow civil actions (not criminal)against those who slander or libel non-public figures.

11/26/2007 06:59:00 PM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

Proposition: some persons and ideas are so reprehensible that even a society which espouses "free speech" cannot allow them expression. Opposed

A society that will not allow expression of even vile notions will eventually loose perspective necessary to identify those notions as vile. Besides nothing alerts one to the stupidity of ones rant than the feedback one gets from a critical audience.

So how can we get proponents of PC speech to listen to themselves?

11/26/2007 07:04:00 PM  
Blogger F said...

Negative. Objectionable ideas are not defeated by preventing their expression. However it is not mandatory for every institution to grant a venue to every person who wants to speak.

I opposed Ahmedinajad's invitation to Columbia not because he had no right to speak there; rather because I thought it was stupid of the university to give him a platform. As it turned out, I believe I was right. But he certainly had the right to speak -- I'm just sorry Columbia didn't leave it to the UN to host his inanities. F

11/26/2007 07:08:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

The problem comes down to whether there exist any unallowable statements within the syntax and vocabulary of our political system. In any formal logical system there are statements you can make consistent with the logical axioms of the system; but there also exist statements which if allowed would rip the system apart.

The concept of sedition is a prime example of an unallowable statement. The axiom that "the Constitution is not a death pact" captures the idea that some statements are not logically valid within a given system.

But by common consent, our logical system seems to allow even seditious speech provided no further action is taken to implement it. Sedition is permitted as speculation. Under such circumstances then, is anything forbidden? Is the contemplation of any evil or perversion possible under the concept of free speech?

I think there are some ideas which if contemplated in and of themselves give rise to great danger simply because they may motivate others.

So I'd say "yes, there are some ideas we ought not allow to be debated. But the Griffin-Irving debate was not one of them.

11/26/2007 07:11:00 PM  
Blogger Quig said...

Some persons and ideas are so reprehensible that even a society which espouses "free speech" cannot allow them expression.
Let us allow that a person and an idea are two discreet entities. Let us allow “reprehensible” to represent any physical presentation or intellectual concept that is not, at this point in time, accepted by the “society”. Let us further allow that “free speech” may be defined as the unfettered expression of an intellectual concept or physical presentation.
In order to enhance the survivability of a society those ideas that promote the wellbeing of the society are more acceptable than those that do not. These survival concepts are illustrated by the customs, behavioural patterns and laws and regulations developed over time by a coherent society. Therefore, a society or a sub set of a society has the right to enable and ensure its survival by placing limits on the unfettered expression of an intellectual concept or physical presentation on those who wish to be and remain a part of that society.
Now, the concept of “reprehensibility” as defined above depends on the reprehensible presentation or concept not being accepted by the “society”. The “reprehensibility” of any concept or presentation will vary between societies and between sub sets of societies. While a society as a whole may accept that some concept or presentation may be acceptable and by being so accepted acquire a right to be expressed or presented it does not follow that the concept or presentation will be accepted by all sub sets of that society.

11/26/2007 07:13:00 PM  
Blogger Cas said...

Some persons and ideas are so reprehensible that even a society which espouses "free speech" cannot allow them expression.

I think that the line between permissible speech and criminal agitation is crossed when actual incitement to violence (or worse) is the main object of the free speech. "Speaking your mind" should always be permitted, such that we may know how little is contained within. The classic example of yelling "Fire!" in a crowded establishment shows that speech can have consequences. Should an Iman be allowed to preach hate, death and destruction to anyone, and then be allowed to hide behind "freedom of Speech and/or Religion" after causing acoyltes to bomb buses or hijack planes?
Also, criminal libel is another example of "free speech" which can and should be prosecuted, but under laws such as Britain and other Commonwealth countries (I believe) have, making the loser pay the costs.

11/26/2007 07:46:00 PM  
Blogger mike said...

Negative. Say what you will.

As far as "sedition" goes. Go ahead, speak you mind. We may arrest you afterwards...and put on trial in front of your peers.

This is what adults do to other adults in a free, lawful society...that is, hold eachother accountable for their actions.

11/26/2007 07:51:00 PM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

RE: Unallowable statements within the syntax and vocabulary of our political system. Wretchard The concept of sedition is a prime example of an unallowable statement.,

I think there are some ideas which if contemplated in and of themselves give rise to great danger simply because they may motivate others.

Discussions leading to assassination of key leaders are always out of line, but it has not stopped some from contemplating the usefulness of the idea at times. Our system does not fall apart but adjusts to meet the challenge, within the limits of the system. Sedition if sensible, will be achieved peaceably by design of our process. Seditious statements as they effect other political systems and contexts, to the detriment of ours or our interests, is a matter for debate. It is hoped that a consensus of opinion can be reached to limit the harmful, and silence the foolish statements.

Still, without resort to criminal statute how does a seditious press cease and desist? In the context of War, is it legitimate to squelch certain speech?

Do no harm. take responsibility, and be prepared to be held to account.

11/26/2007 07:58:00 PM  
Blogger chris said...

i am kind of confused, aren't both of these fellows pretty much on the same page politically. did the article mention what they were debating ? it seems like these "brave" anti-fascists are more than a little selective, when it comes to whom they challenge.

11/26/2007 08:11:00 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

A corollary to the statute of unrestricted stupid speech ought to be the right to hurl tomatoes at asshats who coarsen and de-civilize our public square. Let them be put in stocks and pontificate while we fling trash and rotten vegetables at them.

11/26/2007 08:30:00 PM  
Blogger demosophist said...

Rather obviously some things are not allowable, such as publishing military plans during a war... and at the margins certain expressions of sedition that border on treason. That said, there's utility in allowing the expression of extremist dissent, provided the counter is an argument rather than a military escalation or defensive operation. The critical line seems to be the extremity of the necessary response. If it's merely speech and argument, that's certainly allowable. If it's lives and treasure, not so much. The actual line, however, isn't "bright." It'll always be open to debate...

11/26/2007 08:34:00 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

I’ll give you this much: Some words are such triggers in the wrong context that they amount to harassment, fighting words or inciting a riot. It’s not hard to imagine a dozen such variations. But even in the worse case, we’re responsible for providing protection for that speech in some reasonable venue.

11/26/2007 08:39:00 PM  
Blogger PierreLegrand said...

I also stand against the proposition. Now more than ever we need to stand against those who label thoughts they don't approve of as hate speech. Hate speech will be defined shortly as any speech relating ideas that the Majority does not agree with and that will be the end of civilized society. At that point if you cannot argue your ideas and have some hope of convincing others you will resort to force.

11/26/2007 09:29:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

I think there are some ideas which if contemplated in and of themselves give rise to great danger simply because they may motivate others.

Such as the Wahhabi's in Saudi Arabia preaching "death to the Infidel" 5 times a day for 50 years.

Or the Nazi's shrieking Sieg Heil as they goose-stepped after the Jews in response to Adolf's speeches.

Or Jim Jones convincing 900 people in Guyana to "drink the kool aid".

11/26/2007 09:38:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

Having argued for the affirmative earlier, let me argue for the negative.

What is the logical political system within which we operate? At first glance it would appear to be the Constitution, but in actuality the political system is not so rigorously defined. Because the Constitution can be amended by the People the logical axioms of the system are anything the people want it to be. There is no "final" Constitution.

This is important to note because while certain propositions are unallowable under the Constitution there are some which may be undecidable. We are all familiar with Godel's concept of undecidable propositions, which shows that logical systems more complex than arithmetic contain "statements that are neither provably true nor provably false". The only way out of the dilemma is to create new axioms. You can think about the amendments to the Constitution as doing exactly that: adding new axioms to resolve questions that couldn't be answered within the original logical system. But the problem of undeciablity cannot be banished. Godel showed that however many additional axioms you added, undecidable propositions would continue to exist within the system.

That means that in some sense there can never be limits to what we can "say". You can say anything, though that something may in fact be unallowable within the current system. Whether you wind up being hanged or memoralized in a marble statue on the Mall depends on whether the People go along.

So while there exist things you cannot say within any definition of freedom of speech. People may go ahead and say them, if you're prepared to face the consequences.

In the old days, however, people understood that rebellion meant rebellion. Today some think rebellion is "protected" by Free Speech. In truth, you should only be a rebel if you're willing to take the chance that history will justify you down the track. You can't seek the formal protection of the system you are trying to overthrow.

11/26/2007 09:58:00 PM  
Blogger KrishnaKirti said...

Yes, there are propositions that are so reprehensible that they must not be discussed.

First, although my point of view is theistic, it is not at all unfamiliar. The incident described in the above article shows that heresies exist without theism. That man must have his heresies is non-negotiable. Man must have them, whether he believes in God or not. That leaves us with the question as to what is properly heretical.

If there is an orginial heresy, it is the heresy that separates us from God. All heresies come from that. The reason is simple: human nature is something quite perverse. Because it is perverse, without the mercy of God, who is free from human perversity, humans will eventually perpetrate great evil. If this is true, and certain kinds heresies separate us from God, then those topics must be suppressed when they arise.

Can they be discussed neverthless? I think so, but only by qualified people and very carefully. Plutonium, for example, can be handled and put to good use, but it is off-limits to the vast majority of the people for good reason.

I realize that others, perhaps most readers of this, may take offense with this strongly theistic perspective on free speech, and in the name of free speech I ask that it least be considered. But before dismissing it out of hand, I ask you to consider this:

If human nature is fundamentally perverse (that the pull toward evil is stronger than the pull toward virtue), then what else can reliably keep humanity above evil but for a superhuman agency?

11/26/2007 10:19:00 PM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

You have the right to be offended.

It does help if it is entertaining.

11/26/2007 11:01:00 PM  
Blogger Dr. Ferris said...

I think students do not have teh right to protest on campus, regardless of the cause. THose that do should be expelled.

People pay money to go to college. Protestors deny them what they paid for. College campuses are not proper forums for rioting and carrying on, and those that insist on making them one should be denied access.

11/27/2007 01:25:00 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

(note this is the 'other' Kevin)

On a side note, David Irving's early history books were really quite good - notably his Rommel biography. Even John Keegan praised "Hitler's War". It appears that as Irving immersed himself in the study of Nazism, he slowly started to drink the Kool-aid.

11/27/2007 05:46:00 AM  
Blogger Marcus said...

"Some ideas are so reprehensible . . . "

The Oxford Union promotes debate. Good for it and such British tradition. Disruptive protest is a means of precluding debate. A campus should encourage debate, prevent thuggery. Perhaps we need to make a distinction between "speech" and "political action" that wraps itself in the mantle of free speech?

The problem at Columbia/Ahmadinejad was absence of debate. The modern version of debate, unfortunately, is something like a q&a.

The problem of the "n" word on campus? Now there's an issue of free speech, when words can hurt.

11/27/2007 06:24:00 AM  
Blogger hepzeeba said...

I stand against.

Free speech for me and for thee, even if reprehensible beyond measure.

Let's remember that the disruption of free speech is also free speech. And that this kind of disruption also might need protecting, say, if the reprehensible ideas come from a representative of government.

The vigorous exercise of free speech is vital to the health of our democracy.

11/27/2007 06:48:00 AM  
Blogger Yashmak said...

A society that will not allow expression of even vile notions will eventually loose perspective necessary to identify those notions as vile. - Wretchard

As good a summary as any I could pen.

These disrupting students would do more to discredit the ideas they despise by allowing those who hold such notions to express them publicly. Instead, they make themselves out to be the villains by restricting the speech of their foes.

11/27/2007 07:47:00 AM  
Blogger Jrod said...

It seems that certain people need to learn that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. For example, your right to burn the flag should not preclude my right to bludgeon you with a flag pole afterwards.

We the People have granted ourselves the privilege of free speech. Why anybody would think that Ahmadinejad was entitled to the same, just because he happened to be in NYC on UN business, is beyond me. If he wants free speech, he can pass his own Bill of Rights.

11/27/2007 09:00:00 AM  
Blogger El Jefe Maximo said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11/27/2007 09:10:00 AM  
Blogger El Jefe Maximo said...

Free speech ceases to be free speech and becomes riotous assembly when it interferes with the rights of others to have free speech.

Now I think the British Fascists and Mr. Irving are pretty absurd. But these wackos had this lecture hall, and people paid money to see them -- so they had a right to have their show.

The so called anti-fascists had the right to talk too, and to protest the event, but they had no right to block access to it, prevent it from taking place, or prevent the ticket holders from seeing the event. They had no right to storm the Oxford Union. By so doing, they were acting more like fascists. Preventing a political speech by disrupting it in such a manner is marxist or fascist pure and simple, and those people should have been hauled away and jailed.

In general, I fail to see how free speech includes the right to cause public disruption. Similarly I do not think it can be argued that the concept of free speech includes the right to have somebody else pay for the microphone, the lecture hall or the printing press in order for you to exercise your rights. Nor does free speech give us the right to engage in libel or slander.

As the old Jacksonian state constitutions used to (and sometimes still) say: "Every person shall be at liberty to speak, write or publish his opinions on any subject, being responsible for the abuse of that privilege. . ." (Texas Constitution, Art. I, §8).

11/27/2007 09:13:00 AM  
Blogger Pangloss said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11/27/2007 10:16:00 AM  
Blogger Pangloss said...

Proposition: some persons and ideas are so reprehensible that even a society which espouses "free speech" cannot allow them expression.

On first thought I stood opposed.

Keep the pickpockets' hands where I can see them, put things in context, allow those with new and valuable insights to persuade others, allow falsehoods to be exposed brutally, mercilessly, to the light of reason.

Then I asked myself if there were any speech I could posit that might need to be treated as a criminal act.

Suppose that a speaker rises in front of a high-school assembly and proceeds to give a simple explanation of how anyone, with common household items and no special skills, could create a bubonic plague/ rabies/ anthrax/ smallpox aerosol in five minutes. It is an idea. It is stupid and incredibly dangerous to give this talk. But at least in this case the speaker knows, more or less, the people to whom he speaks, and can estimate their future actions beforehand.

Now suppose that instead the speaker publishes his instructions on the internet with diagrams, quicktime demonstration, and links to suppliers. He can no longer predict the actions of readers. But is there really a difference when the speaker's audience could have all blogged about the speech and put the information on the internet anyway?

I conclude from this that there are certain facts and procedures that should be kept secret as a matter of national security. Publishing or publicly exposing official secrets should be prevented, and punished if prevention doesn't work.

Treason as defined in the US Constitution is a similar issue. I'll get back to treason later.

There are other acts of speech that society should not tolerate: sedition; slander; libel; fraud; shouting fire in a theater. Now are these ideas to be expressed or are they hostile, harmful acts to be prevented and/or punished? They all cause measurable harm, while ordinary ideas do not. I conclude that, seeing as how most of them are already crimes under the statutes or constitution, harmful acts of speech can be criminalized.


I agree that there are criminally harmful objects and acts that should be forbidden. Certain scientific facts should be secret for national security purposes. Treason should not be allowed. Waging war against one's own nation should not be allowed. Shouting fire in a theater, libel and slander should not be tolerated.

Let's take the case of Treason: waging war against one's own country or giving comfort to the enemy. Is an Idea War against the nation a type of war that should be subject to the same legal instruments as traditional war, including charges of treason? How about if there is no fighting between armies, and if there is no formal declaration of war?

Giving comfort to the enemy in a time of war is treason. But it is not in a time of peace, for in a time of peace there is no declared enemy. In a war fought without a formal declaration is treason meaningful? Certainly it does not seem to be possible to punish it in 2007 as even the most egregious exposure of national security secrets in national publications has not been punished by charges of treason. So there must be drawn a legal line in the sand to make treason a meaningful definition.

Is it the same for the definition of criminally harmful speech and action? Is criminal harm something that must be defined in legislation? I think it must. We know that any speech that is prohibited by legislation is speech that the sovereign of this nation (We the people) determined harmful. If legislation goes against the people's God-given conscience then the people have the ability to repeal it. The sovereign people agreed with legislation defining harm when it was passed and they agree now, so the legal definition of harmful speech or action is satisfactory.

For the proposition itself I would draw the same sort of line between criminal and protected speech. I agree with the proposition concerning harmful speech that is criminal. But I do not agree when it comes to non-criminal speech. On balance I am forced to agree, but with misgivings. I realize this traps me in legalities. I realize that this line of reasoning would defend the Turkish government's policy of prosecuting people for insulting Turkishness and could be used by people in favor of hate crime laws (which I think are ridiculous, as if the murderer never feels hate except against members of designated victim groups). What legality does is allow for the rule of law and the coherence of a single nation instead of its fracture into a balkanized mess.

What legality does not do is guarantee goodness and truth. That is up to the sovereign people in the exercise of their God-given conscience. And that is a different proposition entirely.

Nor does this respect of legality extend to laws that were not legislated but decreed from the bench or imposed by anonymous bureaucrats. Such illegitimate extension of the law must be prevented and punished vigorously, as it undermines the legitimate sovereignity of the nation and causes people to despise the law.

On balance, if the choice is between allowing criminality and punishing or preventing it, I'll take sides against anarchy.

So as a requirement for the continuation of national existence, I would have to support the proposition as written.

11/27/2007 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

David Irving was seduced by neo-naziism and no longer of value as a historian.

The history of the Holocaust is an interest of mine. Here are some books that I recommend:

"Eyewitness Auschwitz, Three Years in the Gas Chambers" by Filip Mueller. Mueller provides the best first hand account by a surviving Sonderkommando.

"Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp" by Yisreal Gutman and Michael Berenbaum. This book was published in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It provides a good and accurate nut-and-bolts description of the Holocaust.

"Hanged at Auschwitz" by Sim Kessel. Kessel was a slave laborer at Auschwitz and one of the longest-surviving inmates. He provides accurate and insightful descriptions of day-to-day life at Auschwitz.

--The following two authors are important but problematic--

"Commandant of Auschwitz" by Rudolf Hoess. Hoess, an SS officer was the first commandant of Auschwitz and developed the Zyklon-B method of mass murder. Hoess wrote this book while in prison awaiting execution in Poland. Hoess was one of the worst human beings that ever lived. By definition, his testimony is not trustworthy. However he was in the center of the Holocaust so his story needs to be included for complete overview.

"Auschwitz, A Doctor's Eye-Witness Account" by Dr. Miklos Nyiszli. Dr. Nyiszli was a Sonderkommando like Mueller working in a KZ-Birkenau crematorium (Mueller and Nyiszli knew each other). Dr. Nyiszli (a pathologist) was made to do autopsies on the victims of Dr. Mengele's cruel experiments. Dr. Nyiszli's story is extremely interesting and was originally serialized in a series of newspaper articles. Unfortunately, a journalist actually ghost-wrote the articles in cooperation with Nyiszli and apparently felt the need to "improve" the story by adding some unnecessary drama (don't you love the media?). It is best to read Nyiszli first and then read Filip Mueller. I believe Filip Mueller over Nyiszli when they disagree on some point of fact.

11/27/2007 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

(note: this is the whack-job Kevin)

I quite agree that David Irving was once an inspired historian. And I stand absolutely against the proposition. The government has no role in "protecting" me from any "reprehensible" speech. Society does however have a role in helping develop, for as many people as possible, a critical thinking capability which would make citizens immune to being swayed by any reprehensible speech they may happen to stumble upon.

11/27/2007 12:28:00 PM  
Blogger sbw said...

The debate structure of yes or no offers no refuge for nuance. Nevertheless, the proposition cannot stand. The freedom to offend is the keystone of society, because an individual's accurate understanding reality is key to quality of life. That said, the freedom to offend does not imply the necessity, and "Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?" is not so much speech as solicitation of murder. Vile speech is answered by being shamed and shunned, not stifled.

11/27/2007 07:01:00 PM  
Blogger Neo Conservative said...

We just finished a big book-burning brouhaha... for added flavour, try adding a little religion...


"The Golden Compass is a book about the quest to kill GOD."


Which begs the question, "What kind of puny-ass deity are you people worshipping anyway?"


11/27/2007 08:30:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Vile speech is answered by being shamed and shunned, not stifled.

If the priest was being troublesome, then vile speech is also answered by murder ... and that is the current crux of the problem.

11/27/2007 09:05:00 PM  
Blogger PierreLegrand said...

Let's remember that the disruption of free speech is also free speech. And that this kind of disruption also might need protecting, say, if the reprehensible ideas come from a representative of government.

No it is not "free speech" because shouting down another person when they, not you, are invited to speak is not free speech, it is using force to shut down free speech. Even if you do not use overt force it is wrong since you are violating the person holding the debates property rights by trespassing and not allowing the speech they have invited to happen.

It seems that certain people need to learn that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. For example, your right to burn the flag should not preclude my right to bludgeon you with a flag pole afterwards.

It seems that even more people need to learn that using or threatening to use force against ideas you do not like is illegal.

We must defend the right of even the most obnoxious to have their say.

11/27/2007 10:31:00 PM  
Blogger Pangloss said...

The Golden Compass is about a quest to kill God.

True. But it's set in a Gnostic Universe and is therefore already morally upside-down. The God they quest to kill is the evil Demiurge, not the creator God but the devil who took credit for all God's good works and screwed them up by imprisoning all that wonderful Divine spirit in gross and fallen matter while he had the opportunity.

Thus the heresy of Pullman's trilogy doesn't bother Catholic me any more than it would bother a Buddhist. Might as well get bent out of shape at the Bhagavad Gita.

11/27/2007 11:16:00 PM  
Blogger sbw said...

nahncee: If the priest was being troublesome, then vile speech is also answered by murder ... and that is the current crux of the problem.

The follow-on debate proposition is when to punish and how.

The initial proposition fails because prescriptively enforcing silence leaves no room for doubt -- and, as implied above, humility belongs to those who appreciate from past experience their understanding of the world was not perfect and their better future depends on discovering through interaction with others where they may be mistaken.

Punishment is an after-the-fact ajudication of that which goes beyond speech to complicity with a crime.

The flaw in education is that we no longer arm students to defend themselves against words.

11/28/2007 06:09:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

The white elephant standing square in the middle of the room which everyone is determined to ignore is Islam.

Forget dumb students testing their wings, and forget parsing how many free speech angels can dance on the head of a First Amendment pin (which, BTW, only pertains to the United States and our Constitution, although much of the rest of the world is now also claiming our Constitutional right as their own).

Muslims have been busy teaching us that their right to behead us for having humiliated them trumps any right we might have to think for ourselves or to say anything about them slitting our throats.

Where do you think rioting students learned the tactic of violence in response to free speech?

Until we are willing to meet fascist Islam threats of violence with our own push-back then our choices are very simple: we can pipe down to preserve our lives (which that dratted priest didn't have the sense to do in merry olde England), or we can do an Indiana Jones and shoot the Muslim scimitar-wielder before he can get close enough to do any damage when he's objecting to his latest humiliation.

11/28/2007 09:14:00 AM  
Blogger MaYHeM said...

Free speech does not promise a free public forum for that speech.

11/28/2007 09:16:00 AM  
Blogger LifeoftheMind said...

The best way to regulate speech is through social controls. That means the withering contempt of adolescent girls should be cultivated towards the symbols of error. Currently anyone who displays a swastika in America can be properly treated with public contempt and will find no sympathy from a judge if they go crying about their hurt feelings. However displaying the hammer and sickle of communism is accepted as a fashion statement. Objectively (as the partisans of the old left used to frame their discourse) both symbols represent ideologies of hatred and violence. When our education system and popular culture create a climate that rejects all symbols of terror then the world will be a better place. This does not demand the imposition of such values by the force of law but does call for the constant adjustment of societies norms by those in positions of leadership.

11/28/2007 01:27:00 PM  
Blogger Chavo said...

LifeoftheMind really sums it all up. What is acceptable speech in a civil society is determined by the mores of that society at that point in time. The bar is always moving, ahead or back (depending on ones perspective). Sedition, Treason, Libel, et al are all pretty well defined legally - we as a society choose (today) not to enforce them most likely because a significant portion of our society does not wish to enforce those laws, or is in agreement with the stated proposition.

Freedom of speech is such a broad statement that (again in today's world) it encompasses almost everthing, flag burning, porn, political contributions, anti-fascist demonstrations that anyone can make an arguement that their speech is being infringed upon if someone takes offense.

Some speech is acceptable in sub-segments of society while the same speech is completely unacceptable (think the "N word"). There are just too many variables for the government (except in Europe) to say what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. And that is the beauty of the second amendment.

Finally, don't give these anti-fascist too much credit, after all they're probably upper middle class kids who dress scruffy and seriously want to make an impression on their girlfriends so they can get laid.

twas ever thus...

11/28/2007 04:02:00 PM  
Blogger sbw said...

NahnCee, when one understands that society is the edge where any two cultures meet, the next question to consider is what are the minimum requirements for society where those two cultures meet.

Without going in to the mind experiment any individual in any culture can perform, the minimum requirements repeatedly turn out to be humility (I just might be wrong) and reciprocity (Others live their lives as acutely as I do).

Violations of those turn out to be a good "friend or foe" detector that stands independent of culture. Such a friend or foe detector would indicate the necessity to defend against aggression of the islamofascist sort you suggest.

Now we just have to inoculate others to recognize such understanding is in their own best interest.

11/28/2007 05:56:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Seems to me that by the time you and Life of the Mind, et al, have figured out all your parameters, paradigms and tests to determine "yep, it's a foe alright", you're gonna be laying stabbed on a public street in Amsterdam with a dagger pinning a piece of paper to your chest that reads, "Allah u Akbar!"

That attempt at being civilized is useless to me when not only does it not deflect the foes, but the easiness of murderizing you encourages and incites him.

I am increasing NOT willing to give Muslims the benefit of the doubt, to allow them to get close enough to even ask, "friend or foe". For six years now, I have been watching to see if the international left is beginning to understand the error of its ways, or if "innocent" Muslims are beginning to turn their un-innocent brothers into the authorities. I see neither happening, and I REALLY think we'd be damned fools of we give any of them the benefit of any further civilized doubts.

11/28/2007 06:14:00 PM  
Blogger sbw said...

NahnCee, your approach addresses only part of the problem. You are welcome, as an individual, to attempt to protect yourself from other individuals you consider to be a threat.

However, you need a clear understanding of what actions constitute a threat. Then you need to be able to compellingly convey your case to others. If you don't you will always be one against the world. That is neither the meaning of society nor its advantage.

Remember, now that science has put such power in the hands of anyone who cares to learn it, that no longer does a strong box protect your wealth and a barred door protect your family. (Hat tip to Jacob Bronowski.) For your own safety, you need to find a way to build society that is not based on power, but on individual self-interest.

What you suggest may be valid, but it is not enough.

11/29/2007 04:50:00 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Some really interesting arguments here.

To my mind it's fairly simple: you should be allowed to say anything you want short of inciting others to commit violence. If you don't like what someone has to say, then you don't have to listen. If the media and protestors hadn't given Irving and Griffin so much publicity I doubt whether more than a few people would have turned up to hear them speak. If a tree falls in the woods and all that.

The 'anti-fascist' demonstrators showed that they are every bit as fascistic as they claimed the speakers were by their violent attempts to suppress free speech. Fascism is really only a threat on a theoretical level these days, whereas the hate-filled hard-left pose an immediate threat to life, limb and property. Where is the 'right-wing' equivalent of thousands of leftists going on the rampage every time there's a G8 summit or something similar? Maybe a few skinheads beating up immigrants in Germany or Russia?

Would there be nearly as much fuss if an Islamic extremist – representing another very real threat – turned up to speak? And what about apologists for communism – an ideology that killed many times more people than fascism – like Eric Hobsbawm? He turned up at a prestigious, very mainstream book festival near my home in the UK recently for God's sake (sadly I couldn't get along to ask if he still thought a few millions deaths were a price worth paying for the success of communism; didn't hear about any riots on the news). And then you have leftist thugs like George Galloway and Ken Livingstone (notorious mayor of London) who upset a lot of people, but don't provoke violence. The opponents of all these people would be labelled 'right-wing'.

Maybe I'm oversimplifying the left-right thing, but I truly believe the left have lost all the ideological battles, and they're like a wounded, cornered animal. Well maybe not cornered, as like Wretchard said in a comment on a post of his a couple of weeks back, we thought we'd beaten them once but they slipped away and regenerated, like something out of a horror movie.

I don't think the Amadinnerjacket situation which a couple of people have mentioned was a free speech issue BTW – he is the leader of a country whose forces are actively engaged in supporting attacks on US forces, and he should have been arrested when he set foot on US soil.

11/29/2007 02:44:00 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Forgot to say, rds nailed it right at the start with the 'more equal pigs' line.

11/29/2007 02:56:00 PM  

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