Skip to comments.New Yorker: Maybe We Should Reconsider Free Speech In The Digital Age
Posted on 06/25/2018 6:12:52 PM PDT by DeweyCA
The New Yorker published a story today titled, How Social-Media Trolls Turned U.C. Berkeley Into a Free-Speech Circus. Most of the content is about the battles over free-speech at Berkeley last year, starting with Milo Yiannopolis. Author Andrew Marantz asks law professor Erwin Chemerinsky about the limits of speech and gets an answer he apparently doesnt like:
Voltaire, anti-Semite and sage of the Enlightenment, is credited with the aphorism I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Chemerinsky, arguably the foremost First Amendment scholar in the country, believes, in the Voltairean tradition, that free speech is the bedrock of a free society. I asked him about the Antifa activists who had vowed to shut down Yiannopouloss events by any means necessary. Violence is never protected by the Constitution, he said. And preventing the speech of others, even by using ones own speech, is called the hecklers veto, and it is not protected, either.
After dismissing what he deems bad arguments on the left and right the piece offers a better argument for constraining speech.
No one is disputing how the courts have ruled on this, john a. powell, a Berkeley law professor with joint appointments in the departments of African-American Studies and Ethnic Studies, told me. What Im saying is that courts are often wrong. Powell is tall, with a relaxed sartorial style, and his manner of speaking is soft and serenely confident. Before he became an academic, he was the national legal director of the A.C.L.U. I represented the Ku Klux Klan when I was in that job, he said. My family was not pleased with me, but I said, Look, they have First Amendment rights, too. So its not that I dont understand or care deeply about free speech. But what would it look like if we cared just as deeply about equality? What if we weighed the two as conflicting values, instead of this false formalism where the right to speech is recognized but the harm caused by that speech is not?
I asked john powell what he thought about the rhetorical tactic of conflating speech with bodily harm. Consider the classic liberal justification for free speech, he said. Your right to throw punches ends at the tip of my nose. This is taken to mean that speech can never cause any kind of injury. But we have learned a lot about the brain that John Stuart Mill didnt know. So these students are asking, Given what we now know about stereotype threat and trauma and P.T.S.D., where is the tip of our nose, exactly?
Im not sure why john a. powell writes his name in all lowercase letters. Maybe hes related to will.i.am? In any case, his suggestion that freedom of speech can itself be a form of violence isnt exactly new territory. The far-left has been claiming this for a while as a justification for their own violent response. In fact, if you were able to probe the reasoning of the Antifa members who broke windows and set fires in Berkeley last year, thats probably the answer you would get. Heres something John A. Powell wrote expanding on this topic last September:
We are committed to elevating research and dialogue on how speech can injure. What is sometimes called by the name of speech could actually be called injurious speech acts. There is often an effort to ignore these harms by calling such speech offensive or hateful, but not injurious. Several of our faculty are studying the effects of stress on life outcomes, how the effects of institutionalized racism plays a crucial role in the lifespan of people of color, how trauma and isolation are directly connected to higher suicide rates, earlier deaths, addiction, and illness. All of these issues are deeply intertwined with speech and what is normalized in public discourse and practicethey do not exist on in a place outside of where free speech sits, protected.
The more we recognize that certain kinds of speech can not only offend but can cause mental and physical harm, and that the harm can be lasting, the more we will be able to properly protect the rights of all not just of people to speak, but also of their very existence and right to survive and thrive. The exact boundaries for doing this may be difficult to determine, but we must not let that be an excuse to not engage.
Granted, Powell is seeking a legal remedy rather than an excuse to throw punches at his opponents but the line between one and the other can be pretty thin. If Powell succeeds in making his point about speech as violence, hell also be propping up the arguments in favor of no-platforming by any means necessary. I suspect he knows that but it doesnt get mentioned in this piece.
Carol Christ, Berkeleys Chancellor, gets the last word. Speech is fundamentally different in the digital context, she said. She added, I dont think the law, or the country, has even started to catch up with that yet. She doesnt quite spell out what that means but the suggestion is that, at some point, the hecklers veto really should triumph: At some point, when some enormous amount of money has been spent, it has to be possible to say, O.K. Enough.
Of course, the reason the price of conservative speech is so very high in the first place is that elements of the left are threatening violence in response. Why are they doing that? Because they agree with the ideas put forth by John A. Powell in this article, i.e. some speech is already violence. The author of the piece never really gets around to pointing that out.
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Every liberal is a violent totalitarian thug.
It’s always has been “Free speech for me but not for thee” - you say something they don’t like or agree with then it’s hostile rants and abuse without any real meaning of intelligent discussion.
Quick summary of the Left’s position:
“I seem to be losing the political argument rather badly. Here, let me change the rules ...”
Scratch a “liberal” find a totalitarian underneath.
Mental gymnastics of rationalizing being dictators while in their minds their still free speech advocates...This is why liberalism is a mental disorder that must be defeated.
Leftists are totalitarians at heart and will act upon that impulse as soon as they feel strong enough to do so.
Witness the big push for gun grabbing. It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to see they want Libertarians and Conservatives rendered powerless to resist.
Carol Christ, Berkeleys Chancellor, gets the last word.
The problem in a nutshell.
The First Amendment refers explicitly only to the useful art known as the printing press, but
- Article 1 Section 8:
- The Congress shall have power . . . To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries . . .demands the free construction of press to mean any technology which enables the user to promote his ideas more broadly than speech.
- Amendment 9
- The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Liberals call the press the Fourth Estate because they are happy with a unified establishment journalism, and want membership in the Associated Press to be considered effectively a title of nobility.
Liberals like journalism which claims objectivity but which is systematic about promoting bad news. Claiming objectivity while knowing you are negative is tantamount to asserting that negativity is objectivity. But the conceit that negativity is objectivity is a serviceable definition of cynicism. Liberals and journalists are cynical about society. And since governments rationale is the need to limit evil in society, cynicism towards society corresponds to naiveté towards government - the two attitudes which are precisely the witches brew of socialism.
The reason for the homogeneity of journalism is simple:People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations. . . and all major US journalism has been meeting together (virtually) via the AP wire since the memory of living man (or even the father of living man) runneth not to the contrary. The conspiracy against the public which that has induced is the de facto systematic promotion of socialism.
“...this false formalism where the right to speech is recognized but the harm caused by that speech is not?
I regard Powell’s words to be deeply offensive, an act of violence to my sensibilities. Should he be prosecuted for this “violence”?
What he means, of course, is that those in power, presumably people who think like he does, will decide who gets to be protected from verbal “violence” and who will not.
Liberal = Leftist = Progressive = Anarchist = Socialist = Communist = Authoritarian
I had to look this up:
> Powell spells his name in lowercase based on the idea that we should be “part of the universe, not over it, as capitals signify.”
What a crackpot!
The totalitarian NYT wants Americans silenced so only their lies are heard. Maybe we need a license and back ground check to be hired by mass media.
No, the digital age makes protecting free speech even more critical.
part of the universe, not over it, as capitals signify.
e e cummings held a different view.
Chemerinsky IS NOT the leading free speech expert in the country. Liberal attorney Floyd Abrams was out in the weeds many decades ago.
Chem is just a California leftist with a good disguise.
PS: One of my law professors at a paralegal institute was the Jewish attorney who was appointed by the ACLU to defend the Nazis right to march/protest (whatever) in the heavily Jewish/Holocaust survivor community in Skokie, Ill. He said that he had to defend the right of all people to freedom of speech and movement no matter how horrible they were.
He was a brave attorney and a “mensch” as a person and teacher.
Thanks for your classes, Steve. I use what you taught me nearly everyday in my professional career.
Maybe some New Yorkers should go back to their own countries and leave our First Amendment alone.
So-called liberals trying criminalize dissent, being republican, being a Trump supporter, and whatever else they don’t like.
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