URLs du Jour

2019-04-26

[Amazon Link]

  • David French, writing at NR, takes down an increasingly prevalent illiberal argument on Free Speech: ‘Dehumanizing’ or Not, It’s Vital.

    If you’re going to ask a conservative which predominantly leftist idea is the greatest threat to our nation’s culture of free speech, I’d expect that they’d immediately answer with “speech is violence.” It’s an understandable response. After all, “speech is violence” is not only the most dramatic claim, it’s a claim that has occasionally justified and rationalized actual violence — including on campus.

    But there’s another claim, one that’s slightly less lurid and thus somewhat easier to justify. It applies in the most emotionally fraught debates about race, sexuality, and gender, and it goes something like this: No person should be required to “debate” his right to exist. Free speech is fine, but “dehumanizing” speech is something else entirely.

    For example, if you argue that a man cannot get pregnant, you are “erasing” trans people. If you argue that marriage is a union of a man and a woman, then you are “dehumanizing” gay Americans. To take another example, as Jesse Singal points out in his invaluable newsletter, campus activists once tried to deny Heather Mac Donald a platform to critique Black Lives Matter by arguing that “if engaged, Heather Mac Donald would not be debating on mere difference of opinion, but the right of Black people to exist.”

    You might think such arguments are too silly to be made with a straight face, but years of working at a University Near Here tell me otherwise.

    It's worth noting that such arguments are asymmetrically deployable. Only Official Victim Classes can be "dehumanized" by speech. I'm sorry, but them's the rules. As French points out, telling Christians that their religion is based on fiction and myth is OK. Telling a Muslim that… oh oh.


  • In the WSJ Kevin D. Williamson tells us what to fear. The Walking Dead? No, but close: Fear Mark Zuckerberg’s Illiberal Impulses.

    Facebook already is working with European governments to craft a regulatory regime it can live with. That’s troubling. Freedom House reports that there is “no official censorship” in Austria, even as it admits that some speech, notably pro-Nazi political speech, is prohibited by law, which is the definition of official censorship. In Austria, possession of banned books can be punished with prison sentences of up to 20 years. There are similar laws in Germany and elsewhere, prohibiting not only neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic communications but also radical left-wing activism of certain kinds.

    As a practical matter, Facebook’s cooperation with continental regulators suggests the eventual standard governing speech restrictions on tech platforms will reflect more-restrictive European practice rather than more-liberal American practice, for much the same reason that California’s relatively stringent automotive emissions standards act as an effectively national standard: Corporations generally prefer standardization and homogenization where they are economical.

    On a related note, see this recent Motherboard article: Why Won’t Twitter Treat White Supremacy Like ISIS? Because It Would Mean Banning Some Republican Politicians Too. People are outraged, of course. And mostly drawing stupid conclusions. Various forms of communism have killed far more people than either ISIS or "white supremacists". So should Twitter start deplatforming commies?

    You're right: that "would mean banning some Democrat politicians too."


  • At the WaPo, Megan McArdle invites us to Meet your new woke inquisitors, same as the old ones. Middlebury College recently tried (semi-unsuccessfully) to disinvite "anti-liberal Polish philosopher Ryszard Legutko". Megan comments:

    I suspect that both sides are searching for a different word, one associated with both religion and Marxism: What they are trying to describe is an orthodoxy, a received wisdom enforced not by argument but by social, economic or even violent coercion.

    Thus, publicly opposing gay marriage today, or even having opposed it in the too-recent past, risks sanction ranging from public abuse to job loss. As tends to happen with orthodoxies, even asking empirical questions about related subjects risks being declared anathema. Asking what are outcomes like for the children of gay parents, or how many kids with gender dysphoria desist from experiencing it, invites furious activist groups to shower you with abuse and call for your firing.

    This is not, as New York University social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has pointed out, the way we treat questions of science; it is how we guard our sacred dogmas, our moral communities. And maybe it can’t be otherwise. Seventy years ago, arguing for gay marriage would have been at least as dangerous as arguing against it is now, and a youthful, decades-old flirtation with communism could be career-ending. As for banning empirical inquiry to protect dogmas, well, we’re still fighting over teaching evolution in schools.

    This sounds correct to me.


  • And George Will has a very good question: Why should socialists be held to fiscal standards that today’s ‘conservatives’ do not follow?.

    Pursed lips and clucked tongues signaled disapproval among the wise and responsible when, at a recent televised event, Sen. Bernie Sanders, the “democratic socialist” from Vermont, did not plausibly explain how he would pay for “Medicare for all.” The remarkable thing, however, is the quaint expectation that any political person should explain how he or she would align proposed expenditures and actual revenues. For decades, the implicit answer has always been the same: They won’t even pretend to align them.

    Under a Republican president and, until four months ago, Republican control of both houses of Congress, the nation is about to run trillion-dollar budget deficits with the economy expanding and employment more than full: The unemployment rate is 3.8% and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 7.1 million jobs unfilled. As the birth rate declines, the population ages (approximately 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day) and the country is told to be alarmed because too many would-be immigrants are trying to enter the country and its workforce.

    Yet Sanders is supposed to hew to some archaic standards of fiscal probity? Why should an avowed socialist be held to standards of fiscal candor and prudence that have no discernible adherents in the avowedly conservative party?

    One upside to a Democrat being president: Republicans will at least pretend to care about keeping spending under control.