Killed by a fascist yesterday. Thirty five others injured. I can’t shake the dread that in ten years we’ll be looking back on this as the good old days, when the problems had barely begun, when we could have yet turned back.
They haven’t thought this push against affirmative action through very well.
Somehow, I don’t think that’s the outcome Sessions and Co. are looking for when they say they want colleges to purify themselves of “intentional discrimination.”
Sometimes you just stand there, with a mouth full of teeth, gaping, dumbfounded.
The following thread happened on twitter:
The Motherhub: So furious everytime I hear reference to the ‘debate’ on abortion. How come the whole country gets to debate on my body? My rights?
Stephen McKillop: In fairness there’s more to it than just that. There’s an unborn child whose life and future is also affeccted by this issue.
Victoria Smith: Do you worry this much about the lives and futures of those who might benefit from that extra kidney of yours?
And the dude’s gobsmacking response:
Jesus take the wheel.
Really? I mean, really?
What do you think pregnancy is? The woman as some kind of ceramic pot? She carries a homunculus around until it’s grown big enough, no doubt by absorbing quintessence straight from the aether, to be born?
There’s this thing called a placenta. It’s a stupendously complicated organ that interfaces with the fetus’s circulatory system and allows the mother’s lungs and digestion and kidneys to perform all the vital functions for the fetus.
The fetus is using her kidneys, as if she was a human dialysis machine. Her kidneys allow it to live.
Just as your spare kidney could be removed and given to someone who’s dying for lack of a transplant.
So, now that you know she’s not just a pot, and you apparently feel people must save others’ lives at the cost of their own bodies, you’re going to understand when a kidney is surgically removed from you, right?
After all, there’s an adult human whose life and future are affected by that issue.
So, this is a thing Tomi Lahren (Ph.D. Bobblehead Studies) twittered in ref to the latest London attack. (No link to source. Search for it if you need to.)
Hey liberals, this is what we are fighting against while you fight weather.
Since you don’t get out much, let me show you the sequence.
Climate change → drought in Syria → some people ruined → some of the ruined young men join angry groups → Daesh (=ISIS or whatever they’re calling themselves today).
It’s not even many steps. Maybe you could follow them.
So I’ll fix your tweet for you.
Hey liberals, we’re shouting at the thunder while you’re building lightning rods.
I followed a link from somewhere to this article, Downloading a Nightmare, about the association between autism and viewing child pornography.
The events unfolding in Joseph’s home—the SWAT team, the stunned parents, the vast collection of child pornography on a hard drive—have become increasingly familiar to autism clinicians and advocates. They are part of a troubling and complex collision between the justice system and a developmental disability that, despite its prevalence, remains largely misunderstood in courts across the country. …
I hadn’t known there was an association. So I kept reading to learn more.
Over several months, The Marshall Project interviewed a dozen families whose adult autistic sons were caught up in child pornography investigations….
Still, they found it difficult to believe their vulnerable son could be a danger to others, and as they researched the issue of autism and child pornography, it became clear to them he did not understand the ramifications of what he had done. …
Compounding the issue is the fact that high-functioning autism is severely under-diagnosed, and so some autistic men are diagnosed as a result of evaluations following their arrest for child pornography possession. …
Anything strike you about that? If the association was between autism and child pornography, autistic girls would also appear with these problems.
But there doesn’t seem to be a single one. ?? Odd.
They’re all boys and men, but the article doesn’t even mention it. Not once.
What is this consistent and complete invisibility of maleness as a factor in so much of the world’s violence?
Obviously, male violence is the bedrock of the caste system and paying attention to it would expose and dissolve the whole thing.
What amazes me is that the mass hypnosis necessary to sustain the system is so pervasive that it requires no effort to maintain even when the situation would seem to be exceptional enough that facts could be recognized without immediate danger to the mythology.
Somehow, even with such a thin thread of connection, the defense against noticing it is automatic.
Hell. At this rate I’m going to have to start a category for Stupid Garbage Spewed By Congresscritters. And I try hard to avoid that “news.”
(just a small sample: Utah, why stop at global warming?. This is how our world ends. Congressmen should have at least room temperature IQ.)
And now? Now this from Greg “Body Slam” Gianforte who is (was?) running for Congress from Montana:
“There’s nothing in the Bible that talks about retirement. … Nowhere does it say, ‘Well he was a good and faithful servant, so he went to the beach.’ It doesn’t say that anywhere.
Forgetting for a moment that little thing about separation of church and state, you know what else isn’t in the bible?
America. That’s what. Neither North, South, or Central.
So I guess you just better vanish, Mr. Greg. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.
The Comey firing seems to have sent a tremor through the inert (dead? or sleeping?) body politic.
Even a few Republican congresscritters are saying ZOMG. That’s just so Nixon. That’s what he did. It’s exactly what he did. Omigod. Maybe we have to actually, perhaps, like, take steps.
You know what Nixon did, right? He tried to bug the Democratic headquarters to get the jump on his political rivals. At this point, that’s pretty well Standard Operating Procedure. Even Bernie Sanders snooped on his rival’s campaign info. Nobody cares. That’s what Nixon tried to do when the technology wasn’t as easy.
So, yes, in his case, obstructing justice was a way more serious crime, especially since he was President and supposedly a prime upholder of justice in the land.
Donnie “Two Scoops” Trump, on the other hand, has committed sexual assault, fraud, all indications point to heavy duty money laundering, and has handed over intelligence and god-knows-what-else to a hostile foreign power because Putin seems to have some major hold over him. Truckling to a hostile foreign power is treason.
Treason. Committed by a thug installed in the White House by voter suppression.
That is just a tad worse than trying to get your opponent’s secret election-winning sauce.
But that’s not what the headlines are about. It’s as if right and wrong don’t exist anymore. The only way to understand whether something awful happened is if it echoes an event clearly labelled back in the day, when we still knew up from down.
So, as I say, thank God Nixon obstructed justice. There’s obviously nothing wrong with selling the country to Putin for personal benefit because Nixon never did that.
We have a choice. We can do what it takes to live among equals, and benefit from all the fun and fascinating things some of those people will come up with. Or we can live in a Handmaid’s Tale, but without uniforms, of course, I mean, we wouldn’t want to be obvious about it, right?
There’s one very simple test of where you fall on the spectrum of believers in slavery.
Human beings have rights. They can’t be bought or sold or deployed as some master sees fit.
Slaves, on the other hand, don’t own themselves.
So, do you think women have control over their own bodies? Or don’t you?
If you do, you want to live in a world of equality. If you don’t, you think women are properly chattel, there to serve at someone else’s discretion.
It’s really that simple. You can’t be a “pro-life liberal.” (The crap about how Democrats should accommodate that drivel was the last straw and brought on this podium-thumping rant.) You can’t say the right to make your own decisions about your own body is some tertiary issue. If you think other people’s rights to their own bodies are unimportant, you’re pro-chattel.
We call the right to make your own decisions “pro-choice,” but that obscures the issue. The essence is that the choice has to rest with the woman who has the body that necessitates the choice. You might be against abortion in your own life. That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. But what you can’t be is against abortion in someone else’s life.
You cannot make decisions about somebody else’s body without turning her into a slave. It’s the very definition of slavery. You have taken away her ownership of her own body.
We’re so used to thinking of women as some kind of not-really-humans that it’s easier to understand the point if it’s translated to general terms.
Taking that choice away from the woman involved is exactly equivalent to hauling people off the street and hooking them into a dialysis machine to act as a filter for someone else’s blood.
The mere thought is horrible.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s necessary to save someone’s life or not. That’s not the point. Not when it’s real humans dragooned into being dialysis machines.
It’s only when it’s women that suddenly somehow a fetus takes precedence.
And note that it’s only since the invention of the birth control pill that some people got into a lather about the personhood of the fetus. Before that, injunctions against sex, which did not apply to men, were enough to control women’s bodies. It’s never been about the “life” (read “personhood”) of the fetus. If it was, they’d care a lot more about what kind of life that fetus has once it’s born. It’s always been about trying to stop women from owning their own bodies.
Note also that all the measures pushing fetal personhood necessarily take that status away from the woman involved. The fetal personhood bills are really Women Are Non-Persons bills, but their authors try to avoid plain speech.
So, as I say, it’s a simple test whether you’re pro-equality or pro-slavery. Do you think abortion is a woman’s decision or not?
Free speech defined as whatever anyone wants to say has got us here. A Chatbot sits in the White House. It’s not a theoretical question anymore whether the marketplace of ideas works and whether good ideas win out over bad ones. It all just got real and the answer is no.
But the answer is obviously not to shut down the right. There’s a reason freedom of speech is right up in the First Amendment. A society that loses its grip on reality is not long for this world, and self-serving groupthink among elites has doomed societies throughout history. The idea behind free speech is to avoid that fate. If everybody can provide insight, the truth is likelier to come out than if just a few people are looking. Many heads are better than one.
(I know. There are a mountain of issues to unpack in that too-simple summary. “What is truth?” for one. I’ve explored this a bit in Rethinking Democracy and in a number of posts on this site, listed at the end.)
The point here is that as a matter of practical fact free speech is foundational and the current approach is not working. We need to fix it. We don’t know how many dumpsterfires civilization can stand and it would be nice not to find the breaking point the hard way.
Fixing it requires identifying what’s wrong, and without an exhaustive list there are at least a couple of obvious reasons why the current approach to free speech does not work. The so-called marketplace of ideas assumes we’ll study all the ideas out there, weigh the evidence in favor of each, and come to the logical conclusion about which ideas are best.
There is so much wrong with that, it’s hard to know where to start. It’s impossible to study all the ideas out there. Who would have the time? Leave aside all objections about insufficient education, or intelligence, or poor presentation in the media, the simple limitation of time is enough to make nonsense of the assumption. Everything else could be perfect, and the time limits mean it still could never work.
Then there’s the psychological factor that people hate to be wrong. That means rethinking one’s opinion is much less likely to happen than forming an opinion to start with. Reserving judgment is difficult — both scholarship generally and science specifically are simply years of training in how to reserve judgment — and it’s the last thing we humans are naturally good at.
So if there is a lot of appealing garbage in this marketplace of ideas we keep hearing about, they’re not going to give way to the good ideas hiding in the back stalls. On the contrary, once people have heard it and thought it sounded plausible, they don’t want to re-examine it.
And that gets us Chatbots in the White House.
So what to do? How do we stop this travesty of one of the foundational rights? How do we get past the paralysis of losing free speech because we’re so desperate to preserve it?
One obvious point to start with is who should not decide on what is covered by the free speech label. Governments are the worst arbiters. In the very epicenter of desperation about free speech, the USA, it took the Chatbot-in-Chief mere seconds to label news he didn’t like “fake.” (Or, today, Turkey blocked Wikipedia, Wikipedia, for threatening “national security.”) Corporations are appalling arbiters. Google and Facebook and Amazon and the whole boiling of them don’t give a flying snort in a high wind what kind of dreck pollutes their servers so long as it increases traffic and therefore money to them. Experts are another subset who are never consistently useful. You have the Mac Donalds who’d prefer to shut down speech they don’t like, although they dress it up in fancier words. You have the Volokhs and Greenwalds and Assanges who can afford to be free speech absolutists because they’re not the ones being silenced. And finally, crowdsourcing doesn’t work either. That rapidly degenerates into popularity contests and witch hunts and is almost as far away as corporations from understanding the mere idea of truth. (The whole web is my reference for that one, unfortunately.)
As to who should decide, I don’t know. But instead of trying to figure out the edge cases first, the ones where the decisions are crucial, maybe we should start with the easier ones. Some of the problems with free speech involve expressions which are simple to categorize or have significant consensus. So maybe it would be possible to start with the non-difficult, non-gray areas.
Hate speech. It’s not actually speech as the word is used when talking about the right. Speech and expression are about communication, but the purpose of hate speech is hurt. It’s a weapon (that happens to use words), not communication. Pretending it should be protected, like some of the absolutists do especially when “only” women are targeted, is like protecting knife throwers if they say that’s how they “communicate.”
Not only that, but hate speech silences its targets. It actually takes away the free speech rights of whole sets of people. That really needs to be a in bold capitals: it takes away the right to free speech. Shutting it down is essential to preserving the right.
Hate speech can shade into art and politics and religion but, again, let’s not worry about the difficult parts.
We could try one simple approach that might make a big difference by itself. Make it illegitimate to express any physical threats to someone or to target anyone with descriptions of bodily injury.
That seems doable because I can’t think of any insight one might want to communicate that requires physical threats to get the point across. I may just have insufficient imagination, in which case exceptions would have to be made. But as a beginning in the fight against hate speech, prohibiting wishes for bodily injury seems like a fairly clearcut start.
The first-line decisions about unacceptable content could be made by machine, much as automatic content recognition now prevents us from having search results swamped in porn. The final arbiters would have to be humans of course, but at least whether or not physical harm is involved is a relatively clearcut matter.
But even such a conceptually simple standard becomes intimidating when one remembers that applying it would render entire comment sections of the web speechless. They would have to stop yelling “Fuck you!” at each other.
That’s not just a wish for someone to get laid. It gets its power from wishing rape on people, it means “get totally messed up, humiliated, and destroyed.” It is, in the meaning of the words, a wish for physical injury and it would be illegal even though everybody insists they don’t mean it.
Expecting automated content recognition to discern intent is asking too much. Expecting humans to police every comment is also impossible. So even such a small, simple (it’s only simple if it can have an automated component) attempt at reducing hate speech means whole areas of the web would have to find new ways to function. They wouldn’t like that. After all, the reason hate speech is such a massive problem is that too many people don’t want to stop indulging in it.
But it gets worse. Another aspect of hate speech is the broadcast of dehumanizing putdowns against whole classes of people. And that causes people to get so angry they start memes about how great it is to punch Nazis.
It is not great. It’s a rather Nazi thing to do. The real solution is to stop allowing hate speech and shutting that crap down. But punching is easier than figuring out how to shut it down.
The biggest problem is that making it illegal to broadcast humiliation and harm against classes of people would make 99% of porn illegal. It’s interesting how impossible it’s become to distinguish porn from hate speech. That’s because that’s what it is now. And it really should be illegal. Harming and humiliating people to get high has a name, and it’s not sex.
That means much of the moneymaking web would disappear. So I realize the idea is doomed. Free speech isn’t that important to most people.
However, in the spirit of trying to tackle the problem anyway, maybe it would be possible to get a handle on at least one aspect of broadcast hate speech, that of public figures promoting bigotry. Most of it comes from the right wing, the Limbaughs, Coulters, Spencers, Yiannopouloses, probably because it’s easier to get paid for right-wing bloviation. It’s there on the left, just feebler. They’re given platforms, even though what they have to say is known drivel, even at places like Berkeley. And that’s probably for the same reason internet giants host garbage: it brings in fame and fortune.
The fault in this case, as it is with the corporations, is in the respectable institutions providing the platform. Somehow, it has got to cease being respectable to let people spew known lies. Climate change deniers, flat earthers, holocaust deniers, pedophiles, space program deniers, creationists — everybody who is just flat out spouting drivel should not be speaking at universities, television stations, webcasts, or anywhere else except maybe at their own dinner tables. Some crap-spouters are already excluded, such as pedophiles and holocaust deniers. It’s time to apply consistently the principle that discredited garbage is not to be given a platform.
As always, I don’t know how we can enforce that. We need a list of subjects on which over 95% of scholars agree on the facts — such as all the ones listed in the previous paragraph — and then some mechanism to prevent the drivel from being promoted. Once upon a time, the Fairness Doctrine seemed to help keep that stuff in check. There was a reluctance to give a platform to trash when you knew it would be immediately shown up for what it is. Maybe something similar could work now? (I know it’s not going to happen. As I said, the real problem is that people want garbage.)
Then there’s a curious new category of hate speech, the kind where somebody insists their feelings are hurt and that’s not fair.
Free expression is a right. As such, it has to apply equally to everyone. “Rights” that are only for some are privileges and not under discussion here. The claim that hurt feelings, by themselves, without any evidence that anyone committed hate speech or any other offense, should silence others is silly on the face of it. Applied universally, that principle would mean nobody could say anything the minute anyone claimed a hurt feeling. Trying to silence others over hurt feelings is actually claiming a privilege, which is proven by how quickly it silences everyone’s right to speak.
The most strident current manifestation of this strange idea is among some members of male-to-female trans activists. They insist that any sense of exclusion they might have from any community of women could drive some of them to suicide and is hence lethal and is a type of hate speech.
Since they feel excluded at any reference to biological femaleness or womanhood, the result is that women are supposed to never talk about their own experience using common words, like “woman,” because that would be oppressive to mtf trans people.
To be blunt, that is complete through-the-looking-glass thinking. It cannot be oppressive to third parties if a group of people discuss their lives amongst themselves, or if they want to gather together. That’s called the right of assembly, for heaven’s sake. To insist it’s so hurtful as to cause suicide is indicative of a need for therapy, not of harm on the part of others minding their own business.
(Clubs of rich people with the effect of excluding others from social benefits are different matter. Social power is a factor there, which is outside the scope of this discussion. Clearly, an egalitarian society can’t tolerate closed loops in power structures.)
Hate speech, to reiterate, is the use of expressions as a weapon, not as communication. When speech is communication, the fact that it’s not addressed to a third party does not make it hate speech.
A blanket restriction on broadcasting hate speech would be a relief in many ways, but would have negative effects on research. After all, if something is true, it’s not hate speech to point it out, and it’s not possible to find out if some groups truly have negative characteristics if publication of the results is forbidden.
Just as one example: it could be worth studying why over 90% of violent crimes are committed by men. (Yes, the link goes to wikipedia. There’s a wealth of good references at the end of the article.) That doesn’t even address the gender imbalance in starting wars of aggression, which, as far as I can tell, hasn’t been studied at all. Is the issue the effect of androgens throughout life? Are the origins developmental in utero? Or does status promote a sense of entitlement to inflict oneself on others?
Violence is a big problem with huge social costs and the gender correlation is striking, so it could be a legitimate topic of research. But some people, men probably, would likely consider it hate speech. There is no automated system that could tell the difference between hate speech and a legitimate research topic about a group. One would have to rely on humans with valid and transparent methodology. Luckily, we have that very thing. It’s called peer review. It has its problems, but it works well enough that it could be used to allow research on “dangerous” topics to be published in academic journals.
Well, so much for this being a short piece. And all I’ve achieved is to suggest a few small fixes at the edges of the most obvious problems. Automated systems could restrict unambiguously violent expressions. Large platforms need to be held accountable for their responsibilities to avoid known garbage. And manual review needs to be carved out for research.
Maybe that would be a start at delivering free speech back from the noise drowning it out.
Updated with a clarification, an image, and the linked list below May 6.
Other writing of mine on this topic: Free speech vs noise (2008), and on Acid Test:
- How to stop weaponized speech? 04 May, 2017
- In Case Anyone Wonders Why Communism Fell 09 Nov, 2016
- Shut people up; act hurt if they speak 26 Apr, 2016
- Offensive offendedness 16 Feb, 2015
- If you don’t control it, you don’t own it 19 Dec, 2012
- Freedom can’t be free 09 Nov, 2012
- No. We should not respect other people’s beliefs 16 Sep, 2012
- We need anti-pollution laws for free speech 12 Sep, 2012
- What is wrong with this picture? 14 May, 2012
- Noise is not Free Speech 10 Oct, 2010
- Free speech, blogging, and trolls 10 Apr, 2007
- Weaponized Free Speech 18 Dec, 2006
- Ayaan Hirsi Ali on THE CARTOONS 10 Feb, 2006
- Free speech, T-shirts, Cartoons, and Everything 02 Feb, 2006
- Democracy Doesn’t Work 17 May, 2005
Have you noticed who’s sitting in the White House (when he’s not golfing)?
(Admittedly, Putin had lots of help. Crosscheck dumped over 7,000,000 likely Democrats off the voter rolls, and the tRump got the Electoral College by all of around 77,000 votes in a few key districts. Small subset of effects of Crosscheck:)
I’m watching Old Orange, aka 45, as we’re all in this train plunging off this cliff together, and occupying myself by wondering, in a detached sort of way, how he’s going to handle this.
Not the crashing train of state, of course. It’s obvious what he’s doing about that. Nothing. Except for any grifting he and his Trumpists can accomplish before we find out where the bottom is.
I mean, how is he going to handle the fact that for apparently the very first time in his life he has to have evidence for what he says. And for the very first time, apparently, people think he shouldn’t be promising things unless he’s going to do them.
He’s spent his life throwing bizarre insults in order to play to his audience. He’s a Chatbot. What else would you expect? But suddenly when he says something idiotic for his base, such as that awful Obama wiretapping him, people start demanding evidence. What’s next? At this rate, they’ll soon be insisting on subject-verb agreement.
Then there’s the other big flap: the health care plan. It’s all the polar opposite of what he “promised.”
That’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the man. He’s never promised anything in his life, not in the usual meaning of the word. He says whatever he thinks might get you to sign on the dotted line, what he calls “The Deal,” and then after that he gets to do what he wants. “Come up and sue me some time” is his general idea.
And now, suddenly, the meddlesome proles are acting like he’s under some sort of obligation? To them? For having said something to get their votes? Crazy. He got their votes. They’re irrelevant now. You’d think that would be obvious even to proles.
So what’s he going to do when he has to answer for his words for the first time in his life?
1) Agent Orange got the Electoral College by 77,000 votes in three states, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
2) Crosscheck, the longrunning Republican effort to stop blacks, hispanics, poor, college students, and other likely Democrats from voting, dumped millions of people off the voter rolls.
The link above talks about how fewer blacks and more whites voted in the relevant precincts, framing it as mere turnout. Had blacks voted in 2008-type numbers, it would have changed the outcome. Personally, I think Crosscheck needs to be subpoenaed and examined minutely, because I’d be willing to bet money that Crosscheck is the difference, not “turnout.”
3) There were enough people in the country who, when faced with the choice between one of the most accomplished candidates in a century and an actual monster chose the monster. Because the accomplished candidate is female. That’s how toxic the patriarchy is.
(For comparison, Obama — with almost no experience at the time — ran against McCain, who was Churchill compared to the dogpile we have now, and yet Obama was not given concrete shoes to run in. Racism is toxic, see Crosscheck above, but it’s rattlesnake venom compared to misogyny nerve gas.)
My point is that if we didn’t have way too many feverishly irrational hatreds seething in this country, then Putin would have nothing to work with.
If we were smart, we’d be dissolving the hatreds as well as preventing his meddling.
We’re not even doing the latter, yet anyway. So I’m not holding my breath.