The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by David H on Tue May 05, 2015 11:01 pm

I think the bigger issue to me is how our culture seems with every issue to need to:
[first] divide the players into two teams, and
[second] paint one team white and the other black.

This first came home to me quite a few years ago when some of my religious-right-wing neighbors (think Ned Flanders) were beating themselves up trying to figure out if condemning doctors who performed abortions put them on the same team with psychos who tried to kill said doctors, or vice versa.  
{{Answer: No. It's OK to condemn both. Why is that so hard? scratch }}

Condemning murders does not automatically make the victims heroes. Personally I don't find much humor in the Charlie Hebdo cartoons I've seen, but then I know I'm not their target audience. Do any of you think they'd have gotten a free speech award if nobody'd been killed? If so, then I think they still deserve it. If not, probably not.

I do know I find the Texas copycats offensive. That doesn't mean I approve of anybody who tries to shoot them, but on the other hand I think that any form of counter-harassment that could be loosely categorized as "free speech" would be entirely deserved.

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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by Eldorion on Tue May 05, 2015 11:15 pm

You make good points. I wish I didn't have to put in a disclaimer, but to be clear, I'd condemn the Charlie Hebdo murders just as strongly even if they really were frothing racists.  And I do think that it took a lot of courage to continue to do what they did after all the threats they received, their offices being firebombed, and being forced to live under heavy police protection.  The attitude that the employees of Charlie were basically asking to be murdered (which is implicit in much American coverage of the story, and explicit in some as well) is offensive, but more importantly it completely misses the point of freedom of speech.

I don't know much about the organizers of the Texas "Muhammad cartoon conference", but from what little I've heard, I doubt I'd agree with them on much.  But they have the right to do and say what they did and the people who attacked them are absolutely in the wrong, both legally and morally.
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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by David H on Tue May 05, 2015 11:23 pm

Eldorion wrote:  The attitude that the employees of Charlie were basically asking to be murdered (which is implicit in much American coverage of the story, and explicit in some as well) is offensive, but more importantly it completely misses the point of freedom of speech.


I know you've thought about this a lot Eldo, so let me ask you a very simple question with a thorny answer. What exactly is the point of freedom of speech anyway, and what are the limits of it? (They do seem to change the answer with each generation, don't they? Rolling Eyes )

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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by Eldorion on Wed May 06, 2015 12:24 am

Well that's a pretty big question. Laughing Despite the opinionated tone I sometimes take, I know that all I can offer is my opinions on free speech, and other people have no obligation to agree.  Certainly I'll concede that there are reasonably limitations to free speech -- libel/slander, "shouting fire in a crowded theatre", and so on.  But I take issue is with the recurrent trope that "freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom from the consequences of that speech".  Technically speaking, this is of course true, but it's effectively a canard that is trotted out to justify attempts at shutting down the speech of certain unpopular individuals or organizations.

On the legal side of things, free speech laws deal with what governments can and cannot do.  One of the things they can't do is force people to treat controversial speakers a certain way.  But looking at free speech as a philosophical virtue, someone who seriously believes in it would not turn around and argue for the ostracism or rejection of a person or group simply because they found their speech offensive.  One can argue that hate speech is bad and serious enough to merit an exception to this general principle, but I have a couple responses to this.

I tend not to favor making lots of exceptions to moral rules; if you feel the need to, the rule might not be such a good idea.  If you want to put lots of restrictions on what kinds of speech are acceptable, than it becomes increasingly disingenuous to try to pass yourself off as pro-free speech.  Moreover, I think that forcing hate speech underground is ultimately counterproductive, and that allowing it to be discussed and also refuted in the open marketplace of ideas is a more effective way of countering such ideas.  It's also makes it harder for the speakers of hate speech to paint themselves as victims or throw charges of hypocrisy at the advocates of free speech.  Demonstrating enough confidence in a liberal (classical liberal, focused on promoting individual liberty) society to tolerate anti-liberal, authoritarian speech is more likely to win converts to liberalism, IMO.  Finally, I disagree with the very broad definition of hate speech advanced by many of the Charlie critics.
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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by David H on Wed May 06, 2015 8:28 am

Eldorion wrote: I think that forcing hate speech underground is ultimately counterproductive, and that allowing it to be discussed and also refuted in the open marketplace of ideas is a more effective way of countering such ideas.

I'd agree with that. And isn't that "discussion" exactly what's driving the debate over giving an award to Charlie Hebdo right now? If that was their goal in pushing the envelope of free speech, then I think they've succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

But when you say "refuting", don't fall into the trap of thinking that offensive speech constitutes any part of a rational debate. It's purpose is often exactly the opposite: to incite passions that overpower rationality. It can be very effective at that.

So what do you think about using freedom of speech as a shield to incite acts of violence? To me, that clearly crosses a line.

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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by Eldorion on Wed May 06, 2015 4:24 pm

David H wrote:I'd agree with that.  And isn't that "discussion" exactly what's driving the debate over giving an award to Charlie Hebdo right now?  If that was their goal in pushing the envelope of free speech, then I think they've succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

Sure, and I'm not arguing for any of Charlie's critics (either from the religious right or the politically correct left) to be silenced. But I think both avenues of criticism are dangerously wrong, although obviously the side that carries out bombings and shootings is a lot more dangerous than the side that simply refuses to fully condemn such actions.

But when you say "refuting", don't fall into the trap of thinking that offensive speech constitutes any part of a rational debate.  It's purpose is often exactly the opposite: to incite passions that overpower rationality. It can be very effective at that.

I get what you mean. To use a recent example that I think most people unequivocally agree was hate speech: I don't think the Westboro Baptist Church was trying to make a contribution to improved political discourse on the issue of gay rights. Or to go back a little further, I don't think the neo-Nazis who marched through Skokie, IL had anything meaningful to say about anything. But ultimately, they have the right to air their beliefs -- including odious beliefs that are horribly offensive to common decency -- and I'm not comfortable making an exception, even if it's "just for this one case, because these guys are really bad". I don't trust governments to begin making exceptions based purely on the potential to offend, because if the principle of such exceptions become legally enshrined, there is nothing to stop them from being applied towards other groups that are highly unpopular but share little or nothing in common with the WBC, neo-Nazis, or whatever other group was the first to be targeted.

So what do you think about using freedom of speech as a shield to incite acts of violence? To me, that clearly crosses a line.

I think that if someone explicitly comes out and says "I think we should go and kill [an individual or group]", then that is a direct incitement to violence and should be illegal. I'd even go so far as to say that if the incitement is couched in dog whistle terms or just strongly implied, then it should be illegal. But the definition of "incitement to violence" used by people like Garry Trudeau in response to the Charlie attacks is, IMO, massively disingenuous and simply a cover for victim blaming.

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/04/the-abuse-of-satire/390312/

By punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila—the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died.

Doing something that pisses people off and ultimately leads them to commit acts of violence is not an incitement to violence. The moral and legal culpability for said violence lies solely with the people who decided to take those actions. Charlie was not "asking for it" by continuing to publish offensive cartoons after having received previous threats, and arguing that they were misses the point of what protections for free speech are about (ie, protecting people). But actual lives come secondary to political messages in the eyes of a lot of people:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/28/i-admire-charlie-hebdos-courage-but-it-does-not-deserve-a-pen-award

The narrative of the Charlie Hebdo murders – white Europeans killed in their offices by Muslim extremists – is one that feeds neatly into the cultural prejudices that have allowed our government to make so many disastrous mistakes in the Middle East.

I'm sorry, just because the murder of 12 people makes it harder for you to argue for a certain political position (a position that I'm actually quite sympathetic towards) doesn't mean you get to pretend that the murders didn't actually happen, or give you cause to slander the dead so that you can dismiss what happened to them more easily.
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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by halfwise on Wed May 06, 2015 6:04 pm

I think the question devolves down to the following: should the government feel compelled to provide special protection to people who are airing unpopular views?

The government rightly provides security for certain demonstrations that may incite violence, but only if they go through proper channels. If the police hear about something secondhand that may incite violence they may show up, but then are likely to arrest the protestors rather than protect the protest.

I think the government has a right to say "sorry, this will cause too big a mess for us to provide security for. If you want to say or do this, you will need to pay for your own security."

Charlie Hebdo would have fallen under this category, in my opinion. France has an obligation to track likely terrorists and they fell down on this job; but if Charlie had asked them to specifically provide security because they planned to publish caricatures of Mohamed, I think they would have been right to say no.

A government can say "You have a right to do this, but we have a right not to have to protect you from your own actions."

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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by Eldorion on Wed May 06, 2015 6:28 pm

I completely and profoundly disagree.  Charlie Hebdo had a right to publish what they did, terrorists did not have a right to harass or attack them.  There is clearly one side operating in accordance with the law and one side flaunting it, and the government's main job is to uphold the law and protect people from those who would break it.  Allowing the government to selectively abdicate that responsibility shits all over the very concept of the social contract, the rule of law, and protection of free speech rights.

Edit: furthermore, in what other contexts do governments refuse to protect people from the consequences of their action? We send search and rescue missions after people who get lost in the wilderness, even if they acted recklessly in going out into the wild unprepared. We prosecute people for murders committed in drug deals gone bad, even though the murderer and the victim both could have been arrested if the deal had been interrupted by police before violence occurred. Our diplomatic corps and sometimes the military will act to try to rescue Americans who are in trouble overseas regardless of the circumstances that led to them needing rescue. Protection of its citizens is basically a government's most fundamental duty and I am appalled at the idea that the government should be allowed to choose to ignore that duty for any reason.


Last edited by Eldorion on Wed May 06, 2015 6:33 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by David H on Wed May 06, 2015 6:30 pm

You know Eldo, I agree with almost everything you say, and you chose some great examples, but this is where you're making my head spin:

Eldorion wrote:
I'm sorry, just because the murder of 12 people makes it harder for you to argue for a certain political position (a position that I'm actually quite sympathetic towards) doesn't mean you get to pretend that the murders didn't actually happen, or give you cause to slander the dead so that you can dismiss what happened to them more easily.

So you don't get too? This is outside the boundaries protected by freedom speech, but ugly, hate-filled racism isn't? Suspect

And "cause to slander"? What do you mean by that?

Slander is a kind of speech that crosses outside the Freedom of Speech boundary, right? It's certainly illegal. Presumably everybody who does commit slander has a cause, whether you personally think it's moral or not.
And slander against the dead?

Isn't one of the key tests of whether speech sinks to the level of slander that it causes demonstrable harm to the victim? I'd think that would be a lot harder with a dead guy.

I'm sorry Eldo, that last paragraph isn't passing basic logical consistency tests for me. It seems like your arguments are still directed against some people's speech, while at the same time you're defending others speech.  

If that's indeed what you're doing, you gotta draw me some clearer lines between the two and let me know who the line judge is.

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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by Eldorion on Wed May 06, 2015 6:35 pm

When I said you "don't get to pretend", I'm using that as shorthand for "it's morally incoherent to do so", or "you can't do this and still be called reasonable" (in my opinion, of course).  I'm not arguing for it to be banned.  I should not have used the world slander in this context, as you are correct that it is a legal term and I was speaking more of morality/philosophy.  That's on me for not communicating my ideas very well.  But I hope I can make it clear in this post that I don't think the critics of Charlie Hebdo should be legally barred (or barred in any other way) from expressing their opinions of the magazine and the attacks.

Edit: I wrote that last paragraph more out of emotion than reason, and I appreciate you calling me on it.  As much as some of attitudes towards free speech bother me, I don't think that expression of such attitudes should be illegal.  And you're right that the quote given doesn't meet the definition of slander; that was a careless word choice. Embarassed
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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by David H on Wed May 06, 2015 6:46 pm

Thanks for clarifying. Yes, the line between questioning morals and attacking speech often gets lost in rhetorical enthusiasm. Wink

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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by halfwise on Wed May 06, 2015 6:50 pm

Eldorion wrote:I completely and profoundly disagree.  Charlie Hebdo had a right to publish what they did, terrorists did not have a right to harass or attack them.  There is clearly one side operating in accordance with the law and one side flaunting it, and the government's main job is to uphold the law and protect people from those who would break it.  Allowing the government to selectively abdicate that responsibility shits all over the very concept of the social contract, the rule of law, and protection of free speech rights.

Edit: furthermore, in what other contexts do governments refuse to protect people from the consequences of their action?  We send search and rescue missions after people who get lost in the wilderness, even if they acted recklessly in going out into the wild unprepared.  We prosecute people for murders committed in drug deals gone bad, even though the murderer and the victim both could have been arrested if the deal had been interrupted by police before violence occurred.  Our diplomatic corps and sometimes the military will act to try to rescue Americans who are in trouble overseas regardless of the circumstances that led to them needing rescue.  Protection of its citizens is basically a government's most fundamental duty and I am appalled at the idea that the government should be allowed to choose to ignore that duty for any reason.


you came up with exactly the example I was about to quote. You may not realize it, but the government will charge you after the fact for a search and rescue. And if you tell them 'hey, I'm gonna be free climbing El Capitan, could you send out an ambulance to wait for me, just in case?', they'll laugh at you. They are not obligated to pre-emptively protect you against your own stupid actions. They are obligated to provide the means to get you out, but not help you out in ways that will encourage it.

So after the murders happened, the police are obligated to go after them. They are also obligated to keep watch over people who are likely to commit murder to others. They are not obligated to follow everyone around who may commit suicide, but they provide suicide hotline services for those who take advantage of it.

Sometimes the government is nice enough to step in an protect people from being nincompoops, but they don't have an obligation to do so. And they have an obligation to stop people from breaking the law, but not an obligation to protect people who deliberately put themselves in harms way; though sometimes they will.

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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by Eldorion on Wed May 06, 2015 7:04 pm

Fair point about search and rescue (I admit I did not know that), but that example is different from the Charlie Hebdo case as well as the other examples I gave in that it is entirely self-inflicted.  Whereas Charlie was targeted by people merely for doing something that is within their legal rights.  If the government takes these rights seriously, they need to prevent retaliation against people for exercising them.  It's the same reason why we have laws against retaliating against people for reporting harassment in the workplace.  A right (whether speech or to report a harasser) only exists in practice if people can exercise it with confidence in their own safety.
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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by halfwise on Wed May 06, 2015 7:18 pm

Let me make sure I'm clear: Charlie Hebdo clearly created a situation where any reasonable person would expect extra security was needed. But other than alerting authorities to the increased likelyhood of attack, they had the responsibility to beef up their own security rather than expect the government to take the extreme measures that were likely warranted.

I doubt Charlie Hibdo expected the government to take extraordinary measures other than try to link up suspected terrorists with possible plots against them: keeping the government in the loop helps out the intelligence operation. And I don't think the government should have been expected to do much more than route a few more patrols past the offices, even though a 24 hour multiple man security force was clearly called for. Charlie should have provided this security itself.

If you choose to walk through a bad neighborhood at night, when other routes are available, is it reasonable to ask a policeman to accompany you? Perhaps it's reasonable to ask. But it's not reasonable to expect the police to accommodate you. More likely you'll be told to walk around. There are limits to what the government can be expected to do in the name of protecting citizens.

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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by Eldorion on Wed May 06, 2015 7:35 pm

I don't know whether or not Charlie Hebdo requested the police protection they had or not. Their office had been firebombed before though, so I would hope the police considered protecting them from an ongoing threat to be worthwhile. I understand that logistics puts a limit on what the government is able to do, but I think that preserving a free press is good for society (as well as being central to the core principles of the French state and many others to boot) and deserves to be given importance when resources are being divvied up. I stand by the workplace harassment analogy here.
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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by halfwise on Wed May 06, 2015 7:48 pm

it doesn't take extraordinary measures to protect someone who reports workplace harassment. If the person was being harassed because of body odor or something else that could be fixed, the office would both address the harassment and ask the harassee to clean themselves up.

After the fire bombing I'm sure Charlie had extra government security for a while. But it can't be expected to go on forever. And once the extra security is gone Charlie couldn't say "Hey, we're gonna do some Mohammed cartoons, could you place a 4 man security team on us for the next few weeks?" They should realize what they are doing and take steps to protect themselves. Like you do with putting alarms on an expensive car.

The government provides a basic service; knowingly going beyond that is up to you.

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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by Eldorion on Wed May 06, 2015 8:03 pm

At the end of the day, what it boils down to for me is that I am not comfortable with the government tolerating a situation where their citizens have to fear for their lives over cartoons.  Political violence is a serious issue and merits a serious response.  I feel kinda weird because I'm not usually the guy arguing for law and order solutions, but an attack on the free press is an attack on the foundations of democracy and an open society, especially when that attack is not rhetorical but actually involves people being murdered.  It's not a situation where I'm comfortable saying "sorry, it's up to you to protect yourselves from the terrorists now".
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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by David H on Wed May 06, 2015 8:08 pm

This is why the people in my corner of the world who believe strongly in Freedom of Speech often believe equally strongly in the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Twisted Evil

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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by halfwise on Wed May 06, 2015 8:09 pm

I wish it were an ideal world with ideal governments. Not saying my position is morally right, just morally realistic. It was brave and inspiring for Charlie Hebdo to continue after being fire-bombed, but I wouldn't say it was wise. Not in the world as we have it.

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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by halfwise on Wed May 06, 2015 8:14 pm

Well David, so long as people have arms for personal protection I'm pretty much with you.  It's those who think we all need assault rifles so the government can't push us around I take issue with.  In the age of modern weaponry and a professional standing army, that's just silly. Rolling Eyes

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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by David H on Wed May 06, 2015 8:32 pm


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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by David H on Wed May 06, 2015 9:29 pm

Aside from the self defense arguments, I think there's a lot to be learned from comparing the arguments for free speech and free access to weapons. The old adage that "guns don't kill people; people kill people" would be just as true (and just as false) if "words" were substituted for "guns" in a discussion of hate speech.

I believe both guns and words can be equally dangerous when used against people, which is why societies and governments often try to restrict them.

Both should be used respectfully.

If either is used against a person or group of people, they have every right to defend themselves.

The internet has made both readily available to both the good guys and the bad guys in a way nobody could have imagined 50 years ago.

Both have destabilized large portions of the so called Developing World, leading to tens and hundreds of thousands of deaths,

and nobody seems to want to take responsibility for either.

Rolling Eyes :facepalm:

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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by halfwise on Wed May 06, 2015 10:03 pm

Nod

And caution should be used to avoid initially misinterpreting the use of either. If only our minds worked faster than our bodies. I think this is why people north of 70 years old don't go around trashing neighborhoods.

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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by David H on Wed May 06, 2015 10:36 pm

halfwise wrote: If only our minds worked faster than our bodies.  I think this is why people north of 70 years old don't go around trashing neighborhoods.

Are you suggesting faster minds, or slower bodies? Suspect

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Re: The Bigger, Badder, Even More Serious Thread [5]

Post by halfwise on Wed May 06, 2015 10:38 pm

I think the mind speed stays about the same (but gains reference), while of course the body slows.

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