Posts Tagged ‘free speech’

Hound Them From Restaurants

May 7, 2019

Freedom of speech is no longer a priority in academia if this article in Campus Reform is any indication.

A professor claimed Sunday that “vile little sh*tlords” who belong to free speech-themed clubs on campus should lose their jobs and be chased out of restaurants.

University of New Brunswick professor Matthew Sears made the assertion on Twitter in response to the San Diego synagogue shooting Saturday.

“We should name every white supremacist,” Sears said. “Name every writer, blogger, YouTuber, and politician that inspires them. Plaster their faces in public. Fire them from their jobs. Hound them from restaurants. Expose them and those that fuel them for the hateful pathetic wretches they are.”

This is an understandable reaction to a recent shooting at a synagogue, and even a staunch free speech advocate might not particularly like defending the free speech rights of the viler racists and anti-Semites, though it is understood that even the vilest among us have the right to speak out. Professor Sears, however, takes it further.

The professor lumped campus free speech activists into this group in a subsequent tweet.

“And that includes every vile little shitlord in a campus ‘free speech’ club who spends his time platforming white supremacist trolls under the banner of ‘free speech,’ and every grifting liar that goes on about campus ‘censorship’ and the ‘marketplace of ideas,'” Sears stated in a since-deleted tweet.

When lawyer Robert Barnes shared this latter tweet with his own followers, appearing to disagree with the professor’s opinion, Sears said “there’s a difference between free speech, and those who use ‘free speech’ as a deliberate strategy to put hateful and discredited ideas into the mainstream and give them academic credibility. But you know that, you liar.”

The professor told Campus Reform that, when he speaks of campus free speech activists, he means merely those who “invite bigoted provocateurs like Richard Spencer and Milo Yannopoulos,” but Sears has previously advocated for the harassment of a far more mainstream and high-profile figure.

After U.S. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders got kicked out of a restaurant in June, the professor tweeted “forget ‘respectability politics,’ forget the ‘politics of division,’ forget ‘civility.’ Let’s denormalize these folks and their ideas every single chance we get, including throwing them the hell out of restaurants. Like we should have done *from the very beginning*.”

Sears also suggested in April 2018 that a “Make America Great Again” hat was “the functional equivalent of a [Ku Klux] Klan hood or Nazi banner.”

“I suppose I reject the notion that civility is the ultimate goal, especially in the face of what are some pretty outrageous human rights abuses, such as what we see along the US-Mexico border,” Sears said, when Campus Reform asked about his Sanders tweet. “If someone like Sanders provides cover and routinely lies for someone like Trump, even if he is the most powerful person on earth, I fail to see how mouthing off to them in restaurants is beyond the pale. Yes, this could go both ways. But appeals to civility often only manage to maintain the status quo, and benefit those in power.”

So it is not just the people who just about everyone disagrees with who should be harassed, but really everyone who is to the right of Professor Sears, and even those who might agree with most of his positions but who happen to think the other side has the same free speech rights. Professor Sears evidently does not value freedom of speech as something good in itself, but only as a method to effect desired change. Speech which opposes change and social justice ought not to be allowed. People who opposed change are beyond the boundaries of decent behavior and do not deserve to be treated decently. It is acceptable to hound them out of restaurants.

I wish that people like Professor Sears would understand that both sides have fists and guns and both sides can hound the other from restaurants if that sort of becomes acceptable behavior. If harassing people with opinions we do not like becomes commonplace, people like Professor Sears may be surprised to discover that they are not in the majority. They may not like to be the ones fired from their jobs and hounded out of restaurants.

These people do not seem to understand that we do not support freedom of speech and, if not civility, some sort of mutually acceptable boundaries in expressing disagreement with one another, not because we want to be goody-goodies or because we want to tolerate hate and racism, but because the alternative is so much worse. As long as we are talking to, or even shouting at, one another, our differences can be resolved. If we give up talking to start persecuting and harassing the other side, the situation can only escalate as each side remembers grievances and injustices inflicted by the other side. It is only a short step to actual violence to resolve political differences. Petty harassment can escalate to street fighting between factions, assassinations and outright civil war. We don’t want that to happen. We also don’t want a nation weary of political violence to turn to a strongman who promises peace and security at the expense of freedom. It may be ironic that people like Professor Sears, who claim to be fighting Fascism are creating the conditions that would allow a Fascist dictator to seize power.

When political violence takes the place of political debate, it is rarely the people with the best ideas who win out. More often, it is the people who can muster the largest mobs, who have the most guns, and who are the most ruthless who win. In the history of revolutions, more often than not, it is the faction who is most ruthless and cruel, most willing to use violence against the innocent, most extreme in their positions and least willing to compromise with either their opponents or with reality who gain the power in the end. It is the thugs most willing to use the guillotine and the gulag, who end up running things. The intellectuals and professors who first agitated for revolutions usually end up in the gulag or up against a wall, devoured by the revolution they helped create. Professor Sears might want to think about that before he sends out more tweets promoting political harassment.

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Rowan Atkinson and Free Speech

October 19, 2012

I really enjoy watching  British actor Rowan Atkinson‘s two signature characters, Mr. Bean and Blackadder, but now Mr Atkinson has given me another reason to like him. He, along with some others, is campaigning against a British law which outlaws insulting words and behavior. I found the story in the Mail Online.

Rowan Atkinson is demanding a change in the law to halt the ‘creeping culture of censoriousness’ which has seen the arrest of a Christian preacher, a critic of Scientology and even a student making a joke.

The Blackadder and Mr Bean star criticised the ‘new intolerance’ behind controversial legislation which outlaws ‘insulting words and behaviour’.

Launching a fight for part of the Public Order Act to be repealed, he said it was having a ‘chilling effect on free expression and free protest’.

He went on: ‘The clear problem of the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism, ridicule, sarcasm, merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy, can be interpreted as insult.’

Campaigners say the Public Order Act is being abused by over-zealous police and prosecutors. Section 5 of the 1986 Act outlaws threatening, abusive and insulting words or behaviour, but what constitutes ‘insulting’ is unclear and has resulted in a string of controversial arrests.

A 16-year-old boy was arrested under the legislation for peacefully holding a placard reading ‘Scientology is a dangerous cult’, on the grounds that it might insult followers of the movement.

Gay rights campaigners from the group Outrage! were arrested under the Act when they protested against the Islamist fundamentalist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, which was calling for the killing of gays, Jews and unchaste women.’

He added: ‘The law should not be aiding and abetting the new intolerance.’

Mr Atkinson was joined by Lord Dear, former chief constable of West Midlands Police, who plans to lay down a Parliamentary amendment to delete the word ‘insulting’ from the Act.

Lord Dear said: ‘Section 5 wrongly brings the criminal law – and the police who must enforce it – into the realm of debate and dissent.’

Former shadow home secretary David Davis, a leading campaigner for civil liberties, said: ‘The simple truth is that in a free society, there is no right not to be offended.

‘For centuries, freedom of speech has been a vital part of British life, and repealing this law will reinstate that right.’

The campaign is backed by unlikely bedfellows The Christian Alliance and The National Secular Society, as well as Big Brother Watch, The Freedom Association and The Peter Tatchell Foundation.

Quite right, The right of free speech and the supposed right to not be offended are completely incompatible. If we are only free to say things which offend no one, than we don’t have freedom of speech at all.

The real problem with such laws is that insulting words and behavior are really in the mind of the one insulted and are therefore subjective, which makes it almost impossible to enforce such laws objectively and even-handedly. Anyone can claim offense at anything anyone else has said or done and there is no way to know to what extent they really are offended. Enforcement of such speech codes, therefore has to be somewhat arbitrary with unpopular or politically incorrect persons and causes subject to harassment. I note that the Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir was not disturbed.

 


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