Slate publishes a ghastly article on freedom of speech.

Eric Posner has an article in Slate accusing the United States of overvaluing freedom of speech.

Americans need to learn that the rest of the world—and not just Muslims—see no sense in the First Amendment. Even other Western nations take a more circumspect position on freedom of expression than we do, realizing that often free speech must yield to other values and the need for order.

The need for order?  What does that even mean in this context?  When we cannot criticize particular beliefs, when we cannot publish cartoons out of deference to swaths of people who will bring devastation if we do, we will have achieved order in the same way as a dictatorship.  Order can be bought with the sacrifice of rights as long as we forget to assign culpability to madmen.

How on earth can Posner blame criticism of Islam for the violence, and not the freaking Muslims killing people because they were offended?

Despite its 18th-century constitutional provenance, the First Amendment did not play a significant role in U.S. law until the second half of the 20th century. The First Amendment did not protect anarchists, socialists, Communists, pacifists, and various other dissenters when the U.S. government cracked down on them, as it regularly did during times of war and stress.

Is Posner yearning for a return to the 18th century?

So what if we didn’t quite have freedom of speech figured out back then?  We also kept slaves during that time, even though all men are created equal.  Progress happens, and over time we realize and fix our mistakes.  During the last few hundred years we’ve realized that curtailment of speech is a power that can be entrusted to nobody.  How many of humankind’s greatest revelations began as blasphemy?  We’ve considered the cost in the great ideas rejected so the increasingly useless traditions of old can live, against the prospect of granting protections to the sensitivities of barbarians who think killing is an appropriate response to criticism.  We have determined that it is killing in response to criticism that is wrong, and to cater to that idea would be to pay ransom to those who hold us hostage through fear.  The “need for order” in this case is to side with psychotic bullies, not because they’re right, but because we were threatened.  It is to abandon honesty because we’re scared.

The First Amendment earned its sacred status only in the 1960s, and then only among liberals and the left, who cheered when the courts ruled that government could not suppress the speech of dissenters, critics, scandalous artistic types, and even pornographers. Conservatives objected that these rulings helped America’s enemies while undermining public order and morality at home, but their complaints fell on deaf ears.

How the fuck does freedom of speech help our enemies?  How the fuck does it undermine morality at home?  If there are no good arguments for these positions, then it wasn’t the deafness of their ears, but rather their unwillingness to accept shitty arguments.

Meanwhile, some liberals began to have second thoughts. They supported enactment of hate-crime laws that raised criminal penalties for people who commit crimes against minorities because of racist or other invidious motives. They agreed that hate speech directed at women in the workplace could be the basis of sexual harassment claims against employers as well.

You know what you need in order for something to be a hate crime?  A crime.

You can call people faggots and say they’re harming America.  You can even say they should die and roast in hell and whatever other professions of your religion-born pugnacity you feel like throwing out.  Nobody can touch you.  But you can’t fucking hurt them.  That’s what a hate crime is.

And in what universe can you compare sexual harassment with freedom of speech?  If you use speech to bring harm to someone else, you’re punished.  Sexual harassers can no more excuse the psychological damage of sexual harassment by citing freedom of speech than con men can escape their financial consequences of their dishonesty.

Does Posner really think that saying “Islam is barbaric” is the equivalent of sexually harassing a woman?  Really?  Hurt feelings cannot be compared to threats by any competent human being.

But Posner is doing worse.  He’s overlooking the threats, suggesting that they are less of an issue than hurt feelings.

Suddenly, the disparagement of other people and their beliefs is not an unfortunate fact but a positive good. It contributes to the “marketplace of ideas,” as though we would seriously admit that Nazis or terrorist fanatics might turn out to be right after all.

So…we should criticize Nazis because they’re ridiculous, but not religion because…hurt feelings?

And no, Nazis are not right.  But who is right is often determined after debate, which cannot happen honestly if you’re curtailing speech due to hurt feelings.  Besides, if you’re only going to censor people who have bad ideas that could never possibly be right, you’d have to start with the people who think a Canaanite Jew rose from the dead or that a prophet who diddles nine year-olds is a moral inspiration worthy of worship.  Yet, these are the people you want to protect.

Salman Rushdie recently claimed that bad ideas, “like vampires … die in the sunlight” rather than persist in a glamorized underground existence. But bad ideas never die: They are zombies, not vampires. Bad ideas like fascism, Communism, and white supremacy have roamed the countryside of many an open society.

Way to equivocate.  The idea of slavery in the United States?  All but dead.  Alchemy?  Dead.  And they’re dead because of exposure to vocal, untouchable criticism.

Yes, Communism and white supremacy exist in the minds of some very foolish people, but they are very small in number, and almost everybody concedes them to be foolish, all through freedom of speech and the marketplace of ideas.  You cannot argue that these ideas are not in their death throes compared to the life they once had.  You’d also have to be a damn fool to think that prohibiting the criticism or expression of white supremacist ideas will purge them from those foolish people’s minds.

Also, I find it remarkably ironic that the same guy calling for limitations to our ability to criticize also called fascism a bad idea.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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