You are viewing houseboatonstyx

R.L.'s Houseboat On the Styx - The spirit behind the Bill of Rights, applies more widely. [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
houseboatonstyx

[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

The spirit behind the Bill of Rights, applies more widely. [Feb. 14th, 2014|08:27 pm]
Previous Entry Add to Memories Share Next Entry
The snow has gone, and so apparently has my caution.

Most of us hold certain principles or values which are most neatly expressed by phrases like “freedom of speech”, “innocent till proven guilty”, “freedom of religion”, etc. So when such phrases are used in a non-political controversy, it’s idle for the other side in the controversy to say, “Nya nya, X is not the government so the Constitution does not apply to X, so you are just showing your ignorance, you stupid person!”

I mean, that’s REAL ‘derailment’ for you, and real ‘Tone Argument’: refusing to listen to content and instead attacking someone’s (civil and impersonal) style of expression. Thus in effect dismissing and damaging the actual principle.
LinkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: kalimac
2014-02-15 11:10 am (UTC)

(Link)

I have to agree, partially. I find it disconcerting to read blithe dismissals of freedom of speech this way, for two reasons. First, it's a liberal tenet that corporate power can be as oppressive and totalitarian as government power, and when the shoe is on the other foot, we denounce its tyranny regularly. Second, the First Amendment actually says that Congress shall not abridge the freedom of speech, suggesting that the Founders considered it an inherent right, part of the Declaration's litany of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", existing independently of Congress's right or lack of right to legislate on it.

However, I only say "partially", and for this reason: while the above may be a poorly-framed response, the fault and responsibility for framing the debate that way lies on the other side, on those whose reaction to being told to behave themselves in a private forum is to bleat about their "freedom of speech." Such a reaction, at least in present circumstances, is not a defense of civil liberties, but that of macho libertarians who are violating a quite different code than the one they think they are standing for.

That code is the code of etiquette, which exists in an entirely different realm. When a manual tells you which is the right fork to use at a dinner party, nobody's telling you that it's illegal to use the wrong one, and it would be foolish to claim they were. The same goes for speech. Most private organizations have codes of conduct for their members, and sanctions against those who violate them. Nobody's saying you can't say these things, just not in this house.

The shibboleth here is any claim by the person being shushed that what they're up against is "political correctness". This term, originally (it originated in the 1940s-50s) a self-mocking joke by radical leftists against their own rigid doctrines, is now used almost exclusively as an indictment of new social mores that expect civil inclusiveness. I find that Neil Gaiman's rule applies almost universally: anyone who complains about "political correctness" is insisting, not upon their right to free speech, but upon their right to be rude and discourteous.
[User Picture]From: teenybuffalo
2014-02-15 07:08 pm (UTC)

(Link)

However, I only say "partially", and for this reason: while the above may be a poorly-framed response, the fault and responsibility for framing the debate that way lies on the other side, on those whose reaction to being told to behave themselves in a private forum is to bleat about their "freedom of speech." Such a reaction, at least in present circumstances, is not a defense of civil liberties, but that of macho libertarians who are violating a quite different code than the one they think they are standing for.

Thank you, that sums it up for me.
[User Picture]From: houseboatonstyx
2014-02-15 07:35 pm (UTC)

(Link)

In the spirit of free speech (and of doing my laundry while the sun shines) I'll refrain from answering till others have spoken. ;-)
[User Picture]From: houseboatonstyx
2014-02-15 08:02 pm (UTC)

(Link)

while the above [First Amendment does not apply] may be a poorly-framed response, the fault and responsibility for framing the debate that way lies on the other side [invoking Freedom of Speech]

Half way to the clothes line, I did think of something I want to say now. After all, this is my blog so I can at least try to steer the conversation toward my actual point.

Suppose there were a situation (non-governmental, not technically covered by the Constitution) where you thought the minority view deserved more time to present its side than it was getting. How would you frame the debate about 'equal time', 'fairness', 'let both sides speak' -- better than by using the term 'freedom of speech'?

Please don't everyone dig in on a particular SFWA incident. I don't like Resnik et al either! It is the term 'freedom of speech' I'm defending: not any particular individuals or faction.
[User Picture]From: starshipcat
2014-02-15 08:31 pm (UTC)

(Link)

There seem to be a lot of such situations lately, in which people are afraid to speak up about an issue, not because they're afraid the police will come to their house and arrest them for saying the wrong thing, a la the late and unlamented USSR, but because they're afraid that they'll get piled on for daring to speak in favor of an unpopular view, that they'll get accused of being a Bad Person, even a Complete Monster, for holding that position, that their lives will be made unlivable by the level of opprobrium they'll have to deal with.

Frex, every time someone is accused of a truly heinous crime, it's very difficult to slow the rush to judgement because a certain very vocal part of the community has come to see any defense of the accused (who might in fact be wrongly accused) constitutes defense of the crime. This is very frightening, not just on freedom of speech grounds, but also on due process grounds. Witch hunts happen because people of good will are afraid to speak up against a rush to judgement and make sure that the case is proven against the person by the state.

And quite honestly, I don't know how else to put these intellectual freedom issues than "freedom of speech." The whole concept goes back to the Enlightenment and the idea that dissenting voices need to be heard to ensure that we've examined all sides of an argument before drawing a conclusion, that we aren't cherry-picking our facts to get the conclusion we want or feel comfortable with or agrees with received wisdom or tradition.
[User Picture]From: houseboatonstyx
2014-02-15 09:10 pm (UTC)

(Link)

Yes! This!
[User Picture]From: kalimac
2014-02-16 01:36 am (UTC)

(Link)

That is a real problem, and the online forum I know which is most prone to these group pile-ons vehemently denies that it does anything of the sort, because they are not in fact coordinated or dictated by local authority. Yet they are none the less real.

So even if you don't use distracting terms to protest against it, you still have no leverage.

But if you say "freedom of speech", you sound as if either you think you'll be arrested for it, or as if you think others don't have the equal freedom of speech to argue back.

And if you say "politically correct", then game over: you sound as if you think the group pile-on is being coordinated and directed by local authority.

Better tactics? Try framing it as etiquette instead; try, when defending a principle being expressed in an obnoxious way, quoting "I disagree with what they say, but will defend to the death their right to say it" a lot; try what 19th century churchmen did when faced with a dispute in their denomination, which is flouncing off and forming a new one. Having your own say in your own blog instead of fighting futilely in someone else's is certainly easy enough these days.
[User Picture]From: mount_oregano
2014-02-15 08:51 pm (UTC)

(Link)

If the body operates under, say Roberts Rules of Order, every member in a deliberative assembly is guaranteed the right to speak. This is a rule based on basic parliamentary procedure. You get the right to speak in a debate of an organization of which you are a member -- to have input into the decisions it makes, to try to persuade others, to voice your opinions.

This is quite distinct from the Bill of Rights, which limits what the government can do regarding what people can say or publish individually or in a group. (Except, say, for a decision to publish child pornography or other criminal speech, but that's a very limited exception.)

Organizations can decide for themselves what they wish to publish. They should have rules and practices in place to debate the decision, allowing everyone to speak.

The issue here, I think, is a concern over how the decision will be made, and what it will be. It is not a First Amendment issue. It is an issue of organizational procedure. Is the process SFWA will use to set a policy for its publication fair? (Some sort of policy is inevitable, since even a decision to have no policy is still a policy, and in my opinion, not a wise one. And a stated policy is better than an unstated policy.)

So what we're debating here is the policy for the publication, who gets to set the policy, and what it ought to be. Who will set the limits, and where will they be set? Who will have input into the decision?

Anyone who brings up the First Amendment, in my opinion, hasn't thought things through. And that does not improve the debate.

Personally, I think at least some of the people bringing up the First Amendment are grasping at what they hope will be immovable argument that will protect their ideas from almost certain failure under any sort of majority vote. It is desperation at work. And it is a poor argument, but it should get a better response than “Nya nya, X is not the government so the Constitution does not apply to X, so you are just showing your ignorance, you stupid person!”

A better answer is: we're going to debate this, you can say what you want, and we're going to say what we want, then we're going to vote, and we're all going to live with the majority decision. The Bill of Rights means we can publish want we choose. Now we are going to choose -- by a fair and open process.
[User Picture]From: houseboatonstyx
2014-02-15 09:16 pm (UTC)

(Link)

Imo both our Constitution and Robert's Rules of Order implement the same underlying cultural value, which as Starship
Cat says above, goes back to the Enlightenment (or furher, I'd say). "Freedom of Speech" is just the neatest way to express it (unless you can suggest a better, equally short, phrase).
[User Picture]From: houseboatonstyx
2014-02-15 09:19 pm (UTC)

(Link)

Btw, I've just made another entry specifically about SWFA and similar cases. What I'm trying to discuss here is the larger principle often expressed as 'freedom of speech'.
[User Picture]From: kalimac
2014-02-16 01:45 am (UTC)

(Link)

Here is a particularly bad example of what I think you're complaining about.

The premise is that the only meaning of "freedom of speech" is in the context of formal government censorship, and vehemently ridicules anyone who suggests otherwise.

It gets worse in the comments, where the poster is gradually forced to back down and admit there are other forms of censorship, and s/he ends by declaring that it's not government censorship unless it's by the government, which is merely a definitional tautology.

Watch the poster's use of the phrase "political censorship", first to scoop up any complaints about speech being stifled, and then to stuff it under the "government only" umbrella. It's an underhanded, but probably unintentional and fuzzy-minded, rhetorical trick to dismiss the complaints.
[User Picture]From: houseboatonstyx
2014-02-16 03:18 am (UTC)

(Link)

Jeepers! She is way off any scale I'd use. Shetterly was making good points, especially this: "for 200 years, we’ve been expanding the definition of the First Amendment, thanks to groups like the ACLU."

(BRB, rain has stopped for teh moment.)
[User Picture]From: houseboatonstyx
2014-02-16 04:27 am (UTC)

(Link)

I wonder if the expansion of the First Amendment that Shetterly is talking about, is just the law finally catching up with the principle/standard which people of our culture have always had, which the Bill of Rights was based on.

Similarly, we've always had the principle of charity, taking care of elders, etc. But it wasn't till many decades after the Constitution, that the Federal government got into administering the details with Social Security etc).