Sunday, April 30, 2017


Stupid, Really Stupid, Highly Educated Stupid

This is the least coherent thing I have read in the NYT in a long time. Its headline: What 'Snowflakes' Get Right About Free Speech. The short answer to that headline is "very little." And what its author, college administrator Ulrich Baer, gets right is even less. Let's start with his first mistake. Baer relates a story he was told by another scholar about the 9 plus hour documentary on the Nazi industrial scale political murder of the European Jews, Shoah. At its premier, a holocaust survivor told her story and then criticized the filmmaker for whitewashing the real events. The director replied: "Madame, you are an experience, but not an argument.”

Mr. Baer seems to think this was deep. I find it wholly off subject, probably because I've actually seen the movie. It is an oral history of part of the holocaust. All history begins with individual experience. There is no argument in Shoah just experience. There is no rational reason to distinguish experience from argument when the over-arching subject is free speech. It get's worse--much, much worse. Baer writes:

[The Shoah premier story] has taken on renewed significance as the struggles on American campuses to negotiate issues of free speech have intensified — most recently in protests at Auburn University against a visit by the white nationalist Richard Spencer.

The struggle on American campuses regarding free speech is that lefty students are shouting down certain speakers and not allowing them to speak. It's made worse by the college administrators who do nothing to stop this actual assault on free speech. Despite all the fatuous excuses for the left's actions, there is no current danger to free speech from the right. None at all. I don't think Mr. Baer sees it that way.

During the 1980s and ’90s, a shift occurred in American culture; personal experience and testimony, especially of suffering and oppression, began to challenge the primacy of argument.

What? Before the '80s stories of suffering and oppression held no sway in American discourse. Before that all Americans just reasoned through things without any emotional context and certainly not caring about the facts of history, that is, the stories of those involved, the personal experiences of the participants. This is absurd. We've always been emotional. It's a human attribute. What happened in the 80s and after on college campuses was that "feeling" began to become paramount to reality rather than what we used to call cold hard facts. It's stupid to care too much about someone's feelings in an argument but worrying about someone's feelings does not necessarily endanger free speech. Violently shutting down free speech you merely disagree with endangers free speech.

Then as now, both liberals and conservatives were wary of the privileging of personal experience, with its powerful emotional impact, over reason and argument, which some fear will bring an end to civilization, or at least to freedom of speech.

More absurdity. We can't take the emotional content out of a story of suffering and oppression and no one tries to usually, but logical analysis does not depend on the emotional content or on how we feel about the narrated experience. We can logically analyze the story of a person for whom we feel a huge amount of sympathy. Those that fear what Baer describes here (the end of civilization) must believe that feeling sympathy robs the caring listener of the ability to rationally respond to the narrative. I guess one could fear becoming too emotional but to equate that fear with the end of civilization (or free speech) is so overwrought as to be moronic. A lot of what Baer writes here is just plain stupid. Behold.

[Rehashing these debates] would overlook the fact that a thorough generational shift has occurred. Widespread caricatures of students as overly sensitive, vulnerable and entitled “snowflakes” fail to acknowledge the philosophical work that was carried out, especially in the 1980s and ’90s, to legitimate experience — especially traumatic experience — which had been dismissed for decades as unreliable, untrustworthy and inaccessible to understanding.

'Legitimate" is the new word, apparently, for 'legitimize.' I have no idea what he's talking about here. None. Baer then cites a French philosopher I've never heard of regarding what he believes has happened to 'public discourse.'

Instead of defining freedom of expression as guaranteeing the robust debate from which the truth emerges, Lyotard focused on the asymmetry of different positions when personal experience is challenged by abstract arguments.

Freedom of expression indeed should include a guarantee of a robust debate but it doesn't matter if truth emerges or not. We right thinking individuals think free speech should be protected always, even if there is no robust debate and especially if no truth emerges. There wasn't a lot of truth in what the Westboro Baptist asshats were spouting at military funerals, but we rightly protected their right to say awful things at the Supreme Court. Earth to Baer, speech everyone agrees with or likes doesn't need protection.

[Lyotard's] extreme example was Holocaust denial, where invidious but often well-publicized cranks confronted survivors with the absurd challenge to produce incontrovertible eyewitness evidence of their experience of the killing machines set up by the Nazis to exterminate the Jews of Europe. Not only was such evidence unavailable, but it also challenged the Jewish survivors to produce evidence of their own legitimacy in a discourse that had systematically denied their humanity.

There is plenty of incontrovertible eyewitness evidence of the Death Camps in WWII. Over 9 hours of it is in Shoah, for example. Baer is just flat out wrong on the facts here. There is also a lot of Nazi generated material on the subject as well. The Holocaust is pretty much an inconvertible historical fact which is why Holocaust denial is so awful, as awful as the Westboro Baptists. But what discourse "systematically denied...humanity" to the Jewish survivors? I have no clue. It's like every time Baer is in danger of saying something meaningful and coherent he veers into ditch of blather. It's infuriating.

Baer begins his apology for the heckler's veto thus: "Lyotard shifted attention away from the content of free speech to the way certain topics restrict speech as a public good." The content of the speech that should be free (that is, not prevented by the Government in the context of the first amendment) doesn't matter. Any prior restraint on what people say (and there is, thankfully, very little of that) has to be content neutral. That is, the government can't prevent the speech of right wing asshats while promoting the speech of left wing asshats. But, of course, that's exactly what the college administrators and their students (and running dog thugs) are doing. Since the colleges get federal money, they have to obey the requirements of the first amendment as rigorously as the actual federal government does. But they don't. That's bad. I don't think Baer thinks so. He goes full fascist here:

Some things are unmentionable and undebatable, but not because they offend the sensibilities of the sheltered young. Some topics, such as claims that some human beings are by definition inferior to others, or illegal or unworthy of legal standing, are not open to debate because such people cannot debate them on the same terms.

Let me cut through the verbiage here to translate: Hate speech is not protected by the first amendment. He couldn't be more wrong both legally and philosophically. The first problem with Baer carving out an exception to free speech protection is who died and made him boss? No one gets to decide, based on content, what is protected and what is not protected. ('What about libel and fighting words and inciting a riot?' I hear some say. Those are civil wrongs or crimes. Voicing you opinion, no matter how upsetting, how miserably ignorant or bigoted, is neither of those). The second problem is that the 'victims' of so called hate speech can of course debate anyone on the same terms, as long as their free speech rights are protected. His rationale for exempting from first amendment protection the speech he doesn't like is wrong. He keeps digging with more fascist excuses.

The recent student demonstrations at Auburn against Spencer’s visit — as well as protests on other campuses against Charles Murray, Milo Yiannopoulos and others — should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people, rather than censorship.

But it was censorship, Ulrich. There is no reason to ration free speech. It's limitless. That one person speaks doesn't diminish in the slightest the ability of another to speak. And the whole point of protecting speech is, again, not to optimize it for the most people but to afford it to the small subset of hateful, awful speakers who actually need the protection.

When those views invalidate the humanity of some people, they restrict speech as a public good.
In such cases there is no inherent value to be gained from debating them in public.

Earth to Baer, there is no exception to freedom of speech for people whose "views invalidate the humanity of some people." That's just another iteration of hate speech, as meaningless a meme as has ever been invented by the left. Whether a statement from someone involves a "public debate" or not, it still gets the protection. And forgive me for being old fashioned, but I believe all hateful, bigoted speech should be rigorously debated, rigorously opposed, rigorously revealed to the unbiased listener to be utter rubbish. Shutting off debate against stupid, hateful, bigoted things is the exact wrong way to go. So of course the college administer supports it. His complete wrongheadedness here is why I'm taking the time to argue against his view and show, I hope, what utter bunk it really is.

Baer says we don't have to let conservatives speak on college campuses because there is the internet where the snowflakes can venture to seek out speech they don't like. If that's the case, and such availability is in any way relevant to free speech, and it isn't, then there would be no reason to bring any speaker whatsoever to the campus. But stopping one subset of citizens from talking while promoting another subset's talking is specifically prohibited by the first amendment. Oh and it's morally wrong too.
Baer then supports this:

...a more sophisticated understanding, such as the one provided by Lyotard, of the necessary conditions for speech to be a common, public good. This requires the realization that in politics, the parameters of public speech must be continually redrawn to accommodate those who previously had no standing.

No. The parameters have already been drawn: Free speech for everyone regarding everything he or she wants to say. Any redrawing of the parameters which excludes someone or something that could be expressed in words is censorship. Can Baer be this blind?

He then talks about the current lefty faux civil rights struggle, that of the transgendered. But this is wholly off the subject. Who, exactly, is preventing the transgendered community from talking? Let me venture an answer here: Nobody (as long as the transgendered doesn't say things Milo would say, then it's a whole new ballgame for the left). This whole sidetrack to transgendered matters in an opinion piece on free speech is like writing an essay on Summer and inserting a paragraph about snow, or the beauty of snowflakes. He finally goes full 180 from the truth:

The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks.

No, that's precisely what it does mean, except for the permission part. We don't need to get government permission to speak our minds. The government can't do anything to stop us from speaking our minds. There is an enormous difference there between freedom and permission. The concept of needing government permission necessarily implies that we are not free to speak our minds. Baer fleshes out what he started there.

It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community.

Free speech means all views have the inherent value to be afforded first amendment protection. There is no weighing, no balancing, no deciding what is good speech and what is bad. All speech is open to all people. That's like the essence of free speech right there.

Free-speech protections — not only but especially in universities, which aim to educate students in how to belong to various communities — should not mean that someone’s humanity, or their right to participate in political speech as political agents, can be freely attacked, demeaned or questioned.

Absolutely wrong again. No one is immune from criticism where free speech lives. I'm not sure exactly what attacking someone's humanity entails but I do understand what preventing someone from participating "in political speech as political agents" is. It's what happened to Charles Murray, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Ann Coulter. It's what happens only to right wingers and never to lefties. It's what is perpetrated by the left against the right over and over and over again. As evidence of Baer's incoherence, he says no one's right to participate in political speech can be freely questioned while his whole piece is questioning certain individuals' right to give a speech. I suspect he's too dense to see this. And there's only one community universities should educate students to belong to; it's called the human race.

Baer then gives himself and is ilk an undeserved pat on the back for maintaining "particularly high standards of what is worthy of debate." No they haven't; they have destroyed the standards of what constitutes free speech. 'Worthy of debate' doesn't enter into it.

Baer then holds up Yale's speech code as worthy of respect:

While Yale bemoaned the occasional “paranoid intolerance” of student protesters, the university also criticized the “arrogant insensitivity” of free speech advocates who failed to acknowledge that requiring of someone in public debate to defend their human worth conflicts with the community’s obligation to assure all of its members equal access to public speech.

More meaningless tripe. There is no carve out from first amendment protection for speech which requires "someone in public debate to defend their human worth." It's protected free speech too. I'm not 100% sure what the Yalies are talking about here but I assume then that they would gladly ban the signs that demeaned the human worth of Charles Murray, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Ann Coulter, which signs were carried by the fascists shutting down the speeches of those three. There are a lot of photos of those signs, on the internet, but not a single bit of criticism by the left of the signs. Apparently for the left, critical free speech even vitriolic free speech is OK if lefties say those things but worthy of censorship if someone on the right says the exact same thing. Yeah, that's logically coherent. Think Baer's finished with this double standard? Ha!

What is under severe attack, in the name of an absolute notion of free speech, are the rights, both legal and cultural, of minorities to participate in public discourse. The snowflakes sensed, a good year before the election of President Trump, that insults and direct threats could once again become sanctioned by the most powerful office in the land.

Who on the right is saying minorities can't speak freely, can't participate in public discourse? Name one. And the insults and direct threats are on the right exclusively? Really? So there has been no demeaning, attacking or questioning of the basic humanity of President Trump from the left? Who is insulting the knuckle dragging, ignorant, evil, bigoted, hateful Republicans? Who is making direct threats against conservatives? Who is carrying out direct threats against individuals the left doesn't like?

The example of the coming long dark night of fascism from the right that Baer cites is President Trumps' calling the lefty media "enemies of the American people". Wow, that certainly caused a lot of people to fear for their lives and livelihoods. Perhaps they think the Trump administration will open relocation camps for the lefty press (No wait, it was Democrats that did that in 1942 to American citizens of Japanese descent). I suspect that you only fear something you know that you would do it if the circumstances were the opposite. You dismiss as highly unlikely that which you would never do. Which is why most right thinking people never feared that President Obama would send us ignorant, evil, bigoted, hateful Republicans to re-education camps. Finally, the big finish.

As a scholar of literature, history and politics, I am especially attuned to the next generation’s demands to revise existing definitions of free speech to accommodate previously delegitimized experiences. Freedom of expression is not an unchanging absolute. When its proponents forget that it requires the vigilant and continuing examination of its parameters, and instead invoke a pure model of free speech that has never existed, the dangers to our democracy are clear and present.

Sorry, bud, but actual free speech is an unchanging absolute and it is now fully available to everyone here in America, oh except for the purveyors of hate speech on the right. The lefties can shut them down as they wish. End of my sarcastic attribution. The parameters are already wide open and any tinkering with them will necessarily diminish free speech for one identifiable group of citizens, with which Ulrich Baer is apparently just fine.


I am reminded of the Sharansky "Town Square" test of freedom, as described in his wonderful book, "The Case for Democracy" (which even still sits on my shelf):

And no one can accuse him of not knowing whereof he spoke. Of course, the churlish & spoiled brats now dictating university policies (and their enablers in the administrations) don't really want freedom of speech. Or, freedom of any kind expressed and experienced by just anyone. They are drunk on the dribbles of power they believe their due, and believe that it's only right and just that they preside over the greater society. They're living in some kind of alternate reality & I pity the poor things when they're inevitably and relentlessly pulled back into the "real" thing.
What they really need is to live for, say, 12 months in a third world country where mere subsistence demands ~18 hours of effort a day.
Mmmm, just saw this.

Now I'm off to continue watching the first season of "Blacklist." :-)
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