Sunday, April 30, 2017

If Speech is Violent, What Next?

In the aftermath of the infamous Battle for Berkeley, the subsequent debacle surrounding Ann Coulter’s invitation to the University of California’s flagship campus, not to mention the attempted infidel-stoning of Charles Murray at Middlebury and the rioting that forced Heather Mac Donald to speak to a mostly empty room at Claremont McKenna College, defenders of this kind of campus illiberalism have taken to offering a single defense of this behavior. The argument, in sum, is the use of violent tactics is justified against certain types of speech, because those types of speech harm certain people and thus are inherently violent. In short, words we deem “hate speech” are violent, so why not use force to shut them down?

The key point has been made: the premise that speech is violence is not merely unsupportable at a philosophical level, but also at a practical one. It is an invitation not so much to the tragedy of totalitarian thought control as to simply a thoughtless, wordless, brainless farce.

Now, any number of sober commentators across the political spectrum have pointed out the alarming implications of this doctrine, which they characterize (correctly) as an invitation to totalitarianism. Thus, the most common response to the “speech is violent” canard appears to be an obsessive effort at proving that it isn’t true, and never will be true, because if it were true, it would be too horrible to think of the implications.

While I obviously appreciate these efforts at disproving this preposterous and poisonous notion of speech-as-violence, it seems to me they too often put those of us defending the old Western tradition of free speech on the back foot. If we are too afraid to go beyond refutation, we miss out on an entire class of arguments that could very easily make the speech-equals-violence idea unattractive not merely to those who already fear its implications, but even to some of those who might otherwise be open to it.

Only those of us on the Right can force the Left to confront the truly asinine consequences of this idea, because as of now, only we are capable of the kind of rigorous analysis that would reveal those consequences. One of the key weaknesses of the Left, especially in its modern form, is its utter incapacity for systemic thinking. After all, systems are cold and mean, and having to think in their terms often silences the “marginalized voices” of over-emotional intellectual weaklings. If you actually do apply the logic of a system to the argument that speech is violence, however, you run up against the fact that this doctrine not only prevents speech by politically disfavored groups: it arguably prevents speech altogether.

To demonstrate this, let us assume that certain forms of speech are, in fact, violent. If that is the case, then it would seem to follow that the principles our society uses to deal with physical violence should also be applicable to verbal violence.

One of those principles is the idea of proportionality, and of degrees of harm. For example, if someone pinches you, it’s generally considered a disproportionate response to cut off his arm in retaliation. Further, there are even extents to which the same violent act can be considered worse depending on the circumstances. Consider homicide. First degree murder isn’t just killing someone, it’s killing someone having planned it out in advance. Second degree murder, on the other hand, is just homicide that happens in the spur of the moment—a crime of passion. Manslaughter is homicide that happens in a situation you might not have intended to happen, strictly speaking, but which you should have known would happen, etc.

Given these facts about how society treats actual physical violence, it would seem we have to ask some uncomfortable questions if we choose to treat speech as a form of violence:

If certain types of speech are violence, are all types of speech proportional to each other? That is, is screaming the n-word at a black person a worse form of violent speech than quoting Charles Murray to them? If not, how do we figure out what a proportionate response is to being attacked with violent speech? What level of rhetorical violence is too much or too little? For that matter, what level of physical violence is too much or too little, and how do we analogize the degree of rhetorical harm to the degree of physical harm? Is quoting a Christina Hoff Sommers video equal to pinching someone? Throwing a punch? Murder

Relatedly, if we consider, say, racist speech to be de facto violent speech, then is there such a thing as first degree racism, second degree racism, or manslaughter-level racism? Would citing Richard Spencer approvingly, knowing what he believes, be first degree racism, as opposed to posting something he wrote without knowing who he is (which would be more like second degree murder or manslaughter)? If there are degrees of speech violence, then how do we determine the appropriate response to each? If there are not degrees, then do we default to the worst possible punishment or the least possible punishment for an offense? How do we determine what the worst possible punishment is?

How do we adjudicate the appropriate response to violent speech if the very act of debating guilt might itself be violent? How would even a universal SJW court manage sentencing if they couldn’t even talk about the deserved punishment without possibly engaging in negligent violence?

Alternately, since economics teaches us that cardinal utility is nonexistent, is it not possible that even speech most people consider to be harmless could end up being harmful to one specific person, and therefore be negligent violence? Could we be in a “Knights Who Say Ni” type situation where the word “it” harms someone? If so, what’s the point of talking at all, if you might inadvertently be guilty of something? Why not simply regress to grunting and pointing?

Actually, forget grunting and pointing, because while we’re on the subject, what constitutes speech? Do nonsense syllables count? Let’s say someone points at his penis when looking at a woman a certain way. Is this speech because she can infer the message, even if he never uttered a sound? If so, can we call gestures violent speech in some contexts? How do we know what they are, and how do we decide what they are, if (as already established) it might be too dangerous to talk?

What’s the point of communicating at all? There’s always the risk of assaulting someone without knowing it.

I gather there is no need to waste more words and thought on this endlessly escalating absurdity. The key point has been made: the premise that speech is violence is not merely unsupportable at a philosophical level, but also at a practical one. It is an invitation not so much to the tragedy of totalitarian thought control as to simply a thoughtless, wordless, brainless farce. It surely invites us to Hell, but the Hell involved is best described as some bleak combination of C.S. Lewis’ “grey town” with Tumblr: a universe in which endlessly isolated souls continue to shift their own individual safe spaces further and further apart out of mutual hatred. In place of the vibrancy of the marketplace of ideas, it hands us solitary confinement in a solipsistic mind deprived even of the comforting capacity to frame thoughts.

In short, it would be very tempting to call the doctrine that “speech is violence” one of the most purely violent ideas we know if even a cursory investigation into the idea that speech can be violence did not yield us enough information to know better. For the sake of avoiding the absurd questions and consequences it raises, however, it is best that we dismiss that urge.


Automatic forgiveness makes the world more dangerous

Jeff Jacoby

WORDS OF FORGIVENESS can be deeply powerful. They can also be deeply misguided.

Robert Godwin Sr. was gunned down in cold blood as he was innocently walking home from Easter dinner with his family.
On April 16, a savage named Steve Stephens shot and killed Robert Godwin Sr., a 74-year-old Cleveland man who was innocently walking home from Easter dinner with his children. Stephens recorded his cold-blooded act of murder, then posted the video on Facebook. For two days the killer was at large; he was eventually tracked down in Pennsylvania, where he shot himself as police approached his car.

Even before Stephens was found, his victim's family announced, on national TV, that they had forgiven him. "Each one of us forgives the killer. . . . We want to wrap our arms around him," one of Godwin's daughters told CNN. Another said: "I hold no animosity in my heart against this man."

Godwin's children are devout Christians, and they attributed their instant willingness to forgive their father's murderer to their faith.

On the other side of the world, the Christian family of another murder victim was reacting in exactly the same way.

More than 40 Coptic Christians died when Islamic State terrorists bombed two Egyptian churches on Palm Sunday, and the widow of one of the victims, Naseem Faheem, was interviewed on Egyptian TV.

"I'm not angry at the one who did this," she said through tears. "Believe me, I forgive you."

Such expressions of unconditional forgiveness are profoundly affecting. The host of the Egyptian program was stunned by the widow's words; a video of his reaction — long silence, and an exclamation that "the Copts of Egypt are made of steel!" — went viral. When relatives of the parishioners murdered by Dylann Roof in a South Carolina church in 2015 declared their forgiveness for the killer, their words were all but universally praised. Admired, too, were the Amish parents and grandparents in Lancaster County, Pa., who reacted to the 2006 massacre of their daughters by proclaiming that they would "not think evil" of the man who slaughtered the girls, and that none of them "wants to do anything but forgive."

Rushing to forgive a killer may bring some solace to a victim's relatives, but by what right can anyone "forgive" the murder of another human being? I wish nothing but consolation and peace of mind for those who grieve. But no one is entitled to forgive an offender for a crime committed against someone else. Particularly when the offender has shown no remorse for the evil he committed, and done nothing to repair the damage he caused.

Many Christians believe that if they wish to follow in Jesus' footsteps, they must always pardon wickedness and pray for the forgiveness of evildoers. But no-strings-attached absolution is not what Jesus taught. "Forgive us our sins," he instructed his disciples to pray, "as we forgive those who sin against us." Against us — not against others. Everyone is free to beseech God's forgiveness on those who have tormented them. That is what Jesus did on the cross, when he asked God to forgive his crucifiers (who "know not what they do"). But Jesus never asked God to forgive the Romans who crucified so many thousands of other innocent men and women. And he certainly never instructed his followers to do so.

It isn't only the families of murder victims who seem to think reflexive forgiveness of killers is a good thing. After Godwin's children extended their forgiveness to the man who gunned down their father, Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams urged the entire community to do likewise. "They were forgiving of Steve for this atrocious act, and we need to follow their lead," he said.

That is terrible advice. What would society become if the response to every act of brutality and cruelty — every murder, every rape, every armed robbery, every terrorist bombing — was ready forgiveness by thousands, or even millions, of other people? That isn't a path to compassion and social harmony. It is a recipe for callousness in the face of suffering, and an invitation to even more brutality.

Only the victim of a crime has the right to forgive that crime. That makes murder unforgivable under any circumstance in this world. And in the next? Not even God will forgive a killer who has not confessed his guilt and undertaken heartfelt repentance.

By all means fight the evil inflicted upon others. But never imagine that you have the right to forgive it.


Portland rose parade canceled after ‘antifascists’ threaten GOP marchers

For 10 years, the 82nd Avenue of Roses Business Association has kicked off the city of Portland’s annual Rose Festival with a family-friendly parade meant to attract crowds to its diverse neighborhood.

Set to march in the parade’s 67th spot this year was the Multnomah County Republican Party, a fact that so outraged two self-described antifascist groups in the deep blue Oregon city that they pledged to protest and disrupt the April 29 event.

Then came an anonymous and ominous email, according to parade organizers, that instructed them to cancel the GOP group’s registration — or else.

“You have seen how much power we have downtown and that the police cannot stop us from shutting down roads so please consider your decision wisely,” the anonymous email said, referring to the violent riots that hit Portland after the 2016 presidential election, reported the Oregonian. “This is nonnegotiable.”

The email said that 200 people would “rush into the parade” and “drag and push” those marching with the Republican Party.

“We will not give one inch to groups who espouse hatred toward LGBT, immigrants, people of color or others,” it said.

On Tuesday, the business association buckled, announcing it would cancel the parade altogether.

“Following threats of violence during the Parade by multiple groups planning to disrupt the event, 82nd Avenue of Roses Business Association can no longer guarantee the safety of our community and have made the difficult decision to cancel the Parade,” the group said in a statement.

[A white supremacist is accused of punching a protester. Classmates say he makes them feel ‘unsafe.’]

The “antifascist” groups Oregon Students Empowered and Direct Action Alliance were behind the organized protests scheduled for the parade Saturday but told the Oregonian they had nothing to do with the anonymous email.

A petition to bring back the parade garnered nearly 200 signatures online, but on Wednesday organizers stood firmly beside their decision.

“It’s all about safety for our fans, first and foremost. If we can’t provide safety for our fans, there’s no use in trying,” Rich Jarvis, spokesman for the Rose Festival Foundation, told the Oregonian. “Our official position is we’re extremely sad about this.”


The Intolerance Irony

Over the course of the last year, a dear friend of mine - let's call him Friend A - has completely changed his disposition toward another mutual acquaintance (Friend B).  Friend A and Friend B used to be very close, going all the way back to high school.  But now, Friend A no longer reaches out to Friend B.  He barely responds to his text messages and avoids hanging out.

I consider myself something of a peacemaker, so naturally I inquired what the problem was.  "I can't associate with a bigot," Friend A stated curtly.

You see, Friend B openly voted for and supports Donald Trump.  He even went to the inauguration.  Before 2016, Friend B wasn't a politically active person.  But the "outsiderness" of the Trump campaign appealed to him.  Like many blue-collar Americans, he wanted a "human Molotov cocktail" to rock the Washington, D.C. establishment.  He wanted a "virus in the system."  And to his pleasant surprise on November 8, he got it.

Friend A, however, equates such an opinion with outright racism and sexism; with misogyny and bigotry; with xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, and all the rest of it.  In short, Friend A has concluded that to be pro-Trump is to be immoral and intolerant of others.  For him, it is a bridge too far.  Thomas Jefferson once observed that he "never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."  Friend A clearly disagrees with this.

Such a conclusion is now widespread throughout the American Left.  Being nice to Trump supporters is a very unpopular idea among those who claim the mantle of open-mindedness.  Anti-Trump boycotts are everywhere.  Even in the sports world, Stephen Curry is unsure if he can remain business partners with a man that supports Trump.

When and why did we become like this?  I understand why people didn't vote for Trump.  What I don't understand is how people who didn't vote for Trump cannot understand why people did.  Isn't that a form of close-mindedness?  Isn't that a form of intolerance?

The Left is adamantly consistent in its opposition toward "normalizing" (they love that word) Trump and his supporters.  Friend A, the liberal, genuinely believes - he has said this with a straight face - that we are witnessing nothing less than an actual "Nazi takeover of America."

Goodness grief.  The American Left - particularly the Social Justice Warrior (SJW) Left - seems psychologically dependent upon intentionalistic ethics (vice consequentialistic ethics), and the belief that, as liberal progressives, they are ethically superior by their very virtue of being "progressive."  Anyone that dares to disagree with their enlightened worldview is by default an emissary of hatred.  And so therefore, in their mind, it is both just and righteous to effectively hate the haters.

Hating the haters.  Six months since the election, the irony of this position is still lost on the majority of those who hold it.

Don't get me wrong; there is validity to the idea that genuine intolerance should not be tolerated.  But there's the rub: the origin of the intolerance must be substantively demonstrated and proven.  That is to say, those on the SJW Left who have chosen to "hate the haters" in the name of "tolerance" - as anti-Trump Friend A has done with pro-Trump Friend B - should acknowledge the fact that it is incumbent upon them to explain why.  Especially if it involves friends or family!

But this is an intellectual and ethical standard with which a majority of the American Left appears to feel exonerated from holding itself to.

And therein lies the second irony lost on the American Left: it is often the much-maligned "racist and sexist" Trump supporters who are, in fact, meeting that intellectual and ethical standard by substantively demonstrating the moral basis of their opposition to genuine intolerance, i.e. international Islamism.

The intolerance irony goes something like this...

Step 1: Islamists commit acts of genuine intolerance, such as 1,500 acid attacks since 2011 in London alone, or subjecting a half-million girls to female genital mutilation in America, for example.  (There are many other such examples.)

Step 2: Conservatives and Trump supporters reject this anti-women, anti-LGBT intolerance.  This forms the basis of their immigration views.

Step 3: The SJW Left then equates those immigration views with intolerance of migrants - not intolerance of intolerance - and claims the right to be intolerant of them!

The SJW Left refuses to see past their "domestic enemies."  They refuse to go one step further.  They are acting intolerant... toward people who are intolerant of intolerance.  Ipso facto, they are not only perpetuating intolerance of their own accord, but they are inoculating Islamist intolerance - the original intolerance that threatens women, homosexuals, and religious minorities - from much-needed criticism and ethical analysis. 

If you're being intolerant of those who are intolerant of intolerance, you're being tolerant of intolerance.  Which is to say: you're being intolerant.

Precisely zero liberal progressives have addressed this irony in an intellectually stimulating or challenging manner, despite my continued pursuit of an answer or adequate counterargument.  It's quite humorous.  And pathetic.

This is why Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopoulos can't speak at UC Berkeley free from the threat of violence.  This is why Gavin McInnes can't speak at New York University free from the threat of violence.  This is why Charles Murray can't speak at Middlebury College free from the threat of violence.

The preponderance of the intolerance in America today comes from those on the Left who consider their conservative countrymen beneath the dignity of dialogue.  The specifics of Friend B's views are immaterial.  It is obligatory of Friend A and those likeminded to palpably discredit the details of views they consider wrong.

Some friendly advice for the SJW Left: don't just say "racist."  Why is it racist?  Let's get into the weeds, shall we?  Ad hominem arguments, strawman arguments, the "silent treatment," and outright violence will not translate into political success in this country.  What do you think this is?  The Islamic Middle East?



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jeff Jacoby's long essay on forgiveness overlooks one simple fact. Those who forgive others do not give the offenders a free pass. The offenders still need to pay for their actions through the law. Forgiveness is healing for the offended, not the offender.