Category Archive 'Leftism Against Free Speech'
13 Oct 2020
Matt Taibbi used to be a particularly sharp-tongued left-wing wiseass journalist. Unfortunately for him, he was afflicted by inconvenient streak of intellectual honesty that caused him to take note of some of the Left’s inconsistencies and irrationalities.
Taibbi was sufficiently indiscreet about those kinds of insights that it cost him a well-paying and prestigious position in the media establishment. He’s now publishing high quality opinion pieces on Substack. I recommend those who can afford it it chip in with a subscription. He’s paid the price for speaking the truth, and I believe his voice will become more and more valuable over time.
Facebook announced Tuesday that itâ€™s stepping up efforts to clean its platform of QAnon content:
Starting today, we will remove any Facebook Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts representing QAnon, even if they contain no violent contentâ€¦
Facebook had already taken several rounds of action against QAnon, including the removal this summer of â€œover 1,500 Pages and Groups.â€ Restricting bans to groups featuring â€œdiscussions of potential violenceâ€ apparently didnâ€™t do the trick, however, so the platform expended bans to include content â€œtied to real world harmâ€:
Other QAnon content [is] tied to different forms of real world harm, including recent claims that the west coast wildfires were started by certain groups, which diverted attention of local officials from fighting the fires and protecting the public.
Describing what QAnon is, in a way that satisfies what its followers would might say represents their belief system and separates out the censorship issue, is not easy. The theory is constantly evolving and not terribly rational. Itâ€™s also almost always described by mainstream outlets in terms that implicitly make the case for its banning, referencing concepts like â€œoffline harmâ€ or the above-mentioned â€œreal-world harmâ€ in descriptions. As youâ€™re learning what QAnon is, youâ€™re usually also learning that it is not tolerable or safe. …
[T]he Q ban pulls the curtain back on one of the more bizarre developments of the Trump era, the seeming about-face of the old-school liberals who were once the countryâ€™s most faithful protectors of speech rights.
Bring up bans of QAnon or figures like Alex Jones (or even the suppression or removal of left-wing outlets like the World Socialist Web Site, teleSUR, or the Palestinian Information Centre) and youâ€™re likely to hear that the First Amendment rights of companies like Facebook and Google are paramount. Weâ€™re frequently reminded there is no constitutional issue when private firms decide they donâ€™t want to profit off the circulation of hateful, dangerous, and possibly libelous conspiracy theories.
That argument is easy to understand, but it misses the complex new reality of speech in the Internet era. It is true that the First Amendment only regulates government bans. However, what do we a call a situation when the overwhelming majority of news content is distributed across a handful of tech platforms, and those platforms are â€” openly â€” partners with the federal government, and law enforcement in particular?
In my mind, this argument became complicated in 2017, when the Senate Intelligence Committee dragged Facebook, Twitter, and Google to the Hill and essentially ordered them to come up with a â€œmission statementâ€ explaining how they would prevent the â€œfomenting of discord.â€
Platforms that previously rejected the idea they were in the editing business â€” â€œWe are a tech company, not a media company,â€ said Mark Zuckerberg just a year before, in 2016, after meeting with the Pope â€” soon were agreeing to start working together with congress, law enforcement, and government-affiliated groups like the Atlantic Council. They pledged to target foreign interference, â€œdiscord,â€ and other problems.
Their decision might have been accelerated by a series of threats to increase regulation and taxation of the platforms, with Virginia Senator Mark Warnerâ€™s 23-page white paper in 2018 proposing new rules for data collection being just one example. Whatever the reason for the about-face, the tech companies now work with the FBI in what the Bureau calls â€œprivate sector partnerships,â€ which involve â€œstrategic engagementâ€¦ including threat indicator sharing.â€
Does any of this make â€œprivateâ€ bans of content a First Amendment issue? The answer I usually get from lawyers is â€œprobably not,â€ but itâ€™s not clear-cut. It doesnâ€™t take much imagination to see how this could go sideways quickly, as the same platforms the FBI engages with often have records of working with security services to suppress speech in clearly inappropriate ways in other countries.
As far back as 2016, for instance, Israelâ€™s Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked was saying that Facebook and Google were complying with up to â€œ95 percentâ€ of its requests for content deletion. The minister noted cheerfully that the rate of cooperation had just risen sharply. Hereâ€™s how Reuters described the sudden burst of enthusiasm on the part of the platforms to cooperate with the state:
Perhaps spurred by the ministerâ€™s threat to legislate to make companies open to prosecution if they host images or messages that encourage terrorism, their rate of voluntary compliance has soared from 50 percent in a year, she said.
Whether or not one views Internet bans as censorship or a First Amendment issue really depends on how much one buys concepts like â€œvoluntary compliance.â€
The biggest long-term danger in all of this has always centered on the unique situation of media distribution now being concentrated in the hands of a such a relatively small number of companies. Instead of breaking up these oligopolies, or finding more transparent ways of dealing with speech issues, there exists now a temptation for governments to leave the power of these opaque behemoth companies intact, and appropriate their influence for their own sake.
As weâ€™ve seen abroad, a relatively frictionless symbiosis can result: the platforms keep making monster sums, while security services, if they can wriggle inside the tent of these distributors, have an opportunity to control information in previously unheard-of ways. Particularly in a country like the United States, which has never had a full-time federal media regulator, such official leverage would represent a dramatic change in our culture. As one law professor put it to me when I first started writing about the subject two years ago, â€œWhat government doesnâ€™t want to control what news you see?â€
16 Jul 2018
Professional victim Yassmin Abdel-Magied.
In Tablet, Claire Lehmann discusses the sudden rise to powerful influence of cultural taboos forbidding criticism of recognized victim groups and the ability of members of such groups to wall off cultural items and artifacts from access by outsiders.
Perhaps the most famous American case occurred in the fall of 2015, when Co-Master of Yale Silliman College Erika Christakis responded with an email of her own to an admonitory pre-Halloween email from the Intercultural Affairs Council â€” a group of administrators from the cultural centers, Chaplainâ€™s Office and other campus organizations â€” sent to the undergraduate student body warning against wearing Halloween costumes which could be interpreted as belittling or offensive: no sombreros, no blackface, no turbans, arguing in favor of freedom of undergraduate expression. The campus exploded with protests. University officials, including Christakis’s Co-Master husband, were confronted by screaming, hysterical mobs and, despite Yale’s famous Woodward Report affirming Freedom of Speech and some two-faced expressions of support from Yale President Salovey, both Christakis left on “temporary” sabbaticals never ever to return. A modest and polite demurral to an implicit ban on cultural appropriation sufficed to get two prominent Yale administrators and professors run clean out of town.
In 2016, a flare-up exploded over author Lionel Shriverâ€™s speech at the Brisbane Writers Festivalâ€”where she infamously wore a sombrero hat while delivering her speech about freedom in fiction writing. …
In 2013, GQ listed The Human Stain as one of the best books of the 21st century. Arguably, such a book could not be written today, and would almost certainly cause a firestorm if published. Thatâ€™s a pretty sharp turnaround in sensibility in a very short period of time.
The context surrounding the drama at the Brisbane Writers Festival is important for understanding why it happened. Abdel-Magied migrated to Australia at the age of two and, from a relatively young age, entered the public sphere as a â€œmodel minority.â€ She was an articulate activist and an accomplished student (becoming an engineer and memoir writer) who appeared capable of promoting a modern, sophisticated image of an urban Muslim-Australian. For her activism, she was showered with awards and publicly funded appointments, and given international trips for the express purpose of promoting Australia abroad. Yet for all her accomplishments, accolades, money, and travel opportunitiesâ€”or perhaps in exchange for themâ€”the young woman was stuck with the felt identity of a victim. This apparent feeling of victimhood was so strong that she interpreted arguments for creative license in art to be â€œlay[ing] the foundation for genocide.â€
Many peopleâ€”both then and nowâ€”find it hard to understand how such complaints can come from a place of good faith. Activists like Abdel-Magied seem unwilling to empathize with those who may genuinely want to show appreciation for cultures which are not their own, or writers who genuinely want to empathize with those who are different or marginalized, or simply to reach beyond a single layer or caste of the multicultural societies in which they live, an ambition for which writers and thinkers have historically been applauded.
What also seems odd is that activists like Abdel-Magied rarely appear to attempt to persuade others to engage with the foreign cultures they are purportedly defending in more sensitive or better-informed ways. Rather, their complaints have a hectoring, absolutist quality, focusing on the disrespect and lack of deference that white people have shown them. Listening to these complaints, it is difficult to come away with the view that they are about anything other than exercises in power. While being an effective social-media activist, Abdel-Magied is not a particularly good writer, which means identity-as-victim is therefore valuable currency at a writers festival. If literature is not reducible to identity, and representation is not a group property, then her own claim to literary significance would be a dubious one.
It is by considering the power dynamics at play that the logic of cultural appropriation starts to become clear. In a culture that increasingly rewards victimhood with status, in the form of op-ed space, speaking events, awards, book deals, general deference, and critical approbation, identity has become a very valuable form of currency. It makes sense that people will lie, cheat, and steal in order to get some. Expressing offense over a white person wearing a sombrero hat might seem ridiculous on its faceâ€”but for those who live inside these sententiously moralistic bubbles, it may be both a felt injury and a rational strategic choice.
Complaints about cultural appropriation are not really complaints, they are demands. When Abdel-Magied walked out on Shriver, it was not because of her insensitivity, it was because of her defiance: her refusal to kowtow to the orthodoxies written up by her moral betters, from which Abdel-Magiedâ€™s own claims to significance and social status are derived.
In their newly released book, The Rise of Victimhood Culture: Microaggressions, Safe Spaces, and the New Culture Wars, the moral sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning describe the three main moral cultures that exist today, which they give the shorthand labels of dignity, honor, and victimhood. A dignity culture, which has been the dominant moral culture of Western middle classes for some time, has a set of moral values that promotes the idea of moral equality and was crystallized in Martin Luther King Jr.â€™s vision that people ought to be judged according to the content of their character, not the color of their skin.
Victimhood culture departs from dignity culture in several important ways. Moral worth is in large part defined by the color of oneâ€™s skin, or at least oneâ€™s membership in a fixed identity group: i.e., women, people of color, LGBTIQ, Muslims, or indigenous peoples. Such groups are sacred, and a lack of deference to them is seen as a sign of deviance. The reverse is true for those who belong to groups that are considered historical oppressors: whites, males, straight people, Zionists. Anyone belonging to an â€œoppressorâ€ group is stained by their privilege, or â€œwhiteness,â€ and is cast onto the moral scrapheap.
In a recent interview in the online magazine which I edit, Quillette, I asked Campbell and Manning what they thought about cultural appropriation. They explained that they found such complaints baffling, like everybody else, but that they also â€œillustrate victimhood culture quite well.â€ One of the key components of victimhood culture is its projection of collective guilt, social offenses between individuals are no longer about the actual people involved, they are about â€œone social group harming another.â€
08 Jun 2018
Winston Churchill wrote, in The River War (1899), his account of Kitchener’s campaign against the jihadists of that day, about Islam:
How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property — either as a child, a wife, or a concubine — must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.
Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen; all know how to die; but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science — the science against which it had vainly struggled — the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.
And, today, in 2018, the Daily Mail reports:
A candidate in the European elections was arrested on suspicion of racial harrassment after quoting a passage about Islam, written by Winston Churchill, during a campaign speech.
Paul Weston, chairman of the party Liberty GB, made the address on the steps of Winchester Guildhall, in Hampshire on Saturday.
A member of the public took offence at the quote, taken from Churchill’s The River War and called police.
Quote Winston Churchill in today’s England and you go to jail!
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