Lindy West writes a confusing column on free speech for the NYT

Apparently Lindy West , identified by Wikipedia as “an American writer, feminist, fat acceptance movement activist, and film criticism editor”, now has at least a semi-regular column in the New York Times, as she’s described there as a “contributing opinion writer”. I think that decision was a mistake. Not only do I not find her funny when she tries to be, but she’s from the Cntrl-Left wing of Leftism. Further, her first column,  “Save free speech from trolls” (subtitle: “Criticism is not censorship no matter how insistent Twitter’s free speech brigade might be”) is a confused mishmash of ideas that doesn’t seem to have much of a point. What it is is an extended claim that people who harass minorities or women on the Internet shouldn’t be allowed to use the defense that they’re exercising “freedom of speech.” By “allowed”, it’s not clear to me whether West is calling for banning of what she and other Cntrl-Leftists see as “harassment” or “hate speech”, or simply her view that people should be called out for using the Free Speech defense when engaged in what she sees as harassment.

Her point seems to be summarized in these excerpts:

Criticism is not censorship, and no matter how insistent Twitter’s free speech brigade might be, I felt safe knowing that we could always go back to the text. The Constitution was on my side.

. . . the anti-free-speech charge, applied broadly to cultural criticism and especially to feminist discourse, has proliferated. It is nurtured largely by men on the internet who used to nurse their grievances alone, in disparate, insular communities around the web — men’s rights forums, video game blogs. Gradually, these communities have drifted together into one great aggrieved, misogynist gyre and bonded over a common interest: pretending to care about freedom of speech so they can feel self-righteous while harassing marginalized people for having opinions.

You can find disingenuous rhetoric about protecting free speech in the engine room of pretty much every digital-age culture war. The refrain has become so ubiquitous that it’s earned its own sarcastic homophone in progressive circles: “freeze peach!” Nothing is more important than the First Amendment, the internet men say, provided you interpret the First Amendment exactly the same way they do: as a magic spell that means no one you don’t like is allowed to criticize you.

The law does not share that interpretation. “The First Amendment only regulates the government,” explained Rebecca Tushnet, a professor of First Amendment law at Harvard

She’s partly right here: the First Amendment says that the government can’t make laws abrogating free speech or a free press.  So there is no absolute “right” to go on a privately owned site like Twitter or Facebook and say anything you want, and then use a Constitutional defense. But that doesn’t mean that banning such speech, or saying that you shouldn’t exercise it, is good. There is a difference between legality and morality here, and it’s crucial.  I will defend your right to call me a “kike” or a “Hebe” in public, but that doesn’t mean that I think you should do that.

So this  xkcd cartoon, which is reproduced by many Cntrl-Leftists, isn’t exactly correct. The legality issue is correct, but who is an “asshole” is a matter of judgment (was Charlie Hebdo an “asshole organization”?), as is what constitutes “showing you the door”. Deplatforming someone, or shouting down a speech at a private college may be legal, but it’s illiberal and has a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

And West is also right that some of the “speech” going around on the Internet isn’t good, and constitutes bad behavior on the part of the speaker. When Anita Sarkeesian gets a death threat, or is called offensive names, that’s wrong and reprehensible—and the former is illegal. But by conflating legal freedom of expression with the illiberal attempts to shut down speech that one considers “harassment”, West at the same time mixes up legitimate criticism with true harassment and offensive words. Both are legal, but only the first aligns with true liberal values.

Sarkeesian is a good example here, for she’s been subject to repeated threats and what I consider unconscionable harassment. On the other hand, I see her as a liar and a grifter: someone who has repeatedly told untruths about video games in the name of her brand of feminism, and has both refused to debate her genuine critics and blocked all comments on her “Feminist Frequency” videos. She has a cause and is not in the least open minded about it, nor will she debate her views or her analyses of video games. Further, she has repeatedly conflated honest critics—gamers who have called her out for her lies without making threats—with genuine harassers who produce threats of rape or attack. There are two reasons I despise those harassers. First, their behavior is unethical and harmful; who would want to be on the receiving end of it? But it also gives Sarkeesian an excuse to ignore genuine criticisms of her views and repeatedly call attention instead to her harassment, even using it to monetize her lame projects. Like Muslims, she plays the offense card to try to shut down her honest critics. (Again, I decry those who threaten and harass her.)

When West says, then, that “criticism is not censorship,” referring to her own attacks on what she considers “trolls,” she should also add, vis-à-vis Sarkeesian and others, “criticism isn’t harassment, either.” You can have both together, but genuine criticism, well meant even if it’s wrong, should not be banned or termed harassment.

Further, I haven’t seen a lot of harassers use the First Amendment to defend their actions. They just harass. Where I have paid attention is when genuine critics of religion, gaming, feminism, affirmative action, and so on, maintain that they should not be silenced because it abrogates their freedom of expression.

In the end, I get the sense that West really wants rules to ban harassment and “hate speech”, but she can’t go so far as to actually say that. She just intimates it, as she does here:

Unfortunately, as any scientist can tell you (for as long as we still have those), more often than not, sunlight makes things grow. Conflating criticism with censorship fosters a system in which all positions deserve equal consideration, no bad ideas can ever be put to rest, and lies are just as valid as the truth.

What she’s saying here, I think, is that those “harassers” who claim freedom of speech as a defense are hurting society, and should be suppressed. We need to put those bad ideas to rest. (That, at least, is Sarkeesian’s view.)  My own view is that true harassment should be called out, mocked, reviled with counter speech, and taken to the law if it constitutes illegal or threatening behavior, but that we have to be very wary of what we really want to ban on private venues.

Finally, we have the biggest problem: who gets to decide what speech is acceptable? West doesn’t want the harassers (or critics) to do that, but then who? That’s one reason why we should be very careful about deciding what speech is unacceptable and should not be permitted. West shows her cards when she says this, which I suspect means that she and her “allies” like Sarkeesian should be the Deciders:

“There are women who have said to me [West], or to people in my circles, that they don’t want to be me,” Ms. Sarkeesian told me. “They don’t want what happened to me to happen to them, and so they keep their head down and they stay quiet.” Absence is invisible. We don’t even know who has been lost — how many were scared away before they even started. What about their speech?

Refusing to quit, as Ms. Sarkeesian has, yields often invisible professional consequences as well. “Our videos on YouTube don’t get promoted and supported in their algorithms the same way that hate videos about us do, because we can’t have comments open,” she said. “That punishes us.”

. . . “Freedom of speech is such a buzzword that people can rally around,” Ms. Sarkeesian said, “and that works really well in their favor. They’re weaponizing free speech to maintain their cultural dominance.”

Sarkeesian has testified before the UN in the cause of shutting down “cyber violence” and harassment online (she’s defended only the harassment of women, I believe), and one gets the feeling that she and people who agree with her should be the ones who decide what speech is unacceptable. In view of Sarkeesian’s failure to engage her honest critics, and her lumping all criticism together as “harassment”, I don’t trust her to be the Decider. Nor do I trust West.

The issue of nastiness on the Internet is a difficult one, and though I despise it, I don’t want to prevent it because I’m not a good Decider, as nobody is. Real threats and other illegal speech can already be dealt with by the law.

West’s column is a mess, conflating criticism with harassment, the First Amendment with a liberal valuation of free speech, and actions that are legal with actions that are right. It’s not a good start for West’s new journalistic position, nor does it do credit to the New York Times.



  1. Ken Phelps
    Posted July 6, 2017 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    “Again, I decry those who threaten and harass her.”

    That you feel it necessary to keep repeating this obvious fact goes directly to the well documented dishonesty of SJWs when they respond to their critics. No amount of careful and precise wording will deter them from their appointed rounds of offense taking.

    • BJ
      Posted July 6, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. I think it’s time for us to stop saying such things every time we criticize one of these people, as it merely affirms the notion that regressives are correct when they say that most of the people who also criticize them think harassing and threatening them is perfectly fine.

      • Travis
        Posted July 6, 2017 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

        I like the term “Virtue Qualifying” for this phenomenon. It’s where someone commenting on an issue with a non-PC position (even if only minor variants such as thinking feminism has always been a force for good but SOME feminists take it too far today) feels the need to qualify that they are still virtuous. I don’t hate women, but *insert mild criticism of feminism*

        I don’t hate blacks, but *insert mild criticism of BLM*

        etc. etc.

        • Travis
          Posted July 6, 2017 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

          oh and to add, I’m guilty of this all the time as well, and I can’t help but feel those who don’t do this often (those who have trained themselves not to, I think) are sexist/racist/etc.
          Just a bad habit. I think the overton window (sp?) has shifted that far…

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 6, 2017 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      That was my thought as I read that too Ken.

    • Posted July 6, 2017 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

      Especially as there is some uncertainty regarding the authenticity of claims of threat and harassment.

      Certainly there are objectionable posts by trolls, as there inevitably are on every sensitive topic.

      But the tweets Sarkeesian produced as evidence back at the time looked very much as if they had been constructed from a prepared script using a sock puppet account.

      It appears that the FBI were not convinced either.

      It is very hard to get a handle on the story without delving deep into web forums, blogs, and YouTube videos. Some original sources have no doubt vanished into the ether by now.

      Wikipedia seems to focus on publications that push a certain viewpoint without due diligence.

      I am leaning towards the opinion that Wikipedia’s articles on this subject could be a prime example of where Wikipedia’s policies inadvertently fail and result in false historical narrative.

      • BJ
        Posted July 6, 2017 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

        “Wikipedia seems to focus on publications that push a certain viewpoint without due diligence.

        I am leaning towards the opinion that Wikipedia’s articles on this subject could be a prime example of where Wikipedia’s policies inadvertently fail and result in false historical narrative.”

        Yup, Wikipedia isn’t reliable for any story or subject that in any way involves gender politics, or really anything regressives take on as a “cause.” Any story connected with “the cause” is full of edit warring, and the regressives almost always get their way because the Arbitration Committee is stuffed with their allies.

        You also have multiple examples at various colleges and in various cities over the years where regressives get together in a room and “correct” as many Wikipedia articles as they can over the course of a weekend. They try to use every social and informational platform on the internet they can to spread their propaganda and narratives. I’ll give them credit for working so hard to take over everything they can. It’s a strategy that has worked for some time now.

        • Posted July 7, 2017 at 8:09 am | Permalink

          I was just about to reply, but you’ve summarized the issues with Wikipedia perfectly.

  2. Posted July 6, 2017 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Lindy West and Anita Sarkeesian deceitfully conflate actual harassment & threats of violence with legitimate criticism, in an attempt to stifle the latter. Sarkeesian notoriously informed the UN that being told “you suck” constituted harassment.

    West is also M.S.U. when she describes the attendees of the Sarkeesian panel as “leering up at her”, belied by the video of the event.

    And yes, Sarkeesian is a sociopathic grifter. Before hitting pay dirt playing the ‘damsel in distress exposing damsel-in-distress-tropes’, she was a protegé of a ponzi-scheme promoter, then, along with fellow con-artist Jonathan McIntosh, ran a graphology service.

  3. Paul S
    Posted July 6, 2017 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Anyone who thinks they know what speech to suppress in the last person who should have that power.

    The biggest problem I see with West, Sarkeesian and others is that they’ve led an insular life prior to their fame. The people they think came out of the woodwork to post anonymously on the internet have always been there. Once you get out of your protected social circle you’ll meet them, unless you’re at a university with safe spaces.

    We’re at the point where people who finally get the attention they desire also want to control the responses they receive.

    You cannot legislate civility.

  4. Ann German
    Posted July 6, 2017 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Interestingly, those of us new to Twitter, for instance, see an amazing amount of freedom in the speech people express. Some of it angers me, some of it causes me concern (and even scares me), but it seems that almost always (with the exception of some really out-there extremist tweeters) there is an opposing or critical response.

  5. Christopher Bonds
    Posted July 6, 2017 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Random query: Why do some persons who don’t like what a speaker has to say (often before he or she says it) heckle and protest instead of just walking out or not attending at all? What are their goals? What message are they sending? Why do they choose to do that instead of organizing their own events and speaking themselves?

    • Jeff Rankin
      Posted July 6, 2017 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      “What are their goals?”

      Victimhood, in part.

    • Kevin
      Posted July 6, 2017 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      And where is the door?

      Randall (xkcd) fails to extract the metaphor of ‘door’. I have never experienced hate speech first hand. I have not walked through that ‘door’. Most of us hear about it hate-speech from other sources.

      It’s not like a door needs to be closed. If people want hate speech they have to want to open the door wide open and go look for it because it rarely comes to anyone.

      • starskeptic
        Posted July 7, 2017 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

        He didn’t have to – as being “shown the door” is a widely established metaphor.

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted July 8, 2017 at 3:43 am | Permalink

          The door is the “punchline” of the comic. Therefore, we need to understand what the author means by using it. In my view it means people who say things the author and his friends don’t like have to leave – but leave what? And to where?

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted July 6, 2017 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      As they should, they will counter-demonstrate and write articles, etc. But they are called the Ctrl-left for a reason.

      A big problem with many of the de-platforming episodes such as for invited speakers on campuses, is that de-platforming them actually makes the speaker more credible and popular among their allies. It gives them a whopping big talking point for their next article or speaking gig or book deal.

  6. Kevin
    Posted July 6, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    The best West can do is say she is offended. In contrast, anything that would offend her would almost certainly not offend me.

    Online experiences must be like stressed out prison for her.

    This is a competition for eyeballs. I’d rather watch a video of a cat falling down the stairs than listen to the rants of hate-mongers. From my perspective, people like West are shallow masochists, like self-tormented hamsters, unable to break from the turning wheel.

    • Jeff Rankin
      Posted July 6, 2017 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      “people like West are shallow masochists, like self-tormented hamsters”

      Maybe. Personally, I think this is simply her business model (like Sarkeesian and others of her ilk).

      Just like Nye pretending to be a scientist or great thinker: it pays the bills.

      • BJ
        Posted July 6, 2017 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

        Exactly. The more one can convince the Ctrl-Left that they’re being harassed, the more money and fame they will receive. It’s a simple business model to execute and works nearly every single time, provided they also espouse Ctrl-Left ideology. Also, it helps if they’re from one of the “oppressed” groups — you won’t see white men succeed with such a model.

        People like West and Sarkeesian have been using this business model for years now, and haven’t had to actually produce anything of note to find success with it. Hell, I would argue West has at least produced significantly more than Sarkeesian, who has produced a handful of youtube videos (and received several hundred thousand dollars to do so. I wonder where all that money went…). West has at least produced a book and tons of terrible, shallow, moronic articles for blogs, and now apparently for NY Times.

        • Posted July 6, 2017 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

          Ken Ham seems to be doing much the same with the fundamentalists: sell them what they want to hear, take a stand against the evil “secularists” who target him, use much the same rhetorical trickery to steer the thought process of uncritical readers to the “correct” conclusion.

          West’s article is full of this as well. She pretends that only resentful dysfunctional men object to politically correct hate speech and pseudo-academic fabrications.

          • BJ
            Posted July 6, 2017 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

            Hey, there’s a reason the words “horseshoe theory” have become so popular recently 🙂

        • Jimbo
          Posted July 6, 2017 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

          Bingo. I find this quick-to-be-offended tendency insidious for another reason: the offended are preying upon the noble compassion of others which is undeserved because their basis for offense is trivial. Playing the victim is emotional extortion. In so many contexts, it can get one ahead in life (at least for a time perhaps) and is an easier path than working hard, distinguishing oneself in spite of the haters, and having a good argument. I’m coming to the conclusion that most offense today is synonymous with “I don’t have an argument but I do have emotions.”

  7. TJR
    Posted July 6, 2017 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    What wasn’t clear to me in the article is the extent to which the threats and harassment she refers to really are that.

    Realistic threats, as against Salman Rushdie or Bangladeshi atheist bloggers, and genuine harassment, such as being shouted down when trying to speak, are one thing.

    People writing vitriolic crap is unpleasant, but doesn’t necessarily constitute realistic threats or genuine harassment. Do not feed the trolls.

    As she says, criticism is not censorship.

    (Unfortunately, like most Brits my age, I always hear the word “harassment” in a Frank Spencer voice).

  8. Jay Baldwin
    Posted July 6, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    “Both are legal, but only the first aligns with true liberal values”

    They would say that there are no “true” liberal values. Liberalism, like Islamism, can be whatever “we” say it is. That’s the postmodern world we live in.

  9. DrBrydon
    Posted July 6, 2017 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    It’s so nice to hear our fundamental freedom referred to as being a buzzword.

    • Posted July 7, 2017 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      Indeed. I try to understand the perspectives of others and recognize that no one thinks of themselves as evil, but “freeze peach” is a shibboleth that strongly suggests to me that the person using it does not have values aligned with those of the Enlightenment (and isn’t particularly intellectually gifted).

  10. Posted July 6, 2017 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    The regressive left abandon any pretense of socialism when it comes to censorship.

    Suddenly it’s only ‘censorship’when its practice by the state: democratically unaccountable. tax-dodging social media corporations are allowed to enforce whatever arbitrary bans they want.

    • Posted July 9, 2017 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

      Yes. That is a problem.

      It brings to mind a few WEIT commentators on NPR’s airing of K. Tempest Bradford’s “cultural appropriation” complaint. They – not Jerry, mind you – called for NPR to avoid that viewpoint. Show it the door.

      But I think John Stuart Mill was more right than wrong, and sunlight really is the best disinfectant.

  11. Historian
    Posted July 6, 2017 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Yes, there is the constitutional definition that free speech cannot be banned by the government. Thus, in a private setting a person cannot be prosecuted for attempting to non-violently intimidate somebody else from speaking. West doesn’t seem to realize (as well as the cartoon), however, that such actions threaten a free society, whether they come from the left or the right. Her views implicitly endorse mob rule where those who scream the loudest determine what is allowed to be said. Mob rule does not necessarily result in violence, but the potential exists. In the decade preceding the Civil War in the South, only a brave person would criticize slavery. In other words, mob rule fosters an atmosphere of fear. How many speakers will not lecture on a college campus out of fear of being screamed at by a mob of frenzied students?

    “Bad” speech should be countered by “good” speech. Of course if a free society is not all that important to you, you should not have difficulty finding a mob to your ideological liking.

    • Posted July 6, 2017 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      Leftists who decry the concentration of power in the hands of old media moguls are silent on the virtual monopolies of social media like Facebook or Twitter.

      Ironically I’ve seen more opposition from libertarians who regard this concentration of power as an obstacle to a free market.

  12. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted July 6, 2017 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    That article is a bit confused.
    I think a great weakness in the argument for shutting down offensive expression is that the practice is highly subjective, and it has been applied very arbitrarily. There is simply no consensus among the Crl-left about where the line is drawn between ‘offensive but ok’ to ‘offensive and not ok — shut ‘er down!’

  13. BJ
    Posted July 6, 2017 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    “By ‘allowed’, it’s not clear to me whether West is calling for banning of what she and other Cntrl-Leftists see as ‘harassment’ or ‘hate speech’, or simply her view that people should be called out for using the Free Speech defense when engaged in what she sees as harassment.”

    Oh, West has claimed many, many times in the past that anyone who criticizes her beliefs or the beliefs of others is a “troll” spouting “hate speech” and “harassing” her/them. Just like all people from the Ctrl-Left, she uses phrases like this *for the sole purpose of attempting to censor such people and their views*, and getting social media platforms and her enormous number of followers to do that work for her (it’s amusing that she regularly sends her followers after people to actually harass them into shutting up, but this is also a common tactic). She’s not confused, she’s doing what all people of her ilk do: redefine and nebulously use certain words to support the censorship of those who have the temerity to step out of line.

    “She’s partly right here: the First Amendment says that the government can’t make laws abrogating free speech or a free press. So there is no absolute “right” to go on a privately owned site like Twitter or Facebook and say anything you want, and then use a Constitutional defense. But that doesn’t mean that banning such speech, or saying that you shouldn’t exercise it, is good.”

    This point is especially salient when corporations like Twitter and Facebook now control an enormous amount of speech on the internet, which has become the main hub for the exchange and proliferation of ideas in modern society. The First Amendment was included in the Constitution because, at that time, it was the government that had the power and potential to shut down speech in the public square, but now that a significant portion of the public square is owned by corporations operating social media outlets on the internet, this ideal needs to be extended to them as well (though I’m not saying we should have a law or amendment for this).

    With regard to someone like Sarkeesian and other leaders of the Ctrl-Left: nobody knows how much harassment, threats, etc. she receives/continues to receive, but what we do know is she went in front of the UN and said that harassment isn’t just these things, “but also the day-to-day grind of ‘You’re a liar,’ ‘You suck.'” She and her supporters do literally believe that criticism and pointing out her many, well-documented odious lies is actually harassment (well, in her case, I don’t know whether she believes anything she says or whether she says these things to make more money and keep her base).

    This is part of what makes these people so dangerous: they have successfully convinced their supporters that any criticism of them or their ideas is harassment that should be shut down, by the government and/or corporations if necessary.

    By the way, guess who is one of the first members of Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council, which was created explicitly to come up with policies to shut down “harassment” and “hate speech” on the platform? Anita Sarkeesian.

    • BJ
      Posted July 6, 2017 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      “Oh, West has claimed many, many times in the past that anyone who criticizes her beliefs or the beliefs of others is a “troll” spouting “hate speech” and “harassing” her/them.”

      Sorry, I meant her beliefs and the beliefs of others she supports.

  14. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 6, 2017 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Censor vs. Censure at Merriam-Webster

  15. shoshidge
    Posted July 6, 2017 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    I don’t agree with Lindy West about much, but I have a sympathy towards her that I don’t extend to other SJWs like Sarkeesian because the tenor of her hate mail is just that much worse. She gets all the usual death threats but, because she is overweight and publicly discusses the topic of fat acceptance, gets a degree of jeering contempt about her appearance that would utterly wither most people. In one infamous case, explained in cringing detail in a ‘This American Life’ episode from a couple of years ago, some asshole, having recently learned of the death of West’s beloved father, opened a twitter account under his name with his picture and started trolling her with it. In this case, they were able to discover the identity of the guy and they recorded a conversation between him and West that was fascinating to listen to.
    Knowing all of this, her muddled, conflicted attitude towards free speech isn’t surprising

    • Posted July 6, 2017 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      Nice bigotry of low expectations there. Linda’s a grown-up, and we can expect her to think rationally about free speech no matter the number of ‘meanies’ trolling her.

      That she wishes to stifle certain voices is due not to some post-traumatic muddled thinking, rather to a conscious adoption of totalitarian ideals.

      As for her weight, West is morbidly obese. She’s intentionally packed on the pounds and frequently poses for photos while scarfing down high-caloric junk food. She then complains that she doesn’t fit cultural ideals of an attractive woman, and shames men for not desiring her. It’s all part of her schtick of professional victimhood.

      • BJ
        Posted July 6, 2017 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, if someone like me, who suffered constant bigotry and discrimination as a child for being Jewish (including hate speech every day, to my face) can be rational about the issue of speech, and if someone like Gad Saad, whose life was literally under constant threat and who had to flee his birth country because of discrimination can be rational about free speech, an adult like Lindy West can be rational about the issue. She is either completely irrational, purposefully irrational, or honestly believes she and people like her should be able to control what people are allowed to say and that such power will never fall into the “wrong” hands (“wrong” in quotation marks because there are no right hands. All hands are the wrong hands for such power).

        Also, Lindy purposely provokes people constantly, and espouses extremely harmful ideas about people being “healthy at any size” and all that BS.

        • Posted July 6, 2017 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

          I grok what you’re saying. Nevertheless, it is true that one can be healthy at any size. Being overweight increases the risk of certain diseases, but it doesn’t ensure it.

          I know Lindy West (not personally -I’m from Seattle and she began her writing career in local rag called The Stranger); she does take that argument too far and anyway often uses it as a bludgeon to hit people she doesn’t like rather than as a repartee to fat shamers. I’m just saying that most fat people have “normal” health so there is some truth to what she says.

          • BJ
            Posted July 6, 2017 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

            “I’m just saying that most fat people have ‘normal’ health so there is some truth to what she says.”

            Eh, this isn’t exactly true. They may have normal health for the moment, but people who stay obese (or, even more significantly, morbidly obese like West) will almost certainly have significant health problems later in life. There are always exceptions, but one wouldn’t say “smoking isn’t all that unhealthy, as there are plenty of people who smoke all their lives and don’t suffer for it,” and there are no campaigns to remove the health stigma from smoking.

            • Rita
              Posted July 6, 2017 at 4:48 pm | Permalink


            • Posted July 6, 2017 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

              Nevertheless, the fact remains that most smokers, for example, do not develop cancer. Smokers get cancer at a rate about 10-20 times that of non-smokers for sure, but even at that rate the majority of smokers do not contract it. Just so, most fat people do not develop metabolic disease. They are at significantly greater risk but fat people can live long, healthy lives.

              Look, I’m not disputing that being fat (or smoking) is dangerous to your health. The epidemiological evidence for both is indisputable. But it simply is not true that fat people can’t be healthy. It’s like saying that motorcycle racing is deadly. Sure it can be and people who don’t race have little to worry about with respect to dying from motorcycle-racing injuries. But the fact remains that most motorcycle racers don’t die from it.

              Also consider that many people confuse quality of life issues with health (not saying you). For example, some think that because overweight people get winded when climbing stairs that they must be unhealthy. This is nonsense as I am sure you can see.

              Anyway, I’m just pointing out that being fat is not the same as being unhealthy (though it is likely). Oh, and in none of this is there any support for Lindy West coming from me.

              • BJ
                Posted July 6, 2017 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

                “Smokers get cancer at a rate about 10-20 times that of non-smokers for sure, but even at that rate the majority of smokers do not contract it.”

                Just as you’re right about people confusing quality of life issues with health issues, this seems to me like a case of confusing cancers rates in smokers with overall rates of deleterious effects caused by smoking. Cancer is far from the only possible severe health problem that smoking can cause. Once one accounts for emphysema, blood clots, stroke, heart attack, cancer, reduced limb circulation, and various other health problems, the possibility of severe issues rises well above that 10-20% mark for smokers.

                I get what you’re saying about being fat, and I think we basically agree that people shouldn’t be promoting the idea that being morbidly obese for decades is a good choice or just as healthy as being at a normal weight for one’s height and body type.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 6, 2017 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      I do not doubt that the alt-right feels itself unleashed to mock women for their looks, bleeding or otherwise, by the overt misogyny of their God Emperor Donald Trump.

      Not that they needed much encouragement.

  16. Posted July 6, 2017 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Lindy West does what her likeminded faction always does: They jockey for the prerogative of interpretation and then infuse every account they give with their extremely subjective feelings — provided they are not outright lying. Both possibilities, feeling and lying, exist in a superimposed state only known to them. They could, however, try to look at the facts, or ask someone who does it for them. They don’t, and it comes down to self-serving agenda-pushing. The End Justifies the Means.

    It’s true that Anita Sarkeesian’s critics have demonstrably occupied the front rows at VidCon. They knew it would annoy her and that’s why they did it. However, as YouTubers themselves, they are free to attend panels and take a seat at the designated places. Atheists at such a conference would want to see a panel featuring Ken Ham, Ray Comfort and Kent Hovind — the creationist trinity as a condensed idiocy at one place. They’d want to film it, as one probably does at a YouTube conference, to turn it into content later on. This is not harassment in any conceivable way.

    What’s more, the panel also included the video game commentator known as Boogie2988, who has over 4 million subscribers, compared to Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency’s 226k. This also puts the situation into perspective. Not that it is required, but video game enthusiasts had legitimate reason to visit that discussion. Let’s also consider that nerds have a reputation of being victim of bullying themselves, and Boogie was invited to discuss that from his perspective. In other words, Lindy West grabbed a position at the New York Times and misled her audience in the usual ways, adding to a thick fabric of lies and misrepresentation such dense that many people have built a comfortable alternate reality out of it (and by now, it’s also citable).

    I understand it must be unpleasant to have fleas — persistent critics, who cater to an audience of opponents. Such constellations qualify in my mind as “Anti-Fandom”, a phenomenon that is barely studied and understood. But, feminists or “Cultural Critics” like Sarkeesian or West are often themselves Anti-Fans as West gives away in her introduction. Critical commentary often shades into Anti-Fandom, and atheism and skepticism probably thrived on it. The only difference are her subjective feelings. When she doesn’t like something and is critical of it, it’s just having an opinion. She and her ilk have permission to be fleas around the clock. But when people are critical of her, or of her lunatic faction, now that’s obsessive, harassment, violence, murder, literally genocide.

    Also familiar is her perception that her own criticism amounts to nothing but begnin commentary. A certain Paul Zachary and his blogging colleagues were busy commenting on Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris et al every other day, offering “mild criticism” (their words). Mild criticism like calling people racist, misogynistic, accusing entire comment sections as filled by rapists and of “providing a haven” for it. But of course, commenting on them, that was “obsessive” and of course harassment and stochastic terror.

    The same asymmetry is at play, too. Lindy West and her lot see only their own commentary, as self-absorbed egomaniacs they are. The commentary echoing theirs is invisible to them. There can be entire comment sections and Twitter armies following their wake, but that all doesn’t count (sane people long noticed the social media witch hunts of the Regressives). Of course, it shoots not only in the opposite direction, but also at the correct targets. If not invisible, it is permissible. After all, they blogged only five times about someone they dislike (with thousands of echoes, they ignore). That’s much less than the criticism they personally receive, ergo, the others are harassers.

    At the end of the day it always comes down to:
    It’s Okay When They Do It™

  17. Posted July 6, 2017 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    She is worse than most of them because she is actively killing people with her Fat acceptance/Health at all sizes bullshit.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 6, 2017 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think that adverb “actively” means what you think it means.

      • Posted July 7, 2017 at 1:17 am | Permalink

        I stick by it. She is telling people that being morbidly obese is just fine and dandy which might as well be promoting cancer and diabetes.

  18. eric
    Posted July 6, 2017 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    …fat acceptance movement activist…

    What the heck is that? I’m fat. I hope I never “accept it” because my condition is unhealthy. I want a bit of internal conflict, so that I’m driven to make myself healthier.

    I think a lot of people confuse satisfaction with happiness; they think you have to be both or neither. I see this as a false goal, a snipe hunt. I can be happy being me while at the same time being unsatisfied with my condition. I can strive and want to change the way I am, while at the same time not feeling much stress or anxiety about it.

    Self-improvement and image is kind of like having a long term research or other project at work. You go home at the end of the day, and the job isn’t finished. It may not be done for years. But that not-doneness should not stop you from putting your feet up, having a beer or glass of wine, and celebrating a day well worked. My health is a long term project. I finish my work and workout for the evening knowing it’s not done. It may never be done. But that doesn’t stop me from celebrating a day well worked.

    • Posted July 6, 2017 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

      Skip a meal, once, twice a week. If you can manage, skip two meals some days. Don’t diet. Watch what you drink, lots of overlooked calories there. Eat oat and fibres (apples etc), preventing sugar spikes. They make you crave, and that makes a lot of a difference. For every 3500 calories you take less than you use (ca 2000 a day), you’ll lose 1 pound. Exercize is good, but won’t do much to lose weight. Most important of all, place the scale so you can step on it every day at roughly the same time. Don’t get obsessed with day-to-day results, care about week-to-week or longer; get a feel for it. Good luck 🙂

      • BJ
        Posted July 6, 2017 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

        I used the Atkins diet to lose 55 pounds, so dieting works if you can stick to it. And I did (and still do) aerobic exercise every day too, which made a huge difference in how fast I lost the weight (I started out not exercising, and it was only once I did that the weight loss really started to happen at a significant pace, making it easier to stick to the program I set for myself). I don’t think it’s a good idea to tell people that dieting doesn’t work. Dieting doesn’t work only when people don’t use a good diet, don’t stick to their diet, and/or diet to lose weight and then immediately go back to their old habits once they reach their goal. And exercise (it has to be aerobic exercise for at least fifteen minutes, preferably four to five times a week) absolutely does help with the process.

      • Posted July 7, 2017 at 6:20 am | Permalink

        Pretty good advice.

        What’s working for me is:

        1. Exercise (I’ve always done this, since I was 16)

        2. PORTION CONTROL. I only use small plates and bowls now.

        3. No seconds

        4. Think about everything you put in your mouth. No mindless consuming.

        5. Drink lots of water

        6. Cut out almost all carbohydrates. I eat about 60% veg and 40% meat. One bagel per day (breakfast) is it for carbs.

        7. Cut way back on alcohol. Good for many reasons.

        8. Don’t drink flavored beverages. I drink water.

        I view this all as a change in life; not dieting. There is no end-point.

        Like with weight-lifting, I am not power-lifting, I am health-lifting. I raise my load very slowly. Why not? What’s the rush (I’m closer to 60 than to 50)? I’m not stopping, so I’ll get there (whatever goal I have) eventually.

        -50 pounds and counting …

        The exercise actually works against the weight loss (numbers) a bit since I am also building muscle — which feels pretty at my age!

        • Vaal
          Posted July 7, 2017 at 9:03 am | Permalink

          6. Cut out almost all carbohydrates. I eat about 60% veg and 40% meat. One bagel per day (breakfast) is it for carbs.

          Not willing to do that. That would be too miserable for me to stick on any such plan 🙂

          I like food, in all it’s varieties, too much to do that. And goodness I love bread. And desserts.

          I simply used portion control (starting about 7 years ago) and lost all the weight I needed to, at pretty much the same rate people lose on any other diet. Kept it off. Haven’t felt I’m depriving myself of anything either.

          I get that different approaches work for different people, but I always cringe when I see any of the “cut out this food” strategies.

          • Posted July 7, 2017 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

            It’s been pretty helpful to cut out the carbs for me. That category includes lots of things I need to avoid. I don’t have a big sweet tooth; but I too love bread. Ah well!

            I do eat it sometimes; but only rarely, as a treat. Moderation in all things …

            I too love nearly any kind of food. Big problem! 🙂

            The veg and meat plan is working well for me. It was too easy to eat bread, etc. and not veg. I’ve needed to eat more veg for a long time.

  19. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted July 6, 2017 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    Finally, we have the biggest problem: who gets to decide what speech is acceptable?

    I do not think the answer is a problem in practice (though the area is problematic) but that the – as posed – untestable question is. In practice who gets to decide is those that testably produce the least conflicted democracy. There must be a balance among Human Rights as they can conflict.

    EU banning hate speech seems to get more mileage socially on measures such as security than US being impractical/extremist.*

    *) Incidentally, this likely promotes religion in US, according to Paul’s theory on religion. Insecurity pretty much equal a dysfunctional society.

    • eric
      Posted July 6, 2017 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

      EU banning hate speech seems to get more mileage socially on measures such as security than US being impractical/extremist.*

      You have more (and more viable/popular) neo-nazi political parties than we do. Some of us yanks consider that an important measure of ‘mileage’. Why would we want to follow Europe’s lead in banning hate speech when it appears the result of such policies is politically stronger hate groups?

  20. eric
    Posted July 6, 2017 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    the First Amendment says that the government can’t make laws abrogating free speech or a free press. So there is no absolute “right” to go on a privately owned site like Twitter or Facebook and say anything you want, and then use a Constitutional defense.

    You are 90% right, but there are some gray areas. IIRC there as a case some years ago where the courts ruled that the Mormon church couldn’t stop people from kissing in a downtown SLC park or square that the church privately owned. The church had essentially allowed it to be a de facto public space, and so the courts ruled it essentially was one.

    More recently, SCOTUS ruled that states can’t block sex offenders’ access to Facebook and other social media services, because these services have become such an important source of public information. And while I’m sure Facebook would fight aggressively to prevent this, it seems to me that services like it are very much becoming or have become de facto virtual public spaces.

    Maybe it doesn’t happen now or this year, but I could easily see the courts ruling on Facebook the way they ruled on the Mormon park – saying, basically, too bad so sad, your “space” might have started out private but it’s essentially public now.

    Its not just about how it’s funded, it matters very much how it’s used. Privately funded/owned + publicly used (can sometimes) = public space.

  21. eric
    Posted July 6, 2017 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately, as any scientist can tell you (for as long as we still have those), more often than not, sunlight makes things grow.

    What? How did she get a common adage so backwards? It’s “sunlight is the best disinfectant,” and it means the exact opposite of what she’s saying scientists say. Shine sun on bad ideas and they wither. I’ve never heard anyone – scientist or non – use a metaphor like the one she’s claiming ‘scientists say.’

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 6, 2017 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

      Not saying it worked all that well, but in the full context of her NYT piece, I’m pretty sure West was endeavoring to stand the timeworn “sunlight is the best disinfectant” metaphor on its head — saying that sometimes sunlight spurs growth, and “[s]ometimes disinfectant is the best disinfectant.”

    • Posted July 9, 2017 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      There is are several lines of research (here’s one) showing that refuting lies often just makes them stronger. It would be nice if sunlight always disinfected. The most we can realistically hope for is that more times than not, sunlight helps. Sometimes I wonder if even that isn’t too optimistic.

  22. Posted July 7, 2017 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    Lindy, pssst, a secret for you: People are going to say things you don’t like. Remember, Kindergarten rules? “Use your words!”

    If you can’t argue successfully against jerks, I guess you don’t have much of an argument. Shutting people up is never the answer.

  23. Posted July 7, 2017 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    When West wrote “. . . Ms. Sarkeesian, with her precise, rigorously argued opinions . . . .” she demonstrated that she is driven by what she wishes were true and not by facts.

  24. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted July 7, 2017 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    “… The right to free speech means […]”

    Okay XKCD, I’m listening….

    “And they’re showing you the door.”

    … the door to … where? And from where?

    Is this a model of life as a party, and if I say something the crowd frowns upon I have to leave… what, the party?

    Oh looks like I’m being shown the door.

  25. prinzler
    Posted July 7, 2017 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Not sure if this comment has already been made:

    It’s not just a question of the rights of the speaker, but it’s also a question of the rights of the **listener.** It’s my right to listen to the speakers of my choice, and that might include people I don’t agree with as well as people for whom I haven’t yet made up my mind, or don’t know exactly what they will say at any particular event.

    Also, it’s my right as a listener, and no one else’s, to decide into which of the above categories (agree with, disagree with, don’t know, etc.) any particular speaker falls.

    Hat tip to C. Hitchens.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted July 7, 2017 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      You have come to the right place – Hitchens FTW

  26. Posted July 7, 2017 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    I am disappointed with the xkcd cartoon, which I usually like. He is saying, basically, that the government can’t shut down your right to free speech, but the mob can.

  27. Gwyn
    Posted July 10, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Nothing to do with the free-speech stuff; I’m just surprised that you don’t find Lindy West funny. Her reviews of Sex and the City 2 and Love Actually are two of my favourite reviews of anything, and both had me laughing out loud at least the first time I read them. Links below in case you haven’t seen them.

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