Who should decide what speech is acceptable? P. Z. Myers appoints himself.

Over many decades, the United States court system has come up with an interpretation of the Constitution’s First Amendment that protects people from harassment and physical attack without deep-sixing the important right to express your opinion without censorship. Here’s that amendment again, just for review:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Today we’re neglecting religion, assembly, and the press (except insofar as they constitute “speech”) to deal with freedom of speech. The evolved interpretation is the following: the government has no right to censor or ban public speech unless it leads to persistent harassment in the workplace, constitutes an immediate incitement to violence, or falls into criminal categories like perjury, defamation, blackmail, or personal threats. Further, public universities do not have to allow just anything to be taught in their classrooms in the name of free speech. Courts have ruled, for instance, that banning the teaching of creationism and its intelligent-design subspecies does not violate the First Amendment.

That’s worked well for America, for all social progress has taken advantage of this liberty while being opposed by those who argued that the progressive speech was, in effect, “hate speech”—speech that would damage society. Thus, civil rights for blacks, for women, and for gays all depended in the public and widespread dissemination of speech that was deemed offensive by others. Now we are seeing anti-religious speech forcing various faiths, including Catholicism, to reluctantly make reforms.

The reason that all speech save the exceptions above is permitted is because, as the Founders realized, nobody should arrogate unto themselves the power to decide which speech shall be “free” and which speech shall be disallowed. If you give government (or anybody) that kind of power, then there’s no guarantee that the speech you think should be banned might someday include your speech (see examples below).

In his famous pamphlet On Liberty (1859; the same year as Darwin’s great work), John Stuart Mill gives several arguments why speech we see as odious should be allowed. One is that only through the clash of ideas in public can we arrive at social progress and morality advance. That kind of give-and-take is why, ultimately, America turned against racism in the 50s and 60s despite Southern attempts to ban anti-racist demonstrations—a form of speech. After all, before then racist speech was given more license in the South than was anti-racist speech.

Further, banning speech does not quash the ideas behind it; it simply drives them underground, where they fester unopposed.

Another important reason to allow “hateful” speech is because it hones your ability to combat it, something that wouldn’t happen were you not allowed to hear it, consider it, and confront it. My usual example Holocaust denialism, which is in fact banned or criminalized in countries like Switzerland, France, Germany, Poland, and Belgium. But if you don’t get to hear arguments why the Holocaust didn’t happen, how can you be sure that it did? How do you counter the argument that “Hitler never authorized on paper a mass extermination of the Jews” unless you can hear that argument? How else, without hearing counterarguments, can you address the claim that 6 million Jews and 4 million others weren’t killed, but just displaced? Related to this is Mill’s claim, which I think is correct, that successive generations tend to forget the arguments against odious ideas unless they get to encounter them repeatedly—which means allowing them to be disseminated in perpetuity.

Recently, however, we see—mainly from the Left—explicit criticisms of the First Amendment: attempts to say that that Amendment doesn’t apply to “hate speech”. What “hate speech” is, of course, depends on a person’s views. While a progressive may say that speech denigrating ethnic minorities or transgender people should be banned, Muslims may argue that criticism of Islam should be banned. But these categories are sufficiently flexible that they allow for stifling real debate. Islam, of course, shouldn’t be free from criticism, and why should we not be able to debate whether there should be quotas for immigrants, affirmative action, the right to bear arms, restrictions on abortion, and how to deal with transgender people (indeed, even feminists debate the last issue)? Yet laws against “hate speech” could in principle encompass these subjects. Indeed, many Leftists consider discussion of these topics taboo.

There are several things that people misunderstand about the First Amendment, including these:

  1. Free speech refers to government and its institutions, not to private, non-governmental groups like private universities.
  2. No private group has to accept a speaker regardless of their views; this is a decision that each group must make for itself. That said, it doesn’t further free discussion to allow only speakers who completely agree with your (or your group’s) ideas.
  3. Allowing somebody to speak, even in a public university or school (which are considered arms of the government) does not constitute approval of that speech. A university, for instance, can always issue a disclaimer that a student-invited speaker’s views are not those of the university itself.
  4. Legal sanctions are not equivalent to ethical ones. A private university, for example, is wrong (though not illegal) if it tells student groups that political conservatives will not be allowed to speak. We must always remember that the reasoned clash of ideas promotes social progress. That’s not just wishful thinking, for the history of the world supports it. Even if you don’t have to allow speech that you don’t like, sometimes you should, just to promote discussion.

Unfortunately, P. Z. Myers, writing on his blog Pharyngula, has begun to mirror what a lot (but not all) people on the left are thinking: we should start considering rewriting or reinterpreting the First Amendment so that certain kinds of speech, heretofore allowed and legal, should be banned. While I don’t like to get into “website wars”, particularly with those whose views I don’t generally respect, I thought that a recent post on Pharyngula was worth highlighting.

The post is called “The irony of it all: free speech used as a cudgel of oppression.” Its message is that there should be no free speech that oppresses minorities (no definition of “oppression” is explicitly given, though representative speakers are named). It is the familiar argument that we should ban “hate speech”—but as it is defined by P. Z. Myers. Here are a few quotes from his piece (emphases in bold are mine, indented words are Myers’s):

There is an argument going on right now between fascist white nationalists and universities in which administrators and centrists are caving in before the magical mantra of “free speech!” This is what happens when you lose perspective and decide that one right trumps all the others. In the name of Free Speech, people who believe millions of other people should lose all of their rights and be deported, deprived of recourse to legal redress, be kicked out of school, or even imprisoned or murdered, get to further incite these gross violations of liberty on college campuses.

This is a gross misunderstanding of “rights”. There is no cross-purpose between the right to speak freely and the rights that the law says that various groups should enjoy.  We have the right to argue that African-Americans should be denied equality under the law, but as a result of such arguments, blacks gained civil rights for voting, housing, and other public goods. “Free speech” did not trump civil rights; it helped promote them.  There is no conflict between enforcing the First Amendment and making laws that affect immigration, civil rights, discrimination, and so on. A law allowing free discussion cannot trump rights enacted after such discussion. What can trump progress are laws banning discussion of certain topics. Imagine, for instance, if Americans were not allowed to criticize religion.

Myers goes on:

. . . “Free speech” is an all-purpose slogan disingenuously used to mask violent threats and an outright take-over of, ironically enough, the right of free speech. You don’t really believe that Ann Coulter, Steve Bannon, and Milo Yiannopoulos are making a principled defense of socialists, communists, academics, artists, and progressives to discuss their ideas, do you? They hate those guys! They want to intimidate and suppress liberals, and have found that mouthing the words “free speech” are a great way to do it, since moderates tend to cave before it.

While I am no fan of Coulter, Bannon, Yiannopoulos, and their ilk (and readers should know this by now), they invoke the concept of freedom of speech not to promote the speech of their political opponents, but to ensure that they themselves get to speak. After all, everything that Coulter, Bannon, and Yiannopoulos say in public is legal, as much as you may despise it. And, to be sure, a lot of what they say is not just the spewing hatred, but offering opinions about social policy.  While their opinions are usually odious, they inspire discussion (see all the articles about Bannon and the others actually engaging with their views).

Remember, too, that by and large it is not the Right who tries to shut down speakers considered offensive. As the FIRE “disinvitation database” shows, since 2010, and especially in the last three years, the bulk of censoring and deplatforming of speakers at colleges came from the Left. This is shameful for a political ideology that has traditionally favored free speech.

Myers continues:

. . . We also mustn’t forget that these “free speech” advocates are using it as a tool to do harm to minorities and women — and behind their strategy is an appeal to the comfortably privileged to sit back and let them do the dirty work of securing their sheltered nice ideals at the expense of the life and liberty of the underclasses.

There is some justice, perhaps, to this claim, as I’m sure there is racism behind some speakers’ views—certainly those of white supremacists. But the “comfortably privileged” don’t just sit back and allow people like Yiannpooulos, Bannon, or Coulter to spread their views unopposed.  Most of us on the Left use our free speech as counterspeech against the idiotic views of the Right. I in particular have gone after Coulter as well as the idiotic views of Bannon’s far-right colleagues. I’m not going to spend time here defending my Leftism, except to say that I have never espoused free speech as a way to keep my “privilege.” If that were the case, I should be trying to censor Nazis who, after all, would have me killed were they to gain real power. (I’m a secular Jew, but the Nazis didn’t care whether a Jew was religious or not.)

Here is the most addleheaded statement in Myer’s piece, where it becomes clear that he doesn’t support free speech if it “supports the status quo.” By that he means if such speech somehow disenfranchises minorities or enforces “privilege.” In other words, he supports only one form of protected speech:

. . . I’ll support your call for free speech when you stop using it to marginalize the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for everyone else, and when it stops being a proxy for defending the status quo and your privileged status rather than the right that allows the oppressed to have a voice.

I’m sorry, Dr. Myers, but the oppressed do have voices, and they use them. You can read about the grievances and injustices of the oppressed in the mainstream media like the New York Times or the Washington Post, or in left-wing sites like PuffHo or Everyday Feminism. Neither the government nor the mainstream media censor the marginalized. To the extent that groups are marginalized, it is not because they lack exposure, but because there are groups who oppose their rights. This opposition cannot be overcome by censoring the speech of those opponents, because, after all, rights are won by public opinion, law and the legislature: areas where debate is necessary and constant.

Myers doesn’t realize that many of the leftists who call for free speech do so not because they’re trying to retain their privilege, but to further social progress, and that means letting the other side have their say, allowing us to fight back—with words. And we want the Right (and yes, that includes bigots and racists) to have their say precisely because it gives us something to fight back against. 

Finally, as we all know, the big problem is this: who is to be the Decider of what speech shall be free—what speech can be uttered and what speech can be heard? I sure don’t want Trump to do it, nor do I want P. Z. Myers, a dime-store tyrant if ever there was one. The best solution is the one that our courts has hit on: nobody is to decide what speech should be free; it should all be free—with the few exceptions outlined above.

It would behoove Dr. Myers, his minions, and other Leftists contemplating ditching the First Amendment to read the New York Times article below (click on the link), which explains very clearly why “hate speech” much be allowed and why nobody, including Myers, should be allowed to decide what speech should be free. As Christopher Hitchens often said (though not in these words), giving somebody the right to censor speech that is not your speech allows for the possibility that another censor may turn around and bite you on the tuchas.

A few quotes from the Q&A (the Berkeley dean is First Amendment scholar Erwin Chemerinsky; his interlocutor is Natalie Shutler, head of the Times‘s “On Campus” column).

Natalie: But you do take a hard line in your book [Free Speech on Campus, written with Howard Gillman] that even hate speech must be protected.

Erwin: The law under the First Amendment is clear: Hate speech is protected speech. Over 300 colleges and universities adopted hate speech codes in the early 1990s. Every one to be challenged in court was ruled unconstitutional. And there are good reasons for that.

After some really ugly incidents at the University of Michigan in the late 1980s, the school adopted a hate speech code that was undoubtedly well intentioned. But a federal court declared it unconstitutional, in part, because it was so vague. It said that there could not be speech that “demeans or stigmatizes” anyone based on race or gender. But what does that mean? A sociobiology student who challenged the law said, “I want to study whether there are inherent differences between women and men. What if my conclusions are deemed stigmatizing on the basis of gender?” And during the years Michigan’s speech code was on the books, more than 20 black students were charged with racist speech by white students. There wasn’t a single instance of a white student being punished for racist speech, even though that was what had prompted the drafting of the Michigan speech code in the first place.

That’s part of a much bigger historical pattern: As we saw in Michigan, when hate speech codes or laws are adopted, they are most often directed at the very groups they are meant to protect.

And this:

Natalie: What about the argument that some inflammatory speakers come to campus with the express aim of creating a hostile environment?

Erwin: It is important to recognize that a public university has no choice but to allow speakers on campus even if their message is regarded as hateful or racist. If the campus tried to exclude such a speaker, it would get sued and the speaker would win and likely would be made a martyr for the First Amendment in the process. Nothing can be gained by exclusion. But the campus must ensure safety for its students, staff and faculty. This might include regulating where the controversial speaker is allowed to be present and, likely, it will include more of a police presence. I am sympathetic to the concerns of students who are wary about more police coming to campus, but not having law enforcement present in the face of a danger to public safety risks even greater harms.

The central principle of the First Amendment — and of academic freedom — is that all ideas and views can be expressed. Sometimes they are ideas and views that we might consider noble, that advance equality. Sometimes they might be ideas that we abhor. But there is no way to empower a government or campus administration to restrict speech without allowing for the possibility that tomorrow, it will be our speech that is restricted.

 

174 Comments

  1. p. puk
    Posted September 14, 2017 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Of all of the Weapons Grade Assholes that I would appoint to police my speech (if I reaal, really had to), PZ would be the last on the list of WGAs.

    • Posted September 14, 2017 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      Let’s try to at least avoid obscene epithets on this thread!

      • Laurian
        Posted September 14, 2017 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

        An excellent suggestion from Mr. Coyne, penner of “P. Z. Myers, a dime-store tyrant if ever there was one”

        • mordacious1
          Posted September 14, 2017 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

          I must’ve missed the obscene epithet in that sentence.

          • Tim
            Posted September 15, 2017 at 6:55 am | Permalink

            Obviously the words “Weapons Grade” are obscene because they promote gun culture.

          • Richard Sanderson
            Posted September 15, 2017 at 8:53 am | Permalink

            “Tyrant” is pretty strong…….

            Lol.

  2. kieran
    Posted September 14, 2017 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    “After all, everything that Coulter, Bannon, and Yiannopoulos say in public is legal, as much as you may despite it”

    I’m guessing that should be despise? or dispute?

    In Ireland the national broadcaster was sued by a group of individuals over the opinion of a guest on a show. It was called Pantigate and should be a cautionary tale of not having freedom of speech as broadly defined as it is in the states.

  3. BJ
    Posted September 14, 2017 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    What’s most striking to me about PZ and his ilk is that much of what they want to ban under the banner of “hate speech” is discussion of government policy with which they don’t agree. This is, naturally, by design. Take the following quote, for example:

    “In the name of Free Speech, people who believe millions of other people should lose all of their rights and be deported, deprived of recourse to legal redress, be kicked out of school, or even imprisoned or murdered, get to further incite these gross violations of liberty on college campuses.”

    Notice that three of the four types of speech he suggests banning here are descriptions, in the worst possible terms, of positions on government policy with which The Great and Wise PZ Myers disagrees. You think illegal immigrants should be deported? That’s hate speech, you can’t support that side of this political issue! You think Guantanamo Bay was a good idea? That’s hate speech, you can’t say that! You think illegal immigrants shouldn’t get to use public school funds? That’s hate speech, how dare you!

    To be sure, I disagree with all the positions I just listed, but they are legitimate stances on issues of policy for the country. PZ believes arguing any policy position with which he disagrees should be made illegal so only his positions can be argued, and so anything with which he disagrees is racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/islamophobic/etc. Like a good regressive, PZ thinks anything that does not comport with his views can be regarded as violent, oppressive speech that needs to be banned, because PZ is a paragon of virtue and righteousness (even though he has never done anything to help any marginalized group besides write screeds preaching to his small choir on a website), and all who oppose even a single word from him are no better than dirt.

    People like PZ can’t even think through their own ideas. Take his claim that any speech which denigrates a minority should be banned. What happens when white people inevitably become the minority in the US? Oops! What about ending speech that denigrates based on race or sex? Looks like we’ll have to get rid of all those (I’m sure PZ-approved) “Unlearning Whiteness” and critical race theory classes at colleges around the country. A whole lot of gender studies classes will have to be stopped too. Oops! PZ has always been incapable of careful consideration of his own ideas because, like many regressives, his ego can be seen from orbit. He believes himself to be eminently logical when he is one of the most emotional (and emotionally stunted) people I’ve encountered. It’s amazing that even his small group of fans take him seriously.

    • BJ
      Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      Now that I’ve given it further thought, all four of the positions PZ outlines in the quote I used are government positions. The one I left out is the stance that illegal immigrants should be imprisoned in order to be deported. Every single example he provided of speech that should be banned at the beginning of his rant is a policy position with which he doesn’t agree. He simply wishes to criminalize any discussion of politics that doesn’t support his own views. How unbelievably totalitarian. The man is a little tyrant.

    • Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      “Illegal immigrants should be deported”.

      On the face of it, that is a perfectly reasonable political position to take. I think it is a bad policy and I can articulate my reasons for my position. Who knows, if I engage with somebody who thinks it is a good policy and explain may reasons, they might change their own position (or I might, if they successfully argue their case).

      If I denounce the policy as racist and people who subscribe to it as racists, I have just shut down the discussion and they’ll be resentful and vote for a president who promises to them that he will deport all illegal immigrants.

      Denouncing people for being racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic etc doesn’t make them disappear in a puff of smoke. In fact, I would argue it is counterproductive.

      • BJ
        Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        Oh, I agree completely, but while denouncing as “-ist” any policy positions that aren’t your own is simply a bad idea politically (assuming one wishes to bring people over to their own way of thinking, rather than shout self-righteously at anyone who disagrees for that injection of sweet sanctimony dopamine), it’s merely a sign of immaturity in political discourse.

        Wishing to ban discussion of policy positions because they disagrees with your own is arrogant, tyrannical, and terrifyingly stupid.

      • Ken Phelps
        Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:48 am | Permalink

        Listened to an interesting interview with Katy Tur last night. She is a journalist who toured with the Trump campaign, and has a book about it. She echoed the sentiment that for many people voting for Trump was an emotional lashing out, to some degree in response to years of having their political positions demonized instead of addressed in a manner that used actual content.

      • Nobody Special
        Posted September 14, 2017 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        I’ve seen this argument presented to Myers several times, and each time the response from Great Leader and/or his mob can be paraphrased ‘Awww, poor bigot gets hurt fee-fees when bigot is called a bigot. Well, if you don’t want to be called a bigot, stop being a bigot. Oh, and anyway, we don’t want to talk to bigots. There’s nothing to discuss; they’re wrong’. This is usually followed with assertions that the person making the argument is a bigot for making the argument, and accompanied by an invitation to go forth and multiply.
        It doesn’t help that their definition of what constitutes bigotry is ‘anything that questions, disagrees with, or deviates in any way from our very narrow brand of social, ethical, and political purity’.

        • Posted September 14, 2017 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

          Which is, of course, completely dishonest because the argument is not “I think whites should have more rights and Mexicans should be deported”, the argument is “I don’t think it should be illegal for someone to say that.” The one arguing doesn’t agree with the bigoted position, she is simply pointing out that censorship is a slippery slope.

          It’s a version of ad hominem.

        • Posted September 17, 2017 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

          Yes, I know, I’ve seen him do it and he may be right about the first part, but he doesn’t seem to understand that just dismissing these people doesn’t take away their right to vote.

      • Posted September 15, 2017 at 11:37 am | Permalink

        I would say that it *is* likely to be a racist policy, and often is motivated by racism, and *also* is, at first glance, a “reasonable” political position, in the sense that prereflectively it is not obvious what is wrong. But none of that should disqualify it from being spoken!

      • Ryan Enzan
        Posted September 23, 2017 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        jeremy- serious question- why do you think it is “bad policy” to deport illegal immigrants? If you agree that america (and western european countries) redistributes substantial resources to lower income citizens/illegal immigrants, and that the return of resources to the tax base from those low skilled and unskilled workers is less than the use of those resources, then there needs to be some limit on the overall amount of such immigration that any modern state can handle without falling into economic distress, not to even mention the societal strife that results from gross relative income inequality (look at nieghborhoods around Paris, Malmo, etc.)

        If you let all illegal immigrants stay in your countries with no fear of deportation, which has basically been the de facto position of the EU countries, then you have created the ongoing incentive for greater and greater numbers of illegal immigrants to undergo the immense risks to arrive in your social welfare state.

        I am open to alternate opinions from you or anyone else, thanks for your time.

        • LJM
          Posted September 23, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

          Ryan,

          I know you weren’t talking to me, but I’m butting in anyway!

          Articles like this have convinced me (at least until I see contradictory evidence) that the economic benefit of immigration (even the illegal kind) in the U.S. is greater than the burden.

          http://reason.com/archives/2013/04/16/dont-believe-what-youve-heard-about-immi

          But it is very complex. The only position on the issue I’d reject offhand is that it’s simple.

  4. GBJames
    Posted September 14, 2017 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    sub

  5. Posted September 14, 2017 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Excellent article, Jerry. I stopped reading Pharyngula some time back because PZ’s post became more and more like unhinged rants. And the comments… oy vey! (If you don’t mind a bit of cultural appropriation 🙂 ).

    • Posted September 14, 2017 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      I read Pharyngula because PZ’s posts have become more like unhinged rants.

      Also, when he posts about science (or at least the bit of science in which he is an expert) his writing is pretty good.

      • Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:05 am | Permalink

        Also, when he posts about science (or at least the bit of science in which he is an expert) his writing is pretty good.

        He rejects both Darwinian evolution and biological sex.

        • Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:10 am | Permalink

          I’m completely confident that he does not reject the modern version of the Theory of Evolution.

          Nor do I think he rejects the notion of biological sex.

          • mrclaw69
            Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:47 am | Permalink

            Myers doesn’t seem, as far as I’m aware, to reject biological sex so much as to tar those who talk about it (within the confines of the ongoing feminist/trans debate) as bigots.

            Much like when he responded to a commentor during the Cordelia Fine episode(see https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2017/03/09/when-ideology-trumps-biology/):

            “Your math is fine. It’s your humanity that is broken”

            It’s not that facts aren’t real, it’s that articulating reality should always play second-fiddle to ‘feels’. Myers seems to be dangerously close to – if not the same as – the ludicrous position that the over-rated Jordan Peterson espouses:

            That the ‘truth'(tm) of a proposition is not objective and instead is contingent on its moral appeal to the speaker/hearer. (Weirdly Peterson says he rejects relativism, but it really doesn’t sound like it to me.)

            The other big thing for Myers is that he’s utterly and completely swallowed-whole the notion of the superior virtue of the oppressed. A notion dealt with by Bertrand Russell in Unpopular Essays. He might do well to read it.

            But then I’m sure Russell’s humanity was broken…

            • Posted September 14, 2017 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

              Do you think people like Peterson, when they say “truth is contingent on its moral appeal to the speaker/hearer”, actually mean “a person’s perception of truth is contingent etc” and simply don’t realize there’s a distinction between perception of truth and actual truth?

              • Posted September 15, 2017 at 11:38 am | Permalink

                A consistent subjectivist about truth simply denies there is a distinction.(Inconsistently, of course, but …)

            • Maroon1990
              Posted September 15, 2017 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

              For those who may be interested, a free PDF of Russell’s book can easily be found online (just search PDF Bertrand Russell Unpopular Essays).

          • Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:54 am | Permalink

            Myers has claimed that evolution is driven by genetic drift rather than natural selection.

            • Mark Sturtevant
              Posted September 14, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

              In point of fact, most evolution is driven by random genetic drift. It is a technical thing, really, but since evolution in the strict sense is change of allele frequency in populations, then any change in frequency constitutes evolution. Most change is by random fluctuations that are neutral to natural selection. Hence, most evolution at the genetic level is by what we call random genetic drift.

              • Posted September 15, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

                Myers goes well beyond standard Neutral Theory to assert that nearly all phenotypic difference are not subject to selection, because: obama’s nose.

            • jimroberts
              Posted September 14, 2017 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

              Exactly. He does not reject the modern version of the Theory of Evolution. Nor does PCC(E). But both, so far as I can tell and remember, give natural selection a very prominent role in adaptive evolution.

          • Posted September 15, 2017 at 9:32 am | Permalink

            Myers has several bizarre or unique ideas about evolution. For one, he considers natural selection a relatively trivial component. What is not due to his fuzzy version of epigenetics, he attributes to lamarckism. Myers’ conception of Neutral Theory is more radical than even Kimura’s initial hypothesis. Myers essentially believes that nearly all genetic variation is random and provides no fitness advantage. He bases this on a misunderstanding of ‘Junk’ DNA (Myers falsely thinks this means the bulk of coding DNA is junk), and on his bolloxing of genetic drift and founder effect, the latter which, he has lectured, precludes any effect of future selection pressure upon a population.

            Myers has contradicted himself regarding levels of selection. An hardcore Gouldian, Myers seems to view the individual as the unit of selection, and has openly disparaged group selection. Yet many of his comments can only be interpreted as supporting group selection. Myers has described Population Genetics as the competition among rival populations, and some of his musings invoke striving. He declared (to paraphrase) the ‘primary biological imperative of humans’ to be ‘to learn to love one another’, and sees homosexuality as a component of that. Myers once stated that everyone is a little bit gay, and drolly gave as evidence the existence of nipples on men.

            tl;dr: Myers long ago enthralled his science to his socio-political agenda.

        • Alex
          Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:35 am | Permalink

          From what I can tell, PZ acknowledges the occasional gray area that shows up with biological sex (insex individuals) which is not in within itself, “rejecting biological sex”. I think it’s best to refrain from using strawmen when criticizing someone.

          • Alex
            Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:38 am | Permalink

            In AND OF itself.

          • Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:59 am | Permalink

            You can extract all the DNA you want from men and women, and except for one short segment from the Y chromosome, there’s no consistent difference. Sorry, gender essentialists, not sorry.

            https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2016/12/27/theres-no-such-thing-as-male-and-female-dna/

            • Alex
              Posted September 14, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

              For context, the person he was refuting was Bryan Fischer.

              And based on that quote, it sounds like he was just talking about basically biology. All the average biological traits that distinguish males and females is that chromosome.

              • Curt Nelson
                Posted September 14, 2017 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

                A chromosome’s worth of genetic differences is quite a bit.

              • Alex
                Posted September 14, 2017 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

                @Curt

                Bryan Fischer (Note that he was the head of the repulsive American Family Association) was arguing that there is male and female DNA. As in the differences between men and women were extremely great. The only meaningful differences between sexes are on the outside.

              • Nobody Special
                Posted September 15, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

                Alex on September 14, 2017 at 9:08 pm
                @Curt

                Bryan Fischer (Note that he was the head of the repulsive American Family Association) was arguing that there is male and female DNA. As in the differences between men and women were extremely great. The only meaningful differences between sexes are on the outside.

                I’ll give you a million pounds if you can show me my womb. Or does that not count as a meaningful difference?
                Or did you mean that the meaningful differences are outside of the cells?

    • Les Faby
      Posted September 14, 2017 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      Was it my imagination? I remember Myers used to have a reasonable blog. That hasn’t been the case for at least 5 years. Also the comments became personal attacks against people that were not doctrinaire enough.
      Myers was like this when Pres. Obama was here for 8 years so its not a Trump thing.

      • Posted September 14, 2017 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

        Elevatorgate seems to be the event where Myers decided that his best option for getting the attention he craves was to go full SJW. Never go full SJW.

        He desperately wanted to be the fourth horseman after Hitch died, but simply lacked the chops. Now he’s just PZ “The Toxic Atheist” Myers, slowly (too slowly) sliding into greater irrelevance.

        • Ken Phelps
          Posted September 14, 2017 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

          That, of course, should have been be unthinkable in his own mind, since he is a pale male.

        • nate
          Posted September 15, 2017 at 7:08 am | Permalink

          I agree – that was when I got banned (though I had greatly reduced the amount of time I spent there before elevatorgate) for the Sin of agreeing with another poster (also banned) that PZ’s un-yielding adoration of Watson seemed a bit over the top. i was first roundly attacked by the man himself, to be followed by his band of angry sycophants, then banned.
          Cultish.

        • Richard Sanderson
          Posted September 15, 2017 at 8:57 am | Permalink

          PZ Myers has a bit of a problem holding on to PoC bloggers.

          He’s had to fire at two People of Colour from his network, the latter one was promptly dubbed an “Uncle Tom” by one commentator, with the backing of their fellow posters, and presumably, PZ himself.

          Then, of course, remember how Ophelia Benson was bullied of the network by the trans lobby?

          Hilarious.

        • dargndorp
          Posted September 15, 2017 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

          Elevatorgate was in and of itself not even such a horribly inflammatory screed – it serves as a good reminder of how the internet tends to vastly inflate percieved differences, laying a seed to all this silly hostility going on now.

          • Posted September 17, 2017 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

            After it all went nuclear, I decided to take a look at Rebecca Watson’s original video blog to find out how it all started. I was quite surprised to find out that there was nothing in it that was at all unreasonable or Earth shattering. It simply ended with a request not to be hit on when alone in a hotel lift at 3am.

            • jimroberts
              Posted September 17, 2017 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

              And not so much a request for herself, but pointing out that men who claimed to want greater female participation in sceptic conferences should refrain from such behaviour.
              Immediately, there were absurd attacks by people who had obviously not troubled to learn anything about the incident. For example, that she should not have been afraid of being raped in a lift, because rape in lifts is extremely rare.

  6. Randy schenck
    Posted September 14, 2017 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Notice that Sanders thinks what the ESPN reporter said is a fireable offense. Some of the things she herself has pronounced as press secretary for the president have been considered plenty to have her fired. The rant that she just did yesterday concerning Comey comes to the top of the list. It is not what a presidents press secretary should be doing but then Trump has never followed any standards I am aware of.

  7. Posted September 14, 2017 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    As a general rule, when people say person X has views that are unacceptable, I like to judge for myself how unacceptable their views are, because sometimes the people making the claims get things wrong. PZ Myers himself provides one example in his treatment of Sam Harris. With monotonous regularity, when PZ writes about Sam and how he has said something beyond the pale, and you delve deeper, you find that PZ has misinterpreted his words.

    If people are prevented from speaking, how can I judge whether they are right or wrong? Even a censor with the best intentions has biases and can twist words the wrong way whether consciously or subconsciously.

    Another thing. Free speech is not just about letting people say what they want but also about letting the people who want to listen do so. Otherwise, the government could just put people in isolated cells where they can speak all they want but nobody can hear them and claim it’s not unconstitutional.

    Usually, in response to that, free speech deniers claim that your right to free speech does not imply a duty for anybody to provide them with a platform. This is true, but a lot of the cases talked about involve people who have already secured a platform. It’s one thing for a University not to extend an invitation to Anne Coulter, it is another thing for it to withdraw the invitation through threats of violence or intimidation by third parties.

    • BJ
      Posted September 14, 2017 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      “With monotonous regularity, when PZ writes about Sam and how he has said something beyond the pale, and you delve deeper, you find that PZ has misinterpreted his words.”

      I’d say PZ purposefully misrepresents Harris’ words, which demonstrates another enormous (and purposeful) issue with what he wants: people like him misrepresent the views and speech of others, and will then claim that such people must be shut down based on the misrepresented version of their speech.

    • Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      With monotonous regularity, when PZ writes about Sam and how he has said something beyond the pale, and you delve deeper, you find that PZ has willfully misinterpreted his words.

      FTFY

      • Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:16 am | Permalink

        No it doesn’t fix it. My statement was a statement of fact. Your version hypothesises a reason why he misinterprets Harris’s words. It’s clear he has taken against Sam Harris and reads what he wants to read into everything Harris says, but I would not like to say whether he is doing it as a deliberate act or it’s just part of his confirmation bias.

        • Simon
          Posted September 14, 2017 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

          It isn’t just Sam Harris. He has done it to many other people, sometimes in ways so blatant that there is no way Myers doesn’t know he’s doing it.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      A further reason that I prefer to give people like Coulter and Yianopoulous freedom to speak is the more they talk, the more they expose how wrong their positions are. To some people what they say may seem okay if they just hear a little bit, but the more they explain the more it becomes clear they haven’t really thought about an issue properly. They frequently expose a lack of knowledge and a failure to understand the full range of consequences of their proposed ideas.

      • TJR
        Posted September 14, 2017 at 11:03 am | Permalink

        See also BNP leader Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time.

        Come to think of it, allowing all these US right-wingers to speak to middle class liberal BBC audiences and filming the results is probably the way to go.

      • Posted September 15, 2017 at 11:41 am | Permalink

        It also allows people to eventually stop paying them attention.

  8. Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    I think there are both principled and pragmatic reasons for supporting free speech. I’ll leave the principled ones for other for now, and make a simple pragmatic observation. If you support censorship that censorship will be carried out by those in power. Right now that power is ultimately held by an insane game show host.

    Myers might pretend to be left-wing but to all practical intents he is proposing handing over the responsibility for what can or cannot be said to a president who makes Nixon look like Obama.

    He is a fucking tool.

    • Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      Now now, I’ve urged the suppression of obscenity on this post, lest we become the demons we’re fighting.

      And no mention of porcupines, either.

      • Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:48 am | Permalink

        Feel free to redact the expletive.

      • abear
        Posted September 15, 2017 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

        Rusty chainsaws sideways?

  9. BobTerrace
    Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Myers and rational thought had an ugly contentious divorce years ago.

    • Posted September 15, 2017 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      PZ publicly divorced himself from skepticism.

  10. Winston Orwell
    Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    PZ Myers, in the comfort of his Minnesota home, protected by all of the rights the US of A bestows upon its citizens, can rant about chilling those rights. Astounding.

    It is clear to me that PZ Myers, and anyone who argues for chilling of rights, has never lived in a country where free speech is a pipe dream. My father grew up in post WW2 Yugoslavia where as a teenager in the 50s he went to a state-run BBQ. It was the first time he ever had BBQ chicken in his life and he made a flippant comment about how sky-high their standard of living has become. 2 days later he’s served with a court order for breaching speech laws as he “insulted” the state. As my father puts it, you were “free” to move about the country, “free” to work, but you were never free in your mind.

    PZ and his ilk have NO IDEA what it’s like to lose your rights. He’s asking to create a rod for his own back.

  11. S.K.Graham
    Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    PZ Myers still exists?

  12. Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    They that endeavour to abolish vice destroy also virtue, for contraries, though they destroy one another, are yet in life of one another.
    Sir Thomas Browne
    http://tinyurl.com/yaka2ej4

  13. Richard Bond
    Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    I stopped being a regular Pharyngula follower years ago, after a couple of cases in which contributors making dissenting but reasonable points were shouted down by Myers’s minions. His lack of moderating intervention pretty well defined, for me, his attitude towards free speech.

    • Draken
      Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      Oh, ultimately he intervenes- by banning the dissident.

      • Katkinkate
        Posted September 15, 2017 at 1:17 am | Permalink

        It is his blog. He has that right. So has Jerry.

        • GBJames
          Posted September 15, 2017 at 7:15 am | Permalink

          It being his right is true but irrelevant. What matters is the reason someone bans people from a blog/website. Jerry does it primarily to enforce civility and encourage rational discussion. PZ doesn’t lets incivility pass and bans people for reasoned dissent. PZ has a right to behave like that but it is dishonorable and unhelpful, IMO.

        • Harrison
          Posted September 15, 2017 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

          PZ used to be critical of theists who behaved the same way he now does in his own webspace.

          It’s one thing to have rules and enforce them, but Pharyngula’s rules have always been deliberately vague and unfixed. Established posters can get away with any behavior they wish, no matter how abusive, dehumanizing, or vulgar. New and dissenting voices walk on eggshells under which lay landmines.

          That’s not even mentioning the deceitful editing of comments.

  14. Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I think we all look forward to that Dr Moreau moment when – as happened to Ophelia Benson and Richard Carrier – Myers is finally consumed by the creatures he has created.

    • BJ
      Posted September 14, 2017 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      He’s so desperately obsequious that he takes on any regressive view the second it becomes the new prerequisite to remaining among them. It will be difficult for him to ever be ousted from the ranks simply because he will say anything to remain.

      • Maroon1990
        Posted September 15, 2017 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        This reminds me of this passage from Canadian writer Mark Cameron:

        ———

        I would like to propose a name for this phenomenon of inveterate support for any and all Papal actions, imputing to him wisdom and spiritual insight beyond all the Saints and Popes of past ages: Mottramism.

        This takes its name, of course, from Rex Mottram, Julia Flyte’s husband in Brideshead Revisited. At one point, Rex decides to convert to Catholicism in order to have a proper Church wedding with Julia. But the sincerity of his conversion becomes suspect when he is willing to agree with any absurdity proposed in the name of Catholic authority, and shows no intellectual curiosity into its truth or falsehood. As his Jesuit instructor, Father Mowbray describes his catechetical progress:

        “Yesterday I asked him whether Our Lord had more than one nature. He said: ‘Just as many as you say, Father.’ Then again I asked him: ‘Supposing the Pope looked up and saw a cloud and said ‘It’s going to rain’, would that be bound to happen?’ ‘Oh, yes, Father.’ ‘But supposing it didn’t?’ He thought a moment and said, “I suppose it would be sort of raining spiritually, only we were too sinful to see it.’”

    • Nobody Special
      Posted September 14, 2017 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      I can see your point re. Carrier, but Ophelia? She was hounded off FTB by the self-styled ‘Horde’ for not marching in lockstep with the ‘official’ trans agenda. As, incidentally, did Anjuli Pandavar, an ex-muslim who comitted the crime of criticising Islam, the difference being that Ophelia walked away, Anjuli’s blog was officially closed down by Myers and the rest of the admin bods, which was followed by a flurry of boasting and gloating from those who’d complained (including several FTB bloggers) and from some of those involved in the official termination.
      Myers actually admitted in his post announcing the shut-down that she was booted out largely because her opinions ran counter to the values expected of a FTB blogger.
      But there’s no hive-mind mentality there. No, siree.

      • Harrison
        Posted September 15, 2017 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

        In addition to Anjuli and Benson, FTB has also ousted Jamila Bey and Maryam Namazie.

        One might think the site has a problem with women.

        Of the men kicked off, only Phil Mason was given the boot for ideological reasons. The other two, Avicenna and Carrier, were only kicked off as a last resort when their behavior became totally indefensible. Prior to that they had no shortage of defenders and apologists there.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted September 14, 2017 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      Wow!
      I knew he had ousted R Carrier, but Ophelia Benson????

      • Nobody Special
        Posted September 14, 2017 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

        Not directly; Ophelia refused to answer a highly nuanced question (‘are transwomen women, yes or no?’ was how it was phrased) and the reaction was furious from the usual suspects, all of them members of PZ’s ‘Horde’. They littered Ophelias blog with insults and accusations as well as carrying on the campaign of hatred with a general ‘bash Ophelia’ Thunderdome thread at Pharyngula. Ophelia asked the admin for support, they sided with the horde. Ophelia said ‘fuck the lot of ’em’ and left.
        Several of the trolls were rewarded with FTB blogs of their own.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted September 14, 2017 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      I have that view as well. Since that faction of the left has moved ever left-ward, denouncing as impure their former lefty members, the day may come when he finds himself being ostracized by the neo-left.

  15. Jacob
    Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Not to mention that by suppressing some groups’ first amendment rights, no matter how nasty they are, you are laying your own trap for when the wrong people get to decide which speech should be allowed. This standard could suppress any speech whatsoever.

    How is this not obvious with the current administration? We have a president who explicitly called for loss of citizenship or jail time for certain expressions of speech (burning flags). He called for shutting down of religious institutions and banning entry based on religion. He called for “opening up” of libel laws because he didn’t like what the NYT wrote. He didn’t condemn the neo-Nazis in Charlotte more than the counter-protesters.

    Do people against allowing speech from far right groups really think that those are the groups this current administration would target? That’s nonsense.

    • Jacob
      Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      *Charlottesville. Not Charlotte.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted September 14, 2017 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      Good! (Well, not ‘good’, but.. useful). I think the eerie parallels between the regressive left and that form of the far right should be pointed out early and often.

  16. Historian
    Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    “Thus, civil rights for blacks, for women, and for gays all depended in the public and widespread dissemination of speech that was deemed offensive by others.”

    We can add to this list the role of the abolitionists in pre-Civil War America. The abolitionist movement to end slavery started to gain momentum in the 1830s. For many decades thereafter they were small in numbers, widely despised in both the North and South because they threatened the Union and white America was blatantly racist. Indeed, in the South, abolitionists risked their lives if they attempted to speak in that region. Abolitionist literature was suppressed. The U.S. mail was inspected and abolitionist literature was not allowed to be delivered. It’s hard to imagine a more blatant violation of the First Amendment.

    In the North, over time, the abolitionist message received a more receptive audience. Abolitionists established the moral framework for the evils of slavery. If the abolitionist message was suppressed in the North as it was in the South, one can plausibly speculate that slavery in the United States would have lasted much longer than it actually did. In other words, thanks to freedom of speech minds were changed and contributed to the ending of a supremely immoral institution.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted September 14, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Certainly the abolitionist had impact but all the demonstrating and talking in the world was not going to change the fact of slavery. The only thing that was going to do that was amending the Constitution. Lincoln knew this better than anyone and he was never an abolitionist. He also knew his proclamation was only temporary and after the war was won they still needed the amendment.

      What PZ Meyers wants to do is ignore the constitutional amendment as it stands on freedom of speech and make his judicial review on the matter. That won’t fly so if he and his kind want to really do something they need to read up on the 5th article of the constitution. The only other way would be to have some kind of complete control of the Supreme Court regarding interpretation.

  17. Jeff Rankin
    Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Thank goodness PZ can exercise his right to free speech so we can be regularly be reminded how crazy he’s become.

  18. Draken
    Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    I have yet to see PZ Myers decry the radical feminist suggestion to “kill all men” you see popping up at Twitter, Youtube and several radfem sites. Something similar with punching/killing whites or cops. Some of those are outright incitement to violence.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted September 14, 2017 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      He won’t ever bring it up. He only points out the most egregious examples from the right, as if the rest of the iceberg is not there.

  19. TJR
    Posted September 14, 2017 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    When I was a student in the 80s the lefties were saying “Smash the state!”.

    Now the lefties are saying “Allow the state to decide what we are allowed to say or not!”.

    Eh?

  20. Posted September 14, 2017 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Ahoy there, PeeZee:

    You don’t really believe that Ann Coulter, Steve Bannon, and Milo Yiannopoulos P.Z. Myers et al. are making a principled defense of socialists, communists, academics, artists, and progressives right-wingers to discuss their ideas, do you? They hate those guys! They want to intimidate and suppress liberalsconservative speakers, and have found that mouthing the words “free speech”“hate speech” are a great way to do it, especially if you can rouse a mob to violence with those words.

    — There, fixed that for you.

    I’m as liberal as you please; but I absolutely disagree with this nonsense of suppressing “hate speech”.

    Too me, it is abdicating, punting, surrendering, because you are unable to argue for your own ideas. Instead you are resorting to the O’Reilly tactic: “Shut up! Just shut up!”

    It’s been said many times before; but I guess it bears repeating again: The only speech that needs the protection of the 1st Amendment is speech that you disagree with, speech that you find offensive. How could it be any other way?

    • Posted September 14, 2017 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      Good job. Every argument for suppression can be turned against the speaker. In his famous A B fragment, Lincoln demolished arguments justifying slavery by showing how they could be turned against the enslaver.

    • Jacob
      Posted September 14, 2017 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      Well put.

    • Posted September 14, 2017 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      I just took a little sampling of the comments on PZs post on his site (I haven’t darkened my screen with his URL in a long time).

      Amazingly poorly thought out responses.

      They are taking a page out of the Limbaugh playbook: “Mega-dittos” or else!

      • josh
        Posted September 14, 2017 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

        That’s really the worst thing about what PZ and co. have become. It’s not really about preventing the worst excesses of speech, it’s about not thinking for oneself. Nazis are bad (true!), and people who aren’t Nazis but hold a position that Nazis might endorse are also bad, and people who don’t hold those positions but will defend some of the arguments invoked are bad, and people who are even willing to consider the arguments are bad, and people who defend the right of others to debate it are bad, and… In the end it just becomes the leader-of-the-month and a bunch of echoes. Critical thought becomes actively discouraged.

  21. Posted September 14, 2017 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    The worst thing that could happen to PZ would be for him to get his wish.

    For a while the evil-doers would be suppressed and all would be well and good. But then a new and more radical generation would take over and PZ would soon find himself in jail for not saying quite the right thing against the evil-doers

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted September 14, 2017 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      I offer the hypothesis that the committed leftists dislike the rightists but really, really dislike the ‘not-quite-left-enoughists’.

      The narcissism of small differences, driven by self elected Chief Narcissists, eventually collapses. Either by descent into parody or civil war.

  22. Posted September 14, 2017 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Many all hide, some under the rhetoric some under faith an are sure they are better

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  23. SweetPeavey
    Posted September 14, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    I still read Pharyngula regularly even though I agree with most of the criticisms against PZ.
    I stay away from the comments though, I learned the hard way.
    PZ is a good writer in spite of the increasing toxicity of his opinions. Before he went off the rails I appreciated the home spun directness of his writing style, especially since so many liberal bloggers and essayists write like they want to be the next Hitchens.
    Occasionally, he has been persuasive to me in translating the newest SJW zaniness into something that is at least understandable.

  24. J. Quinton
    Posted September 14, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Yeah, let’s ban free speech for ideas we don’t like.

    Because, you know, the “good guys” will be in power forever, right? It’s not as though if/when the “bad guys” get (back) in power they won’t also ban the free speech of the ideas they don’t like. I mean, the precedent has already been set! And it must be good, because the “good guys” did it too!

    What a surprising lack of awareness for an academic.

  25. Posted September 14, 2017 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    A much-needed and well-argued piece. Thank you.

  26. Posted September 14, 2017 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    A civil war is coming for Democrats and anyone who considers themselves “of the left”

    On one side, you have Liberal leftists like Jerry Coyne, Steve Pinker, etc who value Constitution and free speech and rule of law.

    On the other, you have totalitarian Leftists like Myers, who wants to control speech, thought and ideas.

  27. Griff
    Posted September 14, 2017 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    At it again is he? I stopped reading Pharyngula when PZ elected himself the ultimate arbiter of the definition of atheism.

    • Darren Garrison
      Posted September 14, 2017 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      Why? As any fool can see, being an atheist requires that one become an activist for third-wave intersectionist gender feminism!

  28. Posted September 14, 2017 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    This is also a case of “not even wrong”. PZ Myers wrote:

    There is an argument going on right now between fascist white nationalists and universities in which administrators and centrists are caving in before the magical mantra of “free speech!” This is what happens when you lose perspective and decide that one right trumps all the others. In the name of Free Speech, people who believe millions of other people should lose all of their rights and be deported, deprived of recourse to legal redress, be kicked out of school, or even imprisoned or murdered, get to further incite these gross violations of liberty on college campuses.

    (1) Expressing that I want all gingers banned onto an island does not actually make it true. Saying it does in no way “trump” their right to not get banned. I don’t know what could possibly confuse someone that much, perhaps it’s postmodernism and “speech is violence”.

    (2) PZ Myers is a still a misanthropic troll. Here he is at it again and characterizes the controversy as universities versus fascists. As usual, he knows only black and white. It’s still beyond extreme, but at once very typical for him and his intersectional faction. I’ll never get used to this kind of drive-by smearing and I don’t understand why anyone can tolerate that.

    This plays a large role for me why I oppose even halfway plausible ideas like “fighting nazis” or “trigger warnings” when coming from him and his goons. Knowing these utter loons, it means physically assaulting everyone who does not subscribe to the exact dogmata of his Critical Race Theory creed, and outright book burning. They made that absolutely clear that they approach things more like totalitarian regimes, where criticism is “gegen das (Minderheiten) Volk”. In the end, it is Myers et al who have a fascist mindset.

    (3) Myers is still incapable, as shown above, to present a decent case. He starts with extreme smearing and strawmen and then acts surprised when he gets appropriate answers back. The Windmill Warrior that he is, he then takes this as confirmation for his misanthropic views.

  29. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 14, 2017 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    AN obvious vindication of Jerry’s position took place a couple of weeks after Charlottesville in San Francisco.

    Two right wing groups wanted to have rallies here- both were denounced as white supremacists.

    Turns out neither group had any connections to white supremacy, and both explicitly discouraged the the latter’s participation.

    One of them was “Patriot Prayer” and the other was “No Marxism in America”.

    It is true that in the past, Patriot Prayer rallies have attracted white supremacists. But since this became known PP’s founder, Joey Gibson, has openly denounced Nazis and white supremacists.
    As the Washington Post reported “Gibson pushed back at how San Francisco officials had characterized his rally, which he said would not have welcomed white supremacists and other extremist groups.”

    Similarly, “No Marxism in America” has renounced white supremacist positions, and its founder is actually a transgender woman!

    =-=-=
    On the other hand..,

    To the degree I would sympathize with those arguing against inviting Milo Y or Ann C, I would note they both have directly harassed audience members or student body members, though I fully realize this does not constitute a first Amendment violation. But I would not be too adverse to university’s using it as a criterion.
    Milo’s treatment of the transgender student at University of Wisconsin remains reprehensible form of harassment speech.
    Ann Coulter’s reply to a Muslim student in Canada asking her how she is to return home to Arabia if she is banned from flying was “Go ride a camel”. Not much better.

    =-=-=

    Still, well said, Jerry Coyne. As P.Z. Myers once dubbed himself the Fifth Horseman, I therefore post this famous painting from the Civil War.

  30. Posted September 14, 2017 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    This whole article is a straw man.

    I read PZ’s column and he doesn’t call for censorship. He’s pretty clearly saying that they’re disingenuously using “Free Speech” as a mantra to allow them to engage in threats.I mean, it’s super-clear that that’s what he’s saying.

    Cribbing form your description of unprotected speech above, I’ve personally seen the alt-right cry ‘free speech’ in their calls for immediate incitements to violence and personal threats. I mean, they literally kill people and then yell “Free Speech”:

    https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/portland-stabbing-suspect-yells-free-speech-or-die-first-court-n766416

    Again, abundantly clear that’s what PZ is talking about.

    Now, if you wrote a column re: how one may navigate the difficult decision of when speech becomes and incitement or threatening, that might have actually been relevant vis-a-vis PZ’s post, as well as a more interesting piece.

    All that said, I agreed w/ everything you wrote…

    • Posted September 14, 2017 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      “This whole article is a straw man.”

      “All that said, I agreed w/ everything you wrote.”

      Your bookends don’t make much sense — unless your last sentence is simply sarcasm, which it may well be.

    • chris
      Posted September 14, 2017 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      brs04wsc

      Which one was it – Bannon, Coulter or Yiannopoulos – who literally killed people and then yelled “Free Speech”?

      • Paul S
        Posted September 14, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

        It was Jeremy Joseph Christian, but they’re apparently interchangeable being white and right wing.
        Guilt by imagined association. That’s scary.

    • BJ
      Posted September 14, 2017 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      From PZ’s article:

      “‘Free speech’ is an all-purpose slogan disingenuously used to mask violent threats and an outright take-over of, ironically enough, the right of free speech. You don’t really believe that Ann Coulter, Steve Bannon, and Milo Yiannopoulos are making a principled defense of socialists, communists, academics, artists, and progressives to discuss their ideas, do you? They hate those guys! They want to intimidate and suppress liberals, and have found that mouthing the words ‘free speech’ are a great way to do it, since moderates tend to cave before it.”

      He literally says in this paragraph (after acting in the first sentence like he’s only talking about “violent threats”) that he wants to ban people like Coulter, Yiannopoulos, and Bannon from speaking. Moreover, he is obviously using these people as stand-ins for anyone else who is conservative in any way. Show me where these people have actually made threats against anyone, otherwise your premise is entirely false.

      It’s not about banning “threats,” and it’s very clearly not about banning that one guy who stabbed someone and then shouted “free speech.” Nobody thinks stabbing people is free speech, and nobody is defending the practice by claiming free speech. It’s absurd.

  31. Leigh
    Posted September 14, 2017 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Censorship, especially when imposed by governments, is not acceptable, but I think people are naive and miss the point when they argue for unfettered free speech.

    Yes, people have the right to argue for positions, but that right is limited by the rights of others to disagree, criticize, ridicule, disparage, disprove and otherwise challenge bad speech by any means short of violence. Y’all seem to be saying that the only way to acknowledge the right to free speech is passive acquiescence: consent by silence to the validity of any argument.

    To use one example: So when Charles Murray comes to campus, my oCensorship, especially when imposed by governments, is not acceptable, but I think people are naive and miss the point when they argue for unfettered free speech.

    Yes, people have the right to argue for positions, but that right is limited by the rights of others to disagree, criticize, ridicule, disparage, disprove and otherwise challenge bad speech by any means short of violence. Y’all seem to be saying that the only way to acknowledge the right to free speech is passive acquiescence: consent by silence to the validity of any argument.

    To use one example: So when Charles Murray comes to campus, my only recourse is to let him speak? If, as it seems, most experts in his field disagree with his arguments, where is the counterspeech? What kind of education is being provided to students that they have NO words to voice their displeasure at Murray’s presence on their campus, only a vague feeling that Murray is a racist and racism has to be opposed. I might excuse the student protesters, but not their professors. Absolutely, Murray should have not been physically accosted, but he certainly should have been, and should have expected to have been, aggressively challenged to support his ideas. What I did not see in all the verbiage about Murray’s campus visit, was any kind of analysis of his hypotheses. Where was the explanation for why most of his peers reject his ideas.

    I think those who argue for an unfettered right to free speech ignore the underlying reason for all the freedoms stated in the first amendment. Democracy depends on an informed electorate. If government is by the consent of the governed, we need to be adequately informed before we can give consent. In today’s climate when we no longer have a free press, when we no longer have free inquiry, when we have no regulations protecting our right to accurate and unbiased information, we need more than ever to confront bad speech. nly recourse is to let him speak? If, as it seems, most experts in his field disagree with his arguments, where is the counterspeech? What kind of education is being provided to students that they have NO words to voice their displeasure at Murray’s presence on their campus, only a vague feeling that Murray is a racist and racism has to be opposed. I might excuse the student protesters, but not their professors. Absolutely, Murray should have not been physically accosted, but he certainly should have been, and should have expected to have been, aggressively challenged to support his ideas. What I did not see in all the verbiage about Murray’s campus visit, was any kind of analysis of his hypotheses. Where was the explanation for why most of his peers reject his ideas.

    I think those who argue for an unfettered right to free speech ignore the underlying reason for all the freedoms stated in the first amendment. Democracy depends on an informed electorate. If government is by the consent of the governed, we need to be adequately informed before we can give consent. In today’s climate when we no longer have a free press, when we no longer have free inquiry, when we have no regulations protecting our right to accurate and unbiased information, we need more than ever to confront bad speech.

    • Leigh
      Posted September 14, 2017 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      I apologize — I do not know why my comments are so disorganized. I did not write them that way, with repeated paragraphs and sentences displaced. I am sorry.
      Multitasking is never a good idea.

      My frustration is that we spend too much time arguing about the right to free speech when we should be responding to the content, especially of bad speech.

      • Posted September 14, 2017 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

        Excuse me, but nobody, least of all me, has said that free speech shouldn’t be met with counterspeech. In fact, that’s implicit in what I said, and if you’ve read this website, I’ve said endlessly that counterspeech and legal peaceful demonstration is the proper way to deal with speech you find offensive.

        I have no idea what caused you to write something that nobody accepts here, including me, and to think that everybody thinks that odious speech should not be countered. I repeat: nobody has argued for “unfettered free speech” in the sense in which you mean it, so I don’t understand what you’re railing against.

      • chris
        Posted September 14, 2017 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

        Leigh,

        Re your example of Charles Murray.

        You say that students are left with a vague feeling that he is a racist and that racism should be opposed – but maybe if he’d been allowed to speak and members of the audience had been allowed to question him about some of his statements you, and they, would have a better idea of what he’s actually saying and what the arguments for and against his position are.

        Have you read any of his writings?

        • Posted September 15, 2017 at 11:46 am | Permalink

          Or,

          “To use one example: So when Charles Murray comes to campus, my only recourse is to let him speak? If, as it seems, most experts in his field disagree with his arguments, where is the counterspeech?”

          The counterspeech is in the audience, asking probing questions. It is in the other talk by another person who holds other views. It is in a discussion group founded to analyze CM’s work, it is in the posters that go up (where allowed) that explain references and even perhaps do a little ridicule. There are *lots* of ways to do counterspeech.

    • Paul S
      Posted September 14, 2017 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      “Y’all seem to be saying that the only way to acknowledge the right to free speech is passive acquiescence: consent by silence to the validity of any argument.”

      I’ve never seen anyone on this site express that view.

    • Posted September 14, 2017 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      This was my response, relative to your point:

      I’m as liberal as you please; but I absolutely disagree with this nonsense of suppressing “hate speech”.

      Too me, it is abdicating, punting, surrendering, because you are unable to argue for your own ideas. Instead you are resorting to the O’Reilly tactic: “Shut up! Just shut up!”

      Clearly, I am expecting people to argue for their own position in opposition to bad ideas …

      Shutting-up the other side is never the answer.

    • denise
      Posted September 14, 2017 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

      You’re right that students had a “only a vague feeling” that Murray is a racist – of course, because they’d never read him, heard him speak or read or heard any reasoned discussion of his ideas. All they know about him is that he’s been labeled a very bad person by other people.

      Hearing what he had to say and how he responded to questions would have been a learning experience for those students who chose to attend. Afterwards they might have actually been able to make some substantive criticism of his ideas, instead of just being emotionally disturbed by his existence because someone told them they should be.

      I’m sure you read that people who reviewed a transcript of Murray’s talk without knowing who gave it rated midway between liberal and conservative and did not find it objectionable. See the NY Times.

    • Taz
      Posted September 14, 2017 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

      The line is crossed when you decide you have the right to prevent any else from hearing the speech you don’t like.

    • Posted September 15, 2017 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      Murray is vilified not just for his conclusions (or rather, what people who haven’t read his book assume are his conclusions.) He is vilified for the heresy of even asking the question.

  32. Alex
    Posted September 14, 2017 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, it’s not just one guy. Have we forgotten Charlottesville already?

    • Posted September 14, 2017 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      I wasn’t aware that James Alex Fields, the accused killer, did this:

      I mean, they literally kill people and then yell “Free Speech”:

      If he’s yelled “Free speech” in court or said it to justify what he did, please enlighten us with a reference.

    • Posted September 14, 2017 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      Or Berkeley 2017? Or Portland 2017? Or The Evergreen State College 2017? KPFA? Middlebury College? Pomona? NYU? UCLA? USC? …

      • Alex
        Posted September 14, 2017 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        Pointing out examples of rioting from leftists in order to downplay the elephant in the room that is the alt-right ignores the fact that no one was ever killed in those events. People have already been killed by members of the alt-right.

        Let’s face it. The values of the alt-right movement are grossly incompatible with Western society. Going “oh look! The left does bad things too!” comes off as an excuse to do nothing about the alt-right.

        And one other thing. The leftist rioters are not in any position of power in the American government. The alt-right is thanks to the subtle winks Trump gave them during his campaign and stocking his cabinet with people like Jeff Sessions and Steve Bannon.

        • Paul S
          Posted September 14, 2017 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

          “The leftist rioters are not in any position of power in the American government.”

          True, but they want to have political power and they want to limit my rights.

          Equating all conservatives with James Alex Fields is disingenuous.

          • Historian
            Posted September 14, 2017 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

            Wanting political power and getting political power are two different things. Far leftists have no political power in this country and their chances of achieving it are zero. Right wingers try to create a distraction by creating a false equivalence. Alex’s analysis is correct. The imminent danger to democracy is from the far right. Voter suppression is one example. Trump’s effort to delegitimize the 2016 election (even though he won it!) by claiming that millions voted illegally is but another.

            • Alex
              Posted September 14, 2017 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

              I’m now more cautious of people that use the term “far-left”. That label has been applied to people like Hillary Clinton.

              • Richard Sanderson
                Posted September 15, 2017 at 8:52 am | Permalink

                It is certainly true that Hillary is not “far left”. I’d say centre-left, and Bernie Sanders, a proper leftie, would have been a better foil against Trump’s nasty appeal to emotions.

                But I laugh at the idea of people being upset at the extended definition of “far left”, given the dramatic proliferation of the use of “Nazi”, “white supremacist”, “far right” applied to anybody to the right of Marx.

              • Posted September 15, 2017 at 11:48 am | Permalink

                Only in the US (at least wrt “the west”) would “left” apply to Clinton, except purely relationally.

              • Alex
                Posted September 15, 2017 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

                @Richard Sanderson

                ““Nazi”, “white supremacist”, “far right” applied to anybody to the right of Marx.”

                If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck. Correctly identifying a neo-Nazi as a neo-Nazi is not a bad thing.

                I see that claim all the time on right-wing sites. Closer examination elsewhere often turns out that the person does in fact harbor some rather extreme views.

              • Old_ones
                Posted September 16, 2017 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

                I’m personally sick of people who excuse everything fringe leftists do by screaming “BUT NAZIS!” One of the worst things that has happened in recent American politics was the infection of the Republican party by the religious nuts. Now that the left has its own version of these pro-censorship anti-reason ideologues, the last thing mainstream lefties should do is open up the doors and pander to them. We need to send the black bandana wearing Che Guevara wannabes back to their parents’ basements and tell them to come back when they can act like adults. The last thing we need is another faction of politically empowered idiots.

            • Ken Phelps
              Posted September 14, 2017 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

              So the enemy of my enemy is my friend?

            • Taz
              Posted September 14, 2017 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

              Far leftists have no political power in this country and their chances of achieving it are zero.

              Which would seem to argue against their strategy to limit free speech.

          • Alex
            Posted September 14, 2017 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

            There is no equivalence between the two. One side wants racism and the other side doesn’t.

            • Ken Phelps
              Posted September 14, 2017 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

              And in your world, is racism the only bad thing? Is there nothing the ctrl-left could propose that would render them equally worthy of scorn? Coughing up the right wing racism hairball in the face of the left wing totalitarian impulse seems to resemble a distraction.

              • Alex
                Posted September 14, 2017 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

                Once again. “Both siderism” is an excuse to not explicitly badmouth the alt-right. The “ctr-left” have not killed people. The “ctrl-left” don’t have politicians sympathetic to them. The “ctrl-left” is not organized in the slightest. .

                And you really should think before you trivialize totalitarianism.

              • BJ
                Posted September 14, 2017 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

                The alt-right hasn’t killed people either. One person did. If that means the “alt-right has killed people,” then the regressive left has beaten people, shut down free speech, rioted, broken windows, etc.

                See how ridiculous and utterly devoid of any substance this game of yours is?

              • Alex
                Posted September 15, 2017 at 6:47 am | Permalink

                “Shut down free speech”

                Freedom of speech does not mean “nobody is allowed to protest me”. Numerous commenters on this blog fail to understand that the people who protest Milo, Coulter, etc. ALSO have a right to free speech and a right to assemble.

                The left is actually statistically less violent.
                http://www.snopes.com/2017/08/17/are-antifa-and-the-alt-right-equally-violent/

              • BJ
                Posted September 15, 2017 at 8:28 am | Permalink

                I see you are continuing to distract and prevaricate, rather than answer rebuttals to your own posts. Everything you accuse others of doing, you do yourself. It’s pointless to try and reason with people like you because you’re not interested in the discussion. You’re only interested in feeling like you won.

              • Alex
                Posted September 15, 2017 at 8:37 am | Permalink

                My points that Milo is not being censored simply because he’s being confronted by student protesters. Freedom of speech does not mean you’re entitled to have your views spread unchallenged.

                But I see you’re still relying on false moral equivalencies and strawmen.

              • BJ
                Posted September 15, 2017 at 8:42 am | Permalink

                And who said “freedom of speech means nobody is allowed to protest me?” What are you even talking about anymore? Where do you come up with these ridiculous ideas, which you then argue against as if anyone here is saying them?

                This is what happens when you gish gallop from one argument to the next every time you’re rebutted. Abandoning every argument you make for another one (each successive one more of a strawman) every time you’re rebutted isn’t winning, even if people do eventually stop bothering to answer.

                Bye.

              • BJ
                Posted September 15, 2017 at 8:44 am | Permalink

                “My points that Milo is not being censored simply because he’s being confronted by student protesters. Freedom of speech does not mean you’re entitled to have your views spread unchallenged.”

                Literally nobody has said this. Nobody has talked about this. I was talking about your argument of how “the alt-right has killed people,” and I even quoted it and made the subject of my argument extremely clear. People are saying things, and you’re literally ignoring them and talking about something else, but in language as if you think you’re responding to them. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s utterly bizarre. I will not be returning.

            • Richard Sanderson
              Posted September 15, 2017 at 8:47 am | Permalink

              One side wants “liberals to get the bullet”, and the one side you say “doesn’t want racism”, has a bit of a problem with antisemitism in its ranks.

              The racism and threat from the far right is always obvious. But people need to educate themselves to spot the threat from the far left, whose violence and threats are wrapped up in the language of SocJus.

              Study the landscape of Soviet Russia under Stalin for a beginners guide to how “social justice” language is used as a oover for…well, read the books, and see the horror for yourselves.

              Meanwhile, we already have far left professors at US colleges, with hammers and sickles in their bios, calling for genocides and helicopter rides for people they don’t like. Read on on BAMN and various Antifa manifestos. It is not peace and love.

              As a liberal secular humanist, I feel increasingly squeezed by crazies and racists on the left and right. Time to stop excusing the two.

              • Alex
                Posted September 15, 2017 at 10:14 am | Permalink

                “The racism and threat from the far right is always obvious. But people need to educate themselves to spot the threat from the far left, whose violence and threats are wrapped up in the language of SocJus.

                Study the landscape of Soviet Russia under Stalin for a beginners guide to how “social justice” language is used as a oover for…well, read the books, and see the horror for yourselves.

                Meanwhile, we already have far left professors at US colleges, with hammers and sickles in their bios, calling for genocides and helicopter rides for people they don’t like. Read on on BAMN and various Antifa manifestos. It is not peace and love.”

                And once again we have more red-baiting nonsense from someone who slaps the “communism” label on something they don’t understand.

                And you obviously have never attended college if you think college professors like that are common.

              • Rich Sanderson
                Posted September 15, 2017 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

                PZ Myers was one of the earliest in the so-called “skeptic-atheist” movement to throw reason down the drain, and sign up for post-modernist, anti-liberal, SocJus.

                He enables, along with other “humanists” like Peter Ferguson (Humanisticus), a bunch of very loud racists such as Dan Arel and ** ********.

                All of these people support physical violence against women, just as long as they get to decide the circumstances. PZ, who had an allegation of rape made against him by a student, is certainly not my idea of someone we should listen to on such matters.

        • BJ
          Posted September 14, 2017 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

          “Pointing out examples of rioting from leftists in order to downplay the elephant in the room that is the alt-right ignores the fact that no one was ever killed in those events. People have already been killed by members of the alt-right.”

          You literally pointed out one person. This is not an argument. Even if it is, we don’t tolerate murderers. We’ve all decided that already, and the First Amendment doesn’t give a pass to murderers, or even people who directly threaten violence. I don’t know what point you think you’re making.

          • abear
            Posted September 15, 2017 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

            Well the left winger that shot up the republican baseball practice didn’t kill any body, neither did the university professor the was clubbing people in the head with the steel bikelock, or the antifa thug that was turning paint spray cans into flamethrowers or the ones throwing M80 fireworks into crowds or…

    • Posted September 19, 2017 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      What’s your point here?

      No one has forgotten Charlottesville.

      Are you suggesting that gagging people [apparently a large group labeled (by whom? on what authority?) as “Alt-right” (I strongly disagree with the positions of this group, as generally identified in the media, too)] whose political positions you disagree with is justified by the actions of a single individual (James Fields)?

      I said it above; but I’ll say it again here:

      I’m as liberal as you please; but I absolutely disagree with this nonsense of suppressing “hate speech”.

      Too me, it is abdicating, punting, surrendering, because you are unable to argue for your own ideas. Instead you are resorting to the O’Reilly tactic: “Shut up! Just shut up!”

      It’s been said many times before; it bears repeating: The only speech that needs the protection of the 1st Amendment is speech that you disagree with, speech that you find offensive. How could it be any other way?

  33. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted September 14, 2017 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    “The best solution is the one that our courts has hit on: nobody is to decide what speech should be free; it should all be free—with the few exceptions outlined above.”

    Interesting – that’s great

  34. Posted September 14, 2017 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    Not all of this post makes a lot of sense to me.

    Further, banning speech does not quash the ideas behind it; it simply drives them underground, where they fester unopposed.

    I have seen this argued repeatedly, and I always wonder: what about the Overton Window? It seems more logical to me that formerly unacceptable views become increasingly acceptable to people on the fence as they hear them openly expressed, and that they fade if they are not openly expressed.

    We are social beings, and the bandwagon fallacy is a really strong force to us.

    Another important reason to allow “hateful” speech is because it hones your ability to combat it, something that wouldn’t happen were you not allowed to hear it, consider it, and confront it.

    And again that is rather weird. I do not need anybody to tell me first that, say, Bavarians are subhuman to figure out that they are just like other people, I merely need to meet a few Bavarians. I do not need anybody to deny the holocaust to me to figure out that it happened, I just need to open my highschool history book.

    I am pretty sure that the main reason people would have wrong or hateful views is because they copied them from others.

    Finally, the slippery slope fallacy looks unconvincing considering that the various European countries who outlawed holocaust denial did not outlaw criticising the chancellor ten years later.

    None of this shows that there aren’t other social benefits to free speech, but these particular arguments don’t work. There are more powerful counterarguments on these three counts for restricting free speech.

    • chris
      Posted September 15, 2017 at 7:09 am | Permalink

      If someone were saying that Bavarians are subhuman that would be one thing – what is actually happening is person X says Bavarians don’t do as well as Maldivians on geography tests and then person Y says Ah ha! person X think Bavarians are subhuman! Person X is racist and should shut up. Then you come along and say that you have no need to listen to person X because you already know that Bavarians aren’t subhuman. In reality you are the very person who should be listening to person X because you are calling them wrong for something they didn’t say.

      • Posted September 15, 2017 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

        You are spinning a very strange scenario here and making seriously unfounded assumptions about what I would do. But the question is not even who I should listen to, the question here is whether “Bavarians are subhuman and should all be kept out of our country” is the kind of speech that should be censored because it will sooner or later lead to abuses against Bavarians or whether it should not be censored because reasons. That’s it.

        And I am not even saying it should be censored, I am merely pointing out that three of the arguments presented in favour of not censoring it are variously fallacious or empirically wrong.

        • chris
          Posted September 16, 2017 at 10:15 am | Permalink

          My point was that one reason why discussions you find unacceptable shouldn’t be suppressed is because much of the time the speaker you want to suppress isn’t saying what you’ve been told he’s saying anyway. Because the speaker isn’t saying what you think he’s saying, there will be people who defend the speaker based on what he’s actually saying. And then there will be people who use the speaker as an excuse to start spouting really hateful ideas about Bavarians because, based on all the people defending the speaker they’ll decide that lots of people think Bavarians are subhuman. Let the discussions proceed and the people with the hateful ideas will soon be disabused of the notion that the vast majority of people support their ideas.

          Also while sometimes the discussion of unacceptable ideas leads to a more widespread acceptance of the idea, that can be a good thing. Gay marriage, female and black suffrage – those were all generally unacceptable ideas not so many years ago. Do you believe those discussions should have been suppressed? This of course gets back to the question of who gets to decide what constitutes an unacceptable idea.

          • Posted September 16, 2017 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

            Why do you arrogate to assume what I am being told about what a hypothetical speaker said, what I am mistakenly believing about what they said, and that I am too stupid to look up what they actually said before I comment?

            Your point is (a) insulting me based on incorrect assumptions you jumped to and (b) irrelevant to the discussion even if those assumptions were correct, because the question would remain what to do with cases where the speaker is actually promoting something vile.

            • chris
              Posted September 17, 2017 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

              If an invited speaker isn’t allowed to speak, how does anyone know what he’s going to say – unless he has a reputation for saying the same thing every time he gives a public speech and how common is that? Even if that were the case about the formal comments of his speech presumably the audience (and therefore the questions) will be different so it’s not going to be the case with the entire speech. Moreover, any individual who doesn’t want to listen to the speech can always do something else somewhere else during the speech. If the speaker’s ideas are truly vile, I assume the majority of the audience will recognize that fact.

              • Posted September 17, 2017 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

                “unless he has a reputation for saying the same thing every time he gives a public speech and how common is that?”

                I believe you just answered your own question.

                Not sure how this is relevant to being punished for, say, holocaust denial after the fact though.

                “If the speaker’s ideas are truly vile, I assume the majority of the audience will recognize that fact.”

                I refer back to my remarks on the Overton Window and the Bandwagon Fallacy.

    • Posted September 25, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      Alex: Who gets to decide what is allowed to be said in public, and why?

      You seem to be saying that speech can be suppressed a prioi, based on … what? Hurt feelings? Political partisanship? Whose hurt feelings? What side of any political question?

      How can any of this be sorted out unless all ideas (short of the SCOTUS defined imminent threat standard exceptions) can be aired? Should we suppress scientific results that certain people find offensive? Which people? Why?

      Who is smart enough to limn the future of the world so perfectly that they can decide correctly who can speak and who can’t?

      Trump just got elected President, are you comfortable with him deciding? He was the choice in the US, why shouldn’t he? How would you pick this special decider if not by popular election? Who gets to be dictator? Why?

      You should think of worst person you can imagine being in charge of deciding. Without being willing to accept that person as the decider, then you are promoting a choice even you don’t want.

      The free speech guarantee in the US Constitution is only needed for speech that we disagree with, speech that we find offensive. How could it be any other way? The writers of the 1st amendment and the representatives around the country that approved the Constitution understood this.

  35. wpaolo
    Posted September 14, 2017 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

    Myers own “logic” can come back to haunt him through misadventures past. Since he has become more “woke” I’d imagine he would judge himself (particular with the addition of the Qur’an) as hateful with this infamous post and that his speech should be banned now that he is a more enlightened SJW:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/07/24/the-great-desecration/

    • Richard Sanderson
      Posted September 15, 2017 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      I have a number of screencaps and quotes from PZ Myers, which would probably embarass him now.

      Most of these revolve around his criticism of Islam, all of it acceptable by liberal standards, but now deeply Islamophobic by SocJus standards.

      I posted over at Patheos on a SJW-friendly post that PZ once said “Islam is a weaklings religion”. They cried BS, and called me an alt-right Islamophobe suspected white supremacist, or something like that. I then provided a link to his quote, and just like magic, they all went very quiet and changed the subject.

      Similar to Dan Arel. His new SocJus mates, Steve Shives and Kristie Winters really don’t want to know about Dan’s comments on the Prophet’s pedophilia. This is despite me sending them his screenshot on numerous occasions.

      How uncomfortable for them!

      • INT-986
        Posted September 15, 2017 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

        I can find the quote of PeeZus saying Islam is a weakling’s religion but I don’t think Google indexes Disqus comments. Can I get a linky?

    • Posted September 15, 2017 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      PZ was recently pwned by a commenter making numerous anti-islamic statements. The Pharyngula Hordlings viciously attacked this commenter, who then revealed the comments to be old PZ quotes.

      • INT-986
        Posted September 15, 2017 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

        Oh, both of those sound hilarious. I’d like a linky-doodle.

      • INT-986
        Posted September 15, 2017 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

        Both, as in yours and the one before. I’ll notify him separately.

  36. INT-986
    Posted September 14, 2017 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

    I have quite a different stance on this than others, I imagine. For my part, I adhere to a sort of technocratic fascist politics. I can see restrictions on free speech (specifically for the expression of demonstrably false claims) making sense at some point in the future. But clearly not from an agent with the flaws of cognition and personality that PeeZus has. That is all I have to say about the issue.

  37. scottoest
    Posted September 15, 2017 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    I think Hitchens had the simplest, and most formidable, argument against policing speech:

    Can you name anyone you would entrust with being your master in such a way, as to determine which thoughts and opinions you are or are not allowed to hear?

    The baffling thing, is that many liberals espousing the virtues of policing certain speech are simultaneously distrusting of “the state” and it’s power… yet want to vest the state with the authority to regulate what they are allowed to say and hear.

    • Posted September 15, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      And note that I for one don’t trust *myself* to do that *for myself*, either!

    • INT-986
      Posted September 15, 2017 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

      Can you name anyone you would entrust with being your master in such a way, as to determine which thoughts and opinions you are or are not allowed to hear?

      I can’t now but such an agent may come into existence one day. See my comment above.

  38. Richard Sanderson
    Posted September 15, 2017 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Hold on a second.

    Is this the same PZ Myers that was happy to give a self-confessed child rapist free speech, and a “safe space”, on his own blog?

    By Jove, yes it is!

  39. Richard Sanderson
    Posted September 15, 2017 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    In case anybody wanted any more proof of PZ’s descent into regressive, anti-liberal dogma, he supported the SPLC’s decision to list Maajid Nawaz, citing the “neo-con stuff”.

    Quite what this “neo-con” stuff is, is a mystery. But PZ increasingly resembles Dan (it’s OK to call Jewish people Nazis) Arel and ** ********.

  40. Posted September 15, 2017 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    The “right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” –
    I am not sure that these really ARE rights, except in as far as Western societies have decided that they are rights. Which perhaps amounts to the same thing…
    I mean, there being no god, these things are not ‘god-given’ or ‘inalienable,’ merely human concepts & compete with other concepts.

  41. Harrison
    Posted September 15, 2017 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    This statement by Erwin Chemerinsky leapt out at me:

    “I am sympathetic to the concerns of students who are wary about more police coming to campus, but not having law enforcement present in the face of a danger to public safety risks even greater harms.”

    Indeed, but it’s important to point out that when a speaker merits extra police presence on campus, it is never, ever because of fears that the SPEAKER will commit violence on any student, or even that they will incite others to do so. No, it’s usually fear of the PROTESTERS getting violent.

  42. Posted September 16, 2017 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    I love free speech, even when I hate the way people choose to use it.

    I’ve always been disappointed in those who make the claim that the right to free speech doesn’t include the right to falsely shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Of course you have that right… and by doing so you accept the consequences of your choice. You may just incur a debt you can’t pay.


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  1. […] Within the last month, we have witnessed the clashing of two major opposing factions who have brought the topic of free speech to the forefront of our political and social worlds. The Alt-Right, a melting pot of ultra-conservative citizens, white supremacists, and other fringe right-wing groups, marched in Charlottesville, VA, protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in August. They were met with glaring opposition by leftist and ultra-liberal groups, now calling themselves the Anti-Fa or Anti-Fascists, a new and fast-growing camp comprised mostly of whom some call social justice warriors and other ultra-liberal members, whose main focus is the opposition towards the Alt-Right’s racial and liberal intolerance.  After an Ohio resident plowed his car into a group of these counter protestors killing one woman, the outpour of rage and violence between these two groups has erupted on the streets and throughout social media. I find myself asking what might be a core issue between these two groups? It seems that a lot of it comes down to the First Amendment and the American ideal of free speech that has been a mantle of our culture since our country was founded. My questions to both sides of these camps are: is there a line to free speech? How and where is it drawn, and most importantly—who gets to draw i… […]

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