Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort

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Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort

Post by I am nobody » Sat Feb 24, 2018 8:41 pm

Via NYT. I'm not copying the entire article out of respect for their copyright, but it's well worth a read:
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/22/opin ... mfort.html
...

An example: Last November, The New York Times published a profile of a 29-year-old Ohio man named Tony Hovater. Mr. Hovater is a welder from a suburb of Dayton. He’s happily married, middle class, polite, plays drums, cooks pasta aglio e olio, and loves “Seinfeld.”

He is also a proud and avowed Nazi sympathizer. He started out on the political left, moved over to the Ron Paul right, and ended up marching with the anti-Semitic white nationalists at Charlottesville. He doesn’t believe six million Jews died in the Holocaust, and thinks Hitler was “kind of chill.”

The profile, by Times reporter Richard Fausset, was a brilliant case study in Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil.” Hovater is not a thug, even if his ideas are thuggish; not a monster, even if he takes inspiration from one; not insane, even if his ideas are crazy. He reminds us that a diabolical ideology gains strength not because devils propagate it, but because ordinary men embrace it. And he warns us, as Bertolt Brecht put it after the war, “The womb is fertile still, from which that crawled.”

Lest anyone doubt what Fausset and his editors at the Times think of Hovater and his ideas, the article was titled “A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland.” This is not, to say the least, a neutral way of introducing the subject.

Yet that did not seem enough for some Times readers, who erupted with fury at the publication of the article. Nate Silver, the Times’s former polling guru, said the article did “more to normalize neo-Nazism than anything I’ve read in long time.” An editor at The Washington Post accused us of producing “long, glowing profiles of Nazis” when we should have focused on the “victims of their ideologies.” The Times followed up with an explanatory, and somewhat apologetic, note from the national editor.

No doubt, there may have been ways to improve the profile. There always are. But there was something disproportionate, not to say dismaying, about the way that so many readers rained scorn on The Times’s good-faith effort to better understand just what it is that makes someone like Hovater tick.

Just what do these readers think a newspaper is supposed to do?

...
Stephens is far from the first person to voice similar concerns, but his speech is one of the best and most honest arguments I've read on the subject. There's been an increasing trend in recent years towards dogmatism in a certain very loud portion of both sides of the political spectrum wherein you either agree *exactly* with the opinion of the moment or are a traitor to the cause. We like to consider ourselves a rare bastion of internet civility on VGF, but even here we've lost three longtime members in just the last few years to our refusal to unquestioningly accept their politics.

It's a movement that is at once profoundly pointless, because that kind of vitriol will never convert anyone who doesn't already agree with the underlying ideas, and extraordinarily dangerous, because ideological fundamentalism so absolute as to have great difficulty accepting the views of even what is supposedly own its side is inherently incompatible with democracy. Listening to, understanding, and yes, ultimately, working with people who hold views very different from your own is an inescapable part of a free society, and while I know better than to claim humanity has ever come close to that ideal, I think recent trends are threatening hard-fought progress towards it. It's hard to be passionate about not being angry, but we need adults on all sides of politics to stand up and protect that progress, uncomfortable opinions and all.

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Re: Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort

Post by Calamity Panfan » Sat Feb 24, 2018 10:52 pm

I had a lengthy response to this but it was very rambling. Basically I think at this point it's easier to yell. We're all so tired, and there's so much bulls*** and we just don't have it in us. I'm a very left-of-center person who was raised in ultra-conservative circles, and there are plenty of people I know with whom I can debate about political/philosophical disagreements civilly. But there are plenty more people whose posts I have muted on places like Facebook because it's the worst garbage. And I think that's part of what draws people to form those social media echo chambers. It's not only the presence of opposing viewpoints, but for the most part the internet and social media bring ways for these viewpoints with which we already disagree to be presented in the worst possible way. I can civilly and respectfully discuss the issue of gun control with a friend that presents their arguments even if they're drastically different from my own, but I have little patience for the majority of the "discourse" around it when it's presented in a few words within a meme image. And those frustrations build, and eventually even if I'm somebody who wants to discuss things in a respectful manner, I'm tired and in most cases depressed, and all I can do is block the noise out or scream. So I tell people like Bret Stephens to f*** themselves on Twitter when I see a take I disagree with (the one he cites in the article I could tell was deliberately worded like that and not serious, but he's got some... he's got some bad takes) or make jokes about the s*** right-wing memes I saw on Facebook to my Twitter echo chamber. But of course, that does nothing but reinforce things on the other side. I broke down and became the thing I hate and mock the other side for. The cycle continues. We're all just so very tired of each other's bulls*** and it won't get better.

It gets even worse when you start to try to address speech that can be legitimately harmful or extreme. Most people will agree that Nazis are bad, but how do we address the rising movement of Neo Nazism that's come to prominence in the past years, especially in a "free speech" society? Where do we draw lines? Do we let the dapper, well-spoken white nationalist speak on college campuses even though he's still preaching for a white ethnostate, just in "more polite" language? It's hard man, and just adds to the stress.

I guess I ended up writing a lengthy rambling reply anyway. But this one's actually less lengthy and rambling than what I had before, I promise.

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Re: Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort

Post by I REALLY HATE POKEMON! » Sat Feb 24, 2018 11:34 pm

I remember when I made a topic on free speech, it's not a cherished notion anymore and I've even noticed that some people have warped its very meaning. So no, uncomfortable or unpopular opinions don't fly these days. Worse, I see people trying to contain such speech. If you see someone pass off falsities you can't speak up in any capacity, you're told it's not the time or place if you're lucky (like here at VGF), or you're shredded (basically anywhere else).

The goal is to condition people to at least suppress their views, or ideally change them, not through proper dialogue but beratement and ostracism. What I think usually ends up happening is people become afraid and express views contrary to their own just to avoid the situation. Even I feel these effects myself, and I'm someone who enjoys debate and feels passionate about stances I take. I have nothing to lose, I can only imagine how other in more precarious positions must feel. Lose their job, or "friends," whatever.

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Re: Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort

Post by Marilink » Mon Feb 26, 2018 10:50 am

Calamity Panfan wrote:
Sat Feb 24, 2018 10:52 pm
And I think that's part of what draws people to form those social media echo chambers. It's not only the presence of opposing viewpoints, but for the most part the internet and social media bring ways for these viewpoints with which we already disagree to be presented in the worst possible way.
I was going to write something, but this sentence basically covers the main idea of what I was going to say.

And to echo Pan's other statement: When dealing with matters of opinion and fact, it's hard to find the line between "allowing healthy discourse between people holding differing opinions" and "allowing opinions to supersede facts and accidentally legitimizing things like Nazism and Flat Earthers." And when I say "it's hard" to find that line, I mean specifically in the context of social media and modern discussion channels.

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Re: Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort

Post by Apollo the Just » Mon Feb 26, 2018 12:18 pm

I'm glad panfan wrote a long rambly exhausted post so I don't have to bc... yeah, that.

Free speech is important but so is not letting **** literal Nazis feel empowered in America? and also there are so many people who I **ideologically agree with** that get salty when I tell them that maybe sharing a bad meme spreading false information isn't the best way to convince conservatives that gun control is a good idea. The last time I had a meaningful political conversation with someone was when I met with my old cello teacher and had a 3-hour heart to heart about our different perspectives and what informed them. That was months ago, and you can't have heart to hearts with the whole world.

I don't know how to go about any of it and I'm tired. I used to be very passionate and vocal online but I don't feel like it did anything and don't have the energy for it anymore. The core issue isn't just politics imo, it's about valuing people and understanding each other and not being ******* and I have lost faith that this country is capable of doing that.

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Re: Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort

Post by Marilink » Mon Feb 26, 2018 12:42 pm

There’s a line in Luther’s catechism used to explain the 8th Commandment (You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor) that I think everyone needs to hear more of. The whole explanation is below, and I’ll bold the part I’m talking about:

“We should fear and love God that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, or give him a bad name, but defend him, speak well of him, and take his words and actions in the kindest possible way.

Sometimes, things are said with ill intent and are meant to be hurtful and rude. Other times, people just don’t understand the impact of their words or, sometimes, viewpoints. But there’s a difference there, a nuance that is totally lost when all people do are fire off half-cocked memes and insult the opposition.

Unless the opposition is, you know, Nazis. Because for some reason in 2018 that’s apparently necessary to say.

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Re: Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort

Post by Random User » Mon Feb 26, 2018 1:40 pm

Tricky subject. Freedom of speech, I think, is an important necessity in a republic, if we're going to let the people have power. The issue with all democracy, though, is that the layman doesn't know a great deal about how to run a state, that maybe some people are too stupid to be allowed to express their political views, such as Neo-Nazis, but we're stuck letting them have their opinion, because otherwise how could we claim to allow free speech?

That's just my opinion, though. Total freedom of speech isn't objectively a necessary component of a republic. Germany's proven this pretty well, I suppose. Even though their republic is basically unable to elect a new leader. With how much we tote our freedom of speech, it'd be incredibly difficult to convince a banning of Nazi ideals in America.

That said, America is also one of the only nations that's still in its first republic and going strong.

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Re: Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort

Post by smol Kat » Mon Feb 26, 2018 1:54 pm

Apollo the Just, emphasis mine wrote:
Mon Feb 26, 2018 12:18 pm
I'm glad panfan wrote a long rambly exhausted post so I don't have to bc... yeah, that.

Free speech is important but so is not letting **** literal Nazis feel empowered in America? and also there are so many people who I **ideologically agree with** that get salty when I tell them that maybe sharing a bad meme spreading false information isn't the best way to convince conservatives that gun control is a good idea. The last time I had a meaningful political conversation with someone was when I met with my old cello teacher and had a 3-hour heart to heart about our different perspectives and what informed them. That was months ago, and you can't have heart to hearts with the whole world.

I don't know how to go about any of it and I'm tired. I used to be very passionate and vocal online but I don't feel like it did anything and don't have the energy for it anymore. The core issue isn't just politics imo, it's about valuing people and understanding each other and not being ******* and I have lost faith that this country is capable of doing that.
The first bolded point is something of particular concern to me--I've had multiple people that I consider political allies SNAP AT ME for, say, a poorly worded statement. It really bothers me that this subgroup seems unwilling to hold discourse even with allies, largely because it reflects poorly on the equality movement as a whole (and as a woman that is an ethnic minority, that's a huge sticking point for me). It's not even a matter of hurting my feelings at this point; that behavior leads to absolutely nothing getting done.

re: the second bolded point, I think we're all tired and nobody really knows how to go about it. For my part, I spend a lot of my time reading about current events due to work, so when I'm done working, all I want to do is escape from some of that stuff. There's a lot that I could say, a lot that maybe I should say, but after spending a workday on it, dude, I just want to play video games and drink :lol:

Back to the ethnicity thing, though, there are times when it feels like it's not even my movement anymore which is horse **** because a large number of the people whose movement it now "is" are people that are white and have privilege or passing privilege in other aspects as well. But me? If I had a dollar for every deportation "joke" and every person that came up to me and started jabbering at me in high school Spanish (which I don't even speak; I'm a German minor) I would have paid off my car by now. So that part is equally frustrating for me personally. And is probably part of why I don't feel inclined to engage in discourse after work.

I've been sitting on this for a few days, not really sure I wanted to post this at all, but...there we go. Is there a reset button for human interaction? thanks

(oh another thing I would like to add; we are all entitled to our own opinions...scary though some may be. We're NOT entitled to our own facts.)
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Re: Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort

Post by Shane » Wed Feb 28, 2018 7:15 pm

One of the reasons Trump was elected is because he was very open about not being PC. People got tired of walking on egg shells because everybody is looking for an excuse to be offended, and Hillary calling them racist, sexist, xenophobic, and the other standard insults helped cement it. The Constitution does not care about feelings.
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Re: Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort

Post by I REALLY HATE POKEMON! » Wed Feb 28, 2018 8:09 pm

Shane wrote:
Wed Feb 28, 2018 7:15 pm
One of the reasons Trump was elected is because he was very open about not being PC. People got tired of walking on egg shells because everybody is looking for an excuse to be offended, and Hillary calling them racist, sexist, xenophobic, and the other standard insults helped cement it. The Constitution does not care about feelings.
That's basically the only reason Trump was elected, isn't it? Hillary was so bad and Trump at least pretended to care about the Constitution. As loud as liberals are they're still a minority. Most of us want our rights, what a surprise. Maybe if those opposing guns and speech weren't so blatantly hypocritical about it, what with their armed guards and loud mouths, we'd be lulled into forfeiting them a bit easier.

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Re: Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort

Post by X-3 » Wed Feb 28, 2018 8:29 pm

Trump won the Presidency because the "blue wall" collapsed. This can be partially attributed to the Clinton campaign taking those states for granted and (comparatively) ignoring them during the 2016 Campaign trail.

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Re: Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort

Post by The Amazing Tazy Ten » Thu Mar 01, 2018 4:20 am

I think both are legitimate explanations of what happened with Trump and Clinton really.

As for the topic at hand, I simply have to say that if you want a law you better be ready for the people you hate the most to use it. Don't have open carry if you're not ready to see a poor kid packing heat to protect himself. Don't have free speech if you're not willing to let someone speak openly in support of racism, and don't support double jeopardy if you're not willing to have someone get away with a crime they committed. These laws were written with the expectation they would be abused and yet the pros outweighed the cons.

Any limitation to free speech will hurt those that need to speak the loudest first. History has tons of instances where "You can't say this" is used to quash civil dissent. Look at Twitter and how it's allowed to do whatever it wants without question because it can call anything it wants hate speech and suspend people on a selective basis unless someone starts twisting their arm hard enough.

As for the insinuation that social media has made things worse, I'm willing to agree to a point that maybe it's making people more on edge. The problem is that these platforms are not made for discussion at all, they're made to shout into the abyss and the discussion is your responsibility to deal with meaning someone can just decide people don't deserve to speak and suffer no punishment. In message boards, that's not the case as even the creator of a topic isn't in full control of what they make and they can't shut discussion down if they don't like it. That comes with its own set of problems but we've been lucky enough to skirt past issues like that to the best of our ability which is why we're still around at all.

It's easier to yell. In fact, it's easier to just put everyone you disagree with in a box and pretend they don't matter and that you're the winning side in the end, that you'll be vindicated. That's wrong though. I know for a fact that I'd save myself a lot of trouble in my life and a lot of frustration if I cut myself off from everyone, went extremist conservatist (because, you know, as a white male I would have to be an idiot to be extremist liberal) and go live in... like the swamp. Or get an apartment or something. Anything cheap so I don't have to worry about it. But are you really happy or are you just fighting a war refusing to understand what's really going on and why people are mad? You can only disregard someone so much until people start to wonder if you even have an opinion on the matter beyond what you use to disregard. I'm actually much happier seeing, understanding and possibly identifying with the hottest dumbest takes than I would be thinking everyone I have an out with is in with the boogeyman that wants to take everything from me, be it my rights as a person or the money in my bank account.

I've thought about a few things that might be perceived as a hot take but I think this one works for the context of this topic: Wisdom isn't hearing that 1+1 is 2 and just believing it. It's hearing 1+1 is 2 and wondering why it's not 3 or 1. And if you can't explain why 1+1 is 2 without shouting people down and making fun of everyone who asks why then they're just going to assume you're lying and now there's a subset of people that believe 1+1 is 3 because someone decided that 1+1=2 is something you learn straight out of the womb and it's really not.

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Re: Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort

Post by I am nobody » Thu Mar 01, 2018 7:15 am

Personal pet peeve: It's probably too late to save this word in the US, but "liberal" is not synonymous with the left. There's a reason it shares a root with "liberty" - it's about protecting people's core freedoms to live their lives as they choose without any more or less government intervention than is necessary. That makes it centrist by definition on the traditional left/right political axis, and that's also why "liberal" parties in other countries are often center-right. Free trade and globalism are very much liberal policies, and those are not at all popular with either the left or right wings in the US.

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Re: Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort

Post by Shane » Thu Mar 01, 2018 7:59 pm

Trump ran on the Bill Clinton philosophy. "It's the economy, stupid." Obama never really had a bad economy once the recovery started, but he never had a good one either. Adequate at best. Enough people were tired of barely keeping pace with inflation.

I wonder whether social media has made things worse or just things have always been this awful but now people can gather in an echo chamber and shout for likes.

Liberalism used to be considered left, but even disregarding how far left the left has gone, they were never as liberal as Libertarians, who are only viewed as being on the right because nobody else from either party is fiscally conservative.
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Re: Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort

Post by Dux is not you » Thu Mar 01, 2018 8:12 pm

Can't you embed videos anymore?

This is Tim Minchin's song "The Fence", it's relevant, I swear

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGErC6QQdoc

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Re: Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort

Post by Shane » Sun Mar 04, 2018 1:45 pm

Media embedding is now enabled.
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Re: Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort

Post by Booyakasha » Sun Mar 04, 2018 4:25 pm

^Is it?



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Re: Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort

Post by I REALLY HATE POKEMON! » Mon Mar 05, 2018 5:43 pm

Shane wrote:
Thu Mar 01, 2018 7:59 pm
I wonder whether social media has made things worse or just things have always been this awful but now people can gather in an echo chamber and shout for likes.
I wondered the same thing, but I can't come up with a reason for how social media could make it worse, so I just think it makes us more aware of how badly politics can divide people because we can so easily see it, sometimes even if we don't want to. You're technically forced into Twitter if only a bit just by watching the news since Trump uses it and the news follows his every Tweet.

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Re: Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort

Post by Bomby » Tue Mar 06, 2018 10:47 am

What this whole debate is missing is that freedom of speech includes the freedom to criticize another person's speech. The whole discussion on freedom of speech seems to be forgetting that. You are still legally allowed to say anything you want, unless it is a very specific threat of violence.

Furthermore, any organization has the right to set its own rules. You agree to company policy before employment. You agree to the terms of service before you can utilize a platform to express yourself. Until the government locks you up for saying something other than a specific violent threat, your freedom of speech isn't being infringed upon.

Freedom of speech is not freedom from criticism. If you say something offensive, people are going to be offended. As much as it's your right to say something, it's another person's right to criticize it. Criticism does not equal censorship.

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Re: Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort

Post by I am nobody » Tue Mar 06, 2018 5:10 pm

^The problem is that extremists are frequently going well past what could reasonably be called criticism. The fact that the government won't arrest you for your ideas isn't very helpful if you're going to be doxxed or swatted over them, nor if your employer will be harassed into firing you. That can easily be even more stifling than being jailed or fined.

If we're going to claim to be a society that values free speech, we can't also be a society where exercising that right results in internet mobs trying to ruin your life. We don't have to like everything that's said, and we certainly don't have to let offensive speech go unchallenged, but we can't respond with intimidation or threats.

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