A Philosopher's Blog

Free Speech & Feeling Unsafe

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 9, 2017

A somewhat recent talking point on the right is that “the liberals” are trying to violate the free speech rights of conservatives. On the one hand, this is a hasty generalization: the left counts among its numbers some of the staunchest advocates of free expression who defend the right of conservatives to engage in free expression. On the other hand, there are those on the left who are actively trying to silence conservative voices. That said, is important to distinguish between attempts to silence people and legitimate acts of protest.

To illustrate, the incident involving Charles Murray at Middlebury College illustrates how some people try to unjustly silence those they disagree with. In contrast, the students at Notre Dame who walked out on Vice President Pence’s speech were engaged in a legitimate protest—they expressed their disagreement without harassing or silencing pence. However, the Pence incident had an interesting twist that is well worth considering.

Two of the students who walked out on Pence’s speech explained their motivation: “The walkout was in response to the fact that members of our own community felt unwelcome, uncomfortable, and even unsafe…” I do understand why having Mike Pence speak would make some people feel unwelcome and uncomfortable—after all, Pence makes no secret of his views on various social and moral issues. No doubt some conservative students would feel just as unwelcome and uncomfortable in the presence of a liberal speaker. While I do think speakers should endeavor to make their audience welcome and comfortable, this is not a moral obligation on the part of speakers—especially on college campuses. A key part of education is being pushed outside of one’s comfort zone in terms of such things as values, beliefs and ideology. Students do, of course, have every right to resist being pushed out of this zone; but this is typically their loss when they succeed. The students might have benefited from enduring Pence’s words; but they did have the right to refuse to listen. After all, the right of free expression means that one should not be silenced, not that one can compel others to pay attention.

What is worrisome is the use of the term “unsafe.” When I first heard some vague details about this episode, I initially thought the students were concerned that there might be violence at the event—as has happened elsewhere. That would, of course, be legitimate grounds for concerns about safety. After all, to feel unsafe is to feel that one is at risk for harm. However, after listening to a discussion of the incident on NPR, I realized that the claim was that Pence’s mere presence as a speaker made people feel unsafe. They did not, obviously, think that Pence would attack them physically.

One way to interpret the matter is that people thought they would be harmed in some meaningful way by Pence’s presence and his words. While people can certainly inflict harm with words, it would seem to be an odd use of “unsafe” in the context of the Vice President giving a speech. But perhaps some people are so lacking in resilience that the expression of ideas they do not like or the presence of someone they disagree with can cause harm to them. In this case, they would thus be wise to leave the area before sustaining such harm. To use an analogy, if someone was so sensitive to noise that a speech would cause them pain, they should not attend the speech. They do not, however, have the right to insist that the speech not be made simply because they would experience pain.

A second, and more plausible way, to interpret this is that “unsafe” is referring to a stronger version of being uncomfortable and not a feeling that meaningful danger is imminent. While words mean what they do as a matter of convention, shifting the meaning of words in this manner is problematic for communication. As noted above, I initially thought the students feared a riot, which caused some confusion. Another potential problem is that using “unsafe” in this context makes the expression of ideas that one does not like seem dangerous. While this might be a rhetorical point the students were trying to make to justify walking out, this is a misuse of the language. To be specific, it is hyperbole that serves to distort the matter by conflating merely being uncomfortable with being in danger. Because of these problems, the term “unsafe” should not be used in such contexts. Instead, it should be used for cases in which there is an actual threat to safety and rights. Such as the push by some against free expression by conservatives.

 

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on June 9, 2017 at 8:48 pm

    They’ll be coming for you next professor. This article should have included a trigger warning. Some people may have been made to feel unsafe by your insensitive words. 😂 😂 😂

  2. DH said, on June 10, 2017 at 2:38 am

    The New York Times focused on a blind study of the content of Murray’s speech, and found it to be regarded as “middle of the road” by students and faculty who read the transcript without knowing who the speaker was. This is a pretty good illustration of what I’ve been talking about in many of my recent posts – that people in this country form opinions before they read or listen, and base their actions not on what they read or hear, but rather make assumptions based on their preconceived notions.

    Allison Stanger, a professor of politics and economics at Middlebury, (who moderated a Q & A session that was moved to a secure location for streaming, safe from the violence) wrote the following:

    Stanger: ” Part of the problem was the furor that preceded the talk. This past month, as the campus uproar about Dr. Murray’s visit built, I was genuinely surprised and troubled to learn that some of my faculty colleagues had rendered judgment on Dr. Murray’s work and character without ever having read anything he has written. It wasn’t just students: Some professors protested his appearance as well.”

    (From the National Review article)

    In other words, a bunch of academic professionals, whose sole job is to read and research, felt comfortable maligning a visiting figure “without ever having read anything he has written.” Worse still, some of them went so far as to protest him. Perhaps inspired by their feckless teachers, many students followed suit:

    Stanger: “Intelligent members of the Middlebury community—including some of my own students and advisees—concluded that Charles Murray was an anti-gay white nationalist from what they were hearing from one another, and what they read on the Southern Poverty Law Center website. Never mind that Dr. Murray supports same-sex marriage and is a member of the courageous “never Trump” wing of the Republican Party.”

    But there is something even more sinister in the New York Times article.

    While much attention was given to the content of the speech, very little was given to the actions of the mob that drove him away. There is a reason conservatives feel unsafe – because they ARE unsafe in many situations like this.

    The New York Times failed to report what the Wall Street Journal reported, and what the President of Middlebury later apologized for in a public statement – that the protest was not limited to shouts and jeers, but included actual violence. Allison Stanger, a Middlebury professor escorting Mr. Murray from campus, was assaulted by protesters who also attacked the car they were in. She was taken to the hospital with injuries suffered from having her hair pulled in one direction while her body was thrust in another, pulling the tendons and fascia in her face and neck.

    But the implication of the New York Times is the worst part. By focusing on the content of the speech, and declaring that “it wasn’t so bad after all”, one wonders whether they would have editorially approved of the violence had the content swung further to the right.

    This is no “right wing talking point”. This is violence and intolerance at our institutions of higher learning, perpetrated by faculty and students alike, and based on anything BUT critical thinking, careful reading, and an attempt to understand facts.

  3. DH said, on June 10, 2017 at 3:00 am

    Here’s another example of institutional intolerance at a college. I am embarrassed to report that it happened at my own.

    We pride ourselves on our commitment to tolerance and diversity. We have an active LBGTQ community among our faculty and students, and members of that community are treated with great respect. Some students have declared that they prefer to choose their own pronouns, and not be regarded by their birth gender; these beliefs are respected, tolerated, and supported.

    We have a broad multicultural base, with a sizable population of international students and faculty. We have Muslim students who attend our classes with scarves on their heads, students and faculty from hotspots like Iran and Somalia, Syria and Israel. The President of the college has publicly denounced the policies of Donald Trump, in particular the travel ban and the difficulties imposed on our students as a result. He has called for unity, support, and diversity on our campus, which is as it should be.

    Recently, I had a particular Caucasian student in one of my classes. He was a hard worker, studious, creative. In this particular class, we were doing some group projects that were going to be displayed in a public venue. His group was dealing with ways in which to leverage technology and education, and the subject matter assigned to the group was “Bioevolution”. He came to me and asked to be switched out of the group, because his religious beliefs did not allow him to participate in the furthering of that kind of science.

    I switched him from the group. Although I don’t agree with his position, I followed my own instincts and the policies set forth by the school and treated him with respect, understanding, and tolerance.

    It was not easy to do this – the students had already begun working, the groups were finding their leadership, they were even in number. It was also difficult to respond to the questions of “why?” while maintaining respect for this students’ privacy.

    Of course, the students found out about his reasons, which resulted in a stream of intolerant whispers and laughter for the rest of the semester – discussions about how backward he is, how his beliefs were causing issues in their education, etc. There were no outright assaults on him – either verbally or physically, but the attitudes were thick. I had to sit down with a few of them and talk about what the word “Tolerance” means, and how it is not just limited to certain favored groups.

    I brought this issue up to some of my peers, and the dean as well – and was surprised to find the same attitude among them. While their outward statements echoed the sentiment of the school, there was hushed laughter and eye rolling among them as well. To her credit, the dean cautioned me against penalizing his grade based on his beliefs – but I was surprised that she found that necessary at all.

    My observation is that tolerance in this country is reserved for specific groups, groups that do not include Christians or Conservatives.

  4. TJB said, on June 10, 2017 at 9:13 am

    Mike, here is good example of what those “talking points” refer to:

    The mayor of Portland, Oregon, has strong words for those who would sow fear in his city and attempt to shut down citizens’ rights to free expression: “I surrender.”

    On Friday, two men were stabbed to death on a train in Portland while confronting and trying to calm down a man who was allegedly loudly harassing two young women with anti-Muslim comments.

    Mayor Ted Wheeler’s response to this brutal attack was to essentially tell the world that violence can successfully be used to convince the government to shut down civil liberties. In a rather self-absorbed speech Monday that treats this horrible but isolated event as though it were some sort of mass slaughter deserving of a permanent monument and some sort of “leadership” by politicians, Wheeler is demanding that the federal government cancel the permits for a couple of upcoming “alt-right” rallies in Terry Schrunk Plaza.

    He flat out said in his comments that the city would refuse to grant rally permits to alt-right groups based on their views. However, the plaza right by Portland City Hall is actually federal property, and Wheeler is trying to get federal authorities to revoke the permits for the groups involved in a pair of June events.

    And while there’s some gesturing toward the idea that he wants the city to have time to grieve, he wouldn’t be making such demands if the stabber had been yelling just incoherent nonsense and not an anti-Muslim rant. That’s because Wheeler makes it very abundantly clear that he believes the people organizing these rallies are bigots and he doesn’t want them around. He’s using this violence as a way of curtailing the First Amendment right to both peacefully assemble and engage in free speech.

    In response to those who point out that the alt=right has the same First Amendment protections as the rest of us, Wheeler actually says, “Hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.” (It’s at about 6:54 in this clip of his comments.)

    There is no “hate speech” exemption to the First Amendment, and it’s bad enough when poorly educated college students believe that there is. We don’t need politicians who run cities reinforcing the idea that such speech is not protected, because it feeds the idea that violent protests against certain speakers is therefore some form of heroic rebellion. He reinforces the mentality that threats, and even just fears, of violent responses are acceptable reasons to prohibit public protests.

    https://reason.com/blog/2017/05/30/after-violent-attack-portland-mayor-call

  5. TJB said, on June 10, 2017 at 9:22 am

    Here is an example of how the left approves of violence against people holding ideas they don’t like:

    The transcendental experience of watching Roger Federer play tennis, David Foster Wallace wrote, was one of “kinetic beauty.” Federer’s balletic precision and mastering of time, on the very edge of what seems possible for a body to achieve, was a form of bodily genius. What Foster Wallace saw in a Federer Moment, I see in a video of neo-Nazi Richard Spencer getting punched in the face.

    You may have seen it, it’s a meme now, set to backing tracks of Bruce Springsteen, New Order, even a song from Hamilton. The punch, landed by a masked protester on Inauguration Day, lends itself perfectly to a beat. Spencer, who states that America belongs to white men, was in the midst of telling an Australian TV crew in DC that he was not a neo-Nazi, while pointing to his neo-Nazi Pepe the Frog lapel pin. A black-clad figure then jumps into frame, deus ex machina, with a perfectly placed right hook to Spencer’s face. The alt-right poster boy stumbles away, and his anonymous attacker bounds out of sight in an instant. I don’t know who threw the punch, but I know by his unofficial uniform that this was a member of our black bloc that day. And anyone enjoying the Nazi-bashing clip (and many are) should know that they’re watching anti-fascist bloc tactics par excellence—pure kinetic beauty. If you want to thank Spencer’s puncher, thank the black bloc.

    https://aphilosopher.wordpress.com/2017/06/09/free-speech-feeling-unsafe/#comment-236656

  6. TJB said, on June 10, 2017 at 9:33 am

    There are precious few liberals left who “defend the right of conservatives to engage in free expression.” I am thinking of someone like Alan Dershowitz, who actually cares about civil liberties.

  7. DH said, on June 12, 2017 at 11:55 am

    I think the concept of “feeling unsafe” bears some discussion.

    Not long ago, someone posted a story on Facebook written by an African American man who had been briefly detained and questioned by the police. Apparently, there had been an incident a block or so away, police were combing the area asking questions. By his own description, the police were polite and almost apologetic to him, they explained that he fit much of the description of the perpetrator (height, weight, race, clothing), and they wanted to know who he was and what he was doing. He showed his ID, explained his presence there, and was sent on his way.

    He said that despite the professional demeanor of the police and the smooth, polite way in which they did their job, he said that the whole time he was in fear for his life. Why? Because he knows how the police are, and knows how these things can go.

    There was an outpouring of sympathy for this man – messages of solidarity, expressions of apology for the police or Caucasians or our society in general for making him live his life in fear.

    My response was a little different.

    I said that I thought that the reason he felt that way might just be because incidents like his that go the wrong way are over-reported, and that incidents just like his never make the news – that perhaps he should consider that his experience was exactly as it should be, and that maybe polite, professional encounters like his were more common than he thinks. I suggested that if the focus of his story had been slightly different, it might help to assuage the fear and contribute to the repair of relations between local police departments and the African American community, which I believed to be a common goal among us.

    My response was met with an outpouring of anger, insults, and rants about how I had no idea what it was like being an African American, and that I should just keep my mouth shut and that I was a racist. There was not a single reply to my post that even came close to agreeing with my point, and no one acknowledged that this incident transpired in the exact way it was supposed to – the police did their jobs, they were polite and non-aggressive; the man identified himself and was cleared, and everyone went on with their lives. Rather, the replies were entirely focused on “what could have happened” or what has happened in incidents they have read about on the news.

    I ultimately removed my account from Facebook, fearing being the target of more rants and, more to the point, fearing that those who might have a more direct involvement with my career might also take that tack of (what I considered to be) knee-jerk, racist misunderstanding, and it may cause me undue harm or at least hassle.

    So why did this man “feel unsafe”? Was it justified by anecdotal evidence of police abuse against African Americans in other situations? Does the proliferation of this kind of anecdote truly represent the norm?

    Imagine a similar story but change the roles a little bit. Imagine a Caucasian man walking in a predominantly African American community, where there have been stories of muggings or assaults. If this white man were to feel fear upon being approached by an African American man, would that fear be justified based on the stories? Or is he a racist? Was the man in the above story a racist for fearing mistreatment by a white cop?

    We all feel justified in our feelings, and are more critical of the feelings of others when we perceive them to be unfounded. I am critical of the man in the story because his emotions, based on anecdotes and reputation, superseded the facts of the incident which belied his perception and went unnoticed or unacknowledged. On the other hand, I do feel justified in feeling real fear of social shunning and worse on Facebook, simply for expressing my opinion in a public forum. My fears were based on actual experience, not on what I have heard about Facebook.

    This is why I think that the discourse is so important, and that critical thinking is so vital to the conversation.

    • TJB said, on June 12, 2017 at 9:02 pm

      Democrats divide Americans by race in order to gain power. They want blacks to feel afraid of the police.

  8. TJB said, on June 15, 2017 at 11:46 am

    I’m curious what Mike and DH think about this professor who was fired:

    https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/06/14/dispute-about-sociology-quiz-question-slave-families-ends-lecturers-termination

    • DH said, on June 15, 2017 at 3:25 pm

      I read the “Inside Higher Ed” article, then Googled around for more information. The wide variation in spin offered by the different publications really underscores my belief that just about every publication has its own editorial bias. The reasons for the termination range from the professor refusing to budge from her interpretations and research about race and history, to her being an outright racist, to them both carrying on like children in their own Facebook rants. Neither wanted to give an inch, both seemed more focused on destroying each other instead of engaging in any sort of meaningful dialogue about history, interpretation and experience. In that sense, I think a case could be made that neither one of them belonged in academia.

      Both got lots of support from their Facebook posts, which just shows how willing we are in this day and age to just take sides without trying to learn anything from each other or engage in any sort of research or engagement if it pulls us away from our comfort zone.

      It’s hard to form an opinion about this because the information is so biased on every page; it is so emotionally charged and so public that it’s hard to get past the spin. I am also reluctant to post my opinion because of the public nature of an online forum, and the anger and misinterpretation it can lead to. I suppose that speaks to the true nature of this thread – which is the balance between Free Speech and feeling safe. I do not feel safe posting in public forums opinions on such highly charged issues that can be picked up and taken incorrectly or out of context by what amounts to an angry mob. I did mention in an earlier post where I erroneously believed I was making a meaningful contribution to an online dialogue, but was met with such anger and hatred that I ended up deleting my Facebook account. Maybe I’m just a chicken.

      I think this was ultimately the downfall of the professor, and what gave the student her power.

      • TJB said, on June 15, 2017 at 11:01 pm

        I think it needs to be more widely appreciated that we are all descended from slaves.

  9. DH said, on June 22, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    Well, what I see here is just a mob. As the professor stated, his protest was not about the concept of what they were protesting, but rather the methodology. He said that he was not looking to debate, but rather have a dialectic – which he accurately described as “You listen to me, I listen to you”. That ship sank pretty quickly.

    Sadly, it seems to be a pretty standard example of what goes on in this country. Not a lot of thought goes into issues and discussion before things descend in to anger, swearing, and name-calling.

    I am aligned most closely with the student at 5:14 in the first video shown in your post – as I am afraid too many people in this country might be – “I am afraid of expressing a nuanced opinion …”

    It’s not a good situation at all.

  10. DH said, on June 26, 2017 at 10:09 am

    I am in Toronto this weekend, attending a VR conference. It also happens to be the weekend of the “Pride Parades”.

    I had a few conversations with colleagues about the name of the day – “Pride”, as opposed to “Gay Pride” or “LBGTQ Pride”. One colleague optimistically said that it was for pride in general – pride in who you were no matter who you were or how you identified. I was a little skeptical – applying that caution that so often appears on the left – “Heterosexual Whites Need Not Apply” or some such thing. Disappointingly, I was not disappointed.

    In many news outlets yesterday, including CNN, NPR, NBC and FOX, a story was widely circulated about how an organization called “DeplorablePride.org” (aka “Gays for Trump”) were not permitted to march in the Charlotte, NC parade. Similarly, a woman in North Carolina was mocked at a local Starbuck’s for wearing a T-shirt with Trump’s image on it:

    “Kayla Hart said that she walked into one of the chain’s Charlotte stores donning the shirt and was laughed at by a cashier who took her order, according to local affiliate Fox 46. Her order was then labeled with the phrase “Build a Wall,” a reference to Trump’s campaign promise, she said.

    I guess tolerance isn’t for everyone.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 26, 2017 at 6:15 pm

      No, tolerance is apparently not for everyone. While there are things that should not be tolerated, the standards need to be applied consistently. While I think Trump is a morally bad person and that people act in error when they support him, they have the moral right to express such support. So, the “gays for Trump” should no more be excluded from a pride parade than “gays against Trump” should be excluded.

  11. TJB said, on June 26, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    Genesis of a Trump voter?

    Chicago, IL – The 21st annual Chicago Dyke March, described as more inclusive, more social justice-oriented than Chicago’s annual Pride Parade, took place in the Little Village neighborhood on Saturday, June 24.

    But the parade was met with controversy when collective members carrying rainbow pride flags with a Star of David center were told to leave because the flags “made people feel unsafe” and that the Dyke March was a “anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian” space, reported Windy City Times.

    “It was a flag from my congregation which celebrates my queer, Jewish identity which I have done for over a decade marching in the Dyke March with the same flag,” Laurel Grauer, one of the expelled Jewish participants, told the publication.

    Windy City Times posted the story on Facebook and a majority of those responding appear to be in support of those asked to leave the march.

    “Anti-semitism is everywhere. I’m not surprised at all,” LGBT historian Sukie de la Croix commented. “Nobody is more intolerant of differing opinions than the gay community.”

    http://chicago.gopride.com/news/article.cfm/articleid/86821969

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 26, 2017 at 6:17 pm

      Some people need to learn that “uncomfortable” does not mean the same thing as “unsafe.” Then again, maybe some people are just super scared?

      • ajmacdonaldjr said, on June 26, 2017 at 7:27 pm

        Some people are asserting their power. They know exactly what they’re doing. And they ain’t scared.

        • WTP said, on June 27, 2017 at 11:19 am

          Interesting how the ones who are supposedly “scared” are the ones making the rules, threatening others, etc.

          Kinda like how bullies supposedly suffer from “low self-esteem” and react by pushing other people around. Then when victims stand up to the bullies, the bullies hurt their own fists by slamming them into the victims’ faces. Obviously, the bullies are the losers. Because they are “scared”, have “low self-esteem”.

          Just like ISIS is “winning” when we attack them or restrict their movements.

          • TJB said, on June 27, 2017 at 2:02 pm

            Just like ISIS is “winning” when we attack them or restrict their movements.

            Exactly. If we kill them, they win. Obvious, no?

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 28, 2017 at 6:44 pm

              “If you’re dead you’re not winning.”
              “If you’re not winning you’re losing.”
              -Ricky Bobby

  12. TJB said, on June 27, 2017 at 10:11 am

    More Trump voters being created:

    Indiana’s Grace College and Seminary has fired three employees after they dressed up as rappers for a spoof album cover.

    On June 2, the college’s marketing department held a weekly theme day for its employees, dubbed “wrap day”. People were encouraged to wear rapper clothing.

    Getting into the spirit of things, five employees posed for the parody rap album cover.

    The ensuing photograph shows them dressed as rappers, with one apparently wearing an Afro wig and another one sporting “Thug Life” knuckles. The term “N.G.A.” also appears in the picture.

    But some social media commentators slammed the image, calling the group “white privileged,” IndyStar reported.

    One Facebook comment read: “What point are you trying to make? That you’re gangster, thug, or hood? … And the only time they (the terms) seem to be okay is when white people use them to make light or fun of the situation.”

    Following the outrage, three employees were fired.

    https://heatst.com/culture-wars/college-fires-three-white-employees-for-posing-on-parody-rap-album-cover/

  13. TJB said, on June 29, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    Mike, I am curious what you think of this:

    http://www.hoover.org/research/islamist-minotaur

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 30, 2017 at 4:59 pm

      An interesting analogy; I especially like the mix of classical myth with Star Trek mythology.

      • TJB said, on June 30, 2017 at 6:59 pm

        Jihadists know that Osama bin Laden’s only strategic mistake was killing too many all at once and thereby inciting a ferocious American response, rather than sticking to his previous, more limited, mode of attack on various embassies or docked warships. The point of an Al Qaeda or ISIS strategic plan is not to incite a unified and warlike Western response, but instead to slowly enervate the West—weakening it by demonstrating to the world that an exhausted, agnostic, and hedonistic Europe and North America either cannot or will not stop the serial harvesting of its own citizens, and thereby does not deserve its global preeminence and cultural hegemony that so often, Islamists allege, corrupt superior local mores and traditions.

        An interesting perspective. I used to think that if terrorists got hold of a nuclear weapon they would use it, but now I’m not so sure.

        • WTP said, on June 30, 2017 at 10:14 pm

          Why wouldn’t they? Not saying they’re likely to be currently putting much effort into acquiring one when they’re having greater success using fewer resources, but if one were to be offered to them on the cheap, you don’t think that they would take advantage of the situation?

          • TJB said, on July 1, 2017 at 9:32 am

            Maybe not, as it would trigger a huge response.

            • Chaz Farleigh said, on July 3, 2017 at 11:30 am

              You’re thinking of them as a coherent entity taking orders from one supreme commander. This may apply for ISIS but not necessarily for the remnants of Al Qaeda or the various other factions out there. I’m inclined to agree about ISIS not using one, as in not setting one off, but I don’t think they wouldn’t use the threat or use one to imply that they have a pipeline to one. And what a way for a small, relatively unknown faction with its own ideas on prophesy and such to make a name for itself. Jihadists in general are believers in a final Armageddon of some sort. I don’t put anything past them.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 3, 2017 at 6:26 pm

          While way off the topic of free speech, that is an interesting question. On the one hand, using a nuke would be a major coup for terrorists. On the other hand, the use of such a weapon could severely alienate even strong supporters and would lead to relentless retaliation.

          Oddly enough, some terrorists might also have moral qualms about such massive destruction.

  14. TJB said, on July 1, 2017 at 10:05 am

    I’m curious what DH, WTP, and Mike think about this essay:

    http://jmrphy.net/blog/2017/06/20/the-affective-politics-of-keeping-it-real/

    Just as the self-restrained professional intellectual is shaped by the rewards of a media environment long dead, so too are they shaped by punishments which are little more than paranoid fears. Many academics and professionals believe that for the sake of their careers they must exercise the utmost discretion in what they put online, and they confidently tell young people to exercise the same discretion for the sake of their own futures. But the reality is almost the exact opposite. First of all, with some important exceptions of course, nobody gives a shit about what you put on the internet. Nobody with any power over you has the time to follow, and the few that do won’t care enough about you to follow or dig very much. In my now slightly above-average history of recklessly posting to the internet, before and after getting a competitive professional job, the worst that has ever happened is that nobody cares (and that’s most of the time). But the best that has happened, here and there, is that a lot of people care and appreciate it and new friends are made and all kinds of new paths appear, individually and collectively.

    • WTP said, on July 3, 2017 at 11:50 am

      Depends on where you sit and/or where you plan to sit. Years ago at another company a fellow employee got laid off. He started posting derogatory/defamatory rants about the company on the company’s stock’s Yahoo message board. His only cover was to spell his username name backwards. Dumb. They threatened to take away his severance package or sue him or something, I forget what. Fortunately for him they were just doing the shortstop thing of looking him back.

      I’ve been reviewing resumes, looking to hire developers. I don’t go out and do deep spelunking or anything but if someone puts information out there in an easily accessible, easy to trace context, I’m going to at least consider it. Good or bad.

      While the writer has a point re Nobody with any power over you has the time to follow, and the few that do won’t care enough about you to follow or dig very much. This is for the most part true on a level as I speak above for job hunters and such, Sure the odds are in your favor. But why be careless? And given the internet and rage and such and how easy it is to accidentally kick over a hornet’s nest, thinking you have control over whether or not you can avoid the glare of an internet spotlight, let alone a media one, is wishful thinking. What this writer glosses over is that many people have had their lives ruined by such things but very few of these instances bubble up to be seen by most of us. I doubt there are statistics on this and I would question how one could gather them to have any meaning, but just think of the stories you have seen in the past and have now long forgotten about. Those stories went on for those people. Some may never recover. Some rightfully so but I’m guessing mostly not.

      • TJB said, on July 3, 2017 at 1:26 pm

        I tend to agree that the risks outweigh the benefits.

        • WTP said, on July 5, 2017 at 8:46 pm

          And this cnn obsession with the Trump gif tweet is a prime example. Guy puts some stupid gif together and posts it. Somehow it hits POTUS radar and he tweets it out. Fascists at cnn hunt the guy down, extort an apology/confession out of him, and remind him that they have the power to ruin his life. An attack on a person’s free speech by the very entity that the First Amendment was put in place to protect. This guy was a nobody. Not a professor, not a politician, not even an academic.

  15. TJB said, on July 3, 2017 at 1:19 pm

    More food for thought.

    A company advertises product X by claiming that it substantially improves memory and staves off dementia. The company provides no convincing evidence for these claims, and scientific studies fail to confirm the existence of the stipulated effects. Would you buy X? Probably not. Would the government and consumer protection agencies allow X to be freely marketed without at least a warning to potential gullible customers? Hardly, it seems.

    Yet there is a similar product X, which has been sold to tens of thousands of people for decades without a murmur. I am talking here about studying philosophy at a university as a way of improving one’s thinking skills.

    http://quillette.com/2017/07/01/study-philosophy-improve-thinking-case-false-advertising/

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 3, 2017 at 6:33 pm

      You might be pleased to know that thanks to the push for assessment most universities now need to assess all their efforts. Assuming that there is some merit to the process of assessment, there should be data available regarding the effectiveness of such courses.

      It is certainly reasonable to think that logic and critical thinking classes would at least marginally improve a student’s abilities in thinking-just as taking a math class would at least marginally boost their math skills. I’d say that there are philosophy courses that would do little to improve thinking, though. Just like there are math classes that fail to improve math skills.

    • WTP said, on July 4, 2017 at 3:37 pm

      Qualified as studying philosophy at a university , most definitely. Philosophy as taught at most universities closely resembles product X and in many cases this product is not only worse than product X, it’s worse than the disease. Critical thinking and such cannot be taught by people who fail to grasp their own inadequacies. And that is assuming that those doing the teaching earnestly believe that they know what they are talking about. Many are 2nd and 3rd generation copies of bad originals. The originals being nothing more than sophists, solipsists, and the like. The shame is that philosophy is a very important subject, or more accurately population of subjects, that could conceivably be taught at a good liberal arts institution. I believe the hip internet term for such things these days is unicorns. Perhaps the best approach to studying and understanding philosophy is to engage in discussion with people of varying backgrounds who can express their perspectives on life and the commonalities and diversity of life’s problems without resorting to sophistry, solipsisms, clown noses, etc. But I fear that takes us back to hunting unicorns.

  16. TJB said, on July 10, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    Excellent analysis of what is happening in the social sciences.

    http://quillette.com/2017/07/06/social-sciences-undergoing-purity-spiral/

    Very few social scientists are communists, I imagine. But why? If most social scientists subscribe to Smith’s liberal progress narrative, and communism is (arguably) the logical conclusion of the liberal progress narrative, then shouldn’t they subscribe to communism as the ideal human society?

    The answer for many, presumably, is that they don’t subscribe to communism because it produced disastrous results. But if the main lesson social science has learned from the failures of communism is that eliminating private property is a bad idea, then it has learned far too narrow a lesson.

    What it should have done is asked itself this: if communism is the logical conclusion of the liberal progress narrative, and communism has consistently failed disastrously, what does this tell us about the liberal progress narrative—or as Haidt calls it, Universalism?

    What’s interesting about Haidt’s alternative interpretation of the liberal progress narrative is that he mentions two elements central to the narrative—private property and nations. And what has happened to a large extent is that as the failures of communism have become increasingly apparent many on the left—including social scientists—have shifted their activism away from opposing private property and towards other aspects, for example globalism.

    But how do we know a similarly disastrous thing is not going to happen with globalism as happened with communism? What if some form of national and ethnic affiliation is a deep-seated part of human nature, and that trying to forcefully suppress it will eventually lead to a disastrous counter-reaction? What if nations don’t create conflict, but alleviate it? What if a decentralised structure is the best way for human society to function?

    • WTP said, on July 10, 2017 at 2:47 pm

      via David Thompson…same article but he highlighted this part…

      [In a survey of the political preferences of social psychologists,] there were almost as many people who chose the furthest possible point to the left as there were who chose all the conservative points, the centre-point and the most moderate left-of-centre point combined… People that freely self-identify as far-left in the abstract, in other words irrespective of specific political issues, seem to me to be signalling something: that they are committed to an ideology. The fact that such a large portion of the most influential people in academic social psychology do so suggests that this ideology is entrenched in their field.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 10, 2017 at 7:07 pm

      The obvious counter is that humans can give their loyalty to ever larger groups. We did, after all, go from small tribes, to small nations, to big nations, to large empires.

      But, there are some interesting arguments that humans need an outside enemy to maintain social cohesion. That is, if we were all joined in one group without an enemy, we’d just break up into smaller groups and resume warring. Or have enemies within to fight.

      Here is clever look at this in the context of the anime Attack on Titan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1XJhZVmORlM

      • WTP said, on July 10, 2017 at 9:32 pm

        Notice how Mike can see the obvious but miss the obviously obvious. Communism takes its loyalty by force. Humans lose their freedom to oppose communism, and thus cannot possibly be seen as “giving their loyalty” to it. Every. Damn. Time. Saw this the other day…

        7 things every child needs to hear…

        1) “I love you.”

        2) “I’m proud of you.”

        3) “Be honest.”

        4) “Believe in yourself.”

        5) “I’m listening.”

        6) “Communism has failed every time it was tried.”

        7) “You’ve got what it takes.”

      • WTP said, on July 11, 2017 at 11:55 am

        Again, David Thompson…

        In my experience, Marxists prefer to be judged, if judged at all, by their theories and rather fanciful abstractions, and by their pretensions of moral elevation – all conveniently bleached of realism and messy human detail. And so, when not simply lying, their conversation turns to the potential of communism – communism in theory – never actual communism, i.e., communism in power. But the practical and psychological implications of egalitarian utopias aren’t exactly hard to fathom. Unless, that is, one takes care not to notice certain things or think in certain ways, and then goes on not noticing with growing sophistication. And I suspect that sophistication – a practiced unrealism – is driven by something very nasty indeed.

        There are of course those who read Marx and Engels while somehow ignoring the salacious references to “revolutionary terror,” the “murderous death agonies of the old society” and the “complete extirpation” of “reactionary peoples” – i.e., thee and me – as if the horrors that followed had nothing at all to do with the urges to which they give intellectual license. An abstracted, sanitised belief in Marxism – detached from its consequences – isn’t just an oversight. It requires colossal bad faith, especially among the intelligent.

        To read Marx and Engels – to say nothing of Trotsky and his enthusiasm for guillotines and the prospect of beheading people who didn’t wish to be communists – to read such material and somehow not grasp where that thinking goes isn’t just a failure of critical wherewithal. It’s a contrivance. Just as some contrive an indifference when faced with Engels’ eagerness to see “the disappearance from the face of the earth not only of reactionary classes and dynasties, but also of entire reactionary peoples.” A global class genocide that would be, in his words, “a step forward.” Hobsbawm, like many others, traded his probity for vanity. He chose to be seduced. And if people still want to play at Angry Marxist™ – and it seems some youngsters do – they might at least be honest about it.

        http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2012/10/elsewhere-74.html

  17. TJB said, on July 11, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    Isn’t it obvious that people today are the same as people in the past?

    Isn’t obvious that human nature is pretty much fixed?

    “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.” –Terence

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 11, 2017 at 6:37 pm

      The future will change that; a new human for a new world.

      • WTP said, on July 11, 2017 at 8:05 pm

        Again, from above…

        To read Marx and Engels – to say nothing of Trotsky and his enthusiasm for guillotines and the prospect of beheading people who didn’t wish to be communists – to read such material and somehow not grasp where that thinking goes isn’t just a failure of critical wherewithal. It’s a contrivance. Just as some contrive an indifference when faced with Engels’ eagerness to see “the disappearance from the face of the earth not only of reactionary classes and dynasties, but also of entire reactionary peoples.” A global class genocide that would be, in his words, “a step forward.”

        To preserve humanity, of course.

      • WTP said, on July 12, 2017 at 6:11 am

        “Within a week of Kaplan’s attack on Lenin the Petrograd Cheka shot 512 hostages, many of them former high ranking tsarist officials. In Kronstadt, soldiers killed 400 hostages in one night. Soon the killings spread to the provinces. No regard was made to personal guilt or responsibility; the victims were selected on the basis of their class or profession. “Never had a modern society killed its people so readily” the historian W. Bruce Lincoln observed of the Red Terror. To the Bolsheviks, believers in Marx’s notion that the death of the bourgeoisie was a historical inevitability, doing away with the ruling class was simply an act of Euthanasia. “There is nothing immoral” Trotsky coldly affirmed, “in the proletariat finishing off a class that is collapsing: that is its right”

        Former People by Douglas Smith

        Of course eventually Trotsky got his just desserts. And he is praised and his appearance copied by so many right-thinking college boys. Their professors are cool with that.

      • WTP said, on July 12, 2017 at 8:43 am

        Whilst I’m beating a dead horse…

        From the early times,[when?] ideologists of Communism have postulated that within the new society of pure communism and the social conditions therein, a New Man and New Woman would develop with qualities reflecting surrounding circumstances of post-scarcity and unprecedented scientific development.[2] For example, Leon Trotsky wrote in 1924 in Literature and Revolution about the “Communist man”, “man of the future”:[3]

        Man will make it his purpose to master his own feelings, to raise his instincts to the heights of consciousness, to make them transparent, to extend the wires of his will into hidden recesses, and thereby to raise himself to a new plane, to create a higher social biologic type, or, if you please, a superman.

        Wilhelm Reich asked in 1933: “Will the new socio-economic system reproduce itself in the structure of the people’s character? If so, how? Will his traits be inherited by his children? Will he be a free, self-regulating personality? Will the elements of freedom incorporated into the structure of the personality make any authoritarian forms of government unnecessary?”[4]

        Author and philosopher Bernard Byhovsky, Ph.D. writes: “The new man is endowed, first of all, with a new ethical outlook.” [5]

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Soviet_man (as of 7/12/17)

        That worked out great, didn’t it?

  18. TJB said, on July 11, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    Check this out.

    • WTP said, on July 11, 2017 at 3:34 pm

      Yeah, by itself with no background it’s hard to get the point.

    • WTP said, on July 11, 2017 at 4:41 pm

      Yeah, that’s still not much context. I wouldn’t be surprised if the school had some issues, given that our educational institutions, based on my own personal recent experience working with them, do not have the best interest of the children at heart. It’s damn criminal in how they waste time, money, resources, volunteers, etc. Since he was abandoning the prepared text anyway, seems he could have gone into more detail as to what the specific concerns are/were. Of course he’s only 17/18 anyway so that’s prolly asking a bit much. But then teenagers, and young people in general, can be quite the whiny lot. Fortunately most grow out of it. Others linger in educational institutions, never experiencing true responsibility, and create some of the very problems to which I, and possibly this kid, refer.

      • TJB said, on July 11, 2017 at 6:25 pm

        I was just amazed that the principal had arranged with the AV guy to cut off the mike on command.

        • WTP said, on July 11, 2017 at 8:09 pm

          Heh. Were I in that position of responsibility, I’d have a wireless remote cutoff button in my hand. High school is not quite yet adulthood. College/university environment is a completely different story.

      • TJB said, on July 11, 2017 at 6:27 pm

        Something rather similar happened to me in 1978. In my case I wrote a letter to the school paper that the headmaster didn’t like. He called me into his office and called me an “arrogant young pup.”

        • TJB said, on July 11, 2017 at 7:44 pm

          He also arranged for that issue of the school paper *not* to be mailed home to the parents. This was a boarding school.


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