retaliation and inclusiveness

Jason Richwine, contributing to Quillette, writes

The model that says “government censorship = bad; non-governmental censorship = good” is not sustainable. I believe that free speech should be a cultural value for the same reason it is a legal right—namely, that an open discussion is valuable.  But censors will eventually turn this logic around. They will argue that if it’s right and good for private actors to persecute people for their “wrong” views, then surely it is also right and good for the government to do it…

In the long run, the rights of a free people are sustained not by laws, but by a cultural consensus that places real value on freedom. That’s why the “spirit of free speech” is so important to revive. Debate people vigorously, but don’t try to silence them. Don’t try to prevent others from hearing what they have to say. Don’t try to get people fired from their jobs or shunned by their friends and colleagues.

When responding to speech we don’t like, a useful guideline is to ask ourselves, “Am I disagreeing, or am I retaliating? Am I trying to persuade, or am I trying to silence?”

An excellent distinction.  (I’d add that protests are not speech.  The only reason for a large crowd to chant slogans in a public space is to intimidate.)  However, there’s an exception that devours the rule.

Respecting free speech does not mean, of course, that every aspect of society must be viewpoint-neutral. A pro-choice advocacy group obviously need not hire pro-life employees, nor should we feel compelled to associate with unsavory characters in our private lives.

I quite agree.  One can’t have organizations if one can’t demand the members be onboard with the organization’s purpose.  There is an assumption, though, that we still live in a pluralist social order.  One would expect that a few organizations here and there would be devoted to political ends, but that most of them would not.  Unfortunately, “inclusiveness” and “diversity” are officially core values of my employer, just as they are of your employer–whoever you are–because nearly every corporation, government agency, or academic or philanthropic institute has language to that effect.  So if you agree with anything on this blog, you are in the same position as the pro-lifer at a pro-choice advocacy group.

We got into this position by the liberals’ usual motte and bailey tactic.  Your organization, a chess club say, has no reason to care if members are gay or straight.  Might as well be inclusive, as in indifferent.  But once you’ve signed onto being inclusive, gay members must be made to feel welcome, meaning all members who are known from their outside writings to be conservative Christians must be expelled, while the others must go to workshops to learn to recognize microaggressions and implicit bias, and it turns out that chess club is not neutral on sexual politics at all.  It may not often affect day to day operations, but promoting homosexuality has become a core value, the core value if push comes to shove.

This is, of course, closely analogous to liberal political theory.  Politics is a conversation over the common good, and to be conducted effectively there must be rules of etiquette and procedure to keep things rational and civil.  The rules are supposedly neutral in themselves.  They are the condition of admission into public life, but all reasonable factions should be able to sign on.  Once we’ve done so, though, it turns out that there’s nothing for the curated public space to converse about, because–surprise!–the rules of admission also dictate the answers to all political questions.  Being “respectful” and avoiding “hate” demands compliance with all the liberals’ policy demands.  The rules were in fact not neutral at all.

For political purposes, I would define neutrality entirely by context.  A demand that awards victory to one side is not neutral by definition, even if the one making it claims to have followed some “neutral” procedure.  The political sphere is precisely where there is no agreed-upon authoritative procedure.

There is a neutral viewpoint, behind the veil of ignorance in which one sets aside one’s comprehensive theory of the good, but no normative conclusions whatsoever can be drawn from this perspective.

I do not think that the liberals’ motte and bailey is actually all that clever or persuasive.  It’s “soft” reasoning, the sort of arguments one gives when one knows no rigorous scrutiny will be forthcoming.  It only works because of the power of intimidation wielded by the press and its mobs.

6 Responses

  1. Richwine comes close to getting it:

    In fact, non-governmental persecution is in some ways worse. At least someone whom the government charges with a crime is entitled to a trial in which the facts are aired. In the midst of social shaming, facts become secondary to outrage, and lives can be irreparably harmed before cooler heads prevail. Furthermore, the government must establish clear rules, with decisions subject to appeal, but non-governmental organizations can act on a whim. Exactly what kinds of speech will ignite an outrage mob or get a person banned from using PayPal? Nobody knows.

  2. I have a friend who just got damored, i.e., fired from his job because some of his traditionalist views became public and known to his employer.

    I wonder if any of your readers has any advice for what to do in the aftermath of such a situation.

  3. I don’t know, but I really should be thinking about it. It’s going to happen to all of us eventually.

  4. Shouldn’t we fight back then?

  5. IOW, there’s really no such thing as Free Speech, just as there’s really no such thing af Equality. We can make approximations of both, but only in mutually agreed upon contexts. But, in the end, there’s really no such thing, which makes it seem like a pretty silly thing to fight for.

    If progressives don’t really believe in it, and conservatives do, that makes progressives much more clear-eyed, doesn’t it?

  6. If progressives don’t really believe in it, and conservatives do, that makes progressives much more clear-eyed, doesn’t it?


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