You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Free Speech’ tag.

The VPS is not allowing both UBC and the VPL to participate in the parade because both institutions allowed controversial speakers to hold events at their venues on the basis of free speech. However, the VPS deems both speakers—anti–SOGI activist Jenn Smith and Feminist Current founder Meghan Murphy—as discriminatory and transphobic.

The terms ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity’ get thrown around quite a bit these days.  I think it is important to note that as of late these concepts are becoming more of gatekeeping ritual than anything else.  Quashing and silencing critical opinion in the name of diversity is chillingly ironic, but it is happening and the latest example is in Vancouver with their Pride Committee.  I applaud David Cavey and his decision not to attend pride due to the totalitarian stance they are taking toward the Vancouver Public Library.  Vancouver pride actively tears at the laws and practices that have allowed events like Pride to actualize, I imagine because ideological purity is more important than the base principles of a free and democratic society.

What was the Vancouver Public Library’s crime?  Hosting an event that featured Meghan Murphy as a speaker.  Honestly, Vancouver Pride can take the expressway to ‘go fuck yourself’ at this point.  If your ideology requires the silencing and deplatforming of feminist critics then exactly how strong and just are the arguments that support your cause?  Not allowing your critics to speak is bullshit and is indicative , in my opinion, of an misogynistically incoherent set of beliefs.

In the Feminist Current Tonje Gjevjon writes:

“In Vancouver, federal Conservative candidate David Cavey announced he wouldn’t be marching in the city’s Pride parade this weekend after the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) banned the University of British Columbia and the Vancouver Public Library from participating. Cavey has marched in the parade in the past, but took a stand in favour of free speech, challenging the VPS decision to ban UBC and the VPL for allowing speakers who challenge transgender ideology to book space for events. In a press release, Cavey stated:

“As publicly funded institutions, both are obligated to ‘host’ whomever wishes to rent their property — within the limits of the law. They don’t necessarily agree with the speakers. But to punish them for following their obligation to respect free speech, the exchange of ideas and intellectual freedom, is plainly wrong…

…We encourage other political leaders and campaigns to join us in taking a principled stand on behalf of UBC and the VPL on inclusiveness, free speech, intellectual freedom, and diversity of opinion and refuse to march in the parade unless its organizers reinstate these respected local institutions.”

He was promptly accused of “transphobia” by Nicola Spurling, a member of the BC Green Party.

When it comes to Pride, everyone is expected to join in, whether they want to or not.”

 

 

 

Free speech, or the ability to speak one’s mind in public without physical/material consequences, is one of the hallmarks of democratic society.  Now if everyone was nice, and peace ruled the world, I think the concept of free speech would be less problematic.

I’d like to talk about three ideas regarding free speech, the first being our responsibility in maintaining it, the second being the seeming incongruity when it comes to individuals who use protected speech to promote hate, and thirdly the tie in with Radical Feminism versus the gender identity set.

Free speech, like voting, or freedom of movement for most is a quality we often overlook in our daily lives.  We’ve always had it, it has always been there and there has been no reason to critically examine our responsibilities in context of the maintenance of our freedom to speak our mind in public.

Our collective casual acceptance (perhaps even apathy) in terms of the general public is problematic because it would seem that, until one starts feeling the push back when one speaks, the general collective sentiment is that there are no problems with the status quo and people can pretty much say what they want.  People in general though, are dumb and we should not be content with this lax stewardship.  Please see any social media platform that is open to the general public as evidence of such.

We hive off and create our own tribal communities and proceed to chuck rhetorical rocks over the wall at the other camps that oppose our viewpoints.  From what I’ve been able to observe, the process starts and does not end with regards to rocks being thrown.  Authentic engagement comes a distant second to outrage, manufactured or otherwise, and debate shares a similar fate versus trading insults and fellifluous comments.

Thank you, Social Media…

Social media has given us the means to exercise our right to free speech, but not the concurrent responsibilities that go along with placing one’s opinion in the public sphere, not to mention the intellectual responsibilities of offering fact based arguments and being charitable to the inevitable counter-arguments that occur.  So in a way, we are maintaining free-speech, just that the calibre of the discourse is absolute tosh.  Another unsavoury aspect of the current public chatter is that amplification of thoughts and ideas to such an extent that the nuance is lost, and the remaining message garbled as it is, is blasted out to the vox populi to take sides over and being the rock throwing process.

It is therefore unsurprising that many intellectuals and educated individuals want no part of the social media driven discourse.  It is a wrestling with pigs sort of situation.  However, the problem is that despite the raucous nature of discourse, it bleeds over into the real world and can and often does affect society, necessarily so.  It is distressing though, because although the speech is free and generally unencumbered, the signal to noise ratio makes dross the most likely outcome on many of the issues that make it into and out of the public social media sphere.

I’m not sure what we can do about that when we have a media and journalistic corps that are profoundly unable to tell the truth about what is happening in the world.  The state of the news media is a post for another though, lets leave it with the very basic idea that GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) is a maxim that applies to our news media, and we as a society are suffering the consequences of a ill-informed public.

So free speech being exercised and maintained, but in a bluntly oblivious form that may not be beneficial for the advancement of society.  We can classify ‘hate speech’ squarely into this category.  This is a distinctly Canadian phenomena, so let’s define what hate speech is, via Wikipedia’s entry on Hate Speech Laws in Canada.

“The various laws which refer to “hatred” do not define it. The Supreme Court has explained the meaning of the term in various cases which have come before the Court. For example, in R v Keegstra, decided in 1990, Chief Justice Dickson for the majority explained the meaning of “hatred” in the context of the Criminal Code:

Hatred is predicated on destruction, and hatred against identifiable groups therefore thrives on insensitivity, bigotry and destruction of both the target group and of the values of our society. Hatred in this sense is a most extreme emotion that belies reason; an emotion that, if exercised against members of an identifiable group, implies that those individuals are to be despised, scorned, denied respect and made subject to ill-treatment on the basis of group affiliation.[4]

More recently, in 2013, Justice Rothstein, speaking for the unanimous court, explained the meaning of “hatred” in similar terms, in relation to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code:

In my view, “detestation” and “vilification” aptly describe the harmful effect that the Code seeks to eliminate. Representations that expose a target group to detestation tend to inspire enmity and extreme ill-will against them, which goes beyond mere disdain or dislike. Representations vilifying a person or group will seek to abuse, denigrate or delegitimize them, to render them lawless, dangerous, unworthy or unacceptable in the eyes of the audience. Expression exposing vulnerable groups to detestation and vilification goes far beyond merely discrediting, humiliating or offending the victims.[5]

Sounds good, right?  The recent rise of the false populist-nationalist right in North America (and the world) has put considerable stress on free speech and what we consider to be hate speech because so much of what these ideologies espouse can be considered hateful, corrosive, and essentially banal in nature.

Should the speech of the false-populist right be banned?  Absolutely not, it must be challenged though, at every turn and shown to people for what it is.  And that folks, is a tall order because of the problems I mentioned earlier about our new preferred methods of debate and discourse.  Social media.  The false-populist messaging is simple and stirring and benefits greatly from the amplification in social media, but suffers little distortion because of the simplicity of the message.  The message being roughly this:

    “Right-wing populism in the Western world is generally—though not exclusively—associated with ideologies such as anti-environmentalism,neo-nationalism,anti-globalization,nativism,protectionism,and opposition to immigration.”

The messaging plays directly on the general populations fears, and allows the problems of the nation to be unfairly pinned on a subcategory of people who are vulnerable and easy to scapegoat.  False populist messaging can be countered, but the medium of debate works against those who seek to argue and debate false populist points because nuance and detailed refutations are not the currency social media deals in.  So instead we get catchy slogans like “punch a nazi” and the “alt-right” which are both statements that originated on the left side of the political spectrum, but are profoundly unhelpful in combating the false-populist ideology and messaging that presently, has a strong foothold in our social media platforms.

The medium really is the message – social media is polarizing – let’s look at this latest tweet making the rounds in the left-twittersphere:

Wenn ein Nazi am Tisch sitzt, und daneben 10 andere, die dasitzen und mit ihm diskutieren, dann hast du einen Tisch mit 11 Nazis.”  – (English Translation)-  “As we say in Germany, if there’s a Nazi at the table and 10 other people sitting there talking to him, you got a table with 11 Nazis.”

   What do we do with this?  The sentiment is good, one shouldn’t tolerate Nazi ideology and by sitting idle, one tacitly condones it.  But, what about free speech?  So many contextual aspects in this situation are rubbing up against each other.  Corrosive ideology has no place in a free society, but should there be a space for it to flourish in the public sphere?  Is the German quote appropriate for North America where there has been proto-fascist movements, but never in power?  Where does the argument for tolerance come into play, because this is at face-value, is most definitely an intolerant statement.

    Taken in the German social-political context, I have no problems with it.  However, throw it into the social media public sphere where it adds fuel to the fire that generally reverberates as “anyone who I disagree with politically, is a Nazi” and the statement becomes much more problematic.  Make no mistake, there is a large nuance vacuum on both the left and right side of the political divide (to both sides detriment).

   It’s too easy to simply brand someone a Nazi and demand their speech be taken down.  Yet, how does one actively guard against the rise of actual fascism and not curtail free speech in the process is a key issue in these debates.  False-populist ideology can easily careen into straight up fascism and the genocidal bent that goes along with it, so how do we deal with it?  I do not think there is a good answer, at least not until we get more public engagement and understanding in the social sphere.

   I’m a teacher so my biases lean toward more education and knowledge being a strong tonic against the mistakes humanity has made in the past.  Yet, all the cruelty and barbarism that has occurred (20th and 21st century) and is still occurring has happened under the not so watchful guise of an ‘educated’ public.  The answer might not lay in more education, but a social system that holds each individual to a higher standard of accountability and understanding of their role and responsibility within the world.  Something better than the “fuck you, I’ve got mine” mentality that has such a sure grip on the current social zeitgeist.

   Let’s make part three a separate post, as this piece is overlong already.

 

 

See the other award winners at the Quillette.

Pornography is not free speech. It is a teaching tool for toxic patriarchal values that hurt women. Need to start looking into the topic of the harms of pornography? This list isn’t a bad place to start.

  Longish essay on counterpunch, this pull quote doesn’t reflect the thesis of the piece, but rather something that should be concerning to progressives and people who want to see change in society.  The status-quo is resilient for a reason, and not taking that into account pretty much dooms whatever project you happen to be working for to failure.

 

 “It’s foolish to think that the failure of previous non-violent protests to change state structures can be blamed on the failure of the tactics, rather than the failure of the underlying politics in other domains. Those mass movements either did not achieve popular support, or, more poignantly, they did, but that support was coopted and channeled into an electoral theater and a political leadership that undermined and effectively annulled their goals, and turned energetic popular opposition back into apathy and acceptance. The transition from millions of antiwar protestors on the streets against the Vietnam and Iraq wars to <crickets> in the face of Obama’s Libya-Syria-Yemen-drones-around-the-world wars, illustrates that sad political dynamic.”

And there we have the problem folks.  The status-quo only persists because we allow it to.  Without changing the underlying political structures and features of a democracy, you can only count on one aspect, and that is ‘more of the same’.

The New York Times has featured Lindy West writing on the free speech conundrum on how entitled white dudes are getting their knickers in a knot because minorities and non white dudes dare to criticize features of society that make dudes happy.

See the flaming mound of poo that is “Gamer Gate” or any forum in which a feminist view/critique of society is presented.  Good times.  Today’s lesson is that criticism is not anti-free speech and conflating the two ideas because your pet notions don’t stand up to analysis is toddler level defence of your position.

 

There is a controversy in Canada going on with with regards to the issue of free speech, Bill C-16, and the refusal of a Professor at the U of T to use the alternate pronouns people choose for themselves.  This is the video that started it all (1h).

Three viewing options depending on your time frame.  A long panel debate (1h), a dual format interview (15m), and a one on one interview with Peterson alone (4m).

Also see the transcript to his interview on CBC radio here, and a look from an alt-right publication here, and from a local Toronto publication.   This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the sources available – just a sample and please bear that in mind while thinking about the issues being raised.   I’ll quote Peterson describing his position:

“This week, University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson released a video online criticizing political correctness on campus. He also said he doesn’t recognize a person’s right to be addressed using genderless pronouns like “they” instead of “he” or “she.”

Under the proposed Federal law Bill C-16, it will become illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity or expression. As It Happens host Carol Off spoke with Peterson about his position.

Carol Off: Professor Peterson, why have you said you don’t recognize another person’s right to determine what pronouns you use to address them?

Jordan Peterson: That’s right. I don’t recognize that. I don’t recognize another person’s right to decide what words I’m going to use, especially when the words they want me to use, first of all, are non-standard elements of the English language and they are constructs of a small coterie of ideologically motivated people. They might have a point but I’m not going to say their words for them.

CO: There are a lot of words that you can’t say even though you may want to, that may be considered, not just offensive, but even illegal. So you’re not entirely free to use whatever words you want in any context…

JP: No, that’s certainly true. I’m not claiming that a person is free to use any words, in any context. But what I’m saying is that I’m not willing to mouth words that I think have been created for ideological purposes.

CO: Even if it’s the law that says you should do that?

JP: Well, I guess we’re going to find out exactly what the law says and it’s one of the reasons that I don’t like Bill C-16. I think that it’s loosely written enough that the kinds of things that I’m talking about could be transformed into hate speech almost immediately.

CO: You have said that you don’t believe that there is enough evidence that non-binary gender identities even exist?

JP: No. I didn’t say that actually. If I’m going to be accused of saying things I have to be accused of exactly what I said. There’s not enough evidence to make the case that gender identity and biological sexuality are independently varying constructs. In fact, all the evidence suggests that they’re not independently varying constructs. I can tell you that transgender people make the same argument. They make the argument that a man can be born in a woman’s body and that’s actually an argument that specifies a biological linkage between gender identity and biological sex. I’m also not objecting to transgender people. I’m objecting to poorly written legislation and the foisting of ideological motivated legislation on a population that’s not ready for it.

CO: Well, transgender people are ready for it and they have been feeling a great deal of discrimination and that’s why they were seeking this type of redress in the law. Do you appreciate that?

JP: I don’t believe that the redress that they’re seeking in the law is going to actually improve their status materially. I think, in fact, it will have the opposite effect. I believe that the principles on which the legislation is predicated are sufficiently incoherent and vague to cause endless legal trouble in a matter that will not benefit transgender people.”

[from the CBC interview on As It Happens]

   The core of Peterson’s argument is this: “I don’t recognize another person’s right to decide what words I’m going to use, especially when the words they want me to use, first of all, are non-standard elements of the English language and they are constructs of a small coterie of ideologically motivated people.

    An important distinction to be noted here is that Peterson is not arguing against the exclusion of certain words (n*****) for example, but rather the mandatory and legislated inclusion of words.

gendernutral

    Here is a conversation gleaned from the comment sections of the article entitled – “Non-Binary Students React to the U of T Prof Who Won’t Acknowledge Their Pronouns”:

obj1mike1obj2mike2

The comment thread is some 500 responses long and there are several instances of exchanges between Micheal H and other people.  Several of the arguments present mirror how this debate often unfolds and the positions taken on the free-speech/discrimination issue.  If you have time, the article and comment section is a worthy use of your time.

Summarizing Micheal H’s position:

“Using someone’s preferred name doesn’t place an obligation on me to deny my appreciation of objective reality and affirm someone else’s.

What I find ‘somewhat wrong’ is someone expecting that his completely subjective, idiosyncratic self-conception should be validated by other people at the expense of their own foundational conception of reality.”

Micheal certainly has the arguments working for him.  What seems to be missing is the social realization that each person experiences society differently and that sometimes mere arguments cannot adequately capture all of the nuance of the interactions that take place in society – consider his phrasing here ‘And the hypocrisy here is to conceive of the dynamic between two autonomous individuals […]’

Once in society the phrase ‘two autonomous individuals’ becomes a less useful term because all of the social encumbrances and dynamics at play (race,class,sex,).  Not appreciating, or accounting for the ‘societal noise’ makes the arguments seem very clear cut and straightforward.  Perhaps a bit too easy.

Let’s take a look at some raw footage at Peterson’s gathering.  The interactions are haphazard at best, but the video gives some background onto what both sides are saying in the argument.

 

 

 

Vice – weighs in on the topic essentially saying that the entire Peterson episode is quite like a tempest in a teapot:

“The bill would do nothing to restrict people’s freedom to their own beliefs or to teach their own children,” Garrison told Albrecht during the debate. “What it would do is try to protect the expression of hatred and the kind of discrimination in public that takes place each and every day against transgender Canadians.”

C-16 will also update Canada’s Criminal Code, criminalizing “advocating genocide” and the “public incitement of hatred” based on gender identity or gender expression—adding those two classes to the current list of protected classes: colour, race, religion, national or ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, and mental or physical ability.

“The use of pronouns is not about advocating genocide,” said Cossman.

The bill also means that assault or murder, motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate against people with a certain gender identity or expression, could come with a stricter sentence.

“It’s not creating a new offense,” said Cossman. “It’s saying if there’s a hate crime, if there’s an assault, and you find that it was motivated by hatred on the basis of gender identity and expression, that could affect your sentencing in the same way that race or ethnicity or sexual orientation already do.”

It’s also highly unlikely that the failure to use gender-neutral pronouns will rise to the level of hate speech in Canada, Cossman said.

“The way hate speech has been interpreted by the courts is that it’s only applied to very extreme speech,” she said. “[The misuse of pronouns] is nowhere close.”

Cossman, who says reasonable people can disagree on whether or not hate speech laws are a good thing, says adding one ground to the list of identifiable groups isn’t a major change.

“It’s significant for the trans community, but it’s such a small addition that the idea that this is the most egregious just doesn’t add up.”

I’d have to agree this debate is a tempest for sure – the grist for the mill is how big the teapot happens to be.  It would seem, if the Vice analysis is correct, that we have little to worry about with regards to Free Speech.  Drawing the line between what is hate speech and what is a difference of opinion, will as always be the next contentious issue.

All members of Canadian society have the right to be free of discrimination.  At the very same time though, we all have the right to disagree with people’s opinions and evaluate them on the truth value they carry.  As the situation stands, it looks like both camps are still protected under the legislation as it stands.

Further reading:  A critique of Peterson’s CBC interview can be found here.  Also, another professor against the alleged PC culture on campus.

—–

 

“Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson

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