Is There A Defense of Shouting Down A Speaker At A University?


Last week, Charles Murray, a social scientist at the American Enterprise Institute, was scheduled to give a lecture at Middlebury College, at the invitation of a student group. Before he began speaking, though, many students and faculty in the audience stood up, turned away from the stage, and “shouted and chanted for such a long period that Murray couldn’t speak.”

Murray and Allison Stanger, a political scientist at Middlebury who had agreed to serve as moderator at Murray’s lecture, were moved to a different location on campus so that the talk could be livestreamed. After that, as Murray and Stanger were leaving a building and heading to a car, protestors surrounded them, yelled at them, and, according to Inside Higher Ed, “shoved Stanger and yanked her hair with such force that she needed to wear a neck brace the next day.” Protestors, some of whom may not have been a part of the Middlebury community, “stomped” on the car and tried to block its exit. A statement from students details some of the mayhem.

Murray provoked this response from students and faculty at Middlebury because of some of the positions he has defended over the years, most notoriously in his co-authored book, The Bell Curve, in which he argued that intelligence, which is largely inherited, is a reliable predictor of various socioeconomic outcomes, that there are significant variations in intelligence across the races, and that this has certain policy implications. Or, as the Southern Poverty Law Center puts it, in that book Murray uses “racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics to argue that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the black and Latino communities, women and the poor.”

What to make of this? Here are a few preliminary considerations.

  1. Shouting down a speaker is not a new activity.
  2. Shouting down a speaker is not something that only done by (or to) people with certain political views.
  3. Beware the availability heuristic.
  4. In drawing any lessons about changing attitudes or cultures from these events it would be foolish to ignore the role of relatively new communications technology.
  5. To deny that one should shout down a speaker is compatible with holding that the speaker ought not to have been invited in the first place.

Over at the Academe Blog, John K. Wilson, an independent scholar on free speech issues, writes:

Shouting down speakers is morally wrong, unprincipled, anti-intellectual, and utterly indefensible. 

Wilson considers and handily rejects a few “principles” that could justify shouting down a speaker. None of them seem to be the kind of principle we’d expect a sophisticated defender of the practice to endorse, so the value of this exercise is somewhat limited.

I think there are better ways of handling objectionable speakers at universities than shouting them down. However, I suspect we haven’t heard the best arguments in favor of the practice. What are they?

 

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Carnap
Carnap
4 years ago

Looking forward to hearing the “sophisticated” defense of shouting down a speaker *at a university*.Report

DocFEmeritus
DocFEmeritus
Reply to  Carnap
4 years ago

There is no such thing. Philosophers, and college years, are supposed to expose one to ALL viewpoints, then it is up to the individual to make up his/her own mind. That we disagree with a speaker is NOT a reason to ban the speaker (as has happened again and again over the years), it is a reason to listen and respond intelligently. Whatever bent the speaker has the free exchange of ideas is what philosophy and college is about. I totoally decry such protests and cancellations of any speaker. Now, your hated speaker is banned; next year YOUR hated speaker is banned. The “marketplace of ideas” is the bottom line in a college or university. To deny views ahead of time is, well legally, “prior restraint”.Report

Silverside
Silverside
Reply to  DocFEmeritus
4 years ago

I would just note there is no small irony in insisting on the importance of the “marketplace of ideas” and encountering multiple viewpoints while also insisting a priori that there are no “sophisticated defenses” of no-platforming. Anyone whose interest in free speech extends beyond reading On Liberty is aware of a number of at least prima facie plausible accounts of why suppressing speech might be justified. Indeed, there are at least a few in the comments (in my humble opinion). I am always intrigued that those who tend to speak the loudest about the importance of considering dissenting opinions also tend to display the least interest in seeking out objections to their dogmatic free speech platitudes.Report

Joe
Joe
4 years ago

I suspect that the best defense is going to be straightforwardly utilitarian. Some will believe that pervasive social inequality is bad enough to justify silencing speakers they believe to be complicit in maintaining it. They can point to the Suffragettes, who often came pretty close to shouting down or completely disrupting various speakers at political and public events, and who (arguably) pushed the cause much closer to its goal by doing so.

Now that I think of it, it would be interesting to draw comparisons between the way that universities are treated today (as hallowed spaces where calm, rational debate is supposed to occur) and the way that British people viewed parliamentary/governmental spaces at the time. They, like, us, were shocked that people would DARE disrupt things in such spaces, and that, of course, is in large part why those spaces were/are chosen. After all, we are not shocked in the same way when innocent black citizens on the street are stopped by police and told to “keep quiet”… that silencing isn’t done in a context that is invested with such heavy cultural significance.

I’m not saying I endorse this line of thought, but if you’re a consequentialist, you have to be prepared for at least the possibility that these ends will in fact justify these means, given the badness of inequality and the possible lack of alternative options. Your opposition should probably be on mainly empirical grounds: you must say that these activists have just got that causal nexus completely wrong.Report

DocFEmeritus
DocFEmeritus
Reply to  Joe
4 years ago

Bad examples, like the shouting down culture of Brit Parliament doesn’t cut it. I have always thought the Brit example was one NOT to emulate. The ad hominems reigned superior there. Well, sort of like our current president’s attacks on everyone who disagrees with him.Report

Stephen Lutz
Stephen Lutz
Reply to  Joe
4 years ago

I am a “consequentialist”, I suppose, in that I see the consequences of suppression of speech that certain people oppose as the reason for the emergence of “Based Stick Man” as a hero in the most recent Berkeley riot.Report

Jane Mars
Jane Mars
Reply to  Joe
4 years ago

That is certainly the argument used. Also, it’s the argument for violence: if the structural violence is bad enough, than that justifies violence to destroy the system that creates it. The problem with that, from my perspective, is first, that everyone has their own notion of “just cause,” and most people are shocked, and I would suspect the very people who do it would be counted among these, when someone does it for a cause they don’t approve of. So they believe they should be able to do it for the TRUE just cause, but don’t understand or even support the notion of it being a general rule for everyone. And it would not make a good general rule. Second, when applied to the argument for violent opposition, there is research that suggests that peace movements work better.Report

Oliver Traldi
Oliver Traldi
Reply to  Jane Mars
4 years ago

Indeed, most supporters of campus violence with whom I’ve discussed this take it as a given that they will always be right about the dynamics of the situations in which they will be violent and about the likely consequences of such violence. For them there is no need for the general rule, since they already know every detail about every specific encounter.Report

Zack Al-Witri
Zack Al-Witri
4 years ago

I don’t know how it would apply in the case above, but if A invites B to insult C, then C might be justified to enlist D preemptively prevent the insult. My point is that, as well as seeing the prevention of speech as a violation of free speech, giving someone a platform with the intention that they say nasty things, cleverly disguised as an academic discussion of ideas or an exchange of equivalent opinions, is a misuse of free speech as well and one might view it not as a genuine exercise of free speech. Those underlying intentions are relevant, very hard to glean, but clearer in the Berkeley/Milo case.

Of course I wouldn’t dream of endorsing anything like this! .)Report

Stephen Lutz
Stephen Lutz
Reply to  Zack Al-Witri
4 years ago

Define “nasty things” because an interpretation of “things” does not make them a cause for behavior that would make any Brownshirt smile.Report

Zack Al-Witri
Zack Al-Witri
Reply to  Stephen Lutz
4 years ago

You’re right it wouldn’t easy to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable speech. But it’s also not always so hard or so subjective as “interpretation”: Milo is a clear case, someone who was intentionally provoking offense. And intention does matter, as I said. No need to shut down someone whose views, only when they’re worked out, might support something offensive. But if your aim by speaking is harm? There crimes that are wrong only if they have an intention behind them to do harm (from sexual harassment to genocide!). It’s always hard to establish intent, but that’s not a reason to say “well then it’s ok.”Report

Silverside
Silverside
4 years ago

I’m posting this anonymously because my perception (perhaps I am wrong) is that expressing anti-free speech views is one of the best ways to stigmatize yourself in the profession. Thus, ironically, I am going to defend the practice of shouting down behind the “anonymous” handle to avoid any sort of professional blowback.

To make this argument as strong as possible, the practice of shouting down will be treated more generally as a practice of silencing speakers/preventing speech. Some suggest that the shouting is speech, and thus, appeals to free speech can’t adjudicate between the rights of the official speaker and the rights of the crowd. I think there is a case to be made for this, but will, for the sake of argument, concede the premise that shouting is strictly a form of silencing and not, itself, speech with a claim of being protected.

So what could justify silencing a speaker—on a college campus, no less? The shortest answer is to ask those who prevent speakers from giving talks all the time: the members of the administration and the faculty of various departments who determine what speakers come to campus. Indeed, these figures are in the business of making judgments about what speech should and should not be expressed on campus. Given that there are only so many slots in a colloquium or so much funding to bring speakers to campus, those with the power to determine who gets a speaking platform on campus make choices about who speaks and who doesn’t. And, as a result, the speech of certain figures is silenced. If you are a speaker whose speech is not judged by faculty and administrators to serve a useful purpose, then you will be barred from campus: if you try to show up and deliver your ideas anyway, you will be forcibly removed by campus security.

Here is the argument then: (1.) faculty/administrators silence speech; but since this practice seems unobjectionable (2.) If faculty/administrators silence speech, then silencing speech is not always wrong; thus, (3.) silencing speech is not always wrong.

Of course, this does not quite get you to the conclusion that the shouting down of a speaker is an instance of permissible silencing. But you might ask: what makes no-platforming by administrators permissible but not no-platforming by students? One possible answer is to appeal to administrators as legitimate authorities who are entitled to make such decisions in a way that students are not. I don’t think this argument holds up to scrutiny but do not have the space to address it here. I will merely note that, if this is the premise upon which one hangs a critique of shouting down, the issue is no longer about the free exchange of ideas but about who has authority over the space (perhaps due to who holds the relevant property rights). And, this position would then confirm the suspicions of those of us who believe much of the anger over student no-platforming is that the practice upsets comfortable power relations regarding who gets to control what goes on on college campuses.

Instead, my suggestion is that one cannot appeal to some sort of legitimacy on the part of faculty/administrators to explain why their instances of silencing are permissible. Rather, I think you must appeal to the substantive considerations that they would use to justify their decisions if pressed (I imagine few faculty would defend their exclusion of certain colloquia speakers by saying, “because I’m the one entitled to decide and this is what I decided.”) These substantive considerations will typically involve appeal to certain ends that they think are worth advancing: there are certain ideas that are worth hearing because of their content while others are poorly developed or mistaken or unimportant, etc. And, exposing students to good and important ideas is a good use of university space while exposing them to bad ideas is not—and, thus, they wield their power to impose these judgments about space usage, thereby silencing all those whose ideas were deemed unsuitable.

My claim is that this is a totally reasonable way to wield power. But, I also suggest that this is exactly what students are doing when they shout down *certain* speakers. When a speaker is interested in advancing ideas that have been long discredited or have certain harmful effects or whose expression is perhaps intrinsically wrong, those are all good reasons for declining to allow them to use university space for the advancement of those ideas. And I suggest that this is what Middlebury students were doing in the Murray case. Just as faculty/administrators selectively silence speech to further certain important ends, students in this instance selectively silenced speech to further certain important ends (in this case not merely epistemic but, given the function of Murray’s arguments in our current political environment, also moral).

This has really been just a sketch, given the space constraints, but I will try to fill in and defend gaps as pressed on this. Perhaps there are stronger arguments for silencing, but I think this is a good one, and I hope readers consider it charitably given that it is something of an unpopular view to hold in academia.Report

ajkreider
ajkreider
Reply to  Silverside
4 years ago

SS,
I think your view might be too narrow. It seems like there is encouraging speech, discouraging speech (silencing), and neither encouraging nor discouraging speech. Inviting speakers to campus would be encouraging speech. But failing to invite a speaker seems like the neither encouraging nor discouraging sort, not silencing. Harvard is not silencing me (or my speech, or the topics I would speak on) by failing to invite me to speak on campus. Shouting down seems to fall into the “discouraging” category. “I’m not going to help you do it, but I’m not going stop you either” appears to be a coherent third position.Report

MZ
MZ
Reply to  ajkreider
4 years ago

ajkrieder, I think your view might also be too narrow. While I agree that there is a difference between encouraging and discouraging speech, I don’t think one can easily create this third category of speech neither encouraged nor discouraged. The arguments that tend to be advanced in favor of discouraging certain forms of speech generally tend to assume that to encourage such speech is also to discourage other forms of speech. So for example, if you encourage the views of a speaker who attempts to validate debunked theories of scientific racism/sexism, you also have to consider how that speech might discourages others from speaking by assuming that certain potential interlocutors are less intelligent (and thus less qualified to speak) than others.

Thus I am hesitant to accept the claim that the lack of explicit exclusion from academic discourse ipso facto entails freedom of speech and equal inclusion. While you are correct that Harvard does not owe you an invitation, and that your lack of invitation is not an act of silencing you, I think this analogy somewhat misses the point. Silverside’s point, as I understand it, was that in the context of a university, academic speech is never simply ‘free’ because it is always regulated by faculty and administration. It honestly seems kind of juvenile to mention, but in a lecture the authority of the microphone is given to a single speaker on the expectation that everyone respect this symbol of authority and be silent. Is the idea that anti-racist/anti-sexist activists should concede to the very authority whose authority they are challenging? That freedom of speech can only occur on the terms set by a college administration, and according to certain standards of articulate discourse?

It it seems to me once we’ve started to limit our definition of speech in this way by accepting and sanctioning certain forms and excluding and condemning others, then we are no longer talking about free speech. If the tradition of freedom of speech does not include the freedom of interrupting speech, then it has lost its foundations. I would be wary of appropriating the doctrine of free speech in the purpose of maintaining the sanctity of a particular, institutionally sanctioned discourse. Rather, if the purpose of free speech is to resist the domination of certain narratives, then it requires the possibility of interruption. To say that the event of a speaker being shouted down is not a form of speech, that this event did not somehow involve itself in discourse, seems absurd. To be specific: Murray was denied the ability to say what he wanted to say, when and where he wanted to say it, and in the way in wanted to say it. He was not denied the ability to express himself, nor even was he eventually denied a platform.

The authoritative institution (in this case Middlebury College) set the terms for speech: how and when it would happen, and what behaviors were expected of all parties. Students rejected this frame of allowable speech because they felt that it was harmful to their own freedoms, and so they expressed themselves by interrupting it. Here the discussion seems to turn on how we consider free speech. Is free speech a standard set by the institution in order protect discourse? Or does it name the prerogative of individuals to express themselves outside of the limits of a dominant institutional prescribed discourse?Report

Will Behun
Will Behun
Reply to  Silverside
4 years ago

One concern I have with this, I think, well intentioned, argument is that it fails to distinguish between space over which I have claim and space over which someone else has a claim but I do not.

A student group has a right to invite or disinvite whom it pleases to speak in its own space. They do not have the right to enforce their choices on other groups. When I choose not to invite a speaker, or perhaps more analogously disinvite a speaker from my own space, that is my right. When I shout down a speaker that another has invited in their space, I do something qualitatively different.

If I choose not to have carpet in my living room that’s one thing. If you come into my living room and tear up my carpet, that’s another.

All this said, I appreciate the earnest attempt to provide a counterpoint to the prevailing position.Report

Silverside
Silverside
Reply to  Will Behun
4 years ago

Hi Will,

So I think this is natural—and most plausible—move to make in response to my argument. However, I think it suffers from two problems. First, it seems to strip away much of the normative force of critiques of the students. For, given your framing, the issue is now no longer a matter of free speech infringement, but, rather, of property rights/control rights. Thus, you can no longer condemn the students for silencing others/violating the right of free expression/interfering with the exchange and development of ideas/etc. Instead, the critique must strictly be that they exercised control over a part of the Earth that they are not entitled to control. For those libertarians among us, this might seem like an extremely harmful wrong, but for those who are perhaps less committed to the sacrosanctity of property rights, the students’ violation of said rights may not seem as wrongful once it is revealed that there is no free speech aspect to the harm being committed.

The second problem is that the critique of the students now rests upon the premise that the current distribution of property/control rights is legitimate. However, this premise is explicitly rejected by most leftists who also tend to be the most fond of no-platforming techniques. Thus, while your objection might convince the more liberal students at Middlebury, there is likely a modestly-sized radical faction that rejects the current allocation of spaces into “mine” and “yours” as illegitimate. Thus, they would reject your assumption that the university has the control rights it claims, taking such control rights to instead be a contested terrain. Again, this is just a sketch of what a full argument would look like, but the thought might be that, if you reject entitlements-style property rights, you must identify some other principles for determining who gets to use and control spaces. These principles might include both principles of distributive justice, but also perhaps anti-racist principles that would militate against space usage that contributes to or legitimates the dehumanization of people of color. In other words, one cannot simply claim that the students had no right to control the space; instead, one must provide an account of who gets to control the space and one promising possibility is that the space ought to be controlled by whoever uses it to best prevent dehumanization.Report

Cousin
Cousin
Reply to  Silverside
4 years ago

Thanks, SIlverside. This is a well-thought-out defense of a view that I personally find abhorrent. As such, I appreciate it very much.

“Given that there are only so many slots in a colloquium or so much funding to bring speakers to campus, those with the power to determine who gets a speaking platform on campus make choices about who speaks and who doesn’t. And, as a result, the speech of certain figures is silenced.”

This is true. (Of course student organizations are among those who have the power to determine who gets a platform as well as faculty and administrators, so the suggestion that this system disempowers students is inaccurate.)

But note that the justification for this routine practice of silencing (there are only so many slots and so much funding available) does not apply once a speaker has actually been invited and arrived on campus, and an audience has already assembled to hear the speaker. At that point, the time slot and the funding are already sunk costs, and so shouting down the speaker cannot be justified on the grounds that doing so would save time or money that would be better spent on a different speaker.

You suggest that the following principle should apply:
“exposing students to good and important ideas is a good use of university space while exposing them to bad ideas is not”

This, I think, is where I disagree with you most strongly. IMO, the mission of the university is in part to expose students to good and important ideas. It is not to prevent them from being exposed to bad ideas. Indeed, the mission of the university is in part to expose students to bad and harmful ideas, so that students can reason for themselves about whether and to what extent those ideas are justified.

In my mind, the Form of the Ideal University would be a place where all the reasons for and against every possible view are presented to the students (who, being the Form of the Ideal Student Body, would have all the time and resources they need to weigh all those reasons). Every actual university departs from this ideal to a large extent–but as you point out in the first passage I quoted, *this is simply a result of limited time and limited resources.*

It is always beneficial to the university’s mission to present reasons for or against a given view, even if that view is bad, and even if the reasons are unpersuasive. We exclude (and de facto silence) speakers *not* because airing their views would harm the mission of the university, but *only* because allotting the same time and money to airing other speakers’ views would aid the mission of the university *even more.* The exclusion of views is only justified as a means to the inclusion of other more interesting views.

Since shouting down a speaker can only result in the exclusion of views, and not in the inclusion of other more interesting views, shouting down a speaker can never serve the goals of the university in the same way that declining to invite a speaker can do.Report

Silverside
Silverside
Reply to  Cousin
4 years ago

Hi Cousin,

So, to sum up your objection: silencing a speaker is permissible if and only if the silencing prevents the speaker from crowding out some other more valuable speaker; shouting down doesn’t prevent crowd out; thus shouting down is not a permissible form of silencing.

I have a two replies. First, there seem to be cases where universities might (a.) silence someone (b.) where doing so does not prevent crowd out and (c.) that silencing seems permissible. So, suppose that a fire-and-brimstone preacher manages to access a dining hall on campus and, using a megaphone, launches into an hour long sermon about how various segments of the student body will rot in hell for eternity for their impure behavior. Would the university forcibly removing—and thus silencing—this person be permissible? I think so, despite the fact that doing so would merely stop the expression of an idea rather than allow for the expression of an alternative one.

Alternatively, consider the case of a person who starts promoting their political ideas over a megaphone at 3 am outside a dormitory. Here, again, the university might permissibly remove the person—seemingly because the expression of their idea conflicts with another interest the students have, namely getting a good night’s sleep. But if the number of ideas expressed can be be permissibly reduced for the sake of this fairly trivial interest, why not also for more serious interests like protecting people of color from dehumanization?

Second, built into your objection is the assumption that there must be some standard by which, given scarce time and resources, we decide which ideas are to be expressed. Since there are only so many slots in the colloquium, there must be some reasons to appeal to so as to decide who gets the slots. One way of deciding this might be via appeal to fairness: you set up a lottery of all ideas and then choose randomly which ones will be expressed, thereby giving each speaker a fair and equal chance of having their ideas heard. But, of course, that is not how universities do things. Rather, they decide whose views should be expressed by appealing to the substantive content of those views. This, however, makes the process inherently political: there are some ideas that are considered worthwhile—and are considered worthwhile because, presumably they further certain important political ends (e.g., having students be informed about topics that will allow them to be good citizens or something along those lines). But, if we allow that there are political ends to which we appeal when deciding what ideas to silence, it seems very possible that some of these ends might also justify silencing even when doing so is not necessary for the production of some other idea.

In other words, suppose we decide who gets to speak in a zero-sum speech situation by appealing to which idea, if heard, would best promote human emancipation or good citizenship. But also suppose that human emancipation or good citizenship would best be promoted by silencing an idea that runs contrary to both/either. Why, then, would we not be justified in silencing such an idea, given that it runs contrary to the ends that we recognize legitimately constrain what ideas are heard and which ones are not?Report

Cousin
Cousin
Reply to  Silverside
4 years ago

Regarding your two examples in your first reply, note that the first example *does* involve the infringement of property rights that any reasonable person would consider to be legitimate (an outside person breaking into the university). If it were a student using the megaphone to protest, on the other hand, I think there would be many situations in which the university would be unjustified in stopping the speech.

In the second case, direct harm is being done (interrupting someone’s sleep is harmful).

Even my Form of the Ideal University would have some non-content-based limits on how ideas are expressed. The Ideal University would not consist of every idea being expressed *at all times in every possible way* (e.g., it would not allow the expression of ideas at a decibel level that’s harmful to human eardrums).

You write:

“This, however, makes the process inherently political: there are some ideas that are considered worthwhile—and are considered worthwhile because, presumably they further certain important political ends (e.g., having students be informed about topics that will allow them to be good citizens or something along those lines).”

I think the overriding goal of the university is to provide students with access to information. Insofar as providing access to information can serve secondary goals, such as training good citizens or good workers, the university should do so. But these secondary goals should never be pursued by *denying* students access to information.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Silverside
4 years ago

My problem with this way of setting things up is that it assumes a university is a monolithic body that, collectively, makes decisions as to who does and doesn’t speak. That’s not how any university I know works. Instead, a university facilitates its academic members (students and faculty) in their individual and collective free-speech actions. That can include
– a big event organized by the President;
– a department’s colloquium
– an informal workshop or seminar series organized collectively by a group of faculty with similar research interests
– a seminar series run by one particular faculty member and open to all comers
– a lecture organized by the student body collectively
– a speaker meeting organized by some particular group of students

The university’s free-speech duty, at minimum, is then just to make sure that nobody interferes with any organizing group’s right to discuss whatever it likes. No-one is being silenced, except in the sense that if *no-one* on campus is interested enough in what X has to say to organize an X event, then it won’t happen. But if the university admin aren’t interested in inviting X to talk, and neither is the philosophy department, a group of students or faculty can perfectly well book a room and issue the invitation.Report

Stephen Lutz
Stephen Lutz
Reply to  Silverside
4 years ago

But the people assaulting (battery, actually) were not students at Middlebury but rather an organized mob of violent communists (see Black Bloc and Antifa manifestos for details)Report

jake stone
jake stone
Reply to  Silverside
4 years ago

False premise. If students invite someone to speak, the administration at most universities would be unable to stop it.
If I am correct and your premise is false, then your argument failsReport

JC
JC
Reply to  Silverside
4 years ago

Thank you Silverside for your defence of an important view. I am surprised and a little dismayed that the prevailing attitude in the profession seems to be such an unwavering defence of free speech in the tiresome “…but I will defend to the death your right to say it” vein. I am certainly sorry you fear, as you say, “blowback”.

A couple of points I wish to add. Several comments make the point that protesters lay claim to a sort of special moral authority. Consider the following comment on this page:

“That is certainly the argument used. Also, it’s the argument for violence: if the structural violence is bad enough, than that justifies violence to destroy the system that creates it. The problem with that, from my perspective, is first, that everyone has their own notion of “just cause,” …”

This strikes me as a slippery slope, that takes as an assumption a sort of relativism. Student’s attempting to silence a view will obviously disagree with those who they seek to silence, but this does not mean that they don’t (or are incapable) of defending their views with plausible arguments, without appealing simply to their own feelings or supposed authority. Perhaps there is a fear that there is a particular risk of people simply assuming their view is the correct view in the case of silencing or “no-platforming” precisely because they are shutting down debate rather than engaging with it. This brings me on to my second point.

No-platforming and silencing is rarely used in cases where the debate hasn’t already been allowed to proceed. Take the repugnant eugenics espoused by the speaker in question. Those inclined to silence such a speaker will be simply aghast that the toxic view that there are relevant moral or intellectual differences between races is still being debated. This view was once prevalent, has been shown as harmful and wrong over the course of decades of discussion and research, and bringing it back to light now only serves to cause division and tension. This is precisely the sort of view that I believe does not deserve a public forum.

As a vegan, I have the strong belief that we should not use animals as products. I can provide arguments for this (though I will not here for the sake of brevity), and do not simply appeal to my own special authority or intuitions. Moreover I consider all of us to have a decisive reason not to use animals as products (one that should override all other considerations). However, I would not advocate silencing a defence of meat-eating, as in the above case. This is because engaging in a debate on the matter at this point would in fact be productive – people will be exposed to new ideas and points of view, people need not be hurt or offended personally by the view, and the matter is not in any way “settled” (in a demographic sense), and so on.

Lastly, to all of those who see themselves as paragons of liberal virtues for their unwavering defence of free speech, please consider that the “If you don’t like me, debate me” (see Milo Yiannopoulo on Bill Maher) often comes across as quite aggressive. Forcing someone to engage with your ideas and have a conversation with you when they have heard it all before, find it offensive and tiresome, and would rather you just f**cked off, is not actually very liberal at all.Report

Oliver Traldi
Oliver Traldi
Reply to  JC
4 years ago

“No-platforming and silencing is rarely used in cases where the debate hasn’t already been allowed to proceed. Take the repugnant eugenics espoused by the speaker in question. Those inclined to silence such a speaker will be simply aghast that the toxic view that there are relevant moral or intellectual differences between races is still being debated. This view was once prevalent, has been shown as harmful and wrong over the course of decades of discussion and research, and bringing it back to light now only serves to cause division and tension. This is precisely the sort of view that I believe does not deserve a public forum.”

1. The view you’re talking about is not “eugenics”.
2. The view you’re talking about was not being given a public forum; Murray was invited to speak about a different book.
3. Things can’t be “relevant” full stop. They are relevant to something else or within some context. Your post leaves open the possibility that you believe that there are “irrelevant” moral or intellectual differences between races. Do you believe that?
4. I am interested in your account of how, precisely, the view you’re talking about was “shown as . . . wrong over the course of decades”. There was a brief discussion above, for example, about a paper by Ned Block.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  JC
4 years ago

Just on the last point: “debate me” and “shut me up coercively” are not exclusive options. “Ignore me” and “persuade others not to listen to me” are also available, and don’t violate anyone’s free speech rights.Report

TrollLord
TrollLord
Reply to  JC
4 years ago

““If you don’t like me, debate me” (see Milo Yiannopoulo on Bill Maher) often comes across as quite aggressive.”

So you’re saying you’re intimidated by the notion of having to engage critically with something that isn’t to your taste.
Well then philosophy, and the world in general, is probably not going to work out very well for you.Report

Brandon
Brandon
4 years ago

I don’t know what I think about this argument, but I have been mulling this topic for a while.

Suppose that one, or one’s community, thinks that that a particular speaker should not have been invited to speak, not merely because one disagrees with their views, but because their views are morally abhorrent. I’m thinking for example of the recent incident involving Milo Yiannopoulos. On this view, it could be argued that because it was wrong to invite this person to speak in the first place, then people are justified in non-violently preventing them from speaking.

Now, an obvious rejoinder is that just because a group of people thinks that a person’s views are bad doesn’t make them bad; the ideal of the marketplace of ideas dictates that we should listen to (almost) everybody, since we never know when we might encounter a new idea or argument we hadn’t considered for or against a view. So shouting someone like Yiannopoulos down is not permissible, not necessarily because he has a “right” to speak, but because we would be doing all of us a disservice by not hearing him, since if he says something right we hadn’t heard before, it is good for us to hear it, and if everything he says is wrong, then we get the opportunity to publicly show him to be wrong and strengthen our arguments against views like his.

But, I wonder how far this can go. At what point do we take a person’s views to be so morally questionable that we don’t think we need to even listen to them, to treat them as possible candidates for truth? Suppose, as unlikely as it might be, that a person is invited to speak on campus who advocates for the inferiority, on the basis of skin colour, of an entire group of people. Or perhaps a person who argues that women are inherently less intelligent than men, and should be subservient. (Maybe these aren’t so unlikely, sadly…) Suppose this person comes to campus to speak. Someone who agrees with my argument above would say that this person should never have been invited in the first place, since their views are abhorrent and not even in the running to be candidates for truth which we ought to evaluate fairly. So we are justified in non-violently preventing them from speaking.

The trouble is where we draw the line between borderline but acceptable and unacceptable. In times when society’s norms are in flux, this can be hard to tell. For example, today most people would rebuke and censure someone using a racial slur, but in the early to mid-20th century they probably wouldn’t have faced any criticism. But these days, as we are in the middle of a change in the things that we will tolerate people saying and not saying, it is more difficult to discern in some cases; perhaps in the future the vast majority of people will feel the same way about the things Murray says as we do now about racial slurs or outright misogyny. No one in their right mind would think that shouting down someone uttering racial slurs is something we shouldn’t do. The problem is determining when certain public assertions are so beyond the pale that we don’t see any value in letting them speak. (Note that this question is one of civic institutions allowing people to speak, not of whether the government should sanction certain speech, which is another question that has different considerations.)Report

Jonathan
Jonathan
Reply to  Brandon
4 years ago

On this, what about the proposal put forward by Richard Muller on Quora? Linked here: https://www.quora.com/What-is-your-opinion-on-the-UC-Berkeley-protest-against-Milo-Yiannopoulos-Feb-2017/answer/Richard-Muller-3?srid=XA4C&share=68a7a0c1.

In that specific case, according to Muller, it was a neo-Nazi who actually propagated reprehensible ideas—arguably—than those put forward by Milo Y. Yet there argumentation made a better show of repudiating the issue.

It otherwise seems to me that there is a lot of license—too much, in my estimation—to label ‘reprehensible’ without giving critical feedback, as in Muller’s response. I wonder why we can’t go back to this view of things?

Parenthetically, FWIW, I simply don’t see a good argument for non-rational shutting down of arguments, let alone violence. But I’m sympathetic toward the post-author, Justin W’s willingness to consider the question.Report

David Estlund
David Estlund
4 years ago

Here’s what I see as one small piece of this: Suppose we grant, at least for the sake of argument, that shouting-down is wrong in the Murray case, and even in many or most cases we hear of. Still, the view that it would never be permissible *no matter what* is probably too much to believe. (We can concoct circumstances inside and outside the university dire enough to make that very implausible.) If so, then there is room for reflection on what it would take, in principle, for shouting-down to be permissible. Unless one has some good account of that, one is not in a strong position to tell shouters that the relevant criteria have not been met in their case. And then, we don’t know until we see the good account whether, in fact, more shouting-down is permissible than we originally thought, but I’m not sure whether that would be the result or not.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  David Estlund
4 years ago

“Still, the view that it would never be permissible *no matter what* is probably too much to believe. (We can concoct circumstances inside and outside the university dire enough to make that very implausible.) If so, then there is room for reflection on what it would take, in principle, for shouting-down to be permissible. Unless one has some good account of that, one is not in a strong position to tell shouters that the relevant criteria have not been met in their case.”

But you could say this about pretty much any flagrant violation of the norms of academic behavior. The view that plagiarism, or taking bribes from your students, or falsifying data, would never be permissible *no matter what* is probably too much to believe. But the burden of proof is still overwhelmingly on the norm-violator, not the norm-defender, in those cases.Report

David Estlund
David Estlund
Reply to  David Wallace
4 years ago

That’s a fair point. Still, here’s a big difference: Many, including disruptors and their defenders, hold that disruption of speakers is sometimes permissible (or even a duty) in pursuit of broad normative principles having to do with social justice. A sophisticated exchange about that would seem to call for some account of when, if ever, such disruption would be permitted in (to put it roughly) the name of social justice. By contrast, there is no significant phenomenon of people engaging in–and defending as conscientious–plagiarism, bribery, etc.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  David Estlund
4 years ago

Sure, but free-speech advocates like me are going to answer “basically, never”. That is, we’ll give the (well-known and unoriginal) arguments for the importance of a rule protecting free speech in general and free speech on universities in particular, and then (unless our metaethics is ridiculously deontological) we’ll acknowledge that of course one can always invent *some* superextreme scenario where the rule has to be set aside. Can I give general criteria for what those superextreme situations are? No, no more than I could for the rule against data falsification or against murder; that seems to be constitutive of what it is to be a rule and not just a factor in a cost-benefit analysis.

Of course, it’s fair for someone to ask me: what about *this* situation; don’t the cost-benefit calculations *here* justify norm violation? In the concrete cases we’re discussing I think the case would be extremely weak, but in any case the actual comments made in favour of shouting down don’t seem to have that form; for the most part they’re not “It is an admittedly great evil to suppress speech in this situation; here is why circumstances are so dire as to warrant it” but rather “suppressing speech is just fine in this circumstance”.Report

david estlund
david estlund
Reply to  David Wallace
4 years ago

“Basically, never.” Maybe, but much hangs on that “basically.” How about this (which I don’t mean to be an accurate portrayal of any actual conditions presently): Suppose that a nation is in a precarious condition where events could tip toward authoritarian regime-change (let this be publicly known); the administration of the university in question controls the granting of platforms to speakers, and systematically and in a publicly obvious way blocks all anti-authoritarian dissent; smart efforts to change that feature of the institution have repeatedly failed and show no sign of ever succeeding within boundaries of free-speech decorum. It might be that this “basically” never happens. But that just means its rare, or unlikely, or abnormal—grant that. If one grants, in turn, that in such conditions (albeit rare), tactics like shouting-down might indeed be permissible, one’s condemnation of such protesters in more usual conditions is less dogmatic. And if reflection on such cases could be developed into a theory, one might also find one’s mind changed, or at least sharpened, in certain ways about what is permissible and what isn’t in this domain, and why. Absolutism (or “basically absolutism”) seems to me weak on those matters. (Thanks for the exchange. I’ll probably stop here.)Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  david estlund
4 years ago

I could construct a similarly extreme set of conditions in which murder was plausibly okay. That tells us something interesting about our meta-ethics (it speaks against an absolutist deontology), but I’m not convinced it’s necessary or useful in making judgements about the permissibility of murder in actual-world contexts.

(& understood; thanks for the conversation.)Report

Tim
Tim
4 years ago

1. Some ideas are equivalent to hate speech.
2. Hate speech causes harm to those targeted by it.
3. Therefore, (a) hate speech should not be an accepted topic of open debate, and (b) those who engage in hate speech publicly should not do so in comfort.
4. Since we cannot debate hate speech, our other options are either to be silent and ignore it, or loudly oppose it.
5. Being silent in the face of hate speech gives comfort to the one engaging in it rather than discomfort.
6. Therefore, one should not be silent in the face of hate speech.
7. Therefore, the only remaining option is to loudly oppose hate speech.
8. This loud opposition should take place face-to-face, otherwise it causes little to no discomfort to the person engaging in hate speech.Report

ikj
ikj
Reply to  Tim
4 years ago

1. Which ideas? Who makes the decision?
2. Begs the question of whether this is meant abstractly or concretely. Does hate speech cause harm if those who are targeted by it are not in the audience? If so, how? Mustn’t we come up with an impact theory of some kind that complicates this account dramatically?
3. (a) does not follow from 1 or 2.
4. Should not or cannot? This is an important difference.
5. This does not seem obvious. C.f. passive resistance/civil disobedience.
6. See 5
7. Does not follow from 5 or 6.
8. Mightn’t the hate speaker perceive this activity as itself hate speech?Report

JC
JC
Reply to  ikj
4 years ago

1. Does this mean the project cannot, or should not be attempted? Even if there are difficult “grey areas”, might we not use a paradigmatic case of hate speech as a workable example of 1?
2. Does this matter? If we need here just something like a prima-facie consideration to weigh against allowing certain speech, does the exact nature of the harm need to be stated? Also, does the potential for complicating the account weaken it, if it is supposed to be an account of a complicated issue?
3. a) does follow from 1 and 2 if we charitably include some suppressed premises. I don’t believe these premises need be any more controversial than the rest of the account.
4) I agree, and I expect it varies across cases. This should be fleshed out in any case where hate speech is being opposed.
5-6) I wonder if this could be better framed. I think the basic point about not allowing the perpetrators of hate speech to go unchallenged can be made however. It will share similar justifications to sanctions for misdeeds generally. I am completely unsure how “passive resistance” (if this is not simply an oxymoron) could be applied in the case of hate speech
7) see 3
8) Hate speakers may also believe in “reverse racism”, “meninism”, etc. Should this matter to us?Report

ikj
ikj
Reply to  JC
4 years ago

1) It doesn’t, but the initial formulation is glib. While it is certainly conceivable that such speech could be identified, in practice it seems to entail all sorts of thorny moral problems.
2) As I imply above, I think it does. That is, the initial argument for prima-facie reasoning on this issue is making a claim for harm that has to be worked out. It is unlikely that Murray’s talk would harm anyone directly. So what kind of harm are we talking about, and who is to exempted from it.
3) I don’t think (a) follows, even charitably, at least not until we establish a lot of 1 and 2. I can say something that is both true and harmful, can’t I?
4) Cheers
5-6) I’m not sure if you mean that the original or my response could be better framed. In either case, the issue at hand revolves around shouting down a speaker. I do not, for myself, have any problem seeing how a collective could engage in an act of passive resistance in the face of hate speech. Assuming that we need a collective to shout someone down, isn’t just as possible to engage in–let’s say–a protest of silent vigil or turning of backs? The way it’s phrased in the original post allows for no alternatives.
7) See 5-6
8) See 1.Report

Will Behun
Will Behun
4 years ago

I think this argument is good as far as it goes, but we would have to struggle with the difficult and shifting task of figuring out precisely what constitutes speech so hateful that it justifies being shouted down. That is a difficult, though perhaps not impossible, task. It is beyond me, however.Report

Captain Hammer
Captain Hammer
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

I also made note of two more points:

1. Murray doesn’t actually say the stuff that he’s accused of saying in the Bell Curve. You can see for yourself.
2. Murray was at Middlebury to say stuff amenable to leftists. He was going to argue that white Americans were being bifurcated into two classes, with the lower class lacking opportunity and access to social and human capital.

Note that my email address is real.Report

Silverside
Silverside
Reply to  Captain Hammer
4 years ago

“1. Murray doesn’t actually say the stuff that he’s accused of saying in the Bell Curve. You can see for yourself.”

You don’t take Murray to be arguing that racial IQ gaps are the product of genetic differences between racial groups?Report

DIH2
DIH2
Reply to  Silverside
4 years ago

Here is how Murray and Hernstein conclude the (short) section in TBC that is the cause of all this controversy:

“If the reader is now convinced that either the genetic or environmental explanation has won out to the exclusion of the other, we have not done a sufficiently good job of presenting one side or the other. It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences. What might the mix be? We are resolutely agnostic on that issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not yet justify an estimate.”

Perhaps their empirical assessment of the evidence is incorrect. Perhaps subsequent research has brought new evidence to bear on the matter. Still, I find it difficult to read these words as racist white supremacy

In fact, part of what Murray and Hernstein write evinces a sensitivity to issues of luck egalitarianism many here take very seriously. The book simply *does not* make judgments about moral inferiority or superiority:

“In sum: If tomorrow you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that all the cognitive differences between races were 100 percent genetic in origin, nothing of any significance should change. The knowledge would give you no reason to treat individuals differently than if ethnic differences were 100 percent environmental. By the same token, knowing that the differences are 100 percent environmental in origin would not suggest a single program or policy that is not already being tried. It would justify no optimism about the time it will take to narrow the existing gaps. It would not even justify confidence that genetically based differences will not be upon us within a few generations. The impulse to think that environmental sources of difference are less threatening than genetic ones is natural but illusory.

In any case, you are not going to learn tomorrow that all the cognitive differences between races are 100 percent genetic in origin, because the scientific state of knowledge, unfinished as it is, already gives ample evidence that environment is part of the story. But the evidence eventually may become unequivocal that genes are also part of the story. We are worried that the elite wisdom on this issue, for years almost hysterically in denial about that possibility, will snap too far in the other direction. It is possible to face all the facts on ethnic and race differences on intelligence and not run screaming from the room. That is the essential message”Report

Silverside
Silverside
Reply to  DIH2
4 years ago

I’d note a few things. First, regarding an answer to the question I posed, you could simply have said “yes.”
The fact that you drew that affirmative answer out over six paragraphs suggests a tacit recognition of the moral ugliness of Murray’s argument when one states the thesis outright: that racial IQ gaps are explained (at least in part) by genetics.

Second, Murray and Herrnstein’s assessment of the evidence is, in fact, incorrect. There have been too many takedowns of the book to list here, but I’m partial to Ned Block’s. Specifically, he is very clear on the point as to why the “combination of genes and environment” thesis you quote is unsupported by the evidence.

Third, while the passage you quote is a nice bit of plausible deniability typical of soft scientific racism, there is a clear knowing wink sent to the reader about just what portion of the gap can be explained by genetics—and if you miss that wink, you can just head to the references section where numerous white supremacists are cited to get the message about where Herrnstein and Murray stand on this question. (Notably, when you pick out “the cause of all this controversy,” you fail to mention these citations.

Finally, I’ll note that it is standard practice for scientific racists to insist that IQ gaps are morally neutral—and yet they still devote significant portions of their careers attempting to prove their thesis that their are genetically less capable races. Perhaps they think that there is some other social value to this field of inquiry, but given the significant genetic and IQ variation *within* populations, it is unclear what, exactly this would be. So I think we should be suspicious of people who claim they attach no moral significance to the theories they so doggedly seek to prove.Report

Oliver Traldi
Oliver Traldi
Reply to  Silverside
4 years ago

I thought the entire point of the academy, in fact of intellectualism, was that finding the truth was intrinsically morally valuable. If you feel the need to diagnose people for “doggedly” doing academic work then it is no surprise that you are anti-free speech. Of course, if we find their intellectual work is notably shoddy, we could then come up with a diagnosis as to why they still push it. But the shoddiness is, diagnosis or none, the important factor there.

As for Ned Block’s critique, you might like this article: http://www.ln.edu.hk/philoso/staff/sesardic/POS-2000.pdfReport

Silverside
Silverside
Reply to  Silverside
4 years ago

Responding to Oliver (since I can’t reply to his comment directly):

It is unclear what the relationship is between my view that suppression of speech can be justified and my rejection of the view that “finding the truth [is] intrinsically morally valuable” (let’s call that the “Naive View.). I suppose it is certainly possible that the two are conceptually linked, but I think you’d have to say quite a bit more to explain why one leads to the other.

But, supposing you are right and rejecting the Naive View might lead one to accept my rejection of absolute free speech; in that case, so much the worse for free speech. For, as Haslanger (2000) notes, the Naive View is untenable:

“But of course an unconstrained search for truth would yield chaos, not theory; truths are too easy to come by, there are too many of them. Given time and inclination, I could tell you many truths– some trivial, some interesting, many boring–about my physical surroundings. But a random collection of facts does not make a theory; they are a disorganized jumble. In the context of theorizing, some truths are more significant than others because they are relevant to answering the question that guides the inquiry.”

Indeed, I suspect that this is part of the reason there is such a divergence between Murray’s critics and his apologists. The critics recognize that the pursuit of truth is inherently political because political criteria determine which truths are pursued. Thus, they see the Bell Curve and even its less sloppy imitators for what they are: part of a political project to establish the inferiority of people of color. By contrast, those who subscribe to the Naive View see the critics as sullying the pure pursuit of truth with their political biases. However, once this view is seen to be mistaken, then perhaps you are right and some of the complaints about no-platforming will dissolve.Report

Oliver Traldi
Oliver Traldi
Reply to  Silverside
4 years ago

For someone who names other people’s stances “the naive view” there is a lot of bare assertion in this post and literally no argumentation. You may be in an environment where it flies, but I have no admiration for people who cite received wisdom like scripture. I’ve studied my share of postmodern nonsense. I’ve heard it all before. Enjoy your sophistication; I’ll be here if you’re in the mood to try to prove something to me.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Silverside
4 years ago

“Finally, I’ll note that it is standard practice for scientific racists to insist that IQ gaps are morally neutral—and yet they still devote significant portions of their careers attempting to prove their thesis that their are genetically less capable races. ”

Without comment on the broader point, this is unpersuasive. The interpretation of quantum mechanics is morally neutral, but I’ve devoted significant portions of my career to it.Report

Helio
Helio
Reply to  Silverside
4 years ago

Reading this discussion made me think about how some anti-racists might have more background moral agreement with some racists than they would like to admit. When arguing against discriminating against certain races, some anti-racists seem to endorse a premise that claims something like “if a group is (naturally) less intellectually capable than other groups, then they have lower moral status and may even be discriminated against on this basis”, which is something a lot of racists would happily agree with. The dispute then would be purely empirical: anti-racists will deny there are races that are naturally less intellectually capable, while racists will insist that there are certain races that are less capable. I think this framing of the debate about the morality of racism is completely misguided. We should not think the equal moral status of people is dependent upon a factual equality of intellectual capacities, because then we would be forced to accept some kind of racism is true if it turns out that some races are in fact naturally less intellectually capable than others, and also — and most importantly — because intellectual capacity just seems *irrelevant* for attributing full moral status to people (note that “intellectual capacity” is different from “consciousness”; when talking about moral status, ethicists usually rely on the concept of consciousness, with some philosophers arguing that varying degrees of consciousness mean that there are varying degrees of moral status).

On an unrelated note, that Sesardic’s paper that Oliver recommended is very good! I’ve read it a while ago and really liked it.Report

Silverside
Silverside
Reply to  Silverside
4 years ago

Oliver: The “naive view” labeling was me being snarky and I retract it. But to say there is no argument in Haslanger’s passage seems incredible to me. She makes the point that if truth were really intrinsically morally valuable, then we should spend our time listing off all the trivial truths that come immediately to mind. I could write a long list of truths describing the room I am sitting in, the number of words in each sentence in this comment thread, etc. On your view, this would be a morally valuable activity. But it seems obvious that it is isn’t. Thus, your view is false. So there is no appeal to authority here, just to what seems like a fairly decisive argument that any value that the uncovering of a truth has is derived from other normative considerations. Finally, I’d just note that Haslanger is in no way a postmodernist so you can’t brush off her argument by trying to tack that label onto her.

David: The point is that any subject is studied because the truths are considered to be important. We study quantum mechanics because we think it will reveal something useful to our purposes or some important truth about the world. This is also what scientific racists believe, which is why their inquiry itself is morally suspect.

Hello: I don’t think most anti-racists accept the premise that intellectual inferiority implies some lesser moral status. But they do think it might be *taken* that way by large chunks of the population who will use those conclusions to justify (wrongly) oppression of non-whites. So they argue against them because of the practical benefits of revealing the errors rather than because they think some moral conclusion rests upon that premise.Report

Helio
Helio
Reply to  Silverside
4 years ago

Yeah, I was expecting an answer along those lines. But then the problem is this faulty reasoning as well as the intentions and motivations behind it, not the empirical assertion itself. So there’s nothing inherently morally ugly in the claim that racial IQ gaps are partly explained by genetics per se, even if it’s factually false. Anti-racists should be very clear that their moral stance still stands even if different ethnic groups have different intellectual capacities. And while I have no problem accepting your answer (that most anti-racists are actually worried about the misuse of a scientific claim), it unfortunately still seems to me that the way a lot of anti-racists engage in this debate makes room for interpreting they actually accept a moral premise along the lines of the one I have sketched in my previous comment. So I think one should be clearer to avoid needless confusion.

Now I’ll just make some brief comments about a broader topic here. First, people in general, and researchers in particular, can attribute intrinsic value to truth even when the truth of a claim isn’t obviously or immediately useful in everyday life. I’m way far from being an expert in physics, but I think this is true for at least some highly theoretical discussions currently taking place among theoretical physicists. If this is right in the case of theoretical physics, why couldn’t it the same thing happen in other research areas of other disciplines? More specifically, why couldn’t people without salient political interests simply be curious to find out whether intelligence is heritable and whether differences in average intelligence between groups are partly due to genetics? I think there’s no good reason to think that most people who take interest in questions like that have underlying racist motivations. And while we’re at it, I’d also like to say that we should only start being seriously suspicious of someone’s scientific work if the claims being defended involve a gross mistake that goes against what most experts in the field believe and take to be worh seriously considering (and not only that, but also have to have good independent evidence that a given researcher is probably influenced by its previous political preferences). That is because in science bona fide mistakes are natural, and so there being a mistake is hardly enough to increase our credence about certain underlying motivations working their way in some researcher’s mind.

The second thing I’d like to say is that research on IQ heritability can in fact be useful to noble goals. For instance, by better understanding the influences of genetics and environment on intelligence, we’ll be able to design better educational institutions that take into account the limitations of different students in order to better deal with these limitations and successfully overcome them as much as possible. Indeed, some of the first researchers on intelligence testing (such as, e.g., Godfrey Thomson) were concerned about improving the educational achievement of children by giving them appropriate education for their intellectual capacity. Of course, it might be the case that, even though the IQ research can have morally good uses, most researchers in the field who happen to subscribe to a hereditarian view would actually have morally dubious interests. But I think that this claim is pretty hard to establish, and also it seems initially fairly implausible to me.Report

Jared
Jared
Reply to  Silverside
4 years ago

One interesting question here has to do with hate speech. Let’s assume, with Waldron and others, that speech designed — or clearly targeted — to exclude certain ethnic or racial or sexual groups from equal status is a special category, as far as silencing is concerned. I know that’s a controversial assumption, but let’s go there for a second.

Question is: can such hate speech include empirical assertions, such as the claim that, say, Targarians (or whoever) are likelier to cheat, or are less trustworthy, or are prone to violence, or — to take a page from the Bell Curve — are innately stupider?

If so, does the speech become more acceptable if it’s substituted with bigger words, and supplemented with putative scientific evidence? Like if I replace, say, “Targarians are stupider” with “Targarians have a lower average IQ for partly biological reasons,” and then cite studies showing how IQ is a reliable proxy for intelligence and all the rest.

My quick reaction is no. Whatever you’d think about “Deport the Targarians” or “Don’t hire Targarians,” should be thought about “Targarians are dumber” and, for the same reason, “Studies show Targarians have a lower than average IQ that, in part, they’re born with.” All the same s**t.Report

Helio
Helio
Reply to  Silverside
4 years ago

I think there’s a clear and relevant difference between saying something like “don’t hire Targarians” and saying something like “there’s some evidence that indicates Targarians’ lower average IQ might be due to genetic factors”. The former is a straightforwardly normative claim, maybe with intentions somewhat clear and all, whereas the latter is a descriptive claim that is, by itself, much less prone to being interpreted as speech designed to lower some group’s moral standing. So it seems that even if we grant a Waldronian-like thesis, one can still argue that the manner in which someone says certain things matter. Also, I think that a good Waldronian-like approach for cases like that would resort to context-dependent considerations, especially in cases of purely descriptive claims.

There are other interesting questions we could consider under this controversial assumption you ask us to grant, but unfortunately I need to save time to do other stuff.

(Interestingly, I have written a paper on free speech and law some months ago, and I have dedicated one section to examine some of Waldron’s arguments for hate speech legislation in his *The Harm in Hate Speech*. My conclusion was that his arguments have a series of problems that make his attempt to justify hate speech legislation unsuccessful. So the trouble for me would actually begin with that very assumption.)Report

Norbert Bourbaki
Norbert Bourbaki
Reply to  Silverside
4 years ago

“You don’t take Murray to be arguing that racial IQ gaps are the product of genetic differences between racial groups?”

Murray’s sin was to write,”It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences.”

It would be astounding if there were not genetic racial differences that affect abilities and behaviors between racial groups whose ancestors evolved in different environments.

Perhaps 50 years ago it was plausible that racial differences in whatever it is that IQ tests measure were overwhelmingly due to pervasive environmental differences, with the genetic differences being relatively insignificant. That possibility is rather implausible now, in my opinion.

Within a few more years, we’ll probably know enough about the genetics of IQ to know for sure whether genetic differences are important with respect to the racial gaps. There are some early indications that genes are involved.

Race and IQ: Genes That Predict Racial Intelligence Differences
http://therightstuff.biz/2015/09/02/race-and-iq-genes-that-predict-racial-intelligence-differences/Report

Silverside
Silverside
Reply to  Norbert Bourbaki
4 years ago

Where to begin? First, races as we know them today include people whose ancestors evolved in many different environments. So, if the thought is that people with ancestors from different places will exhibit distinctive traits, then the racialist frame is entirely misguided. Black people’s ancestors lived in a wide variety of locations and environments, yet curiously, they are treated as a single kind with an expected phenotypic profile. Second, human populations didn’t evolve in isolation, there was significant gene flow between them, making it extremely unlikely that significant genetic differences would emerge between populations (beyond, say, distinctive microsatellites). Third, given the dramatic generational increase in IQ across all regions of the globe (the Flynn effect) it seems clear that environment plays a huge role in the development of IQ. So, while it is not surprising that a reader of white supremacist websites would think that it is “rather implausible” that differences in measured IQ might be explained by appeal to the environment, that would be to discount some of the most striking evidence we have about the relationship between IQ and the environment. The only thing you are right about is that in the future we might know more about the relationship between genes and IQ differences. However, given our current lack of knowledge, the ideologically motivated speculations of Murray and his defenders are premature, irresponsible, and, for this reason (as well as others) morally reprehensible.Report

Francis Galton
Francis Galton
Reply to  Silverside
4 years ago

“Third, given the dramatic generational increase in IQ across all regions of the globe (the Flynn effect) it seems clear that environment plays a huge role in the development of IQ”

If the Flynn effect works its magic irrespective of environment (“across all regions of the globe”), this hardly shows that different environmental factors are the relevant variable(s) contributing to different IQ scores at some fixed point of time.

At any rate, we don’t need to have some comprehensive catalog of the genes that contribute to mental processing power in order to make reasonable claims about the *heritability* of IQ. We have a century’s worth of twin studies, the gold standard of which are those which compare the correlation between the IQ scores of fraternal twins and the correlation between the IQ scores of identical twins. The former correlation hovers around 0.5 – roughly the correlation between non-twin siblings’ scores. The latter correlation hovers around 0.9. If that doesn’t demonstrate the contribution of heritable factors to IQ, I can’t imagine what would.Report

Helio
Helio
Reply to  Silverside
4 years ago

Galton was on point here. The average height of human population has also incrased intergenerationally, for example, but from this it doesn’t follow that there’s no genetic factors influencing and constraining height. Similarly, the Flynn effect doesn’t entail that there are no major genetic factors influencing and constraining IQ. It goes without saying that noting this doesn’t thereby mean that there are in fact major genetic factors playing a role in determining one’s general intelligence; instead, it only means that the Flynn effect is compatible with IQ being heritable. That being said, it should also be noted that the state of art of the scientific research on intelligence actually supports the claim that intelligence is heritable (see, e.g., Stuart Ritchie’s *Intelligence: All That Matters* for a summary of the research on intelligence).Report

Silverside
Silverside
Reply to  Silverside
4 years ago

“If the Flynn effect works its magic irrespective of environment (“across all regions of the globe”), this hardly shows that different environmental factors are the relevant variable(s) contributing to different IQ scores at some fixed point of time.”

But the environmental difference here is between temporal locations rather than spatial. So the Flynn effect shows that if you change people’s environments, that can radically change their IQ. Thus, there is no basis for denying that the social treatment of marginalized groups might have a powerful effect upon their IQ in just the way historical circumstances did.

You are also right that IQ is heritable, but it is unclear what the significance of that is. Having pierced ears and mobile phone usage are both highly heritable traits while number of fingers has very low heritability. So I think a lot more clarification is needed to explain what heritability is supposed to show here.Report

Billy Wu
Billy Wu
4 years ago

It’s funny that people on the Left discuss the issue of Hate Speech with the comfortable assumption that they will always be deciding what is hate speech.

After all, there is probably almost nothing that the typical Leftist believes or says that is not viewed as hateful by some people on the Right.

Defense of abortion, for example, can be viewed as advocacy to commit murder or tolerate murder–hate speech of a particularly violent sort.

So the Left must feel assured that it will always be deciding.

Maybe in Middlebury Vermont and in Berkeley that looks like a realistic assumption, but in many other parts of the country, it cannot be counted on. And it is rather ironic to be making such assumptions at the same time the Left is, or at least purports to be, fretting about the possibility of a fascist takeover of the government.

If there is a rightwing fascist takeover of the government, it is pretty safe to say that Leftists’ rights to free speech will be the first to get put on the chopping block.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
Reply to  Billy Wu
4 years ago

“If there is a rightwing fascist takeover of the government, it is pretty safe to say that Leftists’ rights to free speech will be the first to get put on the chopping block.”

Yes, this is correct, but this would happen even if Milo or Murray had been allowed to speak. Or are you under the impression that fascists take the lead in deciding who they will allow to speak from the practices of their enemies? Allow me to suggest that this is implausible, at best.Report

Oliver Traldi
Oliver Traldi
Reply to  John Protevi
4 years ago

Of course the ascendant right wing will use the tools the center-left developed and used while it was in power, John. Libertarians talk at length about how the willingness of liberals to accomplish their goals by executive fiat will come back to bite them during the Trump administration. Moreover, we see that conservative students are using concepts like “microaggressions” in describing their experiences on college campuses, and in Iowa there is even a proposal to increase ideological “diversity” through a form of “affirmative action” by political party in hiring professors. Your quip about “fascists tak[ing] the lead . . . from the practices of their enemies” seems both uncharitable and unaware. Robust fascism is not a necessary feature of American politics; nor is frequent silencing – of anybody; and the left’s hypocrisy and lack of principles will absolutely and obviously have consequences when leftists make a public case for those principles to be respected when it’s their turn to be mocked and silenced.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
Reply to  Oliver Traldi
4 years ago

1) “liberals” = / = left people using a no-platforming tactic (by definition, I think, no-platforming is illiberal, but not all leftists are “liberals.”)

2) The use of “executive fiat” by the POTUS = / = no-platforming tactics employed on or around campuses.

3) It’s not clear that “microaggressions” are a concern of no-platformers; they seem more interested in the macro-aggression of Milo / Murry in using campuses as recruiting rallies for their various projects.

4) Clickbait state legislature bills using the language of “diversity” could just as well use some sort of Millian “marketplace of ideas” language. Their passage — or most likely, rejection in committee — will depend on political power in the legislature combined with a calculation of the cost / benefit of passing a bill that will quickly be challenged on First Amendment lines, whereby a public institution cannot practice viewpoint discrimination in hiring.

5) whether or not “robust fascism” is ascendant or not is a good question, but I was replying to Mr Wu who implicitly linked their behavior, once ascendent, to the application of illiberal principles instantiated by no-platforming leftists. That’s not a good explanation of RW action, IMO.

NB: nothing I am saying here has any predictive power as to whether, should I ever be on the ground with a group considering no-platforming someone, I would say yea or nay about the tactic we should pursue. That would depend on the particulars of the case. (And I’m not going to say whether or not I have a high threshold, nor whether I would have gone along with the no-platforming decisions of the Berkeley and Middlebury groups.)

What it does say is that I think that whatever that group decides, worrying about what fascists will do based on the principle the action instantiates, should not be a deciding factor.Report

Oliver Traldi
Oliver Traldi
Reply to  John Protevi
4 years ago

And yet I’ve given examples where worrying about what principle an action instantiates is exactly what the deciding party ought to have done and you’ve dismissed them as irrelevant without offering an argument as to why, merely explaining how they’re not substantively part of the instant case. I am reminded of a deflated feeling I used to experience reading NewAPPS, back when I expected some acuity from philosophers. You even took the opportunity to “teach” me things I already knew, regarding which my post evinced no confusion, like the distinction between liberals and leftists.

The good explanation of the actions of almost any person or group who has ever held almost any sort of power is that they will use almost any of the tools at their disposal to accomplish their goals. The left has built tool after tool for the right to deploy far more effectively. A hilarious acknowledgment of this came in Critical Inquiry in 2004, when Bruno Latour whined about conservative deniers of climate change and evolution. Of course he was a professional denier of science. But it was okay when he did it, because – you know – insert incoherent argument here. Being principled is good for its own sake, but to convince people like you and Latour we can at least say that you won’t have to write as many whiny articles in the future if you don’t build or license ugly political or rhetorical weapons.

Your legal analysis for point 4 is laughable. A public institution cannot practice racial discrimination in hiring either, and yet we have affirmative action. You should read a few Supreme Court decisions to understand why. The rights you like are no more absolute than the rights you don’t like, and the rights of the people you like are no more absolute than the rights of the people you don’t like.

By the way, Alice Dreger on Twitter has offered an excellent example of precisely the sort of reversal of no-platform tactics I have in mind: Northwestern censored her to protect its corporate “brand”.Report

ikj
ikj
Reply to  Oliver Traldi
4 years ago

Oliver, you have drastically misread Latour’s article, which in fact is a self-critique in which he argues not that “it was okay when he did it,” but precisely the opposite–that the style of critique in which he had himself engaged was not , contrary to its claims, immune from repurposing. It’s much more accurate to typify that essay as a “goodbye to all that” than it is to call it “whining” or perceive as an “incoherent” self-justification.Report

Oliver Traldi
Oliver Traldi
Reply to  Oliver Traldi
4 years ago

Good to know, ikj, thank you!Report

Joe
Joe
4 years ago

I think the point about competence to decide is an important one, but with a clarification about what it involves. It will certainly be true that there are cases where a student or group of students have significant knowledge of a topic beyond, say, that of an administrator deciding whether to allow a talk. But the institutional context is different. An administrator is paid to spend considerable time making decisions with a view to the broader institution. By analogy think of a public library. If the collection were decided entirely by the general public you could have, e.g. a health section totally out of balance so that some people would find nothing on their ailment, or only quackery, or some other skewed selection. I’m not sure how this determines the overall case for or against shouting-down, but it matters to the equation of inviting with dis-inviting.Report

Danny Weltman
4 years ago

I don’t think I’m in favor of shouting down speakers, but here’s another possible argument:

First, assume the speaker’s views on the topic they are going to speak on are not being censored by the government or otherwise blocked from dissemination. It’s easy to find their op-eds, their speeches on YouTube, etc. So it’s not like shouting them down is going to make it impossible to figure out what all the fuss is about. (This is important for free speech reasons and for Millian “exposure to bad ideas is important” reason.)

Second, assume that the speaker’s message is super morally reprehensible, such that anyone who correctly perceives its reprehensible nature would realize that the message ought not to be acceded to.

Third, assume that the norms of the society are such that doing anything less drastic than shouting down the speaker in this context would communicate some degree of accession to the message in excess of what is morally acceptable.

If we grant these three assumptions, then I think shouting down the speaker might make sense. Assumption one seems like it’s often going to be a safe one – in the case of someone who is famous for having published a book on the topic, for instance, it’s satisfied. Assumption two is, unfortunately, not a hard one to make in many cases. Assumption three is obviously the sticky one, and we might think that to the extent that it’s ever satisfied, we’re already in a crummy situation. But we can have moral duties in crummy situations, including perhaps duties to do things that in nicer situations we ought not to do, and maybe this is an example of that.

I’m not really sure assumption three is in fact satisfied very often, but it’s at least not obvious to me that it’s NEVER satisfied, especially if the idea is really bad, like “let’s kill the Jews” bad. Moreover, even if it has never in fact been satisfied, we might be on our way there! Not that it’s a good thing that we’re on our way there, and not that anyone has a reason to push us towards that situation, etc.Report

mhl
mhl
4 years ago

When The Bell Curve first came out, Charles Murray went on the Donahue show, but instead of Phil’s typical audience, Murray said he would only come on if there was no audience – therefore, the studio was an empty room. Charles Murray felt there was a possibility that the audience would inhibit the ability to have a clear conversation, so he made the demand.

While I do not ascribe to Charles Murray’s views, I would bet that most of those shouting him down at Middlebury have not personally read and scrutinized his views. It is simple fear of someone making claims that make them feel uncomfortable, and as such I see no defense of them shouting down *this* speaker.Report

Anton
Anton
4 years ago

For some reason no one has acknowledged David Estlund’s comment, which ought to have raised doubts about the original post. The opening question—”Is There A Defense of Shouting Down A Speaker At A University?”—suggests that it is difficult to envision *any* context in which it would be defensible to shout down *anyone* speaking at a university on *any* subject. So, to take an extreme example, if some Nazis were on campus to publicly discuss the best way of rounding up and exterminating me and my family and people like us, it would be indefensible—”immoral”—for me to join with others in trying to disrupt the meeting; moreover, this would be indefensible no matter what else was happening in society at the time. Does anyone really think that? (Does anyone really think that there is *not* a defense of shouting down a speaker at a university?) I hope not. But if not, then the serious question is not whether it is defensible to shout down a speaker, but when.Report

Brian Weatherson
Brian Weatherson
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

I don’t think this gets to the heart of David and Anton’s objection. What is the principle that says that what the students did was wrong? The relevant principle can’t be “Free speech always good” because we don’t think that the free speech rights of someone trying to organize a lynch mob are sacrosanct.

So tell us the moral principle that is defensible and that the students violated, and we will debate it. Or give us an argument that we don’t need to state such a principle here.

I agree that there are plenty of differences between the obviously ok to shout down cases and the real life cases. But I’m a little unsure which of them are meant to be morally relevant. The usual move I hear at this point is some version of the principle that it is ok to shout down speech that threatens immediate harm, but not speech that threatens long term harm. I don’t think that’s a very plausible distinction to be honest. So put another way, which of the (many) differences between the Nazi/lynch mob cases and the Milo/Murray cases are you taking to do the moral work?Report

Brian Weatherson
Brian Weatherson
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

So two more cases to consider.

1) The Nazi/would-be-lyncher is sure to be ineffective, so there is no threat to prevent. Is it then wrong to shout them down, or should we let them use a university provided stage to try (and fail) to murder people.

2) The shouters believe (with some evidence) that deploying reason will be ineffective at preventing the long term harm, and the shouting is the only means to the (noble) end of harm prevention. Are they then justified? After all, you’ve agreed that shouting is fine if it is the only available means to an important end – so why not generalise that principle?Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
4 years ago

@Justin: that sounds largely sensible, but doesn’t the very fact of the (presumed desirable) norm make certain actions unjustified, even if they would have been justified absent the norm, because they contribute to undermining it? I’m really shocked by what happened at Berkeley but if I’m honest, I can’t get too upset on Milo’s behalf; the harm that concerns me is to general principles of free speech on universities rather than to the particular individuals.Report

Brian Weatherson
Brian Weatherson
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
4 years ago

I think it’s very helpful to distinguish the morality of the action from the morality of the optimal rules. A lot of the epistemic arguments that people are making up and down this thread seem much more relevant to the question about rules than the question about the action itself. All the “but it would be terrible if terrible people used the same principle in cases where it didn’t apply” arguments seem entirely irrelevant to the morality of what these students did, but quite relevant to the question of what rules a university should put in place.

And sure, if the rules are good (ceteris paribus) rules, then undermining them could be a bad, even in cases when ceteris are not in fact paribus. That’s a better argument than most that have been made here.Report

ajkreider
ajkreider
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
4 years ago

BW,
The principle seems pretty clear – it’s a principle of non-interference. And the burden seems to be on the one’s doing the interfering – which isn’t to say that there aren’t good justifications, including in speech cases. In cases where I want to go to a movie, or take a walk, or play a pickup game of basketball with friends, the presumption is that I should not be interfered with in doing so – at least, not without very good reason. The presumption in favor of those who would do the interfering – especially when mere interfering is the expressed intent.

Murry wanted to give a talk. Lots of people wanted to hear the talk. The protesters main purpose was to interfere in this. The burden of justification is theirs. Was the harm of Murray’s talk so great as to justifying stopping these people from doing what they wanted to do? Flipping this around – wondering what justifies someone in stopping people’s protesting – leads to absurdity pretty quickly. No one would think it plausible in the case of taking a walk.Report

ajkreider
ajkreider
Reply to  ajkreider
4 years ago

Sorry, that should be, “the presumption is not in favor of those who would do the interfering”Report

Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

Two complicating factors here:

(1) I haven’t looked into the Murray case, but I think that the Yiannopoulous cases are potentially closer to risking immediate, short-term, violent harm than Justin assumes. See e.g. <a href="http://www.teenvogue.com/story/milo-yiannopoulos-harassed-a-transgender-student-at-her-school&quot;this case where he outed a trans student.

(2) When it comes to preventing speech that is actively harmful, the strategy of waiting to see whether someone actually says specific harmful words before interfering isn’t available. One can’t wait to see whether Yiannopoulous outs a trans student before deciding whether to give him the platform. At any rate, one can’t do that if we’re serious about its sometimes being appropriate to prevent violent speech.Report

Oliver Traldi
Oliver Traldi
Reply to  Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
4 years ago

This is a confusing post. In (1) you write that Yiannopoulos is “potentially closer to risking immediate, short-term, violent harm”, using the example of outing a trans student. Presumably the idea here is that a trans student outed by Yiannopoulos is potentially at risk of immediate, short-term violence. Whether this stands up to empirical scrutiny, the idea is clear and plausible.

Then in (2) you talk about “preventing speech that is actively harmful”, and finally about “prevent[ing] violent speech”. But you stick with the same example of “out[ing] a trans student”. So: is the outing itself harmful and violent, or does it merely risk harm and violence? Certainly speech-act theory has been extended (in rather silly ways) to suggest that certain speech is violent, but I can’t see how outing would be.

You also write that “the strategy of waiting to see whether someone actually says specific harmful words before interfering isn’t available”. I wonder if you would endorse similar principles in other situations where we are considering potential harmful actors. What are your feelings, for example, on stop-and-frisk policing tactics in urban areas, on racial profiling in any number of situations, or on the Trump White House’s various travel bans?

If I had to wager, my bet would be that you and people who write things like (2) above are against such policies. But they emerge from exactly the same principle: “the strategy of waiting to see . . . isn’t available.” Unless you think speech can be not just violent but a worse form of violence than, say, mass murder, I am at a loss as to why you would apply the principle in this case but not in those.Report

Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
Reply to  Oliver Traldi
4 years ago

I do think that outing a trans student will often itself be an act of violence, although I don’t know that much depends on that. The important point is that it is a serious harm.

On stop-and-frisk policies: I tend to oppose them because they tend to be harmful and racist, and because they tend to do a bad job keeping people safe. I agree that my remarks about Yiannopoulos commit me to thinking that sometimes preventing possible future harm is a legitimate reason to do something. I even agree that this is a relevant consideration in favour of stop-and-frisk policies. I don’t think that considering the benefits of preventing future possible harm is illegitimate.

I think it is obvious that there are many differences between the cases, so I don’t feel the tension you are attributing to me. For example, stop-and-frisk policies often involve the harassment of individuals with no history of violence. No-platforming Milo Yiannopoulos doesn’t. (I would not consider it reasonable to shout down speakers on the sole grounds of looking a bit like Yiannopoulos.)Report

Oliver Traldi
Oliver Traldi
Reply to  Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
4 years ago

Oh, this actually makes a fair amount of sense. What I saw in common between the two cases was just the issue of the probability of harm, but to you, there is also a kind of maybe deontological or dignitarian concern that “drops out” if the individual in question has actually been violent (or whatever word we’re using for Yiannopoulos) in the past. Is that right? (That’s how I’m reading the “history of violence” line.) I’m not sure I can endorse that, but it’s no longer confusing.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
4 years ago

“Is There A Defense of Shouting Down A Speaker At A University?”

No.
This is another episode of simple answers to simple questions.Report

John Schwenkler
4 years ago

I’m surprised that no one has pointed to this paper on “no-platforming” by Robert Simpson and Amia Srinivasan (forthcoming in Academic Freedom, ed. J. Lackey, OUP): http://users.ox.ac.uk/~corp1468/Research_&_Writing_files/No%20Platforming_FINAL.pdfReport

Heath White
Heath White
4 years ago

We have seen this movie before. Here is Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Fascist party, on the origins of that party’s enforcer goons:

“When Blackshirts were first organised, free speech in Britain had virtually come to an end. In great industrial centres Socialism could not be vigorously attacked from the platform without the break-up of the meeting by highly organised bands of hooligans. Political leaders could only hold ticketed meetings of their supporters, and exercised “free speech” only in addressing the converted. We threw our meetings open to the public and threw out the hooligans. The old gangs of Democracy united to denounce us, but at the last election many of them had their own meetings broken up and made belated, and entirely ineffective attempts to imitate our methods.”
–Mosley, 100 Questions About Fascism Asked and Answered

I do not wish to get to a point, in universities or anywhere else in this country, where anybody feels like they need to use force to allow their views to be aired in public.Report

Bharath Vallabha
4 years ago

David Wallace said it best: the answer is no, and it is that simple.

I can’t see how In a pluralistic society there can be a defense of shouting down. Any argument for shouting down presupposes a simplistic view of a class of oppressors (the evil ones) versus a diverse, pluralistic class of the oppressed (everyone else). The impulse to shout down is driven by a psychological need to have someone to point at and blame – to say, “people like this are the problem!”; as if by pointing at the “oppressor”, one can have a release for one’s sense of oppression. But the point of reason is to get beyond this psychological need, not to find justifications for fulfilling the need.

I get the hurt associated with hearing someone say vile things. Which trigger the pain of feeling powerless and voiceless, and not wanting any longer to be quiet. But still, in the midst of that pain, there should be room for the thought, “what if I am not fully understanding this person who I am offended by? What if i am missing something, and there is a chance for productive dialogue?” Shouting down presupposes these questions have already been answered. Gandhi or MLK never shouted anyone down, and I suspect their power came from being open to these questions even when they felt oppressed.Report

Preston Stovall
4 years ago

Once we recognize, as Anton and others point out above, that the question is not whether it is *ever* acceptable to shout down a speaker but *when*, then the issue rightly returns to questions about cases like Milo and Murray. On that front, this testimony from Richard Muller (mentioned by Jonathan yesterday) offers a powerful counterpoint to the tactics we’re seeing today, and a suggestion that at least in these cases shouting down doesn’t have much to be said for it:

“When I first arrived on the Berkeley Campus, I went to a talk by a neo-Nazi. It was 1964, three months before the “Free Speech Movement”. I saw the announcement of the upcoming presentation, and I was curious—so I attended. About 250 students showed up. The speaker was introduced (in very neutral terms) and he spoke for about 45 minutes. The audience listened politely.

When he finished, questions were solicited. I noticed a pattern: the students were asking pointed questions, often involving logic or history, and they seemed to confound the speaker. It was almost a student competition: who could ask the most devastating question! The speaker was confused; he almost seemed to stutter; he was embarrassed. He had no good answers. Each succeeding student seemed to be able to ask even better questions that left the neo-Nazi helpless. He came across as an ignorant and utter fool.

I walked out absolutely delighted. I had seen free speech in action! It worked. Possibly everyone in the audience came away feeling as I did. Even supporters of the neo-Nazi must have been appalled at his ineptitude.

A few weeks later, a student was arrested and expelled for engaging in a political presentation at the corner of Bancroft and Telegraph, right at the edge of campus. I and a large number of students felt that the administration was undermining the free speech that we so much appreciated, and that I had seen so beautifully demonstrated at the neo-Nazi talk. Soon afterwards there was a peaceful sit-in at Sproul Hall. I was arrested; I spent the night in the Oakland jail (much more interesting than the Santa Rita camp where most arrestees went).”

From here:
https://www.quora.com/What-is-your-opinion-on-the-UC-Berkeley-protest-against-Milo-Yiannopoulos-Feb-2017/answer/Richard-Muller-3?srid=XA4C&share=68a7a0c1Report

Norbert Bourbaki
Norbert Bourbaki
4 years ago

Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Some people in America generally support free speech, and some people don’t. I consider myself a relatively strong supporter of free speech. I haven’t thought that much about what sorts of extreme circumstances might to me justify preventing someone’s speech, and I hope that I never have cause to worry much about such issues.

Those of us who support free speech can try to convince those who don’t to change their minds, but probably most such people won’t change their minds. Those of us who support free speech can also cooperate to protect what we see as free speech rights against those who would violate those rights, though we probably can’t do that very well if we’re not a sufficiently large majority.

Here’s something those of us in America can do to maintain our free speech rights: let’s not let in immigrants who probably don’t support free speech, or whose speech even those of us who generally support free speech might think should be restricted. In particular, let’s not let in the sorts of people described in the following article.

London protesters: ‘Behead those who insult prophet’

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-376088/London-protesters-Behead-insult-prophet.htmlReport

Paul L. Franco
4 years ago

Someone above mentioned speech-act theory (or, at least, what they thought were implausible extensions of it to say that some speech is ‘violent’). Here’s how I think we might leverage it to make sense of (1) why we aren’t obligated to reason with certain people and/or provide them a platform to speak in the hopes of fighting hate speech with more speech, and (2) why we might be justified in restricting some types of speech because the speaker is reckless or negligent in thinking through the intended and unintended effects of their speech acts. (This isn’t a full account, of course, since this is a comment on a blog post. But I think there are some things to mine here for the relevant moral principles.)

For (1): In the cases of people like Milo Y, his speech acts seem to me to have less of the force of assertion, than they seem to have the force of performative speech acts like expressives. Why? I don’t think Milo really meets the sincerity conditions of belief for much of what he says to count as genuine assertions. Or, if he does meet the sincerity conditions and really does believe what he says, the main point of his speech acts doesn’t seem to be to represent the world truly or falsely.

Instead, folks like Milo Y. seem mainly interested in demonstrating what their speech reveals about them–‘I hereby proclaim I am a dangerous, un-PC rebel out to tell it like it is’; people who like talking about virtue-signaling will be familiar with this charge–and also in the perlocutionary effects that their speech acts have on their audience–adoration for the alt-right and fury for the liberals.

How should we respond when someone fails to meet the basic sincerity conditions of an assertive speech act or misrepresents their aims in asserting something? Everyone on the free-speech side says we need to treat them as if they were making assertions, and try to reason with folks like Milo Y. I take it that this is part of the injunction to fight speech with which you disagree with more speech.

But that’s a losing game since these folks fail to meet the basic conditions necessary in order to have that sort of discourse. They’re not interested in “securing uptake” in the sense of generating beliefs in their audience; nor are they interested in providing appropriate responses when “a sequel is invited” or requested by their audience. That is, they are not sensitive to criticism (here is where we can rope in Charles Murray; and where we might also appeal to someone like Longino about what healthy critical communities look like).

Why would people at universities interested in truth have to provide a platform for folks like this? The Millian defense of free speech falls flat in the face of people who either misrepresent their interest in truth and/or misrepresent the main point of their speech acts. If I am interested in truth, I have no obligations to hear these people out, or attempt to fight their speech with more speech.

**Indeed, perhaps I have obligations to make sure that they do not mislead anyone else.**

For (2): Speech act theory tells us that the effects of our speech acts go beyond merely succeeding or failing to induce beliefs in our audience. Speech acts also have perlocutionary effects, intended and unintended. Thus, I may intend to simply inform you that there is a spider on the wall, yet unbeknownst to me, you are an arachnophobe, and so I also frighten you.

These effects are more or less easily foreseen. Thus, Milo outing a trans student, or Murray’s race-science, have effects beyond succeeding or failing to induce beliefs in their audience. In the case of Milo’s outing a trans student, it can have the intended (or unintended) effect of causing the trans student to feel fear, the alt-right audience to feel disgust or contempt (that might lead to doxxing and harassment), or for a liberal audience member’s pulse to quicken. In the case of Murray’s speech, it can have intended (or unintended) effects on policy decisions that affect real people’s lives (there’s a nice discussion in chapter 8 of Philip Kitcher’s “Science, Truth, and Democracy” on the type of research Murray engages in).

People have a general moral responsibility to think through the intended and unintended effects of their acts, including speech acts, on pain of being reckless or negligent.

I think that it’s fair to exclude those people who are reckless or negligent in considering the intended and unintended effects of their speech acts to be excluded from campus, just as people who are reckless or negligent in driving a car can be excluded from having a license (even if they haven’t harmed anyone).Report

Paul L. Franco
Reply to  Paul L. Franco
4 years ago

Oh. My first shot at an account might be seen to favor more preventative measures, and I guess I forgot how this might justify shouting down. (All tentative, again.)

I guess if I’m right about the speech acts of someone like Milo Y, they are basically shouting anyway, though they are misrepresenting themselves as making assertions. If the possibly bad perlocutionary effects of their shouting masquerading as assertions are harmful enough (or if their presence is enough to put others in harm, as happened at my institution when protestors clashed and someone got shot), then we might be justified in shouting them down.

I’m not sure how to easily extend the account to shouting down someone like Murray, but it would probably turn on the immediacy and severity of the possible harmful effects of his speech acts, and/or the sincerity of his speech acts too (?).Report

Oliver Traldi
Oliver Traldi
Reply to  Paul L. Franco
4 years ago

1. Speech I don’t like is not actually speech, it’s action.
2. In fact, it’s like driving a car. You can kill people with it.
3. ?????
4. We should punch people when they disagree with me.

It’s good to have it all out in the open, at least.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Paul L. Franco
4 years ago

“How should we respond when someone fails to meet the basic sincerity conditions of an assertive speech act or misrepresents their aims in asserting something? Everyone on the free-speech side says we need to treat them as if they were making assertions, and try to reason with folks like Milo Y. I take it that this is part of the injunction to fight speech with which you disagree with more speech. ”

At least this person on the free-speech side thinks reasoning with Milo Y is a complete waste of time. The “more speech” is aimed at third parties. If you (I think rightly) believe Milo is arguing in bad faith, or if you think he’s not even really “asserting” at all, *argue that case* to people who you think will be influenced. Or, if you think even the act of arguing and engaging will inappropriately legitimize an illegitimate discussion, disengage from it and say so, and/or organize a counter-event. Recognising and supporting people’s free speech rights doesn’t oblige you to talk to them!

(A performative illustration: I find it kind of embarrassing that we’re seriously having a discussion, among academic philosophers, of coercively blocking speech on university campus, and I’m in two minds as to whether even engaging with the conversation gives it inappropriate legitimacy. (My “simple answers to simple questions” post above is intended to communicate that.) But one thing I didn’t consider was hacking Daily Nous to prevent the conversation from happening.)Report

Paul L Franco
Paul L Franco
Reply to  David Wallace
4 years ago

Thanks for the response, David, and the helpful analogy. I disagree that the conversation, in general, is embarrassing and that the answers are easy: the ethical dimensions of speech, and the priority of the value of free speech (and/or truth) in relation to other things we value seem to me to be legitimate and important topics of conversation.

That said, I half-forgot the *specific* conversation we were having: That we were looking to justify *shouting down* (as opposed to disinviting/not inviting/excluding), while going through my spiel. Instead, I responded to more general philosophical assumptions I think sometimes underwrite the free-speech side about the nature of speech, and the responsibilities of speakers.

With the specific question of the post in mind, I’m not sure anything I said would (or could) be used to justify shouting down a (sincere) speaker. My attempt in my second comment above was admittedly half-assed, in part because the risks and harms of speech, though real, are hard to get a handle on. Another complicating factor is that our accounting of risks and harms are influenced by our antecedent moral and political values.Report

Oliver Traldi
Oliver Traldi
Reply to  Paul L Franco
4 years ago

But Paul, based on your post you place no value on the freedom of speech at all. You analogize it to driving a car and suggest that people who are negligent in speaking should have their speaking privileges taken away. In other words, there’s no sign that you think of speech as being different from any other kind of action, either in its nature or in the kinds of harms that it can produce.

I agree with you that there’s no reason the conversation should be “embarrassing”. Moreover, I am surprised that David Wallace expects philosophers in general to be liberal and tolerant about expression, and very surprised at the rather oxymoronic view expressed way above that there is a stigma in professional philosophy surrounding anti-free speech views. It was just a few years ago that Colorado professors were barred by the APA from criticizing feminist philosophy on campus, for instance. And, all respect to Justin W., but there’s a reason he is posting “Gosh, I really love free speech, but I wonder if there are any really good arguments against it?” instead of “Gosh, I really hate racism, but I wonder if there are any really good arguments for it?” And is there any cooler kid right now in philosophy than Jason Stanley, who wrote a whole book outlining how things he disagrees with are all propaganda (the bad kind!) and thus deserve silencing, and who opined with Kate Manne in fall 2015 that there was no campus free speech issue? Who, of course, inveighed against Swinburne last fall, when he spoke not even at a campus but at an assembly specifically of Christian philosophers?

No: there is no love for free speech in academic philosophy, at least not among the people who circulate in the blogosphere. And there is no stigma against being censorious. In some places it’s by becoming more Continental, in others simply by being analytic in very stupid ways; but the discipline is going the Maoist way of the social sciences and humanities in general, and a repressive orthodoxy has developed. Note, for instance, that in this very thread people have expressed that the speech of Yiannopoulos and Murray is threatening, is itself violence, is in bad faith, and so on. Not a single person has suggested that what they say might be in any way correct or valuable. That tells you where the real stigma lies.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Oliver Traldi
4 years ago

“No: there is no love for free speech in academic philosophy, at least not among the people who circulate in the blogosphere.”

A large fraction of the commentators on this thread have been vociferously defending free speech; the two most “liked” comments at the time I write (mine, and Carnap’s) are both dismissive, bordering on sarcastic, about the idea that shouting down protestors is acceptable in any realistic circumstance. So I think there’s more sympathy for a robust version of free speech in the blogosphere than you recognise. (And even those less absolutist commentators here are for the most part accepting a defeasible principle of free speech.)

“Not a single person has suggested that what they say might be in any way correct or valuable. That tells you where the real stigma lies.”

To say that Milo Y or Murray should be allowed to speak on the grounds that some of what they say is correct or valuable is, in its way, just as corrosive to free speech as to say that they should *not* be allowed to speak on the grounds that what they say is wrong or harmful. It accepts the principle that we can restrict speech on content grounds; it just makes a different assessment of content.Report

Oliver Traldi
Oliver Traldi
Reply to  David Wallace
4 years ago

First paragraph: yes, that’s true. As a mere terminal M.A. I suppose I’m a bit of an interloper. I’ll state my view more plainly: there isn’t a “stigma” in philosophy against being anti-free speech, and if this thread embarrasses you, there are plenty of other things in academic philosophy that should as well, including published exchanges by prominent people, actions by the APA, and various kinds of internet mobbings. (And maybe those things do embarrass you, too, in which case, you know, we’re on the same page.)

Second paragraph: I think you misunderstand my point. Nobody here *must* defend the content of what Yiannopoulos or Murray say in order to be against their being violently attacked for saying it. But many people *do* find what they say persuasive or at least interesting, which is why they are sought-after speakers and best-selling authors. There are, in fact, philosophers who find them persuasive or at least interesting, but those philosophers only express those attitudes privately, never publicly.

The comment above said there is a stigma in philosophy against anti-free speech views, but such views are actually, as far as I can tell, well within the Overton window of the discipline, if not its political (and philosophical!) mainstream. Rae Langton’s bumbling, absurd anti-pornography tract is a “classic” and widely cited and taught. It was one of the central inspirations for Jason Stanley, whom I mentioned above. In “feminist metaphysics”, Sally Haslanger and Liz Barnes push an extreme form of political correctness in which nature is political “at the joints”, and the content and language of our theories should hew to social justice goals. (We needn’t discuss the cringing apologies and disclaimers offered in response by people like Ted Sider and Jonathan Schaffer.) And that’s all without mentioning the Stanley Fish book from the 90s – you know, the one called There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech.

Around the same time as the Yale Christiakis dustup in fall 2015 there was some kind of free speech conference on campus. Student activists spat on attendees as they exited the building. Those activists were the same ones defended by Jason Stanley and Kate Manne as responding to speech with more speech. So, you know, all I’m trying to say is that anyone who thinks free speech is a relative holy cow in the discipline is kidding themselves. I don’t mean to opine on whether there remains significant or even majority support for the idea.Report

Stephen Lutz
Stephen Lutz
Reply to  David Wallace
4 years ago

I actually found it fascinating how many here are defending free speech. If I only read the MSM I would assume all college profs are now left of Mao.Report

Oliver Traldi
Oliver Traldi
Reply to  David Wallace
4 years ago

There is no contradiction between being quite left-wing and being quite committed to free speech. (At least that’s what I tell my fellow leftists when they pick up their bats.)Report

ikj
ikj
Reply to  Oliver Traldi
4 years ago

Maoist? I do not think that word means what you think it means.Report

Carnap
Carnap
Reply to  David Wallace
4 years ago

“I find it kind of embarrassing that we’re seriously having a discussion, among academic philosophers, of coercively blocking speech on university campus. . .”

My (perhaps too snarky) initial post at the top was prompted by just this feeling articulated by David Wallace. While I appreciate that there are some nomologically possible circumstances in which shouting down a speaker at a university is morally permitted, I find utterly unbelievable the suggestion the case of Murray (and now Singer) are even remotely like such cases.

As a proponent of utterly unrestricted philosophical inquiry, I must admit that the deeper questions at issue are worth philosophical investigation. However, I find it depressing (here and in the Singer thread above) that there are philosophers who appear to think *the cases at hand* are difficult ones or that we require a complete answer to these deeper questions before we can arrive at a reasonable (though fallible) judgement that the student protestors are wrong.

None of this is, of course, a serious argument in favor of my views.Report

harry travis
harry travis
Reply to  Paul L. Franco
4 years ago

Splendit, more succinct than Harry Frankfurt ‘On Bullshit’, a little black book.Report

PhilosopheroftheFuture
PhilosopheroftheFuture
4 years ago

Imagine if a campus group were to invite a Nazi “scientist” to give a talk who is famous for arguing that there is “evidence” that Jews are racially inferior to non-Jewish Europeans. There have been “scientists” making such claims, and that there would be plenty of receptive audience members at some universities at least at some time. Shouting down a Nazi speaker would seem frankly like only a mild protest tactic.

Charles Murray argued for the racial inferiority of Black people based on widely contested statistical manipulations, and used his “findings” to argue for adopting policies with the intention of decreasing the Black birth-rate – eugenics by any other name. A comparison between Murray and a Nazi “scientist” is arguably fair, and if you replace “Jewish” with “Black” in the above sentence, that becomes fairly clear. If it would be a legit form of protest to shout-down the Nazi “scientist”, I’m not sure why this should not hold in the case of Murray.

While Middlebury had every right to remove the protesters, it is not clear that the protesters were not exercising a legitimate display of non-violent protest in shouting down Murray.Report

Oliver Traldi
Oliver Traldi
Reply to  PhilosopheroftheFuture
4 years ago

Well, they were violent, so in that sense it is clear that they were not “exercising a legitimate display of *non*-violent protest” – my emphasis.Report

PhilosopheroftheFuture
PhilosopheroftheFuture
Reply to  Oliver Traldi
4 years ago

Yes, but the post was not asking for a defense of violence, it asked for a defense of shouting down the speaker, a tactic which is being used on Universities all over the world right now, and which can clearly be decoupled from physical violence (though you could possibly argue that the mob mentality of the shout-down lends itself to the physically violent mob that follows). I would imagine even in the Murray incident that resulted in real violence, that was not the tactical plan nor endorsed by most of the participants of the shout-down.

I’m not personally sure that shouting down a speaker is the most effective tactic. It would probably be more effective to ask very pointed questions, reveal the speaker to be the bigot he or she is (as in the case of Murray), videotape the speaker embarrassing him or herself, and blast it on the internet. That is damage they won’t recover from easily, and it is all in the name of free speech. I’m against internet shaming of ordinary individuals, but these are public intellectuals speaking in public arenas so internet publicity is part of the game. However, although I’m not sure the shout-down is the most effective tactic, since it results in a backlash from free speech advocates, and it runs the risk of stamping out valuable speech at times, it’s not at all clear that it is an immoral tactic (see my above post).Report

Oliver Traldi
Oliver Traldi
Reply to  PhilosopheroftheFuture
4 years ago

Makes sense. Can you give me a sense of what you mean by “statistical manipulations”? I’ve read responses like Shalizi and Block, but such responses, even if they’re correct, don’t really suggest anything more than statistical misinterpretation. Indeed, what many people object to is Murray’s ascription of genetics as a cause of IQ gaps – but he doesn’t make any kind of case for that, let alone a statistically manipulated one.Report

PhilosopheroftheFuture
PhilosopheroftheFuture
Reply to  Oliver Traldi
4 years ago

From The Bell Curve: “If the reader is now convinced that either the genetic or environmental explanation has won out to the exclusion of the other, we have not done a sufficiently good job of presenting one side or the other. It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences. What might the mix be? We are resolutely agnostic on that issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not justify an estimate.” (p. 311) – this certainly sounds like he is arguing for genetic inferiority.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  PhilosopheroftheFuture
4 years ago

“If it would be a legit form of protest to shout-down the Nazi “scientist”, I’m not sure why this should not hold in the case of Murray.”

(P->Q) -> (~Q->~P)Report