The “Moral Panic” of Campus Free Speech


People get awfully solemn in the United States about the civic function of our institutions of higher education. They talk about college as the nursery of democracy and the care that we must take with our young people. As educators, the future is in our hands. I believe it is worth puncturing this solemnity with some awkward questions.

That’s Jeremy Waldron, University Professor at New York University, in a review of several books on questions regarding free speech on college campuses in The New York Review of Books.

He writes:

There’s a sort of moral panic going on: writer after writer, politician after politician, says we ought to be frightened about what’s happening on campuses because that is where the future of free speech will be determined.

Waldron discusses several different concerns of those worried about free speech on campus. One of these is that “colleges and universities cannot work as institutions of higher learning unless there is a spirit of unfettered inquiry in the research they undertake.” Here’s an excerpt:

“Speech, including controversial speech, is central to teaching and learning,” [Sigal] Ben-Porath writes. [Erwin] Chemerinsky and [Howard] Gillman devote a lot of attention to this as well. Historically the university has been a special domain of freedom, they say, and students are selling this heritage short when they shout down visiting speakers: “Campuses cannot censor or punish the expression of ideas, or allow intimidation or disruption of those who are expressing ideas, without undermining their core function of promoting inquiry, discovery, and the dissemination of new knowledge.” Claims like this sound more convincing than they are. Is the free research of mathematicians or philosophers or physicists really in peril because of how one group of students responds to an invitation to Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopoulos? Most of the free speech issues on campus have nothing to do with the lectures, laboratories, or seminars in which academic freedom is implicated.

Aside from commencement addresses, a college or a university rarely invites or hosts speakers itself. Academic departments sometimes do, but few of the incidents that people complain about have involved speakers invited as part of a classroom series. Mostly it’s students showing off and trying to provoke and annoy one another. So we have to ask: What’s the connection supposed to be between the rough-and-tumble of student politics and academic freedom in the disciplined research undertaken in the schools and departments of the university?

I ask this because sometimes the complaints about student protests are quite absurd. Here’s a report from January 2016 in The Guardian: “Chris Patten, the chancellor of Oxford University, has told students involved in the campaign to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes that they must be prepared to embrace freedom of thought or ‘think about being educated elsewhere.’ Patten accused students who had criticised Rhodes, who regarded the English as racially superior, of trying to shut down debate. He said that by failing to face up to historical facts which they did not like, students were not abiding by the values of a liberal, open society that ‘tolerates freedom of speech across the board.'”

This is nonsense. The students weren’t trying to shut down debate; they were trying to open it up. A dreary statue of Cecil Rhodes on the front of Oriel College is hardly a focus of higher learning. (I don’t remember tutors taking their charges out onto the High Street to study it when I was at Oxford. If they had, why on earth wouldn’t a debate about Rhodes’s views on imperialism have been a perfectly appropriate learning experience?) It is typical of a moral panic to run together all the issues that make us uneasy. Patten’s comments here are an egregious instance of that. He is worried about students disrupting provocative political speeches and he is worried about students questioning the value of cherished memorials. He wants us to believe that the questioning and the disruption are the same thing, whereas they are more or less polar opposites.

The whole review is here. Readers may also be interested in remarks by Jacob Levy (McGill) on how “freedom of speech is not a value of universities.”

(via Mary Fratini)

Robert Rauschenberg – Statue of Liberty

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Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
3 years ago

Here’s the third in a series of essays that Jon Haidt and Sean Stevens wrote earlier this year about changing attitudes toward freedom of speech on American college campuses:

https://heterodoxacademy.org/the-skeptics-are-wrong-part-3-intolerance-levels-are-high/

I haven’t seen anything that leads me to think the conclusions that Haidt and Stevens come to are wrong, and in terms of rigor their analysis looks to be state-of-the-art for the subject.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Preston Stovall
3 years ago

Data shmata.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
3 years ago

Uh… didn’t the mob try to get Charles Murray banned because of the Bell Curve? So we have at least one instance of a psychologist being blocked from speaking due to his academic work. I also recall another incident where the students demanded that a biology professor be fired because of an email where he said that having a day where no white people come to campus is divisive. So… there are two incidents where academic freedom is threatened directly by these mobs, just off the top of my head.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  YAAGS
3 years ago

Murray and his host were physically assaulted. And Weinstein would have been, had he been caught on campus. The police told him to stay away for his own safety.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  YAAGS
3 years ago

Yes, there is some actual bad behavior. There are certainly a couple incidents each year that are problematic in this way. But is there any evidence that such incidents are more common than they were in the 1960s or 1980s or whenever?

We should be vigilant to watch for these instances, but if it’s just the ordinary background rate, then there’s no need to worry that some major change in university life is imminent. (Compare to the panic many people have about “rising crime rates” even when violent crime rates fall for decades at a time.)Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
3 years ago

There certainly seem to be enough to create a chilling effect. God knows I don’t discuss politics in any detail in my classroom and do everything I can to remain neutral. I’ve had a few students that I’m fairly confident would have created a significant amount of trouble if I had defended anything unpopular. The right-leaning students would complain in their rivals. The left leaning students might have invited a mob. I didn’t want to find out. Though I’ll admit that I’m extra paranoid, being a grad student and all.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  YAAGS
3 years ago

*evals *incitedReport

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
3 years ago

Kenny Easwaran:

Have you looked at the studies/data done by Haidt, linked to by Preston Stovall?

Have you seen the surveys concerning the attitudes of millennials towards democracy? Because they demonstrate pretty clearly that the attitudes of young people today are very different from their Baby Boomer and Gen X predecessors.

http://www.journalofdemocracy.org/sites/default/files/Foa%26Mounk-27-3.pdf

I’m old enough to have been teaching students from late Generation X, through the Millennials, now to Generation Z. (I also have a Gen Z daughter, who is still in High School.) And my experience has been that young people are becoming more illiberal, as they are becoming more progressive, and this is having a tremendous impact on the campus climate.Report

Barbara Piper
Barbara Piper
Reply to  YAAGS
3 years ago

I’m late to this exchange, for which apologies, but I wanted to note that Charles Murray is a political scientist, not a psychologist, and is not an academic. That’s not necessarily a criticism of his work, but since actual psychologists have found considerable fault with his understanding of concepts such as IQ and intelligence, we might not want to imply that his work represents either psychology or academia.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Barbara Piper
3 years ago

What’s the sense in which Murray is not an academic? He’s not attached to a University, but lots of people who are obviously academics have non-University appointments: all the physicists at Bell Labs or Los Alamos, say.Report

Jacob Stone
Jacob Stone
Reply to  Barbara Piper
3 years ago

The problem is that saying (perhaps reasonably in this case) that Charles Murray’s work does not “represent psychology or academia” is also a very dangerous principle for determining whether someone should speak at a university. There are many ideas that are not represented in academia and but this could reflect the narrow agenda of academics.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  Jacob Stone
3 years ago

Or worse, political bias. As in psychology where conservatives are almost unheard of and where there are known instances of people saying they would never hire a conservative. Along with the plethora of methodological crises the field faces, this sort of casts doubts on any work of political relevance produced by the field. That they disagree with and attempt to discredit Murray was more or less guaranteed regardless of the quality of his work. (This of course does not vindicate Murray’s work. It just means that the field can’t really be trusted.)Report

Desiderio Lopez Guante
Desiderio Lopez Guante
3 years ago

There is a fallacy in Waldron’s reasoning. “Is the free research of mathematicians or philosophers or physicists really in peril because of how one group of students responds to an invitation to Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopoulos?”, he asks, and he suggests that a negative answer to the question is correct and that this shows that it is false that “Campuses cannot censor or punish the expression of ideas, or allow intimidation or disruption of those who are expressing ideas, without undermining their core function of promoting inquiry, discovery, and the dissemination of new knowledge.”

But it is false that one thing follows from the other. By censoring the expression of new ideas, even if by people like Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopoulos, they are *undermining* the core *function* of free inquiry, discovery and dissemination of new ideas and knowledge, since such censoring is likely to cause a climate of fear where people may feel less confident about starting to investigate and/or teach certain topics. Just think abut topics like abortion, euthanasia, racism, animal rights, etc.

Furthermore, this lists of topics suggests it may be false that the free research of philosophers is not in peril because of how one group of students respond to the invitation of certain speakers. Indeed, it is not only people like Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopoulos who have been censored, but academic philosophers like Peter Singer too.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Desiderio Lopez Guante
3 years ago

There is a fallacy in Waldron’s reasoning.
= = =
Just one?

Seriously, this was one of the weakest versions of the “Move along! Nothing to see here!” argument I’ve seen so far.Report

Earnest Honesty
Earnest Honesty
Reply to  Desiderio Lopez Guante
3 years ago

Not long ago I told a fellow academic that I planned to publish an article on a controversial topic. They urged me to not to, saying it would be career suicide. Nope, no free speech problem here at all!Report

Chris Surprenant
3 years ago

Here’s another example of the problem. Right now the AAUP is hosting their annual conference, with the primary focus this year being on free speech on campus. Great! Well… maybe not.

So they are focusing on issues like academic freedom (good!) and the targeted harassment of faculty (bad!). They even have created a separate website to advertise this campaign, “One Faculty, One Resistance” (seriously): https://onefacultyoneresistance.org/faculty-attack-fighting-targeted-harassment/. Here, the focus is on drawing attention to the horrible faculty watch/harassment list produced by Turning Point USA. (Okay, I’m not fan of the language, but good to draw attention to this bad behavior.)

Here’s the problem. At this very same conference–again, the one focusing on academic freedom and condemning the targeted harassment of faculty–there is a panel on external funding moderated by John K. Wilson of the AAUP. This panel is made up of two people, both members of “UnKochMyCampus,” a group that quite literally engages in targeted harassment of faculty members.

This issue of free speech on college campuses has become highly politicized. When the AAUP, APA, and other organizations start to align themselves with these bad actors, it only makes the situation worse by emboldening them, and makes those of us who disagree with what is happening feel like we are somehow under attack.

There’s no question that people who express unpopular opinions are at risk in academia, but that has always been the case. My concern is that the range of what counts as an unpopular opinion has grown rather dramatically over the past few years. This should concern all of us.Report

Unknown Philosopher
Unknown Philosopher
3 years ago

At my public Liberal Arts college in the northeast, an adjunct instructor of Sociology was subject to some kind of disciplinary action for using the phrase “shemale” during a class that was discussing gender identity; he also asked the class to complete a “quiz” in which they were to identify people on the basis of photos as either female or “shemale.” Apparently, the materials he used in this class caused a similar controversy when they were used in some pop culture outlets as recently as 2014. (If one were to speculate about the instructor’s intent in using these materials, one might consider that he was introducing students to some of the recent controversies surrounding attitudes toward alternative gender identities…)

It is not clear on my campus what the nature of the disciplinary action was: there was some kind of hearing, but it isn’t entirely clear who called for it, nor is it clear what the outcome of the hearing was. The instructor was not listed on the schedule the following semester, but it isn’t clear if he was fired or if he decided not to return. I’ll add that even his department chair does not know any of these specific details, because the kind of hearing that was held is subject to strict confidentiality.

I find this kind of incident to be especially chilling. I have tenure, so I can’t be summarily fired, but I also have a range of interests that make it prudent of me to avoid things like disciplinary hearings. I teach courses that deal with ethical issues all the time; I often introduce issues by reviewing relevant cases (especially cases that have led to controversies). Should I stop being this provocative?Report

slac chair
slac chair
Reply to  Unknown Philosopher
3 years ago

If I had hired an adjunct who thought it was ok to use the term “shemale” in a class (unless it was a direct quote), I would have no compunction about not rehiring him/her. It’s no different from not rehiring an adjunct who uses “colored” or “darkies” to refer to black people. To put it a bit less controversially, , it’s no different from not rehiring an adjunct who consistently uses “deontologist” to refer to Bentham (unless they have some sophisticated theory about how Bentham was really a Kantian).

If you’re going to teach about gender identity then you need to have a basic grasp of the appropriate terminology. If you don’t, you’re not doing your job.Report

Unshocked
Unshocked
Reply to  Unknown Philosopher
3 years ago

I am profoundly unsurprised that this led to disciplinary action: it is problematic in any number of ways (in addition to the obvious point of the language involved, the task itself and its framing, its presuppositions about gender identity, …). THe parallel made by slac chair to other kinds of slurring language is completely apt. Imagine a quiz asking to identify light-skinned people as “n***a or caucasian?”: I don’t think the example is extreme. Are you worried about the nontransparency of the proceedings or the fact taht this behavior was censured? If the latter, I don’T think there is much to worry about.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Unknown Philosopher
3 years ago

I wouldn’t have thought that using outright slurs in class was what we are talking about here.Report

slac chair
slac chair
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

i was responding specifically to Unknown Philosopher’s post, not to the larger discussion. “Shemale” is a slur. That an adjunct would lose his contract for using it in a discussion of gender identity is no evidence at all for a chilling of free speech. It is, from what little I can glean from Unknown Philosopher’s post, evidence of a chair (or someone else) making sure he or she hires people who know how to do their job.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  slac chair
3 years ago

Yes, I agree with you. My reply was intended for Unknown Philosopher.Report

Jim Messer
Jim Messer
3 years ago

Free Speech, like all freedoms, instantiate against a normative backdrop. A social good is presupposed. But free speech is procedural, not substantive, so it’s good is instrumental, not inherent. Meaning that there may be some be some substantive form of speech that seeks to undermine said social good. Of course most of us aren’t doing the epistemic work to understand what that might look like, but here’s a candidate for inquiry: Is the speaking agent acting in good faith?

Speech has power. To deny this is to deny it’s utility to a liberal society. Bad faith agents are necessarily poor stewards of said power.

What other ways is speech limited that we don’t question? It would be improper to graphiti someone’s property. Do we value property rights above the rights of speech? What about the dissemination of child porn? Aren’t there inherent rights of children we deem more valuable? Isnt protest, even to the point of deplatforming still a form of speech, where what is really at threat is peacable assembly? Is it really out of the question to consider that maybe those speakers brought in by bad faith agents like turning point USA to talk about thouroughly exhausted topics like IQs and race are fundamentally contributing to the erosion of social goods in greater ways than what young people are doing when they get active on campus and pretend to be adults?

I’m as frightful as anyone at the notion of a less liberal society. I just want to make sure we’re not getting wrapped up in the aesthetic in-group signaling value of language like “free speech” without working through the atomic nature of the phenomena.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Jim Messer
3 years ago

A sensible case for free speech isn’t based on the idea that no speech can be harmful. It’s based on the idea that we are better off, all in all, with a content-neutral free-speech principle than with a setup where we make case-by-case judgements as to what speech is and isn’t net good.Report

Jim Messer
Jim Messer
Reply to  David Wallace
3 years ago

I certainly agree that there is no applicable rubric by which we can make case by case judgements about substantive speech value. But working things out in a meta-ethical space is different than working them out in an applied space. It’s helpful to know the axiological limits of what free speech obliges.

But also, are we truly better off? Name a country that values speech more than this one. Name a time when more people have been able to be free in their speech than this time. Heck, name a physical public forum where people are more free than on college campuses. The internet! The internet is practically free speech porn. (And also regular porn.) And yet we chose this place, at this time, with these institutions and tools to elect the most authoritarian demagogue in American history. Why? Because people have an insatiable desire to believe in our own sentimental bias. Sometimes that takes the form of conspiracy and falsehood. Sometimes we get to claim that we are the defenders of facts, but we are indulging at greater and greater rates. It’s like we are eating at the free speech cafe with an infinite item menu and we just keep ordering the same thing over and over again because we know it’s going to taste good while telling ourselves its health food. Something is broken here. I don’t know what it is. Maybe we take something off the menu because it’s terrible for you and it’s all anyone keeps ordering. Or maybe not.

I don’t actually believe that we should abandon liberalism or free speech. Just to set the stage, I’m just a dad with two kids that lives in a small town in South Carolina that lives an extremely normal life and doesn’t even work in academia. (Although I like to think of it as being an unpaid field philosopher.) Maybe what I’m getting at is that free speech alone isn’t enough to achieve the social good it presupposes. Perhaps it should be paired with something else. I don’t know what that might be, but I know I’m not going to get there without first questioning some basic tenants that we all come preconditioned to assume. “Free Speech” is not scripture and we should work in the Socratic tradition and doubt everything. Even if we just wind up proving God by the fourth meditation anyway.Report

Boring Liberal Grad Student
Boring Liberal Grad Student
Reply to  Jim Messer
3 years ago

You acknowledge something like the following in passing in your comment above, but I think it’s important, so I just want to emphasize it: The fact that in a society with a lot of free speech, bad things have happened, perhaps even things that, in their specificity, would not have happened in a society with less free speech, does not entail that a society with less free speech would all things considered be better. It’s not enough to justify a shift from the ‘lots of free speech’ arrangement to the ‘less free speech’ arrangement just to know that the first generates problems; we need to know that the second *would not be even worse*.

I emphasize that because I have a (perhaps merely subjective) impression that people frequently reason in just that way–from ‘Here’s a problem with the present arrangement’ straight to ‘We need to abandon the present arrangement’–in connection with issues of general policy (and I mean that to be pretty neutral about what issues in particular). We could switch the example to, say, safe spaces (though that issue in particular seems to have faded from view a bit), and the question that, I submit, we should be asking would be the same: not ‘Do safe spaces have bad consequences?’ but ‘Is having safe spaces worse than not having them, or worse than other policies designed to address whatever it is safe spaces are supposed to address?’ (But nothing I have said here is an answer to what I think is the right question in either the free speech case or the safe space case.)Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Jim Messer
3 years ago

“But also, are we truly better off? Name a country that values speech more than this one. Name a time when more people have been able to be free in their speech than this time. Heck, name a physical public forum where people are more free than on college campuses. The internet! The internet is practically free speech porn. (And also regular porn.) And yet we chose this place, at this time, with these institutions and tools to elect the most authoritarian demagogue in American history.”

But the right comparison would be to people elected by countries with weaker free-speech protections, and I’m not at all sure that the US is doing badly on that comparison. Europe, in particular, has significantly less of a free-speech culture and has elected several authoritarian governments in recent years. I am personally more worried about Trump than about, say, Orban and Fidesz in Hungary because, in increasing order of concern, (a) the US has nuclear weapons and Hungary doesn’t, (b) the US is much more important to international stability than Hungary; (c) I live in the US. But objectively speaking I think the US’s systems have done a much better job at constraining authoritarianism than Hungary’s have, and the robust protections for speech in the US have played at least some role here, as I understand it.Report

Erik H
Erik H
Reply to  Jim Messer
3 years ago

Jim Messer · June 15, 2018 at 1:14 am
Here’s a candidate for inquiry: Is the speaking agent acting in good faith?

This phrase is insidious and appealing, but highly dangerous. The inevitable outcome is a battle over “who is allowed to declare actions as being in good faith?”

And that is dangerous. It’s difficult for me to properly explain how appalling your argument is, or how obviously it will lead (and historically has led) to censurious behavior. But perhaps the simplest response is best:

Given your claims, I could opt to explain myself, or I could simply use you as an example. You are, after all, presumably a highly educated person with some knowledge of history; nonetheless, you appear to be arguing in a manner which fails to take it into account. You presumably have access to all sorts of science, so you should know that there are very few “thouroughly exhausted topics” and that those certainly don’t include race or IQ.

It would be trivial for me to claim you are arguing in bad faith, especially if you also claim to support free speech. It would have been much easier to make that claim than it was to actually write this explanation.

Do you really want to support a scheme in which your ability to make a point is reliant on my good graces?

What other ways is speech limited that we don’t question?

Almost none, actually.

It would be improper to graphiti someone’s property. Do we value property rights above the rights of speech?

Yet, graffiti artists have obtained court action against landlords who have destroyed their art, and property owners can be compelled to permit speech which they despise.
The arguments continue to this day.

What about the dissemination of child porn? Aren’t there inherent rights of children we deem more valuable?

The teen sexting argument (is it really child porn) revolves around speech.

Isnt protest, even to the point of deplatforming still a form of speech, where what is really at threat is peacable assembly?

Deplatforming is simultaneously “a form of speech” and also “in the category of things which generally oppose the concept of free speech.” Peaceable assembly is something else entirely.

Is it really out of the question to consider that maybe those speakers brought in by bad faith agents like turning point USA to talk about thouroughly exhausted topics like IQs and race are fundamentally contributing to the erosion of social goods in greater ways than what young people are doing when they get active on campus and pretend to be adults?

No, and to the best of my knowledge this question is hotly debated across the country. Those discussions are free speech.

I’m as frightful as anyone at the notion of a less liberal society.

No, you’re not.

I say this because if you were actually frightened, you would not be taking the generic anti-speech side here.Report

Jim Messer
Jim Messer
Reply to  Erik H
3 years ago

You are right. This is highly dangerous. We should be careful. I mean that. But let’s work it out anyway. And I really am not advocating. I’m doubting. There is a difference. I know it sounds like I am. So just to be clear to anyone who might read this and think that I’m having part of some larger conversation that others are having. I am not with them. This is just me trying to work things out. Honestly, I haven’t seen those arguments which is why I’m bringing it up here. But if we are going to be pharisaical about free speech, we have to expect that some people are going to say dangerous things. Which is very much my point. To be honest, I find this whole thing to be a bit ironic. My part included.

Also, I’m not trying to make a legalistic argument, though I admit to working in a edgecraft here a bit. But if we are going to be legalistic about this, why aren’t we talking about the Miller test instead?

Let me clarify. I’m frightened about living in a world where the promise of liberalism doesn’t come true. And I’m exceptionally frightened of it not becoming true because free speech could never deliver on it’s promise to begin with. I think its worth while to do the hard work that non-philosophers can’t or won’t.

I worry that we are in this place right now where we have developed a semantic satiation around the these sorts of words/phrases that we use. We don’t question their meaning, intent, or most importantly, their assurances. The denotative quality is lost in favor of connotative quality prescribed by our tribes. Words like liberty, freedom, diversity, tolerance. Their primary utility is aesthetic. A signal to the in-group that you belong. While out-group, they signal a moral charge. You don’t belong. I think this is why we get so upset when we have these conversations. And why it’s so easy to pick apart the other side’s arguments. Our arguments rely on these words or ideas that haven’t really been thought through because thinking through them is distinct from their tribal purpose. Perhaps that’s why you picked apart all of my legal arguments (quite well, by the way) but had nothing to say about my substance/process distinction. You know how to argue, but do you know why you are arguing? I appreciate your feedback. I’m glad to be having this discussion with you here on Daily Nous.Report

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Jim Messer
3 years ago

”But free speech is procedural, not substantive, so it’s good is instrumental, not inherent.”

Some might disagree with the claim that free speech is not an inherent good. I disagree with that claim, e.g. I think free speech is an inherent good, though not an absolute one, so there can be cases where some other good, more important than free speech, is incompatible with it, and then we give priority to that other good.Report

Dave Baker
Dave Baker
Reply to  krell_154
3 years ago

Indeed. Among the many other arguments in favor of free speech, I especially like the one that simply notes that sanctioning someone for expressing their ideas is a paternalistic imposition. It is good for us–inherently good, I think–to be free from paternalism.Report

Invisiblessed
Invisiblessed
Reply to  Dave Baker
3 years ago

“It is good for us–inherently good, I think–to be free from paternalism”

May I ask why you think this? I am imagining a situation in which a person is under paternalistic imposition for their own good. To use an example (though perhaps there are better examples), legal drinking ages. Such regulations might be paternalistic, but strike me as perfectly sensible. If such regulations are problematic, I don’t see why it would be for the reason that they are paternalistic. So, I guess my question is, what is really wrong about a paternalistic imposition considering that there are situations in which such impositions work toward (or seem to work to toward) the good of the person or groups they impose on?

As far as arguments in favor of free speech, I would have said that restrictions on freedom of speech and expression restrict self-realization, because self-expression is one of the key ways to self-realization. Though, this is might be similar to the paternalistic imposition argument.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Invisiblessed
3 years ago

I take it that we restrict the activity of children exactly because we don’t regard them as fully responsible actors (that’s presumably the etymology of “paternalism”, though I haven’t checked), so that what’s objectionable about paternalism is that it doesn’t treat people as fully responsible actors.

If you want to say that a drinking age of 21 constrains adults and so would end up as objectionable on that basis, then I agree: I think it is objectionable. (It’s a small weirdness about the US that most Europeans remark on.)Report

Invisiblessed
Invisiblessed
Reply to  David Wallace
3 years ago

I see. I guess I what I’m questioning is the value of treating people as fully responsible actors. For example, consider taking action to save someone who reflectively endorses the choice to take their own life and is about to commit that act. If I were to intervene and save such a person from doing that, I would not be treating them as a fully responsible actor. My action would be paternalistic. Yet, it seems to me saving them is the right thing to do (admittedly, I’ve no argument to give here to support this. I’m merely stating my intuition about the matter). If it is the case that saving a person who reflectively endorses the choice to take their own life and is about to do that is right, then there is at least one instance where acting paternalistically is does not make an action wrong. Or perhaps the question is what is the value of allowing people to be fully responsible actors in cases where their good might be best served by not allowing that (i.e. suicide, self-harm). I think there is something valuable about allowing people to take personal responsibility for their actions, but I’m not quite sure why some think of it as an over-riding value.

Of course, I haven’t provided much of an argument or answer here, I’ve merely stated where my intuitions lie. In any case, thank you for your helpful reply.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  David Wallace
3 years ago

On the question of whether free speech ought to be restricted on the paternalistic grounds that the people whose speech we restrict are not “fully responsible actors”, I encourage interested parties to read or reread Kant’s “Answer to the Question ‘What is Enlightenment’?” I’ve found that fifth- and sixth-graders can follow along with that argument.Report

Jim Messer
Jim Messer
Reply to  krell_154
3 years ago

I think the first part of my argument is pretty good, but I agree that claiming that there is no intrinsic value is certainly the flimsiest part of it. I could be sold on there being a psychological intrinsic good. But not the way Peterson describes it. More like the way Foucault’s panopticism works. Basically that if people are always worried about whether their speech will be accepted, they become their own subjects. Not just intellectually, but if they accept that the nature of their speech is inherently unethical, despite their own sentimentality, then phenomenologically as well. But I can also see where free speech by active group agents might subjugate passive subjects in the same way. One persons’ freedoms might be chains to another. That’s why it’s important to be good faith agents. Even though I agree that there is probably no workable way to do that. Not going to stop me from thinking about it though.Report

Charels Pigden
Charels Pigden
Reply to  Jim Messer
3 years ago

‘A social good is presupposed. But free speech is procedural, not substantive, so it’s good is instrumental, not inherent.’ Surely this is a bit swift! Even if free speech is a procedural good it does not follow that it is not inherent. Can’t it be inherently valuable that certain kinds of procedural goods exist?Report

Jim Messer
Jim Messer
Reply to  Charels Pigden
3 years ago

“Can’t it be inherently valuable that certain kinds of procedural goods exist?” Can we make normative evaluations about the existence of normative evaluations? Maybe, but that feels like measuring the measuring stick with the measuring stick.

I guess what I’m getting at is this: Is free speech a means to an end, or is it an end in itself? If it’s a means to an end, wouldn’t that, by definition, make it an instrumental good, and therefore, not an intrinsic one?

I think that what I’m really trying to figure out, for my own sake, is what is the mechanism that makes free speech work? It’s important because we need to know if our efforts to save a liberal society are appropriately concentrated. Just to reiterate, i’m not making a legalistic argument. This isn’t about using the state to arbitrate speech. I’m talking about our social value system. Which is the system where campus free speech issues are articulated.

Suppose that free speech is an end in itself and has an intrinsic good. How do we then make normative evaluations about the substance of speech? How can we say that one ought/ought not say something if we have predetermined that all speech ought to be permitted? (Again, I’m using this line of questioning to root out the nature of free speech’s ethical value) I guess we could take a non-cognitive approach and claim that speech can only be evaluated on empirical or aesthetic grounds, but what do we do with things like the n-word or yelling fire in a crowded theater? One could certainly “manage” those things with content neutral speech principles, but that doesn’t really get us any closer to discovering what the ethical nature of speech is. Same for saying things like “I don’t trust the adjudicators”, or “There are epistemic limits recognizing our own prejudices”. All of which I agree with.

Let’s say that the value of free speech isn’t rooted in speech substance, but in a Kantian concept of Sapere aude. But that doesn’t necessarily point to a presupposed social good either. It would be easy to argue that Ted Kaczynski was free from his self imposed nonage, yet we could not continue to function in a free society if there were more Ted Kaczynskis than not. There still must be a social good.

Habermas is more convincing here, but he acknowledges the evaluation of speech substance. And wouldn’t you have to recognize bad ideas to come to good ones?

So suppose that substantive speech itself has a direct causal relationship to an intrinsic social good. And what if that is ALL it is? What if the primary mechanism that makes free speech contribute to a social good is that there is a net-positive quantity/quality of good speech over bad speech? Doesn’t that change the conversation? Just because it has always worked out this way doesn’t mean that it will continue. It is not philosophically necessary that this will always be the case. Wouldn’t this revelation encourage us to focus our efforts on, perhaps, different things than procedural free speech purity and absolutism? Positions that only the morally panicked among us are making?

Despite Habermas, we have more ethical discourse now than in the preceding age, and yet we seem farther apart. The problem with Kaczynski’s escape from nonage is that he didn’t communicate with others. He locked himself in a cabin and got stuck in his own head. The counterintuitve thing about the internet is that there is so much available that you can seek out thoughts that are so similar to your own that you end up with the same effect. The landscape has changed and the hoe can’t plow the field by itself anymore. Free speech is great, but don’t we also need some mechanism to impose upon people something other than the regurgitation of their own bias?

As long as we are intent not to regulate speech substance (presumably because this results in a worse alternative and isn’t pragmatically or practically salient), shouldn’t this start with reestablishing trust? The problem is that “free speech” is also a sword used in the hegemonic culture wars. There are some agents that are so convinced that only they can be the true stewards of speech that they are willing to engage in bad faith tactics to seize control. But I question if it’s really about protecting the intrinsic social good that free speech implies. Doesn’t it really seem to be about the sequestration of power? This would relegate free speech to the jurisdiction of what Stanley Fish calls a “political prize”. And while I am completely convinced that students on campus should hear what Christina Hoff-Sommers, et al have to say, despite how deplorable it may be, inviting these people onto campus to “trigger the libs” as turning point USA encourages, will not result in establishing the social trust necessary to reverse the trends that Jonathan Haidt seems to have measured. And when you factor in the way we are prone to tribally react in opposition to what we perceive to be a threat, it may be doing more social harm than social good. That means that we can’t continue to guarantee that there will be more good substantive speech than bad unless we fix this particular issue. At least as far as college campuses are concerned. Don’t we need to have fair and honest adjudication of who is and isn’t operating in good faith? Don’t we need a mechanism for that too?

It’s not the only issue. Tribal forces, negative partisanship, and anonymity seem like they might be big problems right now. And it’s not like the students don’t have agency. At least in the same meaningful sense we grant to others. But they are kids. Aren’t they are supposed to try on adulthood and fail at it. Isn’t that part of what it takes to escape nonage? Shouldn’t we embolden their efforts and convince them that they are strong enough to withstand their journey into maturity? And Shouldn’t we be circumspect of those that initiate the moral panic? It’s dangerously close to yelling fire in a crowded theater. And instead, maybe we have an open conversation with the IDW questioning their understanding of free speech as an end in itself and let’s see if there isn’t something insightful that comes from that.Report

Jacob Stone
Jacob Stone
Reply to  Jim Messer
3 years ago

Yes, speech absolutely is power. Are there any philosophers after Austin, Wittgenstein, Foucault etc who would deny this?

That, however, is the key argument as to why speech must remain as free as possible and, where necessary, be defeated by speech of greater power.

Maybe philosophers should have a key role in shaping HOW we speak. For example, either students or professors chanting “Build a wall” on campus should be unacceptable and we should be able to explain why. However, expressing concerns about the export of jobs and the import of labour from low wage economies, specifically Mexico, should be a reasonable issue to discuss.

Philosophers should help formulate the difference in forms of expression.Report

mrmr
mrmr
3 years ago

I found the Waldron piece disappointing because, as far as I could see, it mostly just suggested that we deploy a different, more sympathetic conceptual set for describing events–“stirring up hate”, in the context of historical abuse, equal standing on campus, etc…–without really doing much to justify the choice.

It would be one thing if the lens he suggests were novel, such that even introducing it was its own form of positive progress. But this issue has been well discussed enough that we are all already know these rhetorical systems. If a philosopher has something to offer, I don’t think it’s pointing out the (extremely well-known) possibility that you could think of hate speech as harmful or as undermining equal standing. I think it’s offering actual ~arguments~ that this is ~the right~ way to think about it. On my reading of the piece, Waldron doesn’t really do that in any serious way, and so I found it pretty dissatisfying.Report

Dave Baker
Dave Baker
3 years ago

Some aspects of the recent “free speech on campus” debate–especially where it focuses on hate speech (as in section 5 of the Waldron piece)– is re-litigating a question that was thoroughly debated back in the ’90s. Unfortunately almost no one seems to be engaging thoroughly with the literature back then, much of which is quite incisive and well-argued compared with the more slogan-slinging sort of argument that has become common in this iteration of the debate.

To his credit, Waldron does cite the classic Matsuda et al. book arguing the anti-free-speech side of the issue from the ’90s. But unfortunately he doesn’t mention any of the apt criticisms raised against those arguments by Matsuda et al’s more liberal contemporaries. The best response I know of is this essay by Henry Louis Gates: http://www.oocities.org/djmabry/afro/speechgates.html

One of many money quotes from the Gates piece: “A university administration that merely condemns hate speech, without mobilizing punitive sanctions, is held to have done little, to have offered “mere words.” And yet this skepticism about the power of “mere words” comports oddly with the attempt to regulate “mere words” that, since they are spoken by those not in a position of authority, would seem to have even less symbolic force. Why is it “mere words” when a university only condemns racist speech, but not “mere words” that the student utters in the first place? Whose words are “only words”? Why are racist words deeds, but anti-racist words just lip service?”Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
3 years ago

So, how many times now have we seen Daily Nous present one side of this debate only to have the comment section roundly come out in favor of the other side?

At any rate, the five-minute opening of Brett Weinstein’s testimony in front of Congress last week should be seen by anyone who uses words and phrases like “baloney” and “moral panic” to describe events of the sort that have happened at Evergreen, Middlebury, Berkeley, etc.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRIKJCKWla4

Pay attention to his indictment of the uses to which “weaponized terminology” like “racial equity” are being put, and of the fact that protestors used a baseless accusation that STEM professors are “particularly prone to bias” to coerce the president to agree to “bring them in, train them, and if it doesn’t take, sanction them”. Notice also Weinstein’s endorsement and identification with the “intellectual darkweb” as an “emerging nonidealogical, nonpartisan movement” who, “along with the Heterodox Academy and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education” are “fighting to restore civility and respect for competing perspectives”.

It’s also worth thinking more about his call in the Q&A for a new sort of American “patriotism” (I prefer the term ‘civic nationalism’). He claims that bare support for the First Amendment alone will not solve the problem, and that we need to be thinking about how to reconstitute the “values that bind us together as a nation: equal protection under the law, the presumption of innocence, the freemarketplace of ideas, [and] the concept that people should be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin”.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Preston Stovall
3 years ago

“So, how many times now have we seen Daily Nous present one side of this debate only to have the comment section roundly come out in favor of the other side?“

To be fair, though, that just means that Justin has a small number of readers who care a lot about this issue and can usually be guaranteed to jump in. It’s scarcely a systematic sampling of DN readers.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  David Wallace
3 years ago

Sure, but the ongoing absence of an adequate defense of the “moral panic” and “baloney” side of the debate makes the continued uncritical presentation of that side look undermotivated. And if there were an adequate defense the readers of DN were able to muster, one would have hoped to see it by now.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Preston Stovall
3 years ago

Also, with the exception of Daniel Kaufman, you, and myself, I don’t recognize those commenting in this thread as fitting the description of “a small number of readers who care a lot about this issue and can usually be guaranteed to jump in”.Report

Michel
Michel
Reply to  Preston Stovall
3 years ago

I think it’s pretty clearly a moral panic, and the existence of a couple genuine cases doesn’t disconfirm that thought at all (if anything, they serve to confirm it). Frankly, like a commenter upthread, I think everybody could learn from remembering the holocaust denier epidemic of the ’90s. Particularly good in this regard is Ch. 10 of Linda Lipstadt’s “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory,” which concerns what happened when holocaust deniers came to university campuses and started trolling the AHA.

I’m also not very comfortable commenting on the topic here, precisely because I know about the deluge of crap some regular commenters here will force me to wade through in order to have a proper discussion. It’s exhausting, and I’m just not feeling up to it these days.

So don’t sit too high and mighty on the one-sided nature of the comments.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Michel
3 years ago

Color me unconvinced that physical assault, the threat of physical assault, and the destruction of property “if anything” “confirms” that we’re dealing with a “moral panic”, As for your “comfort”, I encourage you, particularly if you continue to post pseudonymously, to address arguments like Haidt and Steven’s before you plead exhaustion at not being willing to address what’s been said in response to the “moral panic” defense while, curiously, responding to the attention called to the absence of response.Report

Michel
Michel
Reply to  Preston Stovall
3 years ago

Damned if I do, and damned if I don’t.

I didn’t say I was uninformed, or that I hadn’t participated/wouldn’t participate in such conversations elsewhere. I said I didn’t have the energy for the tit-for-tat that I know you and others will require here, on this thread. That remains true, and you’ve nicely illustrated it.

So: no. Find another playmate.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Preston Stovall
3 years ago

Fair enough Michel! But if you don’t have the energy for the debate it is a bit curious that you have the energy for displaying that you don’t have the energy. And pseudonymously! But at least we’re clear that publicly refusing to have the debate does not add any support to the claim that there’s an unspoken position that establishes what you admit you’re unwilling to establish yourself. And in the absence of responding to the other side of the debate the partisans of the “moral panic” position begin to look less and less credible.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Preston Stovall
3 years ago

“But if you don’t have the energy for the debate it is a bit curious that you have the energy for displaying that you don’t have the energy.”

I see your rhetorical jab, and raise you a rhetorical question: Why should this be curious? Surely it is at least sometimes true that it is easier to say that one can’t deal with something, or someone, than to actually deal with it, or them.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Preston Stovall
3 years ago

Curious because if ‘easier’ is the criterion then the easiest thing to do is not respond at all. No one’s forcing Michel to have the conversation, but he or she is interested in stumping for the “it’s pretty clearly a moral panic” position. Yet if it was so clear, Michel shouldn’t find it hard to respond to things like the three essays of Haidt and Stevens that I linked to above, which I’ve linked to before, and which so far not a single proponent of the ‘moral panic’ position has been willing to engage with.

When those proponents continue to baldly assert things like Michel has, I’d like to see people like Michel do a little more work to defend their position. And so if it’s just “easier” not to have the conversation, we who *are* having the conversation should not be concerned by the protestation that there’s a position we should be taking seriously but aren’t.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Preston Stovall
3 years ago

Look: I broadly agree with you on the first-order issue. But I don’t think it’s helpful to declare victory on the grounds of the one-sidedness of the comments, when there are so many reasons that could be. Justin is (as is his perfect right) using his blog to advance a position that is interesting, defensible, and in my view probably wrong; just respond to it, and don’t worry about the scorekeeping. Readers can make their own assessments of the relative merits of the arguments.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  David Wallace
3 years ago

Look, I didn’t “declare victory”. I pointed out that the partisan of a view isn’t responding to the criticisms of that view. This isn’t about “scorekeeping” in anything but keeping track of whether the partisan of a view is responding to counter-arguments.Report

RJB
RJB
3 years ago

Sorry in advance for this long post, but I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot lately, and would love to get some feedback. If you’re interested, my paper is here: The LAAPs that Foster Productive Conversations, and the Crebit that Undermines Them

Above, Jim Messer asks ‘What other ways is speech limited that we don’t question?” and Erik H answers “Almost none, actually.” This seems quite wrong to me.

It’s true that people usually object strongly to statements of the form “you can’t say that anywhere.” But most of us accept limits to speech with little question when they take the form “you can’t say that here.” Limits like that are true in every classroom, workshop, peer-reviewed journal, faculty meeting, reception, etc. In all of these venues, someone is imposing standards (a teacher, presenter, organizer, editor, chair, host , community) that limit what people can say. These venues include the vast majority of speech on campus, so a lot of the ‘free speech crisis’ arguments seem somewhat misdirected, in two ways.

First, people are ignoring the limits to speech imposed in the venues where the bulk of speech occurs, in order to focus the conversation almost entirely on the rare instances where speech (or speakers) are being limited outside these venues. Second, people are framing the issue as wanting speech without limits, when what they really want is to be able to create a venue where they can set their own limits to speech that allows the conversation they want to have. For example, if they want to have a debate about whether some race is truly less intelligent, they don’t want people interrupting to talk about medieval cuisine.

My view comes from my study of accounting, which has limited speech for millennia, one venue at a time. We do that by devising versions Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), which spell out what people must and can’t say in financial statements or other venues where a group wants to have a productive conversation. I have recently coined the term LAAP (with the L for Locally) to describe the rules that govern limits to speech in a local venue like a classroom, boardroom or dinner party. Every space has a LAAP, which excludes certain speech because it undermines the conversation. I call the excluded speech “crebit” (which is excluded from financial statements because it is unintelligible in the accountant’s world of credits and debits). People who dump crebit in the punch bowl of a conversation are engaging in “crebitry” and can expect to be punished.

What we need is a good open debate about what LAAPs are appropriate for given venues. Accountants have done this for GAAP by spelling out the purpose of their conversation (to help people assess a firm’s financial situation and predict cash flows), and demanding that changes to GAAP be justified by appeals to desirable qualities of speech, particularly relevance, faithfulness and intelligibility. I propose we can do something similar for classrooms and other spaces by starting with those qualities and adding others, like efficiency, engagingness and diplomacy (so we don’t so bore or offend listeners that they tune out or derail the conversation), the usual appeal to avoiding harmfulness, and a more controversial recognition that some speech is excluded as crebit because it drives away the funding the venue needs to sustain itself. Naturally, these qualities often come into conflict, so a good LAAP needs to make wise compromises. Speech can’t be allowed simply because it is relevant and faithful, because it might far too poorly on other qualities. Speech can’t be excluded simply because it is unengaging or undiplomatic—those problems might be compensated for by strong relevance and faithfulness.

This approach doesn’t answer the question of what particular speech should be excluded as crebit from a particular venue, but it does a pretty good job of helping us understand what actually does get excluded (and what gets punished as crebitry). Classrooms and seminars have limited time and a captive audience, so if you aren’t drone on inefficiently you’ll be shut down. Receptions and dinner parties have a purpose of building social ties, so demands for faithfulness are low but demands for diplomacy are high (encouraging a lot of white lies). Journals are expensive to run, so editors demand that it will be citable and influential enough to encourage continued funding.

Trying to impose a LAAP on an entire campus is tyrannical. But not imposing a LAAP your own classroom, workshop, or meeting is incompetent. If we don’t exclude some speech as crebit, we can’t have a productive conversation.

This is work in progress–comments welcome!Report

Dave Baker
Dave Baker
Reply to  RJB
3 years ago

Your link seems to be broken?

I’d like to underscore something your framework makes admirably clear, by the way. The inference is often drawn that since no instructor ought to permit a certain kind of speech in a classroom (Ann Coulter-style racist rants, for example), that sort of speech ought not to have a place anywhere on campus (including in lecture halls reserved by student organizations for their events). As your framework makes clear, this sort of argument is fallacious.Report

RJB
RJB
Reply to  Dave Baker
3 years ago

Whoops on the link: hopefully this works.

Agreed on the main point. Every conversation has its purpose, and therefore its own LAAP and crebit. So as you say, Coulter-like speech may be crebit in most classrooms, but that doesn’t require it to be crebit in a space people have carved out for just that purpose.

Of course, some may still want to protest or even disrupt a Coulter-purposed event. The LAAP-crebit framework provides some insight on this, too. Not every purpose is acceptable (e.g., a conversation dedicated to criminal conspiracy), and not every LAAP is wise, fair and appropriate. A LAAP can be “weaponized” to seem like it has a legitimate purpose but actually promote an illegitimate one. (For example, a tv network might try to seem like news but their purpose is actually propaganda).

What does this mean for venue disruption? People who disrupt a venue are protesting the LAAP within the venue governed by the LAAP. This is crebitry, by definition, because they are undermining the purpose of the conversation as defined by the organizers. Disrupters can therefore expect to be punished by the people who police that LAAP–organizers, participants, and even the university administrators who assigned the venue to that particular group. Like most protesters, others (perhaps years later) will judge whether the protest was justified.Report

RJB
RJB
Reply to  RJB
3 years ago

Whoops again–only “within the venue governed by the LAAP” was supposed to be bolded , to emphasize that protesting outside the LAAP is not crebitry–you can always carve out a new venue to talk about other people’s LAAPs. But protest is crebitry when you derail a conversation to talk about its LAAP.Report

AssociateProf
AssociateProf
3 years ago

“This is nonsense. The students weren’t trying to shut down debate; they were trying to open it up.”

Among the disappointing aspects of Waldron’s piece is that he downplays what student activists often demand, including in the case referenced here. Had the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign simply sought to have statute removed (which I would support), there would be no controversy over free speech. But that was only one of a long list of demands. Among other things, they also demanded compulsory implicit bias training (despite no evidence that such training has any positive effect on anything), monetary payments for their own activism, and for the University to prohibit criticism of the Rhodes Must Fall movement. It’s not enough to advance their own viewpoint, but they also demand that others be forced to agree with and support them.Report

Daniel Butt
Reply to  AssociateProf
3 years ago

“Among other things, they also demanded… for the University to prohibit criticism of the Rhodes Must Fall movement.”

Do you have a source for this claim? It looks from the rest of your comment as if you may be referring to point 7 of the demands listed here: http://cherwell.org/2016/02/01/rmf-announces-seven-demands-at-press-conference/ …which reads:

“Seventh, we want the University and all related bodies to cease smear campaigns, and private intimidation, of our movement and our members.”

That looks rather different. But perhaps you have something else in mind?Report

AssociateProf
AssociateProf
Reply to  Daniel Butt
3 years ago

My recollection, based on both news stories and online discussion at the time, of that demand #7 was that the students intended it to be a blanket ban on criticism by anyone associated with the university, including faculty and staff.Report

Daniel Butt
Reply to  AssociateProf
3 years ago

“My recollection, based on both news stories and online discussion at the time”

This… is not good evidence. Come on, surely you can see the irony of making this kind of unfounded accusation in this specific thread?Report