Friday, November 27, 2015

Free Speech vs. "Safe Spaces": Moral vs. Legal Considerations

   I'm just going to gesture at some general points. This isn't supposed to be a detailed examination of these issues.
   Neo-PC is basically just paleo-PC, but more radical. Many of the same types of issues and disagreements arise. For example, the paleo-PCs were anti-pornography, whereas the neo-PCs seem to have given that battle up, perhaps because feminism has given it up, and feminism is a component of the thing. At any rate, paleo-PCs and feminists used to argue that pornography was bad, viewing it was immoral, and it shouldn't be allowed on campus. (There's always been a puritanical, anti-sex sector of the far left.)  It was common for people like me to respond with free speech arguments. However, their response was commonly: we're not arguing for censorship, we're arguing that it's bad and no one should--morally should--have anything to do with it. I didn't believe them, but now I think that at least some of them were being honest.
   Similarly now, I think the PCs can say, in most of the relevant cases: we're not arguing for government censorship of, say, "hate speech," we're arguing that it shouldn't be tolerated on campuses. So, a university might reasonably try to prevent people from going around constantly saying hateful, demeaning, upsetting things to people, even when this falls short of assault. (Note: IANAL...there may be many complications here I don't know about.) Say there's a campus organization that thinks that women are inferior to men. Say they make dishonest, one-sided arguments aimed at supporting this conclusion, speak in a demeaning manner in classes and around campus, argue that women should not be permitted to vote, should be subservient to their husbands, etc. Suppose they were bad enough to upset a large percentage of reasonable people on campus. I expect a lot of sensible, non-PC types might argue for some kind of university action in such a case.
   Does that seem right?
   So one might see the PCs as making a similar point. E.g. when they try to keep Germaine Greer from speaking at Warwick. Many of them seem to think: it shouldn't be illegal for her to speak, but she's so wrong and wrong in such an "offensive" (to use the paleo-PC's favorite word) way that she has to be either stupid or motivated by hate. And so it's better not to have her speak on campus. A university wouldn't invite David Duke to speak (even if he isn't speaking about racism) they shouldn't invite Germaine Greer either (even if she isn't speaking about "trans" issues).
   If we think about things this way, free speech arguments in their normal form seem to become irrelevant, since government censorship is not at issue. The argument so conceived is a moral and not a legal one.
   I still don't think the arguments work, and don't think they come close to working. But I think we've got to at least see this angle on things to understand what's going on. (Though I'm not saying that it's the only nor the best angle.)


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