Yes, Folks, I’ve Seen Today’s xkcd; Yes, It’s Rather On Point

If you click through to the cartoon on the xkcd site (click on it above to do that) the mouseover text on the cartoon is worth reading, too.

 

92 thoughts on “Yes, Folks, I’ve Seen Today’s xkcd; Yes, It’s Rather On Point

  1. You can add the mouseover text here too, if you click the edit icon on the image and change the title (I see it’s now ‘Image Title Attribute’ under ‘Advance Options’ on the new version they have at wordpress.com.) Not that I want to discourage clicking through; xkcd is great.

  2. Fair enough; I did say I didn’t want to discourage that. I just wanted to make sure you knew how to do it, just in case you’d somehow been posting several times a day for years without noticing that functionality. :)

  3. Go meta: add a mouseover saying “Click here to see xkcd in its native environment (the mouseover text on the cartoon is worth reading too)” :)

  4. But liberal lamestream media! Conspiracy by reporters collectively deciding what and how to report events to thwart conservatives! Bias against Christianity! Benghazi! Socialized take-over of the American medical system! It’s all Obama’s fault and he’s destroying America!

  5. Geez, I wish more people understood this. I think it would go a long way toward clearing up the cesspool that we call public discourse.

  6. I see I am not the only one that thought “Whatever” and grinned. I just read what I wrote and had to grin again.

  7. I really admire cartoonists like this one, who have the talent to take a hundred words and a handful of drawings to better express a viewpoint than I could do with a few thousand words.

  8. The cartoon makes a good point, and the mouse-over text is worth reading but that isn’t all there is on this subject.

    If you decide to respond to speech by boycotting, cancelling the speaker’s show, banning someone from an internet community, and give an argument like the one in this cartoon as the reason why, you are saying that the most compelling argument for your position is that it’s literally not illegal to suppress the speaker because you aren’t the government.

    If a university invites a speaker and a student group turns up to shout him or her down, or raises such a ruckus that speaker or the university cancel the appearance, the free exchange of ideas has likely been harmed. The fact that it’s not literally a violation of the first amendment is very small comfort.

  9. However if you yell into a crowd in the airport that you have a bomb, the government can and will arrest you. It will also delay your flight so the car rental place is closed when you finally arrive.

  10. @Mike I’m going to save your comment, if I may, because you express much more articulately than I do my objection to the argument that “Free Speech” is simply about government censorship.

    Now, the principle of Freedom of Speech is not a license to be as much of an asshole as you want to be, in all circumstances, to everyone, but the popular argument given by xkcd is overly simplistic and narrow.

  11. When I read the Bill of Rights, I see the words, “Congress shall make no law…..”, and this was before the age of “executive orders” when it was written. Therefore, my refusal to listen to you in no way abridges your First Amendment rights, and perhaps the way my refusal comes out reflects whether I’m being an asshole or not. In response to Mike’s comment, there is a difference between refusing to listen to someone and and refusing while making yourself look like an asshole doing it. The cases you cite are people being assholes about it. Example: You don’t like the speaker’s position, so you go in there shouting as loudly as you can so nobody can hear over you. Have you made a point? Yep, you’ve told me that you believe that only your viewpoint matters, that you refuse to discuss the issue calmly and logically, and that you won’t allow anyone else to speak. In short, you’re an asshole. That’s the impression you’ve given me. There are the other sorts, who ask a question and then refuse to allow the other side to answer that question without a barrage of questions before the other person has even gotten three words out of their mouth. (I call that the Piers Morgan style of interviewing. If you get up and quietly walk out after the first 5 minutes, I’m not going to criticize you for that. At least, you weren’t being an asshole when you got up and left….

  12. I dunno – how does this apply to those women in fandom who get swamped by death and rape threats when they express their opinions? Should they just suck it up as the result of daring to express unpopular opinions?

  13. Actually, @Mike and @EJ, the First Amendment is exactly “simply about government censorship.” Courtesy is about not being an asshole. I may think that the speaker at a local forum is an idiot and I may say so, but shouting her down is rude. Not illegal, but rude. And the private organization that is hosting that speaker has every right to ask me to leave, because they are hosting the individual, but they cannot have the government stop me from expressing my disagreement unless I am breaking some law, such as trespass or being violent. Do I think that the host should be able to sponsor whoever they choose? Of course. But I get to say that the speaker is an idiot or wrong without GOVERNMENT interference. The sponsor also gets to escort me out the door without GOVERNMENT interference.

    Please note that I do not advocate shouting down a speaker or preventing people from entering the building. I would never do that. But it is because I am polite and reasonably mature, not because I fear government reprisal. I, too, hate the Piers Morgan style of interviewing. That’s why I don’t watch him. He’s a jerk. But CNN has the right to air his show. And obviously some people like that thing or he and O’Reilly and Limbaugh would no longer be on the air.

  14. @EJ

    I’m not sure if you meant “if I may” as a rhetorical flourish or an actual request. If it’s the former, then yes you may.

  15. If you tie someone up and throw them in your basement, it would not violate their rights to free speech, but it would put a damper on their ability to make an argument.

  16. Says it all.

    @Patricia S. Bowne

    I dunno – how does this apply to those women in fandom who get swamped by death and rape threats when they express their opinions? Should they just suck it up as the result of daring to express unpopular opinions?

    A, threats of physical violence are not protected speech. The government can shut you up for making them. B, please click through and mouse over the comic per John’s recommendation. Women in fandom have a better argument for expressing their opinions than that it’s not illegal for them to do so. The whole point of the comic is that if that’s your go-to argument, you’re as much as admitting that your position is otherwise indefensible. It’s not a question of who should and shouldn’t be listened to. That’s up to the listeners. It’s a matter of First Amendment arguments having zilch to do with other people listening to, supporting or hosting you, regardless of whether what you have to say is worth hearing or not. So no, women in fandom have no more of a legal right to be heard or hosted than RSHDs, but they do have a legal right not to be threatened with violence.

  17. Gulliver,

    I did mouse over the comment, and I thought it wasn’t very applicable in real life. Hardly anybody makes an argument for no reason except that they have the right to do so. They always think the argument has some other worth, if only as an intellectual exercise or for recreation. But that’s a different discussion…

    Suppose the government actually were doing anything to shut up people who post death threats. Wouldn’t that just support my contention that in some cases, you can only have free speech for one party by denying it to at least some of their opponents?

  18. @Patricia S. Bowne

    Suppose the government actually were doing anything to shut up people who post death threats. Wouldn’t that just support my contention that in some cases, you can only have free speech for one party by denying it to at least some of their opponents?

    Not quite. The purpose of prosecuting threats of violence (and I wholeheartedly agree that it’s an under-prosecuted crime, but it is, in the USA, a crime according to no less than the SCOTUS) is to protect targets of violence from violence, not to defend their freedom of speech. Any difference in what they can safely say is incidental. Likewise to shouting fire in a crowded theater and all the other edge cases folks like to trot out and flog in First Amendment discussions.

  19. I have a pithier way of saying this, which I use on my own blog site: “There may be free speech, but there is no free lunch. You want to make a speech, get your own blog; I run and pay for this one.”

  20. @saruby: You will, no doubt, be pleased to learn that Piers Morgan is no longer on CNN. His farewell show was a couple of weeks ago.

  21. @Gulliver

    That makes a lot of sense! And it makes a far stronger case for doing something about threats than my free speech argument, which could stereotype the threatened person as merely thin-skinned. Protecting people from violence is an obvious function of government.

    Have you heard of anyone actually hunting down and prosecuting internet trolls under any of these statutes?

  22. I hope you don’t mind my sharing a link, here, but this question of free speech and reaction to it by non-government entities seems to be a theme for the day, and I think my blog post is as good a comment as I can make on it right now: http://jahangiri.us/2013/pots-clanging-in-a-dark-drawer/

    Mike, EJ, and Patricia bring up the points I hope I was able to make. I think they’re important ones. Saying that free speech only protects you from the government is a bit disingenuous in an oligarchy. It is a bit disingenuous if you happen to be a minority and want to fight injustice. I agree that it shouldn’t give you the right to be an asshole, though.

  23. @Mike, the part it looks like you’re missing is that when the person rejecting your speech and causing the consequences is a fellow citizen, that’s not a violation of Free Speech, it’s an exercise of it.

    I’ve referenced the marketplace of ideas a lot on other threads, but free speech and expression protections only mean your idea has the same shot as anyone else’s to gain support. If your idea is more popular than the boycott protesting it, the boycott won’t work. If you are able to convince the owner of a platform that your idea has value, they will grant you access to it. But using your resources to support ideas you value or reject the ones you don’t is absolutely protected self-expression.

    In essence, talking is a right. Being heard is a privilege fellow citizens are perfectly within their rights to grant or deny.

  24. @Patricia S. Bowne

    Have you heard of anyone actually hunting down and prosecuting internet trolls under any of these statutes?

    No, I haven’t. It’s a lousy analogy for a lot of reasons, but I think we’re still in the Wild West phase of the internet. I also think that the internet may be bleeding over into real life where people who feel empowered to ignore ethical social constraints on the web (for example Violent Acres) are weakening those same social constraints in meatspace. Ultimately, in a republic at least, law is important, but meaningless if the populace has no respect for it. Which is not to minimize the importance of laws in protecting people from violence. But the function of laws is to protect people from those who choose to ignore existing customs. We still have to change the customs from where it’s normal to threaten violence against women (or anyone, but women are disproportionally targeted) to where it isn’t normal. If the drug war has taught us anything, it’s that, if the only way to enforce a behavior is to lock up a tenth of your population, you’ve failed to fix the real problem.

    Sorry my thoughts I kind of scattered. I’m a little rushed today.

  25. Anecdotally (and I accept the weakness of anecdotal evidence, and am happy to cede to stronger arguments), I’ve never once seen a marginalized person make the “You’re violating my free speech!” defense. I’ve only seen assholes who know that they can’t get away with saying sexist, racist, or phobic things but want to get away with it SO BAD make the “You’re violating my free speech!” defense. Because when marginalized people are silenced, they know that it’s not their free speech being violated, but their personhood, and when they have the strength of will to speak up against their silencing, they’re generally experienced enough to articulate that difference. In my purely anecdotal experience, assholes rely on the “You’re violating my free speech!” defense because they have NOTHING ELSE to defend themselves with, because they’re assholes.

    So it seems odd to me, is all, to see these criticisms, because explaining that free speech only protects you from the government is an explanation, as I understand it, that only assholes actually need to have given to them, because they’re the only ones I ever see play that particular card.

    I may be missing the point, and I’d like to be corrected if I am. I’d also like to be corrected if my experience does not match with reality. I know enough about the perception bias to know I need to be careful about it.

  26. The xkcd cartoon and the posters on this comment board make excellent points about free speech, including that there is no explicit right to be an asshole. My opinion has always been that if you want to disagree with a speaker or columnist, that’s your right. If you want to speak out (write out?) your objections to that speaker’s or writer’s statements, that’s your right. However, if you disrupt or prevent that speaker from speaking or threaten violence or boycotts to prevent the writer from publishing just because you disagree with that person, you are being a bigger asshole than the speaker or writer to whom you object, and you lose ALL credibility with me. It doesn’t matter to me if I agree with your objection to the speaker/writer, you’re just being extremely rude; and, to quote Dennis Miller, you might as well just get in the dinghy and go fishin’ with Fredo, ‘cuz you’re dead to me.

  27. @saruby

    Actually, @Mike and @EJ, the First Amendment is exactly “simply about government censorship.”

    I don’t disagree.

    You seem to have conflated free speech with the first amendment. Free speech is even considered a virtue in some countries which aren’t the United States. There has been a big dispute about the subject in Britain recently.

    Perhaps you mean that free speech is exactly “simply about government censorship”. There I would tend to disagree. it’s a true statement as far as the law goes; the government doesn’t get to punish a university for uninviting a popular speaker, though that becomes a more interesting question if it’s a state owned school.

    Free speech and the free exchange of ideas is a virtue that had to be perceived as being important before some governments made an effort to protect it in law. I’d say that it’s a good thing that governments only protect speech from suppression by governments, but that doesn’t mean that free speech isn’t a virtue outside of the realm of government control.

    Suppose a small club of publishers collude to refuse to publish an author, even though they all believe that that it would be profitable to do so. Legally you might make a case for restraint of trade, but you couldn’t make a legal case for censorship. Is it therefore incorrect to state that the author is the victim of censorship because it wasn’t state sponsored? This is an example of the oligarchy case that Holly was speaking of.

    Suppose a scientific journal refuses to submit credible articles in its field for peer review because the publisher doesn’t like the political implications. If that journal is the accepted forum for that field, it may not be practical for the authors to go start their own journal. I think it would be a fair criticism that the journal doesn’t support free speech, even though the journal is under no legal obligation to do so.

  28. Oops:

    I meant ” the government doesn’t get to punish a university for uninviting an UNpopular speaker”, though it’s a true statement either way.

  29. I agree with @Mike, this argument needs to distinguish the first amendment from free speech. The cartoon, and lots of the comments, seem to be about the latter. And I still feel that the kinds of actions outlined in the cartoon would be (and have historically been) more effective for suppressing minorities’ opinions than they will ever be for suppressing right-wingers, and that uncritically accepting them is a lot like riding a tiger.

    @GarretC, perhaps the reason right-wingers make the constitutional argument is that they are (a) not used to being suppressed by this sort of citizen action and (b) used to having the legal system work *for* them instead of against them. They’re not wrong. That’s how it should be for everyone, IMO.

  30. Mike, even in your scientific journal example, the appeal to free speech is still the concession the xkcd comic points to in the mouse-over text.

    Besides that, your sense of the “free exchange of ideas” appears to presuppose that all ideas are of equal value. Some ideas have no value at all.

  31. It may be significant that the cartoon figure proposing these arguments is represented as being empty heated.

  32. Milt, I assume you meant “empty headed”, and no. Randal Munroe, the author of xkcd, uses a minimalist style (i.e. he draws stick figure characters in all of his cartoons).

  33. An excellent reminder that we do not live in a society interested in an exchange of ideas with an interest in or even a tolerance for diversity of thought. Instead, we seem to be back to running heretics out on a rail.

  34. ” I’ve never once seen a marginalized person make the “You’re violating my free speech!” defense.”

    Why would you? Marginalized people tend not to be heard at all.

  35. Part of being a “liberal” is tolerating differences in opinion. And that’s what we’re dealing with here; differences in opinion in a civil context.

    What the Left has shown in the “Duck Dynasty” and Mozilla cases that they are not liberals and are reverting to their 20th Century Fascist roots for punishing ThoughtCrime and subjecting the heretics from their pseudoreligion to Two Minutes Hate.

  36. This conversation seems to want to morph into a discussion of tolerance and courtesy instead one about the first amendment. Discussions of tolerance and courtesy are good discussion points in a conversation; they apply to all participants and we can discuss concepts like civility, avoiding ad hominem attacks, escalation, false equivalencies, and other issues.
    Using First Amendment rights to claim you should be listened to (and/or the trope that anyone who doesn’t want to listen to you is denying YOUR rights) is ridiculous – and incredibly one-sided. Maybe we are moving forward! (e.g., @Rod Rubert)

  37. Geez, all this talk about free speech!

    My impression was all of this was actually aimed at legitimizing the joy of playing “Whack-A-Mole.”

  38. Scorpius, repeating Fascism was Socialism again and again won’t make it true. Fascist and Communist governments both used totalitarian practices, but they did not have the same origins, ideology or constituencies. You can have liberal socialists and liberal capitalists, but they are not the same any more than totalitarian communists and totalitarian fascists are.

    I think there was a point when John was making good arguments about what the First Amendment actually is and how many people seem confused about its meaning and function. However, conflating “free speech” and the First Amendment is also a mistake and while John never said they were the same thing, I also think his current emphases on these issues goes too far in devaluing the former.

  39. @Dave

    Exactly! There’s a worthwhile conversation to be had about freedom of expression and tolerance of different viewpoints, but it has nothing to do with the First Amendment. IMO, people who conflate the two (which seems mostly these days to be people who see themselves as social conservatives) pretty much shoot themselves in the foot by making an argument that veers completely off topic. By all means, have that conversation about opening communities and spaces to unpopular ideas. Members of marginalized groups are intimately familiar with how many self-appointed defenders of traditional social structures have closed them out for decades!

  40. If you are selling a product and people disagree with your views, you have the free speech right to say what you say and sell your product. And people have the free speech right to not buy your product, to protest you and your product and encourage others to their point of view in a boycott of you and your product. You are both engaging in free speech. That you don’t like the free speech of the people who are boycotting doesn’t mean that they don’t have that free speech right.

    If you are paid or granted access by a university to make a speech, that is a choice by the university, not your right to make a speech at the university. You speak at the university only at their desire and if they feel it’s in their best interests. If they decide later that it is not in their best interests, that does not suppress your free speech in any way. You can rent out any public hall or go on any street corner and give your speech, film it and put it up on YouTube. But you do not have the right to force a private entity or business like a university to let you give your speech.

    Students at the university, who pay the university for their education, have the free speech right to come to the university with their complaints and concerns, and to publicly protest your speech being made part of their education. They have the right to protest to the university that having the speech on campus means the university is endorsing the speech and causing harm to the students in doing so. And the university then has the right to decide whether to have the speech go forward or not because the university is private property. Deciding not to have the speech is again not suppressing the speech. It’s deciding that they aren’t going to listen to the speech. The students certainly aren’t obligated to attend the speech, exchange ideas with the speaker, or refrain from protesting it if they wish to speak against it.

    The speaker doesn’t get more free speech rights than the students, and as ERose pointed out, the speaker doesn’t get to force people to listen to him or her, and without protest and disagreement. The speaker does not have a free speech right to speak at the university, even if previously engaged. The speaker has a free speech right to speak in the public square of the United States and on his or her own private property. But when the speaker does speak in the public square, anyone else can lead a protest against the speaker as a free speech right. That’s not suppression. It’s equal free speech.

  41. The only new piece of information I have gotten so far is that Scorpius has finally admitted she is a liberal!

    @ Rod Rubert – So at what point does an idea become so odious it should not be discussed in public? For example, would you be OK with someone discussing how to commit a crime against you or yours?

  42. I just don’t understand why so many people seem to not comprehend that free speech goes both ways. That when you express your thoughts and opinions and then someone criticizes those thoughts and opinions, you’re BOTH participating in free speech. Free speech is not a one-way monologue from the speaker to audience.

    As Kat said, “And people have the free speech right to not buy your product, to protest you and your product and encourage others to their point of view in a boycott of you and your product.”

  43. @ERose

    But using your resources to support ideas you value or reject the ones you don’t is absolutely protected self-expression.

    In essence, talking is a right. Being heard is a privilege fellow citizens are perfectly within their rights to grant or deny.

    If I have a TV show and use it to express unpopular opinions and it goes off the air because no one watches the show, them’s the breaks in the marketplace of ideas.

    I think that’s a somewhat different position from “fire this guy or we boycott”.

    I don’t think I would describe conservatives working in Hollywood actively concealing the fact in order to keep working to be the marketplace of ideas at work. (See Roger L. Simon’s “Turning Right at Hollywood and Vine).

  44. People have a right to say what they want.

    If I don’t like what they say, I have a right to say so.

    If I dislike what they say enough, I have a right to not shop in their store, buy their product, watch their movie. That doesn’t in any way violate their right to free speech; it’s me exercising mine (this argument would have to be more complex had SCOTUS not ruled, appallingly in my view, that money is speech, but I assure you it ends up in the same place).

    I also have the right to tell other people that I’m not shopping/buying/watching whomever, and why. Again, MY free speech right.

    I certainly also have the right to encourage others to do the same, and use my free speech right to organize.

    The argument that boycotts suppress free speech is pure, unadulterated bullshit toxic waste (bullshit has some use).

    PrivateIron, you’re wasting your electrons. Nothing you can say will change that one’s mind, or indeed have any impact at all. He’s not here to engage, only to provoke.

  45. Also, “tolerate” is getting knocked around a bit. “Tolerate” to me means allowing you the right to speak (to the extent others’ rights are respected). It does NOT mean, to me, that I can’t criticize or persuade others that you are unpopular or to be condemned. That is part and parcel of the free market of ideas.

  46. Oh, and if someone is sponsoring someone who says things I object to sufficiently, I have the right not to buy their products etc. too, and tell everyone why, and organize. Of course.

  47. @ Mike:

    If I have a TV show and use it to express unpopular opinions and it goes off the air because no one watches the show, them’s the breaks in the marketplace of ideas.

    I think that’s a somewhat different position from “fire this guy or we boycott”.

    The only difference is that one states what they’re going to do, and the other just does it. BOTH are free speech. Mozilla decided that it was in their best interests as a business to remove a major point of controversy and potential damage to their bottom line. THAT is the power of a free market, where the consumer can choose who and what to do business with, and where businesses have to appeal to as many customers as they can or risk losing to a competitor.

  48. Mike:

    I think that’s a somewhat different position from “fire this guy or we boycott”.

    It isn’t at all different. Saying “we don’t want to do business or work with this person who has what we see as a position harmful to the reputation and business of the company, so while you have this guy in charge, we will not do business or work with the company and encourage others to do the same” is free speech in a free market, same as the t.v. show and protesting and boycotting a t.v. show.

    Conservatives boycott Disney for having favorable policies to gay employees and gay customers. That’s free speech in the free market. Liberals boycotted Target because some of its owners were contributing to anti-gay rights campaigns. That’s free speech. Target decided that they wanted these people’s business (free market) and did several things to show they supported gay employees and customers. So conservatives boycotted Target. That’s free speech. Conservatives boycotted Kmart for hiring Ellen DeGeneres as spokesperson. That’s free speech. Conservatives boycotted Cheerios for having a multi-racial family in a commercial that was popular That’s free speech. Liberals boycotted the film Ender’s Game and that is free speech. Conservatives boycotted the film Noah as sacrilegious and that is free speech.

    When the KKK has a parade (which is a form of political protest,) that’s free speech. When there’s a counter-protest at the parade, that is also free speech. When the Westboro church members do a protest on a street at a soldier’s funeral, that is free speech. When others counter-protest by forming a human shield around the funeral, that is also free speech.

    Free speech does not entitle you to force people to listen to you, buy your stuff or services, let others buy your stuff without comment, not protest you and generally stay silent in the public square if they don’t agree with you. They have a free speech right to not do any of those things.

  49. Listen to Kat Goodwin. Hear her words, take them to heart. She has the true wisdom.

    Thank you, Kat.

  50. @ Scorpius

    You will probably see this as censoring your free spech, but [Deleted because, come on, Christoph – JS]

    Also if you have some Money left after the deductibles and the crushing tax hikes of Obama (WHO WITHOUT ANY HYBERBOLE IS A MILLION TIMES WORSE THAN HILTER) buy some history books. And no Jonah Goldberg is not a historian. Neither are Scott Lively or David Barton. Or David Irving.

  51. Okay, that was over the line. After I posted that i fully expected you to delete the whole comment, John so thanks I guess.
    Nevertheless I seriously hate this kind of Geschichtsfälschung. American conservatives are not the worst offenders, but they’ve gotten pretty bad.

  52. OK, just in case some innocent person came by and read the buthidaean rantings uncritically: Right-wing jackholes like Jonah Goldberg claim that socialists are really Nazis. Their reasoning (using the term loosely) is that the NSDAP had ‘socialist’ in the name, and therefore the Nazis were socialists, and therefore socialists are Nazis. This is parallel to arguing that because Christian Science has “science” in the name, Christians are scientists, and therefore all scientists are Christian.

    It also neglects the fact that the NSDAP purged all their socialists and kept the name.

    By their argument the Democratic Republican Party are really Democrats. Actually, they’re Communists, because the German Democratic Republic were Communists, therefore all “Democratic Republic”ans are Communist too. QED (Quickly Entering Derpland).

  53. @ Patricia S. Bowe: “I agree with @Mike, this argument needs to distinguish the first amendment from free speech. The cartoon, and lots of the comments, seem to be about the latter.”

    I agree with Patricia. I have a great respect for the sentiment expressed in the XKCD cartoon. However, imagine it’s your boss “showing you the door,” while telling you what the First Amendment does and doesn’t allow, because s/he doesn’t like your political opinions, even though you’ve never criticized the company, its policies, or your boss. At that point, the boss is right about the First Amendment, but in a moral state of complete wrongness.

    So I’m concerned that the argument made at XKCD becomes an argument in favor of bad behavior when engaged in by powerful forces which are not the government, and that this can take place in a political environment where the rights of workers are shrinking.

  54. Probably the most shared post I’ve seen on my FB feed in all the years I’ve been on it. Which makes me happy.

    And, Kat Goodwin, you rock!

  55. Alex R.

    imagine it’s your boss “showing you the door,” while telling you what the First Amendment does and doesn’t allow, because s/he doesn’t like your political opinions, even though you’ve never criticized the company, its policies, or your boss.

    I don’t have to imagine it because it already occurs. And the right is very determined that it should occur even more, blocking any bill to better protect workers’ rights. Already numerous states in the U.S. have unconstitutional laws that let companies be able to fire you for any reason and prevent the formation of unions to lobby and leverage for your rights, Hobby Lobby is taking its case for controlling its employees’ beliefs and healthcare to the Supreme Court, and the U.S. government has very little control what multi-national corporations do when not on U.S. soil.

    The First Amendment protects the general rights of its citizens, particularly from government interference. (Unfortunately, we still have laws that contradict it like DOMA.) So when you are talking about free speech issues, you may not be limiting it to the U.S. and the First Amendment. But the cartoon is specifically dealing with those who invoke the First Amendment of the U.S. in asserting that not only do they have free speech but that free speech means everybody else has to shut up when they talk, or it somehow suppresses their free speech. And that’s not what the First Amendment means, so people making that argument are misquoting the First Amendment which is what the cartoon is addressing.

  56. It was about nine years ago that my life entered a chapter in a cyberpunk novel of ideas about freedom of speech in what most people seemed to assume was a parallel universe involving three-letter agencies, Chinese firewalls, brave journalists, and underground movements fighting for democracy — not to mention kiddie porn, drug trafficking, and things perhaps less savory and dynamic than that first list — all wrapped in layer upon layer of protective encryption, travelling side by side like chromatic silk strands through glass wires beneath oceans and across continents. But hiding. Escaping detection by caroming off one country after another to escape whatever hounds pursued. Data, dashing like rabbits in the thickets, where white fangs can’t follow.

    That’s more my image of the Tor Network, than any academic paper describing the protocols, any news about the Arab Spring or Silk Road or Snowden and the NSA. I was the founding executive director.

    I always wanted to write science fiction, but I started working in public interest internet policy in the early 80s, before it was particularly public. So I’ve been writing simulation into fact for over thirty years — a great deal of it centered around digital divide, free speech, organizing, digital rights, net neutrality and other issues pertinent to this.

    Second generation ACLU, first generation EFF.

    It continues to amaze me how many fen are politically passionate, and competent to work out simulations in complex, world-building SF of ideas, yet will not leave their coaches or ergonomic chairs to effect a little change in the real world with that passion.

    If one in 100 geeks who gave a good goddam did what I do, and tried to *be* science fiction — through policy, NGOs, politics, or driving science into the future — we could supercharge the world, above and beyond what we see today.

    If you want freedom of speech, speak out for it. It’s endangered, as a norm. Particularly check out the abridgement of student rights on school and *off* school grounds in the last decade. It’s terrifying.

  57. How quickly we forget. Back in the days when “politically correct” really became a popular phrase, the zeitgeist was that marginalized groups needed to ‘fight fire with fire’ and exercise their own damn free speech right back, and let the marketplace of ideas sort it out, rather than hiding behind terms like “silencing” as a cover for the fact that they just weren’t thick-skinned enough to dish it out. Now that’s what’s actually happening, cue the whine merchants complaining about bullying and thoughtcrime.

    @Mike, you understand, of course, that your response to the xkcd cartoon is not so much an argument as a rhetorical tactic: use the phrase “free speech” to invoke the First Amendment and all that it stands for, and then quickly retreat from the confines of the Constitution into a more nebulous, undefined territory where “free speech” means, well, whatever we feel it means. (Generally, that criticism and boycotts of things we don’t hate are bad and anti-free speech.) I think this was addressed a while ago in a Popehat post:

    The phrase “the spirit of the First Amendment” often signals approaching nonsense. So, regrettably, does the phrase “free speech” when uncoupled from constitutional free speech principles. These terms often smuggle unprincipled and internally inconsistent concepts — like the doctrine of the Preferred+ First Speaker. The doctrine of the Preferred First Speaker holds that when Person A speaks, listeners B, C, and D should refrain from their full range of constitutionally protected expression to preserve the ability of Person A to speak without fear of non-governmental consequences that Person A doesn’t like. The doctrine of the Preferred First Speaker applies different levels of scrutiny and judgment to the first person who speaks and the second person who reacts to them; it asks “why was it necessary for you to say that” or “what was your motive in saying that” or “did you consider how that would impact someone” to the second person and not the first. It’s ultimately incoherent as a theory of freedom of expression.

    The whole post is worth reading.

  58. Mike, and everyone else agreeing with him, you need to read and understand this:

    And while we’re at it, this:

    You do not seem to understand that “free speech” does not mean “speech without consequences”.

  59. So this might be the place to ask this question: When Phil Donahue lost his show on MSNBC because he was too critical of Bush’s invasion of Iraq, that just meant the network was letting him know he was an asshole?

  60. @Duncan, more like MSNBC’s viewers were letting MSNBC know they thought he was an asshole, and MSNBC decided that it did not want to present programming by someone their viewers thought was an asshole. Unless you’re implying that he lost his show because the government applied pressure to MSNBC?

  61. As per Pratchett, freedom of speech comes with the complementary freedom of hearing. Which means you can’t force people to listen to you, and you can’t force people to agree with you. People are free to respond (with or without the addition of rotten tomatoes). People are free to turn their backs. People are free to disagree. And people are free to say you’re not allowed to speak about certain topics in spaces they control.

    Also as per Pratchett, there is one core freedom on which all other freedoms rely: the freedom to take the consequences of your actions (or speech, as the case may be). A lot of so-called “free speach” “activists” here on the internet seem to want to forego this particular freedom, which is something of a pity.

  62. @Scorpius:

    What the Left has shown in the “Duck Dynasty” and Mozilla cases that they are not liberals and are reverting to their 20th Century Fascist roots for punishing ThoughtCrime and subjecting the heretics from their pseudoreligion to Two Minutes Hate.

    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, while people who invoke Orwell without showing any detectable signs of having read Nineteen Eight Four are just ridiculous. Still, I hope Brenden Eich and that Duck Dynasty guy are enjoying their Victory Gin-scented tears as they wait for the bullet in the back of their heads…

  63. @cranapia, ironically, such people (as shown in your quoted text) are often simply engaging in duckspeak – regurgitating a collection of buzzwords and dogwhistle phrases that string together grammatically, but have no meaningful content, and serve no purpose other than to wave the speaker’s loyalty flag.

  64. @mythago — No, I’m not implying that the government applied pressure to MSNBC. As far as I know, they didn’t. But if the government thinks that you’re an asshole, shouldn’t that count as much as anyone else?

    As for “more like MSNBC’s viewers were letting MSNBC know they thought he was an asshole, and MSNBC decided that it did not want to present programming by someone their viewers thought was an asshole”, erm, no. In fact Donahue’s ratings were very high, the highest on MSNBC, but MSNBC’s owners (GE and Microsoft) didn’t want an antiwar voice on their property. According to Democracy Now, “An internal MSNBC memo warned Donahue was a ”difficult public face for NBC in a time of war,’ providing ‘a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.'” Of course the owners of a media outlet can legitimately make such a decision, but a lot of liberal and left folks were outraged and remain outraged by this one.

    “Asshole” here is duckspeak, and thanks for invoking that term. It’s a handy distraction from the issues. I’ve lost a lot of respect for xkcd because of this cartoon.

  65. But if the government thinks that you’re an asshole, shouldn’t that count as much as anyone else?

    No.

    I’m genuinely not following your point about MSNBC. Are you saying that many liberals are hypocrites because they would have applauded a similar firing of a conservative? Or that all outrage at speech is outrage at the exercise of free speech? That seems weird to me – you can certainly believe that the owners of MSNBC were entirely within their rights to hire and fire and present whatever viewpoints they see fit, while nonetheless (exercising one’s own free speech rights) believe that those particular viewpoints are outrageous and stupid.

    The xkcd is more narrowly tailored, I think, towards a particular type of Internet poster who screeches about FREE SPEECH!!!!!! when they are banned from a discussion board or a blog.

  66. I think he might be saying that the government pressured MSNBC to get rid of Donahue as an anti-war voice. It seems more likely, however, that MSNBC/NBC was worried about their advertisers more than the government, those advertisers being concerned about their customer base, even if they had concerns about media access to the administration. High production costs, which can offset good ratings, also seem to have been a factor. But the reality is the government did not shut down Donahue’s show, nor was Donahue’s free speech removed by anybody, government or no. MSNBC decided not to give him a platform any further in their firm. That isn’t censorship or repressing free speech. MSNBC has a free speech right to decide their own brand.

    And those who feel that MSNBC’s decision was crummy have the free speech right to voice their outrage about it and about the government’s treatment of the media regarding the war and selling the war, which they did when it occurred. And Donohue also freely expressed his dissatisfaction with both MSNBC and continued criticism of the government re the Iraq war. Donohue has appeared regularly in the media, made and been involved with numerous documentaries and t.v. shows, including the documentary he wrote and directed about the war, Body of War, and given tons of speeches.

    Free speech, even and above the First Amendment, doesn’t give you the right to a platform, to prominence or to force people to work with you who don’t want to and aren’t contractually obligated to do so. It means you get to speak. And the cartoon is clearly dealing with folk who invoke the First Amendment as the rationale for why people must listen to them or allow them on private websites that might not even be American, so the Donohue example isn’t that relevant.

  67. Todd Stull ask a very reasonable question. What is outside the public debate of ideas? I would place a wide boundary. A first approximation would be within the laws of the land. Arguments that Africans should not be slaves are more civil than saying laws of slavery should be ignored? It places some hardship on the 1960 homosexual who argues he should be allowed to exist freely when the law says he should not. I think it is clear that one needs to be able to argue against existing law. So what is the limit? I think a third trimester abortion is murder but should I call for society to shun someone who disagrees?

    OK, here is a line to consider http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/beverly-hills-hotel-boycotted-by-697712

    Here are some references to consider as well.

    http://dailycaller.com/2014/04/04/andrew-sullivan-disgusted-by-gay-rights-fanaticism-mozilla/

    The first amendment is very good. Living in a society that tolerates diversity is better.

    Cheers,
    Rod

  68. @Kat Goodwin: On more thought, I think the anger about MSNBC may well be the ideal that a news station is supposed to present the facts and news as they are, with opinions clearly labeled and set off as such; when a newspaper or radio station or TV news show starts slanting how it reports facts or the particular view it wishes to present, it’s a violation of that ideal.

    @Rod Rubert: So you believe the First Amendment should take a back seat to tolerating diversity?

  69. Well, Donohue gave opinions on his show, not news reporting, and his show was clearly labeled as such. Deciding that it didn’t want that op-ed slant on its line-up is always an option for a media outlet. Donohue wasn’t their employee; he was a contractor and they decided to opt out of the contract according to contractual terms. And they did not silence him from telling the truth as he saw it; they just didn’t pay him and give him a sound stage for it anymore.

    As it happens, I agree with Donohue, at least about the Iraq war and probably quite a few other things. I also disagree with Donohue’s views on other things and some of the things he’s done. But I fully support his right to say them — to whoever will listen to them. That’s the big thing. You get free speech. You don’t get the right to force your speech on others, to force others to pay you for your free speech and to force them to give you equipment, platforms and distribution of your free speech.

    And that’s essentially what the cartoon was looking at. The First Amendment in the U.S. guarantees you free speech — not freedom to force your speech on others or to force them to help you with your speech or to force them to be silent in the face of your free speech. Those who invoke the First Amendment when they are denied a platform or when others criticize them, are completely misrepresenting the First Amendment. And beyond the First Amendment in the U.S., the notion that you have the right to force your free speech on others isn’t free speech. It’s repression.

    So I fully support dissenters who expressed that MSNBC are cowardly, corporate assholes in their decision. That’s free speech. But if they are claiming that the private entity MSNBC repressed Donohue’s free speech, that isn’t true and it’s a bad game to fall into.

  70. As much as I like XKCD the argument has its fallacies. What if the person who does not like your position is in the position to ban you from a forum? Are they curtailing your first amendment by doing so? Now what if your position is offensive to other people or you are being overtly rude and breaking the forum EULA, is your free speech still being curtailed if they censor you?
    What if its a group of people and they get together and threaten to boycott an ISP or Youtube if that company does not remove your page/video/opinion and the company agrees because it would rather not loose the business? Are they wrong for impinging your speech or are they right to do so because the boycott would effect other customers?
    What if you jump up on your soapbox in the middle of a mall and start spouting your rhetoric and heckling the crowd for following the government like sheep. Do the police get to arrest you under public nuisance bylaws or do they have to stand by because of the first amendment?
    Pithy comics do not make this argument any simpler. If anything it seems like the head of a very slippery slope.

  71. Since I can’t edit my post I’d just like to add that in this digital age the internet is your soapbox and if you are making a page you are paying for it in some manner, wheather it came packaged with your ISP deal or your paying a company for the privilege. Forums are another matter, I would hazard a guess, as someone is paying for the hosting space in that case. A similar setup is youtube I suppose, but they do bill themselves as a place to post videos for free. So to say someone is paying for your “soapbox” is in this case a relatively weak argument.
    We have the right to ignore the man on his soapbox, but to take that soapbox away or to deny him the right to purchase a soapbox in the first place is straying into some pretty grey areas.

  72. Trent Baker: “As much as I like XKCD the argument has its fallacies. What if the person who does not like your position is in the position to ban you from a forum? Are they curtailing your first amendment by doing so?”

    No, of course they aren’t. The First Amendment protects you from interference by the federal government with your right to freedom of speech and association. The person who maintains a forum is not the government and may ban you for any reason he or she chooses.

    If you are only guessing that someone is paying for hosting space for a forum, it’s not that hard to look up this sort of thing–so you won’t be relying on guesswork–and learn that, yes, someone is paying for it. It may be the forum administrator, it may be someone else. If it isn’t you, it’s not your soapbox.

    I don’t understand how how your examples involve denying someone the right to buy a soapbox. There are plenty of free soapboxes you can set up. I have a WordPress site that doesn’t cost me anything, and I can say anything I want there as long as it meets WordPress’s AUP. On someone else’s site, I am a visitor/guest, and house rules apply.

    NONE of these things involve abridgement of First Amendment rights because in none of these cases is the government involved in not allowing someone access.

    That’s the point of the XKCD cartoon: It’s addressing a common fallacy about the First Amendment that you appear to have fallen victim to, if I’m reading your posts correctly.

  73. @Trent Baker: Much of the thread above you is summed up by “If it isn’t you, it’s not your soapbox.”

    It might help to consider that choosing the signal you boost or stating publicly that you will not support a company that sponsors or supports a given idea is in fact an exercise of free speech. A reaction to speech is as much protected as the original ideas expressed.
    Your “middle of the mall” example is a perfect illustration. A mall belongs to someone else. By setting up a soapbox there, you’re actually appropriating someone else’s resources, and whether you get to continue is totally dependent on whether they consider that an acceptable use of them.
    Especially since in many cases, hosting your ideas puts a person at risk to face the consequences of them, just as if they’d publicly made a statement supporting them. You definitely don’t have the right to make someone else suffer the consequences of your statements.

  74. Jessica writes:

    Mike, and everyone else agreeing with him, you need to read and understand this:

    And while we’re at it, this:

    You do not seem to understand that “free speech” does not mean “speech without consequences”.

    I take it that you are going with the theory that the ACLU was wrong to fight to allow the Nazis to march in Skokie, IL.

    The two links that you posted remind me quite a bit of this one.

    http://www.thecrimson.com/column/the-red-line/article/2014/2/18/academic-freedom-justice/

    There is a great deal of eagerness to carry the consequences into the realm of vengeance.

    If the Mozilla CEO had changed or planned to change Mozilla’s policy’s with respect to gay employees, then I would see a point to the whole campaign. If the CEO were currently publicly endorsing a position that the Mozilla board didn’t want to endorse then there might be a point.

    In many states a registered voter’s party affiliation is public information.

    Is it OK to carry on a campaign against a corporation in which you threaten to boycott until the CEO who voted in the wrong primary is fired?

    By OK, I’m not asking about whether it’s legal or whether we ought to conduct ourselves in that way.

    How about we start working our way down the hierarchy and subject everyone to such a test?

  75. Mike:

    If the Mozilla CEO had changed or planned to change Mozilla’s policy’s with respect to gay employees, then I would see a point to the whole campaign.

    So you don’t agree with the views of the employees, vendors, contractors and board directors about the potential harm that the appointment could do to Mozilla, and therefore you are against them exercising their right of free speech concerning their views by expressing concern, resigning their jobs or calling for a protest boycott unless Eich’s speech convinced them that he would not, in fact, cause severe problems for the company as CEO. Which is something that he didn’t do, and so their views did not change.

    You’re simply saying that Eich’s free speech is okay, but the free speech of all the other people who were concerned about him was not okay because you don’t value their views. The reality is that you can’t prove that Eich would not have caused major problems for the company as CEO. You may have the belief that he would not, that they should have waited to see, or any other criteria that you think would have been wise. And that is your free speech. But other people who disagree with your beliefs have an equal right to their own criteria and expressing it as free speech.

    Basically, you just don’t like how they exercised their free speech and would like to control how they do it. Which isn’t a principle of free speech. You wanted Eich protected from their free speech while fully able to pursue his own. That’s not free speech either.

    You also misrepresent the facts. According to the executives of Mozilla, they did not have any plans to fire Eich, (and indeed firing him would probably have been very expensive,) they did not want him to resign and argued with him to stay, and they claim that the percentage of people objecting to him as CEO with concerns for what he would do as tiny. Eich was not fired; he chose to resign. His free speech was never censored in any way. But neither was the free speech of the employees, contractors, vendors and board directors.

    So it’s fine that you don’t think that the substance of their free speech was the correct view of the situation, for you to freely disagree with their views. But claiming that means that their exercising of free speech was not, in fact, free speech and shouldn’t be allowed is a different thing altogether. I don’t like a lot of the free speech that is expressed and in the free press as well. I don’t agree with the views of many people. But they still have the perfect right to express those views, as awful or unwise as I may find them to be. You cannot force them to remain quiet when they are concerned, especially about something that effects their business and careers. That’s repression of speech.

  76. Mike

    I have difficulties with your apparent belief that a vigorous exercise of free speech in response to another vigorous exercise of free speech is ‘entering into the realm of vengeance’, not least because it privileges the first speaker/writer on any subject above everyone else; as Ecclesiastes notes, there is nothing new under the sun, which leaves us with a problem when it comes to commenting on just about anything under the sun.

    After all, we are told in another part of the Bible that vengeance is the prerogative of God; are you asserting that vigorously disputing that statement is in itself prohibited because the first writer has the right not to be subjected to the vigorous exercise of free speech in response?

    That leaves those of us, who do not believe that vengeance is the prerogative of God, in something of a pickle, since under your rules we can’t speak at all about that, much less explore why people assert that actions are ‘entering into the realm of vengeance’ without providing any evidence whatsoever that this has actually happened.

    They, like you, have first speaker/writer privileges you claim, and are therefore free to say/write whatever they want, secure in the knowledge that they have the get out of jail free card, and thus can’t be expected to actually defend their ideas, or even have any ideas at all, because that would be an abridgement of their rights, and so the rest of us just have to suck it up.

    Sadly, at least from your perspective, this is not going to happen. There really has been too much garbage, and we are not sucking it up. Why should we?

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