A “Safe Space” for Everything but Intellectual Freedom: free speech, the regressive left and the cry baby privilege-knights

The acid test for whether you support free speech is whether you still support it when someone is tipping over your sacred cow. This, if anything, is the point. If you don’t support free speech in contradiction to you, you don’t support free speech. It is exactly that simple. And using this exact test is a way of looking at whether free speech is being eroded, socially. I strongly suspect it is being eroded, by people hiding under a title that is supposed to support it: the liberals.

If you scroll back through social commentary on YouTube you find a progression of ideas that don’t sit well with free speech. The starting point was that always-underlying question of whether “offense” should be the barrier to free speech, but the idea snowballed. The side that claimed that being offensive was the barrier to free speech started to gain traction, and the language shifted. The term “microaggressions” was formed and slowly spread. It is the idea that the way you word something, although not actually offensive, can be taken offensively. The offence is often predicated on the idea that one could read into your words an assumption based on race or gender or other group line, and that unspoken assumption can be reacted to.

There are interviews conducted in American colleges where students try to intellectualise the idea that “God bless you” and “where were you born?” are microaggressions. I could spell out the intellectualising they did, or you can make up the reasoning yourself; it’s equally valid. The point here is not that they have some morally insightful or accurate point, but that people in large groups actually believe that this kind of talk should be banned.

I have the complete opposite view on free speech. I am against incitements to violence, and I am critically aware that violates the concept of free speech. But, I certainly seem to put fewer restrictions on free speech that the self-proclaimed liberals with regressive ideas. Donald Drumpf, for example, should be allowed to say that Muslims should be banned from America. Politicians should be allowed to suggest that disabled people get paid less than the minimum wage. In fact, I think everyone should take at-least-as-long-as-a-heart-beat to defend views they hear but disagree with.

The reason I think people should be allowed to say these stupid things is because they are stupid. If they are stupid and we are sensible, then the utterer of the stupid thing will immediately pay a price. If they don’t pay a price, either what they said isn’t that stupid, or we aren’t that sensible. That’s been one of the realisations one has of Donald Trump and the USA. People are voting for him; you can no longer hide behind the idea he’s a fringe joke that the media fell in love with. People really are voting for him. So, you have to engage with the idea that a large number of people are ill-educated and/or racist; bought in to this story of Drumpf’s success, despite repeated seeming failure (Trump University?).

But an idea should be floated on an intellectual market. I think permitting an employer to pay disabled people less than minimum wage (and having the difference made up by the state) is a good thing: it gives disabled people more opportunities for employment and stops the government paying 100% of the disability allowance. But, I also think that the HR department of a company should be able to demonstrate the person is less productive, and once the disabled person has learned the work-arounds to meet equal productivity to everyone else, the company should pay them the fair wage. But that idea never gets floated on the market, because the assertion of bigotry has been allowed to become powerful enough to essentially quash open and free enquiry.

#AllLivesMatter has been an interesting one to watch, as apparently claiming all lives matter is racist, whereas belittling the egalitarian phrase and promoting the racially charged #BlackLivesMatter, that’s the just way around. And this seems to be the perfect case study for where free speech is headed. The egalitarian hashtag is the racist, because the oppressed group deserves some sort of redressing for history; the oppressed should be able to become the oppressors. But not directly. There is a bizarre ‘White Knight’ effect, where the privileged, wealthy, often white, people stand up for the poor oppressed. They’re not always white, as the Missouri University student protest showed, but they are nearly always the wealthy.

The narrative demonises the “privileged”, but it is perpetuated almost entirely by people who fit the narrative’s definition of privileged. And often it is done out of bigotry; the bigotry of low expectations; the belief that the perceived ‘protected class’ can and will be offended by innocuous statements and are too meek to defend themselves, so the Privileged Knight will do it on their behalf. They will censor the free speech, as it is utilised by the privileged to oppress.

The bigotry of low expectations seems to demand we censor our speech. I first heard the term from Richard Dawkins, who was asking whether it is bigotry to assume religious people lack the emotional strength to have their God challenged and, perhaps, face the godless world the atheists face. This was in response to being told he shouldn’t take away people’s comforting stories and simply let them be. In that respect, I am on Dawkins’ side: that’s a very condescending position to take.

Shadow to Light wrote some tripe on this exact issue, which prompted this reply. Just because the article is tripe, doesn’t mean it didn’t have a nugget or two of truth in it (which is very much why Michael, the author, should be free to write his generalising, inaccurate, derivative “prose”). His argument was basically that the non-Muslim, often white and privileged (“privileged” enough to throw the word “racist” around like it’s a mediocre thing, with no regard for the fact it’s a fully heinous societal ill) regressive “liberals” defend Muslims from Sam Harris’ criticisms of the ideas of Islam and Islamism, yet are nowhere to be heard when Harris attacks Christianity. The nugget of truth is that very few non-Christians are publicly afforded the media spotlight for their vitriolic criticism of Harris, in response to his criticisms of Christianity, but this group does manage to find a voice to protect Muslims from the same level of attack on Islam.

I have my doubts that this is the bigotry of low expectations, but something very different indeed. The regressives have been working to redefine offense and bigotry. Offensive and bigotry only exist one way: down the ‘privilege’ hierarchy (as the regressives see it). The people at the bottom of this privilege hierarchy (women, blacks and Muslims, or so I’m lead to believe) can exclude and deride white men, and there’s no bigotry involved in that, because it runs up the privilege hierarchy, not down. If you let yourself ignore the privilege that affords those without privilege, I’m sure you can make sense of it. But only if you really need to. And I think it is this redefining of bigotry in relation to the regressive’s asserted hierarchical system that is in play when the regressive imagine the Muslims are hypersensitive crybabies. I don’t know many Muslims, but the ones I do know don’t care about Sam Harris.

(Funnily enough, the regressives get to be the Privileged Knight and the Cry Baby if they are feminists or Black Rights activists on a college campus in America. They get to be hypersensitive and insanely protective.)

It’s always interesting to ‘check one’s privilege’. And that’s something I can do here. The nearly-pure interpretation free speech I have allows for racial slurs. If you want to call me a “cracker”, be my guest. I will laugh at you. If you want to call a black person a “nigger”, I think you should be allowed, but I don’t think you should expect it to be consequence free: the person you were talking to may feel the urge to mock you for your small minded and idiotic views, which they would be entitled to do. (And that’s an attack on the content of your person; if you call someone a “nigger”, you’re the one in the vulnerable position.) But my experience of racism is odd, and certainly not on par with or even analogous to the racism black people suffer in some part of America and Europe, let alone the developing parts of the world. I was uncomfortable being adored in the cities and quietly resented in the countryside of Thailand, for being white. And that is pretty much the extent of the racism I experienced. So, it is from the same privileged position that regressives yell “racist” at trivial turns of phrase that I say racist language should be allowed in a free society: I can’t pretend to fully grasp what it is like to live with racism. I’m happy to ‘check’ that privilege.

Short of violence, pure free speech has a way of regulating itself. Bad ideas compete fairly on the free marketplace of intellectual enquiry, and die. But, by making a taboo of them they form echo chambers and seedy underground groups, or lie dormant, without seeing the light of criticism. Then, suddenly they erupt when a weird enough right wing idea is espoused. The benefit of free speech is that bad ideas can see free enquiry and die off slow, their impact being dissipated. Making a taboo out of an idea means it’s boiling away, under pressure, just waiting to come out. Free speech moderates extreme ideas by blending views, introducing perspectives and narrative that otherwise wouldn’t be there. And, on the rare occasion, a novel good idea comes out. Suppression of speech doesn’t kill an idea, it protects it in an echo chamber.

But, the regressives have no such interest in free speech, or the power of criticism to improve ideas. Regressives are interested in turning the intellectual free market into their personal safe space, where they get to play tyrant over what is a ‘trigger’ or a ‘microaggression’; to censor things that don’t form to their superficial aesthetic. Regressives want to play superhero to save the unoppressed and privileged members of Western society that conform to whatever victim narrative they can concoct. (Their obliviousness to developing countries in their attempt for justice is infuriating.) The rest of us will have to feign outrage or make amends for something that didn’t happen. 

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11 thoughts on “A “Safe Space” for Everything but Intellectual Freedom: free speech, the regressive left and the cry baby privilege-knights”

  1. It was the case that in most conversations if someone went off using racist terms they would receive the feedback they deserved and so such language was being curbed. The casual use of the word “nigger” had almost disappeared. Enter the internet upon which people could go anonymous or under a pseudonym and suddenly the ether was filled with speech that had been excluded from polite society. So, “speech” is freer than ever now … but not necessary to our betterment.

  2. This, if anything, is the point. If you don’t support free speech in contradiction to you, you don’t support free speech. It is exactly that simple. And using this exact test is a way of looking at whether free speech is being eroded, socially. I strongly suspect it is being eroded, by people hiding under a title that is supposed to support it: the liberals.

    What a breath of fresh air to read this. I have been saying for quite some time that the liberal support for illiberal practices is a growing problem. I’ve also been saying it’s an obvious problem more liberals need to wake up to when only the extreme Right is saying stuff about ‘sensitive’ issues (like the anti-enlightenment principles of Islamism) that is true, that is accurate, that is understanding a problem that is growing not only unchecked by many on the Left but facilitated by liberal privilege. Just look at the treatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali by these so-called liberals. Shameful. Just shameful.

    And no one is as undisputed a champion of illiberal liberalism as Shadow to Light, a blog with a stable of authors who specializes in spreading gross disinformation, discriminatory misrepresentation, and intentional vilification against any New Atheist who dares to point out this liberal hypocrisy and mewling support for any and all anti-liberal messaging… especially religious… in the name of liberalism, of course. Commenting on that blog is heavily moderated and carefully edited to use the words of others to appear to support their bias and provide the facsimile of reason to justify their offal. There is no shred of intellectual honesty to be found on Shadow to Light and those authors are far beyond merely being disreputable hacks. I cannot urge strongly enough to let them wither on the vine on their site but force them to engage on your own where their underhanded editing and selection cannot be used to effect.

    Why does this matter?

    Well, I think there something to accusation that illiberal liberals are fueling support for Trump. because a great many people are getting sick and tired of effectively being told they any disagreement means they are bigots and to shut up and behave in only a particular way.

  3. The freedom of speech via the internet is not all that free. Following Orlando, a gay friend posted the most outrageous statements. Some may have been true or had elements of truth, but the words chosen were so extreme that any truth was suppressed. I attempted to show the flaws in the statements (and replies from their circle of friends), and was blocked from the conversation. So the wild statements and inaccuracies and unlikely opinions just bounce around in that circle.

    My “continuing to deny the truth was too painful”. Now I understand how a gay person would be more impacted by the event than an equivalently empathetic straight person. But here’s the thing – as far as I can tell, there is no evidence this was an attack on gay people. it is just assumed. Yes, the victims were probably mostly or all gay. But then so was the shooter. He frequented the place, and knew his way around it, knew there were a lot of people there, that it was dark, had lots of percussive noise, that there were not enough exits for a mass exodus and that people there tended to drink a fair amount of alcohol, It was a “gun free zone” so there was little chance anyone would be able to mount a significant defense. Sounds tailor made for an act of terrorism. Did he do it BECAUSE the crowd was gay, or IN SPITE of the crowd being gay? As far as I can tell, we don’t know. But this did not stop my friend from their wild comments. No amount of reason could break through the emotion.

    It led me to the concept of “intellectual inertia”, the law for which states “an opinion at rest remains at rest no matter what facts or conflicting opinions are applied to it”.

    1. If you substituted some other specific gathering place – say, a synagogue – would you still claim there was ‘no evidence’ a shooting spree there had nothing to do with Jews? Now add the local impetus, where an imam is preaching in Orlando the day before the attack that homosexuals deserve death, that delivered death is a blessing, an act of kindness, a godly undertaking, a pious act, and still you can find ‘no evidence’ of any link with the shooter’s religious beliefs and the object of his murdering? The shooter himself has been reported to exempting ‘black people’ who have ‘suffered enough’ from his selection but it takes little imagination to understand the link between the outward aggression as if it could eliminate the inward loathing.

      I think it takes a special kind of obtuseness to deny the LGBTQ community every right to assume this was a horrendous and directed kind of attack against them. And if we can’t even be convinced of the root problem – hate towards a specific group, in this case the LGBTQ community – then we have no chance of addressing it; instead we shrug and shake our collective heads and stay mystified why these religiously inspired attacks continue. in effect, this is how we tacitly support ongoing religious bigotry… by pretending it has nothing to do with attacks done in its name.

      1. Excuse me, i do not claim the attack was not aimed at gays. It may very well have been. All I am “claming” is that I have have not yet seen the evidence which makes it unquestionable that was the case. The fact that it was a place where most if not all the people there were gay is certainly an indication (as with your synagogue example). On the other had, the fact that it was a perfect place for this particular individual to stage a terror attack could indicate that there is a chance he was focused on the terror rather than the gay people. And it could very well be both; an environment which maximizes the effect of the act of terror AND has major impact on the LGTBQ community.

        “The day before the attack”? Did he not buy the guns 2 days before the attack? If that is so, it is not possible the attack was the RESULT of the sermon. Perhaps he and the imam were connected previously, either to each other, or both to a third person or group.

        I have nothing but sympathy for the LGTBQ community for suffering this tragedy. No matter whether it was specifically directed at them or not, they are the ones who suffered it first hand. But people who make assumptions without looking at any facts which may be there annoy me, especially if they refuse to consider any other possibility and particularly when they use it as an excuse to attack me. No, guns did not do it, no the NRA did not do it, no, Christians did not do it and no, Republicans did not do it. The sicko did it. His METHOD of doing it was guns. His EXCUSE for doing it may have been Islam is against gays or against the United States or both. It may have been because he was gay and this place helped him sin against his god. And yes, it could have been only because a twisted subset of his religion thinks gays should be killed

        There is no “right” to assume. And a good thing it is, because if it were a right, chaos would reign. Good thing assuming is not against the law or we’d all be incarcerated.

        You use the word “hate”. Are you trying to say that “everyone” who is against homosexuality “hates” all members of the LGTBQ community? I’m afraid you’ll have to quantify a subset of that, because I can prove that is not the case.

  4. I say what I say. I attempt to be polite, respectful, hopefully occasionally amusing, and to specify whether something is “true” or just something that I think is so. And sometimes succeed at this. But aside from that, I know there is no benefit from trying to keep from offending someone, because no matter how careful one is, a person who searches can always find something to be offended by. The ability of the human animal to take offense is infinite.

    So I “don’t care” if someone takes offense. Nobody can fight infinity.

    If a person accuses me of “micro-aggression” in a nasty enough way; I’m might well show them some aggression which is not micro. 🙂

    And as for “safe space”? No such animal exists naturally. Even if you manage to create such an environment, you are just setting yourself up for the real world to decimate.

  5. I suppose this touches on the paradox of tolerance?

    “Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. . . We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.”

    – Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies

    1. Now comes the question of what that means. You can say you don’t like black people, but that is met with scarcely veiled laughter.
      I’m not sure the ridicule of positions we don’t think can be defended is the same as intolerance.
      If you refuse to tolerate a certain viewpoint, then you are talking about censorship, right? Well, I don’t think we should censor intolerance.

      I suppose what I am intolerant of is floating ideas without the openness to defend them. You’re not entitled to your opinion, ‘you are only entitled to what you can argue for’. (http://theconversation.com/no-youre-not-entitled-to-your-opinion-9978)

  6. ”What it means’ is what is enacted here in (y)our country in The Public Order Act 1986 [See: Item 3 ‘Racial Hatred’ and Item 3A ‘Religious Hatred’ – sections 18 thru 23]. There is no hate crime in respect to sexual orientation, though efforts have been made to establish one. Popper was a philosopher not a legislator, of course, so he was establishing principles for others to enshrine in law, not creating schema for such laws’ implementation. Yes, it is censorship, as you call it, but of a kind that we all agree upon as being for the weal of the people.

  7. If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.
    — Noam Chomsky

    This debate, this controversy Allallt is why I enjoy your blog. You demand that I think wider and harder before I choose my spoken or written words! Geeezzz, is this topic a quagmire or minefield. 😮 Yet, I’ll try and play, perhaps not well.

    You and Hariod mention very good points on tolerance, the necessary survival of tolerance versus intolerance, and paradoxically in some contexts the necessary survival of intolerance. HAH!!! And I am strictly referring to words, speech, not physical (lethal) violence — which is NEVER the right path. And perhaps right there is where I personally can clearly Draw the Line. In the necessary arena of discussion, scrutiny, debating, examining, testing… passionate emotions/convictions should be tolerated — we are FEELING human beings! All Lovers do this several/many times throughout their relationship. Why should it be much different for social-political groups and their opponents? In my personal opinion all of human nature and Nature itself — the supporting cast — should ALWAYS be open for discussion, scrutiny, debating, examining, re-examining, testing, retesting, for the mere fact that both human nature, Nature, and this Multiverse are in constant change, always… so it MUST happen. And hence, we humans need not be so insanely hyper-sensitive when we, or our “group”, are aggressively (yet non-violently) challenged!

    That’s my meager comment-addition. 😉

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