Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Response to Tauriq Moosa on "The Price You Pay" for Free Speech

I've responded to Tauriq Moosa's latest post on the kind of restrictions on speech he'd like to see. Needless to say, I don't agree with his sentiments, but his biggest problem is that he hasn't really provided a coherent argument for his position. I left this in his comments section - we'll see if he'll be mensch enough to publish and engage with it.

"Free speech is bullshit when people are too afraid, too fearful, too anxious to participate. Leaving it “free” means leaving it free… from top down consequences"

Of course, this assumes having the Canadian state put a man in jail for up to 6 months is not a "top down consequence". In other words, the Greg Elliott case is very much a free speech issue, in spite of the slight of hand being employed in calling his speech "harassment". I'll note that I've been following this case for over a year, and I have yet to see any real evidence offered that Elliott ever made threats or crossed the line from persistent criticism to anything that could be considered legal harassment. The women bringing the charges thought he was "creepy"? That's certainly a low bar.

In general, I don't think you offer a coherent argument in either article, because you continue to conflate three issues - 1) the right of a moderator to ban users/posts from their site; 2) the right more generally of private platforms like Reddit and Tumblr to regulate their content, and what kind of expression they should or should not allow; and 3) what, if any, speech the state should ban or protect. Because you haven't really sorted this out, you leap from asking for controls over incivility on Twitter to advocating for someone to be jailed for pissing someone off on that forum.

You also seem to have arrived at the position that criticizing someone without their permission can be treated as legal harassment, at least if the subject of criticism has asked the critic to desist. I suppose by this premise, Richard Dawkins could demand that Ophelia Benson stop publishing criticism of his views, or even mention him altogether, if he stated that this is emotionally distressing, and if not, the full weight of harassment law could be brought to bear on her.

If I've misconstrued your position, please point out where I'm wrong. But so far, I can only conclude you've taken a very radical position on what kind of restrictions should be placed on speech or expression. As a philosopher, I should expect that you can come up with a reasoned defense of your views, or modify them if they don't hold up.