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The Right to Listen: Free Speech #2

Uploaded: Jun 14, 2018
Speech is different from talking. It necessarily involves the communication of thoughts from a speaker to an audience (^def^). Speech without an audience is just babbling to yourself, and a right to listen is irrelevant if others are prohibited from speaking about what you want and need to know.
"To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker." - Frederick Douglass in "A Plea for Free Speech in Boston" (1860).

Most people I know are unaware of the current controversies about free speech. It is changing political alignments, with categories of Liberals allying themselves with Conservatives against Progressives on this particular issue. For some, this is such an important issue that they have changed their political party affiliation. This is what motivated me to write this blog post. This realignment is not for discussion here -- it is much too big. Maybe later.

The traditional arguments for the importance of freedom of speech focus on the speaker and the thoughts being expressed. These arguments are often unpersuasive because those arguments are abstract and lacking immediacy. If you need convincing, consider:
The members of a majority are told that they need to take action today because, one day in the indefinite future, there is some possibility that they might somehow find themselves in some sort of a minority that needs legal protections from those who are attempting to silence it.
How compelling and energizing is that? Even worse, some groups that had recently benefited from support for their freedom of speech quickly forgot that experience, turning around and becoming willing, even forceful, in wanting to silence others.

Neglected in all this is the importance of speech to the audience. This is unsurprising because those making the arguments are speakers, and this encourages them to focus on their own role and see the audience as only passive recipients. Since the rights of the audience are often missing from these discussions, it is often up to you to stand up for those rights.

I am going to emphasize the practicalities over legalities (in keeping with the overall title of my blog).
Note: The legal term "Speech" encompasses not just oral communications, but a wide range of other forms of expressing and conveying ideas. When I use that term, please assume that it is that broader definition.

Footnotes: Several people have told me "All the good stuff is in the footnotes." They are more than traditional ones. They include bits that I think some of you will find interesting, but that don't fit into the flow the main body.

Videos: Most of the YouTube videos referenced here have automatically generated transcripts which you can access by left-clicking on the "..." (More Actions). This is found on the line with the thumbs-up/down and "Share". In addition to using the transcript directly, you can use text-search to quickly find places in the video, and then with a mouse click to go directly there.

----Suppression and Radicalization----

John Stuart Mill on suppression:
- "We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and even if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still."
- "The opinion which it is attempted to suppress by authority may possibly be true. Those who desire to suppress it, of course deny its truth; but they are not infallible. They have no authority to decide the question for all mankind, and exclude every other person from the means of judging. To refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that theircertainty is the same thing as absolutecertainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility."
^John Stuart Mill^ (1806-1873) was a British political philosopher and economist. He wrote extensively on free speech and is much quoted in discussions.

Advocates for "limiting" free speech appear to believe that banning certain speech will result in the suppression or elimination of the ideas being expressed. The conventional objection is that experience has shown that this is not what happens, but rather that it just forces those ideas underground. Instead, it advocates "The cure/remedy for bad speech is more/good speech."

When ideas are forced underground, that diminishes the ability to know the strength of those ideas, both in terms of the strength of their arguments and the number of adherents. When those ideas become strong enough to emerge from the underground, the supporters of the orthodoxy will be unprepared. First, by being sheltered from criticism and competing ideas, the advocacy for the orthodox ideas atrophies, sacrificing depth, breadth and accuracy for simplicity. This makes the orthodoxy increasingly vulnerable to critiques developed by the underground. If the advocates are unaware of those critiques, how can they be prepared to counter them when the need arises? Second, even if the advocates are aware of the underground ideas and the arguments for them, they are still forbidden to talk about them. So, how are they going to develop and test counter-arguments?

The contest of ideas is ultimately about who supports what. Some of the people living under the orthodoxy will inevitably will find disagreements with it, especially as the orthodoxy atrophies. For some it will come through observation and skeptical questioning. Others will encountered the arguments surrounding the suppressed ideas. A common reaction in both cases is to see yourself as being lied to by the Establishment on that particular point, opening up the question whether you are being lied to on a much larger scale. Disillusion can lead to alienation.

To whom can such a person turn? Suppression tends to have effectively eliminated any middle ground, or so neutered it that it isn't a meaningful option. The viable options are the radicals and extremists. The psychology of extremists is well suited to surviving repression.(foot#1)

----Censorship can sanitize extremists----

Censorship can have the unintended consequence of making extremists look less so by suppressing the evidence of who they truly are.

I first heard of this in a video by a US-based journalist covering an event in Britain. Someone he was talking to claimed that alt-Right leader Richard Spencer had never uttered a racial slur. In an unsuccessful attempt to provide evidence to refute this, the reporter turned to Google search but the expected results weren't there -- what was there was a warning that some results had been removed under EU (European Union) protection laws.(foot#2)

In the US, the same happens, but under the "protection rules" of the social media and search companies. For example, The Atlantic (left-leaning) has a video showing Richard Spencer's alt-Right group very clearly giving Nazi salutes. YouTube decided that the video was "borderline hate speech", and made it virtually inaccessible. The Atlantic appealed and the decision was reversed. However, based upon YouTube's history in such matters, if the video had been posted by a lesser media site, it likely would have remained permanently un-findable.(foot#3)

----The Right, and Need, to Listen (to competing ideas and perspectives)----

Ideas need to be challenged: for the evidence that was used and not used, for the analysis of that evidence, for their internal logic, and for how they compare to competing ideas. No one can possibly be a subject-matter expert in everything, or have the time to research the various claims. To make your own judgments, you, the audience, need to be able to hear informed critiques and from those that have other perspectives and experiences. This contest of ideas is fundamental to our culture. For example, the scientific method and an adversarial legal system. To be effective, such a contest often needs to be sharp and biting.
"The final test of truth is ridicule. Very few dogmas have ever faced it and survived." - H. L. Mencken.

To be effective, a speaker must first listen: "He who knows only his own side of a case knows little of that. His reasons may be good and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion." - John Stuart Mill.
And from somewhere in my youth: "When you can see two sides to an issue, you are only beginning to understand it."

Seems obvious, doesn't it? Yet the Mill's quote above is still being used well over a century later. And if you watch TV programs with political interviews, you probably have routinely seen contrary examples. Prominent advocates show up for a program known for asking hard questions, and prove to be unable to answer basic questions. All they have are a handful of talking points that may be little more than bumper sticker slogans. They may have too few and wind up having to repeat them. Their performances can dissuasive -- persuasive in the opposite direction. Then there are the unprepared interviewers who wind up doing nothing more than prompting the guest for the next talking point, producing all the persuasiveness of a late-night infomercial.

To be effective, the speaker needs to know the audience's vocabulary and terminology. What are the seemingly innocuous combinations of words to him can be emotion-laden terminology for them? What of his terminology is impenetrable jargon to them? But most importantly, how does the audience expect a presentation to be structured?(foot#5)(foot#6)(foot#7)

Developing skills: Learning to listen carefully and to make persuasive presentation requires instruction, practice and mentoring. Too few people receive this. College used to be expected to provide some of this. However, a 2011 study found that "for a large proportion of (4-year college graduates), the gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication are either exceedingly small or empirically nonexistent."(foot#8) In looking deeper, this study found that many students had little exercising of these skills, although it didn't delineate how much was choice and how much was lack of opportunity.

Multiple recent surveys of college students have asked if they felt free to express their own opinions in class. For me, there were two surprises. First, for conservative students: Although I expected them to report the highest level, it wasn't a high as I guessed. Second, for the other categories of students, it was significantly higher than I would have guessed. Note: I am deliberately not cite the numbers because I don't know how enough about how the studies were conducted.

In articles and presentations discussing this problem, there are lots of anecdotes in a similar direction, related to the politicization of campus and some courses. Teachers report being unable to get students to argue controversial topics, and even when required to, they produce bland arguments. If students are inhibited from taking sophisticated positions, how can they learn to present, critique and defend them?

Requiring students to argue a position contrary to their own beliefs can be a very effective teaching technique. This is becoming rare because it poses a danger to the student. The reason? There are other students, teaching assistants and professors who don't make the distinction and treat the student as an advocate for that position. This can include physical and online harassment, sometimes intense enough to drive the student into hiding.(foot#9)

The increased politicization of universities has resulted in political viewpoint diversity effectively disappearing from various departments, and even some disciplines. In a discussion of this problem, Jonathan Haidt reported a 2015 comment from "Nick Rosenkranz, a Law professor (Georgetown University) who said 'we have the same problem in law' ... because, and as he points out, 'we're training all these students--they never meet a conservative, then they have to go argue cases in front of judges, half of whom were appointed by Republicans. They have no idea what a conservative thinks. This is malpractice.' "(foot#10)

Popular entertainment is another potential source for instruction through examples. However, the narrative format and time constraints of most movies and TV episodes makes this difficult, but not impossible. Stories about lawyers, trials and investigation--because they are easily linearized--provide more opportunities for this, but those can easily slip past the viewer.(foot#11)(foot#12)

----The First Amendment (of the US Constitution)----

The First Amendment states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Counter-intuitively, understanding why the First Amendment exists begins with the Ninth Amendment: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." The primary controversy over whether to have a Bill of Rights was not about the rights themselves, but whether to explicitly list them. The shared philosophy (ideology) of the Founders held that ^Natural Law^ endows humans with Natural Rights. ^Natural rights have supremacy over legal rights^, where legal rights are those conferred and constrained by governments.

The Bill of Rights included some of what were widely regarded as natural rights. A significant faction of the Constitutional Convention argued that natural rights did not belong in the Constitution because it was creating a legal system, with natural rights being superior to such a system. There was also a pragmatic argument that explicitly including these rights would reduce them to legal rights, and thereby provide an opening for lawyers and legislators to whittle away at them.
Issue: If a natural right hasn't been also made a legal right, how does the legal system protect it? (Rhetorical; I don't know).

The advocates for the Bill or Rights argued that some of these natural rights were so important that the Constitution needed to explicitly protect their status by declaring them outside the legislative system.

Note: The terms "Natural Rights" and "Human Rights" have large overlaps in practice, but arose from different philosophies of how these rights came to be. I have no interest in delving into these differences. I have used "Natural Rights" here because that was the context in which the First Amendment was created.

"The right ... to assemble" is an often forgotten component of the First Amendment, but notice that it includes people being able to gather to listen to speakers and to have a discussion among themselves.

A common misconception holds that the First Amendment protections of Freedom of Speech applies only to the Federal government. This makes the mistake of treating Freedom of Speech as a legal right instead of a natural right. Because of the colonies' problems with the British government, most of the Founders saw the threat to Freedom of Speech coming from the central government. The state governments--being closer to the people--were regarded as likely defenders of rights against an over-reaching central government. Aside: Many states added explicit protection of Freedom on Speech into their constitutions.

With Freedom on Speech being a natural right, the First Amendment confirms its status (relative to the Federal government) and does not diminish that status in other circumstances.

----Legitimate limitations on speech----

It is well established law that there are certain restrictions on speech and other forms of expression considered to be equivalent. One classic example comes from pre-Internet days when there were physical stores where pornography was a substantial part of their business. While pornography itself was protected as free speech, how it was displayed could reasonably be restricted. For example, it couldn't be displayed in a window facing a public sidewalk. Similarly in a store that sells general merchandise, the pornography would have to be not visible to customers unless they explicitly asked to see it. In essence, the audience has the right to choose what it hears -- a speaker does not have the right to force his speech upon an unwilling audience.

Meetings are another example of where free speech can be restricted. A meeting has a stated purpose and that is what the audience has chosen to participate in. There is an agenda and other rules to support the purpose of the meeting. Consequently, "free speech" does not apply to an individual or group that attempts to hijack the meeting for their own purposes, or to otherwise disrupt the meeting. A common example is someone who insists on violating time limits for speakers. Another is an attendee who speaks off-topic, and thus to a captive (unwilling) audience.

The arguments for reasonable restrictions within meetings are stated in terms of the rights of the members of the audience. Although I haven't seen the "Right to Assemble" invoked, it seems to be applicable, if not largely equivalent.

----Free Speech doesn't include suppressing others' free speech----

Balancing competing rights is often difficult. But it doesn't include you being able to decide that your rights preempt someone else's. This is increasingly being challenged. What has happened as UC Berkeley with speakers being silenced by people claiming to be "demonstrators" exercising their "free speech rights" is being repeated across the country.

^Heckler's Veto^ is a term used for a wide variety of situations. The intuitive meaning is when hecklers so disrupt a speaker that he cannot effectively continue. But it also includes when the hecklers become so disruptive that officials become so concern about violence erupting that the it shuts down the speaker. This may be done by the police, or by the management of the facility where the speech is being held, or ...

"No-platforming" is the term currently used to describe actions to preemptively silence a speaker, and some of those actions may also fall under the Heckler's Veto. These tactics include threats of violence--explicit or not--against the event, or the sponsors, or the hosting facility. The UC Berkeley events demonstrated how astronomical the costs for security can be: reportedly over $600K for a single event, over $1M for a series. At other universities, groups seeking to host speakers who go against the campus orthodoxy are told that they will have to pay thousands to tens of thousands of dollars for security, thereby making the event unaffordable.

It isn't just the rights of the speaker being violated by the Heckler's Veto and No-platforming, but of the people who wanted to attend and potentially ask questions.

And if the "protestors" can't intimidate the speaker, they can try to intimate the audience or block them from getting to the events. Personal safety is a legitimate concern because there are enough instances of the police failing to protect attendees while running the gauntlet to enter and leave the event. I have "protestors" in quotes because they can take on the character of an incipient mob, or they become complicit in the violence by supporting and sheltering the immediate perpetrators.

No-platform'ing via fire alarms: Pulling a fire alarm to disrupt or even shutdown a speaker event is becoming an increasingly common tactic of "protestors" on college campuses. Common enough that introductions to some talks now include what to do when a fire alarm gets pulled, sometimes including the prearranged alternate site for the talk.(foot#13) When certain children, and childish adults, see that they are losing a board game, they will knock over the board. By pulling a fire alarm before the speech even begins, these college students are acknowledging that their ideas cannot survive open debate.

----Hate Speech----

The argument that Hate Speech should be excluded from free speech protections can be appealing until you try to deal with the details. Who could be trusted to wisely exercise the tremendous power to decide what should be suppressed? Who would not succumb to the temptation to exceed or otherwise abuse that power, using his own sense of what is right, rather than that of society's?(foot#14) Who would be able to resist pressure from all sides to abuse his power to their benefit? This would be incredibly difficult in a time of intense partisanship, and when it seems that virtually anything can be called "racist", "sexist", "...phobic", or ...

For example, it is easy to find examples of college faculty members and students declaring science, engineering and/or mathematics to be "racist" and "sexist" based on their (faulty) reasoning that it is the product of white males, and thus meant to protect their "privilege".(foot#15)(foot#16) However, one would hope that it hasn't be adopted at the higher levels of universities. Unfortunately it has. For example, at Purdue University, the Head of the School of Engineering Education -- separate from the School of Engineering -- is ^Donna Riley^. Among other things, she attacks "rigor" as discriminating against women and non-whites.(foot#17) College courses similarly attack "objectivity" and "meritocracy" as being mechanisms of discrimination and oppression.

Legal: The US Supreme Court has consistently decided that the category of "hate speech" is irrelevant (meaningless) in regard to Freedom on Speech. That is, there is no such thing as "hate speech" when it comes to the First Amendment.

If you hear someone claim that "I support free speech, but ..." understand that that is a statement of not supporting free speech in the sense long-established in the US.

----Offense, Harm, Violence----

The current controversy over claims of speech causing "harm" is not about the widely accepted cases: slander and libel, threats, verbal bullying ... Rather it is that a person can be "harmed" by encountering ideas that they "uncomfortable" with.

"(A) growing body of opinion thinks that people and groups have a right not to be offended, and this is leading to the intrusive policing of social media to eradicate 'hate speech' and silence and even prosecute offenders. As being offended is such a subjective thing, handing the power to some body or other to police it can result in the arbitrary and extensive exercise of censorship. The idea that some speech harms the listener has led to the creation of 'safe spaces' on university campuses in the US and the UK into which students who do not wish to be exposed to words and ideas they do not like can retreat. // ... One consequence of this growing intolerance of allegedly offensive speech is that it allows dictators and authoritarians to justify their own curbs on freedom of expression in similar terms ..." - The Economist Intelligence Unit.(foot#18)

This idea that others need to be protected from speech has become widespread far beyond college campus. A prominent recent example came during an interview by Cathy Newman on British Channel 4 of Jordan Peterson, an author, social commentator, clinical psychologist and professor:(foot#19)
Interviewer: You cited freedom of speech in that. Why should your right to freedom of speech trump a trans(gender) person's right not to be offended?
Peterson: Because in order to be able to think, you have to risk being offensive. I mean, look at the conversation we're having right now. You know, like, you're certainly willing to risk offending me in the pursuit of truth. Why should you have the right to do that? It's being rather uncomfortable.
Interviewer: Well, I'm very glad I put you on the spot.
Peterson: You get my point. You get my point. As, like, you're doing what you should do, which is digging a bit to see what the hell's going on. And that is what you should do. But you're exercising your freedom of speech to certainly risk offending me, and that's fine. I think more power to you, as far as I'm concerned.
Interviewer: Except you haven't sat there and ... I'm just trying to work that out. I mean ...
Peterson: Ha, gotcha.
Interviewer: You have got me. You have got me. I'm trying to work that through my head.

The actual arguments about "harm" are too wide-ranging to be presented here. I am only presenting the concept because it has achieved prominence.

Hypothetical, speculative and remote harm: In ^my previous blog ("Mocking Nazis is a crime in Britain", 2018-05-01)^, I discussed how one can be prosecuted in Britain for offensive speech without anyone being offended--it is enough for the police to decide that someone could be offended (the exception is Scotland, where a complainant is needed, although the police can recruit one). I call this hypothetical offense or harm.

On US college campuses and beyond, these is a similar approach. The "Someone else could be harmed" claim allows the complainants to deflect having to describe what the harm would be and how speech would produce such harm.

In some cases, protestors try to no-platform a speaker because of what they have been led to believe about the speaker and/or what he plans to say. And often they are wrong/mistaken, hence my label speculative.

Another common claim on college campuses is that students don't actually need to hear the speech to be harmed, but can be harmed by the mere awareness of the presence of a speaker in a building elsewhere on campus. This harm seems to project over long distances--to the surrounding city, nearby cities, other states--as evidenced by where the "protestors" claiming harm come from.

Violence: It has also become common for certain groups to classify speech contrary to their dogma as "violence" or a "threat to their existence". Although it may at first appear to be only hyperbole, it serves to provide a rationale for using violence against those that disagree.

----Promoting free speech by denying it to others?----

Advocates for groups that they classify as "oppressed", "marginalized" ... have taken to claiming that the free speech of others is denying it to that group. Often this is made simply as an unsupported claim. When there are explanations, they aren't illuminating. One version seems to be that the speech of the "privileged" squeezes out that of the "oppressed". However, I have seen this claim being made to a TV reporter or interviewer by the spokesperson for a group that has just no-platformed a smaller group. Absolutely no self-awareness: "We have the power to oppress others. Therefore we are oppressed and powerless!"

Another version seems to be that the positions of the "oppressed" cannot be expected to stand up to the counter-arguments of the "privileged" groups. No explanation of why this is anything but the normal competition of ideas, much less why the "privileged" group has to be silenced so that the "oppressed" groups ideas can be heard.

----Marketplace of ideas; Public Forums----

Calling venues for discussion a "forums" comes from the ancient ^Roman Forums^. They served as marketplaces much of the time, but had a crucial role as a public gathering spaces, for discussions, debate and a range of meetings. In ancient Greek cities there were similar public spaces, the ^Agora^.

These and other physical gathering spaces have been significantly replaced by virtual ones, and the ownership has gone from a mix public and private to private. The laws and judicial precedents developed when there were diverse venues for discussion and debate, and have not caught up with the current degree of control by a small set of media oligopolies--Google/YouTube, Facebook, Sinclair Broadcasting, ...--that have the ability to censor and propagandize.(foot#20) The only decent discussions about the legalities that I encountered were relative to a lawsuit by PragerU against Google/YouTube that was dismissed without prejudice (they can re-file) on 2018-03-26 (Case 5:17-cv-06064-LHK from the US District Court in San Jose).

----(Optional): Exercises----

If you are the type of person who finds it useful to debate an issue in order to work through the details, I am offering a classic example and current example.
Recognize that the Comments section here does not provide the types of interactivity needed for such a debate. You need to conduct it with friends ... I will accept comments that lay out an additional perspective or facts for the readers to consider, but I will delete advocacy for perspectives.

Classic: ^neo-Nazi proposed march in Skokie (IL)^.
Very briefly: In 1977, the National Socialist Party of America had been blocked from holding a rally in a park in Chicago. They responded by applying to march through Skokie IL, which was a predominantly Jewish community and had a large number of Holocaust survivors. Skokie applied major restrictions, and the ^ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union)^ sued to overturn the restrictions. In the end, the neo-Nazis were allowed to march in Chicago, and they cancelled their plans to march in Skokie, purporting that they never planned to actually march in Skokie, but were using it as political pressure.
Aside: There is a lesson there about unintended consequences.

This case produced consider legal thought and rulings on Freedom of Speech. The ACLU suffered significant losses in membership and support. My simplified notion of the two basic competing arguments is:
- The basic Freedom of Speech absolutism arguments.
- The proposed march included making residents of Skokie an unwilling audience -- one that would be deeply offended by the neo-Nazi's speech. Furthermore, the residents of Skokie would be unwillingly made part of the promotion of the march and its speech. Since Skokie was not the only place that the neo-Nazis would reasonably make their speech, then the rights of the unwilling audience should take precedence.

Current: The NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem.
Here are some arguments, which are numbered for easier reference in your own discussions elsewhere. Notice that I have (deliberately) excluded the topic of the protest from the proffered arguments.

Argument 1: The NFL and individual NFL teams are businesses. Like other businesses, the NFL should be able to restrict employees from engaging in most types of speech that are to the detriment of the business (whistleblowers are a potential exception, although many companies don't think so). Players kneeing has antagonized a substantial portion of the NFL's customer base--reportedly 40%--and may have be partly responsible for the loss of customers (viewers).
Additionally, many of the players are prominent people and have many other channels to make their views known.

Argument 2: The players are forcing those in the stadium to be an unwilling audience to their protest.
Counter argument: The kneeling is an insignificant part of what is going on in the stadium. Unless the attendees are actively seeking it out, they are unlikely to see it, much less have it register as a protest. Consequently, there is no unwilling audience. Doesn't this indicate that the objection is not to the speech (kneeling) but rather to the opinion behind the speech?
If you regard kneeling as not triggering Argument 1, what might be significant enough to cross that threshold?

Argument 3: Requiring the players to stand is compelled speech, that is, the act of standing is an endorsement of an idea that they disagree with.

Argument 4: Rather than kneeling, the players could just remain seated.
Question: In this situation, is there any meaningful difference between refusing to perform an affirmative act (standing) and performing an explicit objection (kneeling)? The recent NFL policy allows players to remain off the field until after the National Anthem is finished as an alternative to not standing. Where would you put this in the range of standing-sitting-kneeling? I would classify it as a not in-your-face equivalent of kneeling -- it is an explicit, visible rejection, potentially more visible than kneeling.

Argument 5: It's good for a community to have a range of apolitical events and topics so that people can get to know each other as people independent of political viewpoints. The social connections fostered by these events also serve to moderate how community members behave in political discussions, and constrain the worse behaviors. Sports have been such events. One major differentiator between (political) ^Authoritarianism^ and ^Totalitarianism^ is that the latter seeks to intrude, if not control, all aspects of people's lives, public and private, with propaganda being omnipresent. This includes art, entertainment and sports. For example, the Nazi hoped to use the 1936 Olympiad as a display of superiority, but were thwarted--most famously and importantly--by the great ^Jesse Owens^. Ditto for the Soviets use of sports as propaganda. Although people have a right to protest or propagandize at these traditionally apolitical events, the societal norm is that it is not right to do so.

Please remember that I am not endorsing any of the above arguments, but rather laying them out to jumpstart a discussion between you and chosen others.

There is a massive amount of discussion of this on the Internet. I hope that the above arguments help you sort through those many arguments.

1. Surviving repression:
Consider that the Iranian and Egyptian revolutions against their dictators. Because the dictators were constrained in the amount of repression they could apply against activities in the mosques, religion-centered opposition groups had substantial advantages, and overwhelmed other groups when the revolution occurred.

2. EU protection laws protecting extremists example:
^@41:55^ in ^Dankula's Dark Past EXPOSED!^ (1:02:11) - Tim Pool, 2018-05-06.

3. YouTube bans video showing alt-Right group's Nazi salutes:
^YouTube Removes the "Hail, Trump" Video From Search^ by Robinson Meyer - The Atlantic, 2018-03-20.

4. YouTube deleting video as harassment or bullying:
The video that was deleted (and restored upon appeal): ^Major Media Failure - Was the Florida Suspect Story a 4Chan Hoax?^ (13:49) - Tim Pool, 2018-02-16.
The journalist's discussion of these events: ^Youtube Censored my Video. Was This Political?^ (12:54) - Tim Pool, 2018-02-19.

5. Presentation structure:
Virtually all instruction on making effective presentations, especially sales presentation, emphasize that you should think of it in terms of telling a story. There is a template, structure, frame ... that helps the audience connect the parts together in ways that are easier for them to understand and remember. The speaker needs to make assumptions about what the audience knows, assumes and believes. I expect that all of us have been befuddled by product descriptions written from the perspective of the developer rather than the user.
Aside: This is known as the ^Curse of Knowledge^.

6. Computer programming as persuasion:
When I was in Graduate School, one of my housemates was grading essays at the same time I was grading computer programs. During our breaks, we were both bemoaning minor variants of the same problems. Our students were poor at breaking the task up into reasonable units (paragraphs or functions) and poor at economy and precision of language (English or programming language). What I realized was that computer programming could be viewed as presenting your viewpoint about what should happen to an audience--the computer--that was intent on misinterpreting what you meant, or what you thought you had said.

7. Efficient presentations: Turning data into information:
From the early days of Computer Science (1960s), information was defined as "data + structure", with that structure being produced by algorithms.
Efficiency (inverse: complexity) is a major component in Computer Science discipline. Initially the focus was on the efficiency of the various algorithms -- what were their demands on resources (CPU, memory, ...). But there was also the efficiency of the programmer: For many tasks, you should sacrifice some efficiency of the algorithm to improve the efficiency of the programmer: High cognitive loads not only slowed writing programs, but increased the number of errors. It's irrelevant how fast a program runs, if it produces garbage.
With interactive programs presenting more and more data, the cognitive and perceptual demands being made upon the user by the user interface need to be managed. It wasn't simply a matter of the quantity of data being presented -- how the individual pieces were presented could make huge differences, as could the interactions between the pieces (structure).

8. College students: little gains in ...
Quote is from an ^excerpt^ from the book ^Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses^ by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, University of Chicago Press, 2011.

9. Having positions falsely attributed to you:
Independent journalists and interviewers--such as on YouTube or podcasts--report this as a common problem. Interviewing a controversial figure risks your being labeled as sympathetic to his positions--or even a supporter--despite the questions you asked indicating the opposite. Similarly, your being interviewed by someone with different politics carries the risk of your being labeled that way. In the first case, the journalist/interviewer is giving a wider audience an understanding of the positions of the subject. In the second, the interviewee is exposing his perspective to an audience that may be unaware of it.
Note: This is not a case of a few ideologues and mental midget here and there, it is throughout the mainstream media. Without the slightest hint of self-awareness -- that they too interview people with very different positions -- they adopt the false labeling of others. Since they are supposedly journalists, they are denied the defense that they may simply be repeating falsehoods that have taken hold within their bubble, without bothering to do any fact-checking.

10. Educational malpractice (Haidt interview):
For context and to listen-for-yourself: From ^@45:50^ in interview ^The Perilous State of the University: Jonathan Haidt & Jordan B Peterson^ (1:35:55), 2017-11-16.

11. Popular entertainment demonstrating non-trivial building of arguments:
Although most lawyer/trial stories are based on the pattern of move and counter-move, I can remember only one episode in which the lawyer was shown planning for a hearing by "playing chess" in her head. She asked herself what her opponent's response would be to her action, and then what would be her counter move, and then his, then hers ... It showed her realizing that what was a promising argument turned out -- after multiple steps -- to be a loser, and then testing several more approaches before she found one that she could use.
Investigation stories, such as detectives and forensics, have a pattern of one or two major twists and a few insignificant twists. Typically, these simply involve a re-interpretation of the existing information. That said, the early seasons of ^CSI: Crime Scene Investigation^ (Las Vegas) had stories where much of the evidence had to be discarded because the investigators had gone a long way down a false trail. They essentially had to start over with a new theory of the crime. and had to throw away much.

12. Popular entertainment involving reading the character's audience:
Some of the extensive fan literature and videos about HBO's series ^Game of Throne^ delves into how the various characters are exercising power -- effectively or not. Much of this was about the character knowing his audience in order to know where and how to apply force or threat of force. Tyrion Lannister (played by Peter Dinklage) is different. He operates from a serious disadvantage, resulting from him being a dwarf. Often having to rely upon verbal persuasion, he has to probe to understand his audience before making a convincing argument. The viewing audience sees the results, but may miss the unexpressed thinking behind the decisions on what to say.

13. Talk introduction includes instructions for when a fire alarm is pulled:
^@1:20 in "Abortion Debate @ Wilfrid Laurier University - April 5th 2018"^.

14. Repression for "the good of the victim" :
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be 'cured' against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.", C. S. Lewis in ^God In The Dock: Essays On Theology And Ethics^.

15. Science ... is racist and sexist:
For cringe and/or entertainment, the most infamous comes from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, with the video being found under ^Science Must Fall?^ or tag #ScienceMustFall.

16. Science ... are the product of white males:
This claim demonstrates a disturbing ignorance of history: Ideas and technology flowed along the trade routes, being adapted and improved. Simple example: Europe's "Arabic Numerals" are an adaptation of a system that the Arabs likely adapted from India.

17. Rigor is discriminatory:
From the abstract of ^Rigor/Us: Building Boundaries and Disciplining Diversity with Standards of Merit^ - Journal of Engineering Studies, 9:3, 2017-12-01:
"... Rigor accomplishes dirty deeds, however, serving three primary ends across engineering, engineering education, and engineering education research: disciplining, demarcating boundaries, and demonstrating white male heterosexual privilege. Understanding how rigor reproduces inequality, we cannot reinvent it but rather must relinquish it, looking to alternative conceptualizations for evaluating knowledge, welcoming diverse ways of knowing, doing, and being, and moving from compliance to engagement, from rigor to vigor."
and elsewhere "Rigor may be a defining tool, revealing how structural forces of power and privilege operate to exclude men of color and women, students with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, first-generation and low-income students, and non-traditionally aged students."

18. Freedom of expression is under threat from those who claim the right not to be offended:
^Page 49 in "Democracy Index 2017: Free speech under attack"^ (PDF), a report by The Economist Intelligence Unit.

19. Debate should be uncomfortable:
^@22:09 in "Jordan Peterson debate on the gender pay gap, campus protests and postmodernism"^ (29:55) - Channel 4 News, 2018-01-16. Description: "Channel 4 News' full, fiery interview with clinical psychologist and professor Jordan B Peterson, whose views on gender have amassed great controversy -- and a huge online following. He discusses the pay gap, patriarchy and his new book '^12 Rules for Life^' ."
The interview is also famous for the interviewer stating "So what you are saying is ..." when it wasn't -- rather it seemed to be the debate tactic of misrepresenting in order to win.

20. Media censorship and opinion shaping:
Research on Facebook and Google, often with their cooperation, has demonstrated how seemingly insignificant changes at their sites can affect opinions, including distorting elections. For example, a simple reminder to vote on the home page increases turn-out, and showing which of your friends have/intend to vote produces even more. Targeted application of such displays to people likely to vote for a particular party could easily swing elections.
There are widespread complaints about politically partisan censorship by various of the social networks, and other bans.

An ^abbreviated index by topic and chronologically^ is available.

----Boilerplate on Commenting----
The ^Guidelines^ for comments on this blog are different from those on Town Square Forums. I am attempting to foster more civility and substantive comments by deleting violations of the guidelines.

I am particularly strict about misrepresenting what others have said (me or other commenters). If I judge your comment as likely to provoke a response of "That is not what was said", do not be surprised to have it deleted. My primary goal is to avoid unnecessary and undesirable back-and-forth, but such misrepresentations also indicate that the author is unwilling/unable to participate in a meaningful, respectful conversation on the topic.
A slur is not an argument. Neither are other forms of vilification of other participants.

If you behave like a ^Troll^, do not waste your time protesting when you get treated like one.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 14, 2018 at 11:33 am

This sounds very hypocritical to me as you deleted my comments with a very derogatory comment saying that I attacked you in your last blog.

I didn't attack you, I just didn't agree with you. I chose to say my piece very politely. You felt my comments weren't worth listening to, so by deleting them you prevented others from reading.

Free speech often means others may not agree with you but suppressing those other opinions, particularly by making it so that others cannot decide whether a post is relevant or not, makes for the exact opposite of what free speech is all about.

BTW, well done for mentioning Jordan Peterson, Cathy Newman, interview on channel 4. A prime example of what not to do.

[[Blogger: FYI on "attack": I added a brief disambiguation to his comment (to facilitate web search). This commenter took issue with my not providing a more detailed discussion, saying "It is quite evident ... that he did not research ... before commenting. Freedom of speech issues mean that adequate research before commenting must take place." It was a mild attack, but way out of proportion. It indicated to me that the commenter was going to be combative over a peripheral, potentially unrelated, issue from another country that most readers knew little/nothing of and had no interest in.

Posted by Former PA Resident, a resident of Mountain View,
on Jun 14, 2018 at 2:16 pm

"Ideas need to be challenged..." That (and the rest of its sentence) express what some call a science perspective.* I think it has to be learned, since it runs sharply counter to human instinct. (I often see people working fervently *not* to challenge their current ideas; often that means striving *not* to understand evidence that could undermine those ideas. The striving may be unconscious, but still vigorous and resourceful.) You need only spend some time following a controversial topic on a social-medium platform (like, uh, this one) to see the process.

But worldview-defensive instinct goes further than that. I voted against Trump (and, like many, I also accepted culpably inaccurate "mainstream" opinion polls implying he couldn't win anyway). But during the campaigning I noticed a phenomenon visible already in the G W Bush years: Trump critics who not only didn't know what motivated his supporters, but more importantly didn't *want* to know, instead confidently substituting their own projections, from within their own realities, with no thought or inquiry into the different realities of those who voted for him. This habit sometimes spilled into the limelight (Ms. Clinton's "deplorables" comment), but even then, it more embarassed its holders than prompted any self-examination of the thought process behind it.

* "[The] environmental movement is driven by two powerful forces " romanticism and science " that are often in opposition. The romantics identify with natural systems; the scientists study natural systems. The romantics are moralistic, rebellious against the perceived dominant power, and combative against any who appear to stray from the true path. They hate to admit mistakes or change direction. The scientists are ethicalistic, rebellious against any perceived dominant paradigm, and combative against each other. For them, admitting mistakes is what science is." (Stuart Brand, Technology Review, May 1, 2005)

Posted by William Overbye, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Jun 14, 2018 at 3:10 pm

"Trump critics who not only didn't know what motivated his supporters, but more importantly didn't *want* to know, instead confidently substituting their own projections, from within their own realities, with no thought or inquiry into the different realities of those who voted for him. This habit sometimes spilled into the limelight (Ms. Clinton's "deplorables" comment)... ."

I perceive a belated pundits' awakening to the awful truth that Trump critics knew very well in 2016, but were too PC to verbalize. Clinton stated it with premature clarity: Half of Trump supporters were restive from being badly served by the establishment; the rest were the degenerates she accurately cataloged. The term is apt: what else could civilized society apply to people who cheer a government that routinely rips children from their parents. Listen, and act.

[[Blogger: The above paragraph crosses the line between using a situation as an example and using it for partisanship. I am leaving it as an example, but will be blocking subsequent excursion to far across that line.

And for the record: Trump critics were not "too PC to verbalize" - the airwaves and Internet were full of this, as they were in the opposite directions.

Posted by Strange Days, a resident of Professorville,
on Jun 14, 2018 at 3:17 pm

I never thought I'd live long enough to see self-professed "liberals" rioting on college campuses to prevent people from speaking, or trying to shield foreign theocratic ideologies from criticism.

Perhaps someone should buy them a dictionary.

[[Blogger: What groups stand for often diverges substantially from the definitions of words in their names. A big-L Liberal need not be a small-L liberal. Similarly for Conservative/conservative. Since most people aren't sensitive to the capitalization, it is best to assume ambiguity.

Additionally, for small-letter liberals and conservatives, there are decidedly different definitions in different countries -- for example, the US vs Britain -- that can affect what appears in English-language dictionaries.

Posted by posturepedic, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Jun 15, 2018 at 10:37 am

[[Deleted: Off-topic: about Trump.]]

Will conduct your exercise with a group this weekend. Already know one participants response; she will say: "the NBA doesn't have this problem..."

Posted by Former PA resident, a resident of Mountain View,
on Jun 17, 2018 at 3:33 pm

'-Free Speech doesn't include suppressing others' free speech- ... This is increasingly being challenged... [Berkeley] speakers being silenced by people claiming to be "demonstrators" exercising their "free speech rights" is being repeated across the country...hecklers so disrupt a speaker that he cannot effectively continue [or when] hecklers become so disruptive that officials become so concerned about violence erupting that the it shuts down the speaker... These tactics include threats of violence--explicit or not--against the event, or the sponsors, or the hosting facility.'

That's chilling. Who isn't aware that very similar tactics characterized the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP), and its paramilitary wing (the Sturm Abteilung or "brownshirts"), suppressing critics in the 1920s and early 1930s when NSDAP was still a fringe political movement in Germany?

Certainly no one is unaware of it who has read much history of that time and place. Shirer even summarized it in the "rise" part of his best-selling "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich."

I'm just old enough to recall first-hand UC Berkeley's Free Speech Movement (FSM) of 1964-65 (I lived nearby as a child). Those hearing of FSM only through summaries by people not there may not realize that the FSM (unlike the more-violent antiwar protests a few years later) wasn't even a partisan political effort. It was fundamentally a protest by students (of diverse political views), during the 1964 election, of the university's rules against political activity on campus grounds (specifically, fundraising tables) .

Fast forward half a century, and hecklers there now "demonstrate" to _suppress_ speech they dislike. They rationalize this variously to themselves (as if what's right and reaonable were their own call: "Moral Narcissism"), but at heart, they're an Anti-Speech Movement (ASM), following a creepy tradition whose most infamous forerunners I've mentioned. After all, the whole reason for constitutional speech protection is protecting views you disagree with. Uncontroversial speech creates no such need.

Why is it that organizers of today's Anti-Speech Movement aren't the ones held liable for extra security expenses they themselves engender? And whatever happened to "inciting-to-riot" laws??

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jun 17, 2018 at 4:38 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

History addendum:

McCarthyism (1947-1956) is a useful counter-example to "It couldn't happen here", and demonstrated massive institutional failures, choosing to collude rather than confront. Joseph Welch at the Army-McCarthy Hearings and then Edward R Murrow's takedown of McCarthy on CBS are famous because they were exceptional, going against the tide. These were the most prominent examples that gave people courage to oppose McCarthyism.
Note: A weakened form of McCarthyism persisted for years via the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

Some of the tactics used by McCarthyism and HUAC were similar to those used under Communism. Realize that the novel 1984 was inspired largely by Stalinism.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jun 17, 2018 at 6:48 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

To those who think "free speech" means that you have the right to say anything, anywhere, anytime you want: It has been long-established that you are dead wrong.

To those who think that removing off-topic comments is a violation of free speech, read/re-read the section "Legitimate limitations on speech".

Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View,
on Jun 18, 2018 at 8:52 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

[[Blogger: Two readers have flagged this comment as "Objectionable". While it is rambling, it is not something that would derail the discussion here, preventing such being my primary goal in moderating comments.]]

Sigh. As a trained scientist ( in physics, no less ) I am a person that wants to use the 5 senses to determine facts. I later took a Deming class for the company I worked for. I found that training can be used in any situation that has statistics used in any argument.That training can help determine how much the speaker has collaborated false facts and why should the speaker should be listened to, It is not a speaker, it is taking the time to sort out facts from fiction in his speech.
I took college training in both communication and Debate. I learned about propaganda ( ours, no less ) by our Internet. The Internet gave me more insight on the OTHER SIDE of the effects on the German people Pre WWII.
Example: The most sadistic of the lot was the SS Doktor Corps. THEY USED THE GERMAN PEOPLE TO TEST THEIR KILLING MACHINES. I have had relatives in Germany begging us for food, because the SS took hers, the same from farmers; if you protest, you were shot on the spot. These things are now known to me because I read German and have the WORLD WIDE WEB that is not censored ( yet ). In the Debate Class, my final exam was defending Marxism no less. That forced me to actual Marx writings including Das Kapital ( I refused to read actual German ).
I passed my debate class and am a Master Debater. That improved my public speaking skills and also helped in fact gathering later on in my work. I am forced to work with many BS people. Some management types, which is why I became an Engineer, who deals with real facts instead of sucking up to your boss and the necessary knife in the back to get ahead in the management world. ( Yes most managers live in their world and not the real one. )

My ability to deal with facts ( and not textbook training ) was what Cray Supercomputers was looking for.

Snopes started out as a husband and wife OPINION TEAM. Now they are quoted as a fact checker, which the are not. YouTube just gets you into the fact checking; some references work, others do not. YouTube has become an INFOTAINMENT site that replaces the television and their slanted " journalists ".(I hate that word. REPORTERS gave us the facts, Journalists gave us their spin ) . A lot of time goes into proving a fact or falsehood. I no longer read the Murky News. I do read other country websites and find facts that M$M does not report. I began to realize that EVERY COUNTRY USES PROPAGANDA, EVEN OURS!
The World Wide network, even censored by other countries, still remains the best tool for research and exchange of other ideas. EVERY citizen has become an instant reporter. Many LEOs [[Law Enforcement Organizations]] are able to lie in a courtroom as to why they beat-down or kill a citizen or why they shut off a body camera.
This is a revolution that is growing and our government is afraid of. We want change that the Hildabeast could not give. Instead of small areas in a city, EVERYONE has a cell phone camera and these people and YouTube is changing the way people communicate. Airliners have MANY Fan disk failures. But the newspeople do not report it. One example of research. My list of research areas are growing, back to work. If you have questions, just follow the money is a not so safe area to do research.

Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View,
on Jun 20, 2018 at 2:21 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

It is NOT rambling; I have to set my qualifications before making my comment. I will cite a radio communication problem as proof. There are many who have an opinion, not related to the facts; these are people who crate " noise " on a factual issue. Like a common radio, you can just turn the dial to eliminate the " noise " but you can no longer hear that issue. As a result, any communication on that issue is lost. That is the present problem with " freedom of Speech ". Any idiot with a bullhorn can drown out anyone else; they make sure no one else can express their " Freedom of Speech ". The only way to deal with this problem is a legal issue: use a sound level meter under an " excessive noise " violation in a community.

In my comment I qualified my comments with a written background; much like the flyleaf of a good book. This show how much signal to noise ratio there is to the writing inside the book; less noise, better signal is what most people want in a good read.Babble is NO signal and HIGH noise, Mr. Moran and you insult many people both alive and dead, by saying it. But I have to make an exception for the ignorant; misapplication of a word means that maybe that person should not have a public soapbox to intercommunicate with. Before I wanted to make any comment on any issue, others might want to see WHY that comment should be listened to. Every person is not accompanied with a reference sheet about why their comment may be valid enough to listen to. It is not a case of listening to someone you agree with, you want to gather facts that may not agree with your " facts ". Too much listen to " noise " drowns out the " signal ' ( communication ).

Posted by Mason Bradford, a resident of Meadow Park,
on Jun 20, 2018 at 6:57 pm

McCarthyism (1947-1956) is a useful counter-example to "It couldn't happen here"

Are you referring to the book by Sinclair "Red" Lewis or the nostrum that gave it its title?

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 20, 2018 at 8:16 pm

Consider adding this article to the debate:

"No, you're not entitled to your opinion"

Web Link

Excerpt: “I'm sure you've heard the expression ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion.' Perhaps you've even said it yourself, maybe to head off an argument or bring one to a close. Well, as soon as you walk into this room, it's no longer true. You are not entitled to your opinion. You are only entitled to what you can argue for."

Posted by Wise Words Guy, a resident of Green Acres,
on Jun 25, 2018 at 8:45 pm

You are entitled to your opinion, but not to an audience.

[[Blogger: Before responding, recognize that this comment is ambiguous and thus any response should make clear what your interpretations is.
First ambiguity: not entitled to an audience: Does this mean that you can't compel people to listen to you, or that people who want to listen to you can be prevented from doing so?
Second ambiguity: who is "you"? Another variant of the willing/compelled distinct. "Compelled" would include someone attending a meeting/rally/... disrupting it to promote themselves or their ideas to an unwilling audience.

Posted by Wise Words Guy, a resident of Green Acres,
on Jun 26, 2018 at 5:16 pm

It is intended as the impersonal "you" as in "Brushing your teeth is healthy."

As such, it would necessarily include the (apparently somewhat touchy) host of this blog, but it is nonspecific to him. To him - don't over interpret simple English.

Posted by Thibault, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Jul 2, 2018 at 5:20 pm

I agree but I don't think you go far enough. We need even more freedom of speech then [[than]] we currently have. We need lost [[laws?]] to explicitly protect hate speech, and we need to legalize all pornography and copyright infringement as well as libel and slander.

[[Blogger: This is not a serious comment. Although policy is that it should be deleted, that would simply lead to comments about me suppressing free speech.]]

Posted by Tech problem?, a resident of Community Center,
on Jul 9, 2018 at 5:27 am

Why do posts disappear?

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 9, 2018 at 2:09 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Posts disappear because they are phishing, SPAM, trolling ...
Trolling includes insults and attacks directed at me.
As stated in the Guideline, I moderate to serve the discussion.

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