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View Diary: What is it I am not understanding about the American concept of 'Freedom of Expression' (158 comments)

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  •  For example (0+ / 0-)

    Hate speech calling for the extermination of Jews is a civil offense in Germany.

    It's seldom exercised because crypto-Nazi skinheads usually stick to themselves and don't march down the street shouting it daily, but they do occasionally and also are prone to beating people up sometimes, which is also an offense.

    If we study German history, we find other occasions where such people were given free reign and even official encouragement and the results I think you know.

    Now, does the mere fact it's an offense stop crypto-Nazi's from thinking their thoughts?

    Of course not, it only inhibits or holds accountable what a consensus of society deems to be undesirable anti-social behavior that was proven to be dangerous.

    Obviously one can argue "What if the Nazis were in control and using the law to suppress dissent?"

    Well, Nazis did outlaw dissent, right?

    So how the law defines "Hate Speech" turns out to be very important and the devil is in the details.

    You may note I am not advocating such laws here per se, but merely raising the question in contrast to the problems/cost associated with irresponsible or abusive use of freedom of speech so people can consider whether this should be an absolute right without responsibility for the consequences or if there should be some form of constraint or accountability.

    Blame it on the fact I'm a parent/dictator.

    But since we are on the subject, let me play devil's advocate a bit more:

    I live in a country (China) where we have constitutional freedom of expression but there are also laws that are frequently used to exercise censorship, such as the law against defaming public figures (e.g., officials) with lies or slander. It's also a society that has traditionally taught respect for authority and elders, etc., and teaches moderation in expression.

    An obvious problem with censorship is that valid criticisms or complaints can be silenced, which can be unhealthy.

    A less obvious but perhaps more difficult problem with censorship is that it promotes self-censorship, which can be even less healthy.

    However, politeness and mutual respect often cause us to self-censor to some extent, and to a point, it actually promotes discourse and quality of discussion since it causes us to THINK before we speak and to stick with discussions to (hopefully) find the opening where we can be frank. But an excess of politeness, at times, has the opposite effect; we end up saying nothing.

    A demonstration of this dynamic can be found on internet blogs, where due to the anonymous nature, many people abandon politeness and civility, saying the most incredible things they would never do to someone's face (well, maybe some would, they are that rude). The result is often a total failure to communicate, e.g, the flame war.

    In our very polite (sometimes) Chinese society, we really would not think to speak in such bold terms to someone's face and when it happens it generally causes offense and people will tut-tut "How uncivilized!"

    Yet on the internet, Chinese are actually no different. In fact, I would venture, some are much worse and we can suppose it's because they have so much pent-up hostility it provides a safety-valve to let the pressure out. (Personally, I consider this to be the case and it's not always productive since people may blow steam and then do nothing to change.)

    Aggravating the situation, is the fact that moderation on Chinese blogs is a two-position switch of "Anything Goes" and "Thread Deleted".

    So us civilized Chinese blogger tend to speak in code to keep the discussion going until the wasted youth show up to do their thing.

    That's the background, so now let's get to the point.

    Internet behavior is like mob behavior. You get these tribal factions, the big mouth bullies shouting big lies, and a herd of cows following them dutifully.

    And what happens is that freedom of speech, or unaccountability if you like, becomes a negative to civil discourse and the purpose of having that freedom is lost.

    So the question arises, in real life, whether there is a place for Rules of the Road to prevent pile-ups,  just as there are rules on blogs.

    I think that becomes the final question. Is absolute freedom absolutely good, or does reasonable restraint bring something to the table and protect the common good,

    Commercial Break :

    For the record, I never HR anyone here because (a) it's censorship and in principle I'm against it; (b) it's totally ineffective; (c) it tends to promote mob behavior; (d) I want to know what the other idiots think even if I disagree.

    Back to our program, Part II:

    Thinking people can ask themselves this: Would I shout anti-Islamic rubbish on a crowded public street in Pakistan just because I have the right to freedom of expression?

    Since I'm not a thinking person I don't know how they would reply, but speaking as a gutless coward, I'd probably answer "No. Feedback loop could be harsh."

    So here is the thing; I want people who sprout hate speech to be forced to deal with the consequences of their actions.

    One solution could be sending all humans to a Swiss finishing school.

    Another could be laws that define the bright lines where people who spew blatantly provocative hate speech have to pick-up paper from the street for a month if the judge finds them guilty.

    Another could be sending them to "the street" to face their own music.

    If there is a hell, perhaps that's what happens there, I'd like to think The Devil is at least that clever.

    But since I'm just an idiot I have to wonder and ask other for advice.

    But I'm sure about one thing: Words can harm, directly or indirectly. Been there, done that, so to speak.

    So perhaps "shouting in the cinema" may need an updated definition.

    Your thoughts?

    What about my Daughter's future?

    by koNko on Tue Oct 02, 2012 at 07:55:06 AM PDT

    [ Parent ]

    •  well here goes (0+ / 0-)

      Before I go all in there, I'll say that I am not sure this is the best forum even, but fine.

      Hate speech calling for the extermination of Jews is a civil offense in Germany.
      I don't know what a 'civil offense' is in Germany, but it sounds like something like I've done while in college -- loud party, neighbors complain, police is called, they tell you to stop it, and you stop it. That is, more or less, a nuisance.

      Except that hatefulness of speech, unlike the volume of it, cannot be objectively measured.

      But none of that even bothers me yet, because you said 'calling for extermination'. The 'calling for', I think, has been recognized by the courts for a while. I am not a lawyer at all, but I don't think "Let's go kill those guys that gather around a strange-looking building on a Friday night" would go over well under current laws.

      It's seldom exercised because crypto-Nazi skinheads usually stick to themselves and don't march down the street shouting it daily, but they do occasionally and also are prone to beating people up sometimes, which is also an offense.
      Again, an example of something that's also illegal. So fine, let them be arrested, tried, prosecuted for that.
      If we study German history, we find other occasions where such people were given free reign and even official encouragement and the results I think you know.
      No, I do not know of the instances where free speech led to the problems.
      Now, does the mere fact it's an offense stop crypto-Nazi's from thinking their thoughts?
      Moving the goalposts; doesn't matter.
      Obviously one can argue "What if the Nazis were in control and using the law to suppress dissent?"

      Well, Nazis did outlaw dissent, right?

      But aren't you falling into a similar trap? I don't have time to deconstruct this, but you are way too smart to not see that it's really similar to "if you've done nothing wrong you've got nothing to hide". It's similar in the way of "becoming what you fight".
      However, politeness and mutual respect often cause us to self-censor to some extent, and to a point, it actually promotes discourse and quality of discussion since it causes us to THINK before we speak and to stick with discussions to (hopefully) find the opening where we can be frank. But an excess of politeness, at times, has the opposite effect; we end up saying nothing.
      This is a very good point. And I completely agree. All I would say that in our current society we have agreed to separate the two coercions: the social approbation vs the force of law (and even then, bifurcating civil and criminal law strictly). We've done it to a greater extent than most, even (check out the slander/libel laws in US vs the very similar otherwise UK).

      I am no anthropologist, and I cannot build a theory as to how it came to be, but it's different here than in the proverbial Old World.


      A demonstration of this dynamic can be found on internet blogs, where due to the anonymous nature, many people abandon politeness and civility, saying the most incredible things they would never do to someone's face (well, maybe some would, they are that rude). The result is often a total failure to communicate, e.g, the flame war.
      Oh, completely agreed. But it's interesting, while I agree with what you're saying here, and with what many on the left are saying wrt bullying and anonymity, I find myself also agreeing with Zuckerberg, and, of course, with whoever before him coined the NYTimes rule. That's fine.

      But that still is based on societal approval, reputation, etc. It is not based on a force of a gun.

      And what happens is that freedom of speech, or unaccountability if you like, becomes a negative to civil discourse and the purpose of having that freedom is lost.

      So the question arises, in real life, whether there is a place for Rules of the Road to prevent pile-ups,  just as there are rules on blogs.

      I don't see the jump here. I really do not.

      Yes, we have rules of the road. But we also have private roads, all the space that is not roads, people who are not driving, etc.

      Thinking people can ask themselves this: Would I shout anti-Islamic rubbish on a crowded public street in Pakistan just because I have the right to freedom of expression?
      Thinking women will ask themselves the same question in the wrong neighborhood. I've had thinking women ask me to walk them to their car by that reasoning. Because they felt safer with a relatively big dude by their side in an empty parking structure at night.

      And what the fuck does that have to do with what we consider good and legal, exactly?

      Since I'm not a thinking person I don't know how they would reply, but speaking as a gutless coward, I'd probably answer "No. Feedback loop could be harsh."

      So here is the thing; I want people who sprout hate speech to be forced to deal with the consequences of their actions.

      As above.
      Another could be laws that define the bright lines where people who spew blatantly provocative hate speech have to pick-up paper from the street for a month if the judge finds them guilty.
      So, is a woman in a short skirt, guilty of hate speech?
      But I'm sure about one thing: Words can harm, directly or indirectly. Been there, done that, so to speak.
      In a way, yes. They can. But so can many other things.
      So perhaps "shouting in the cinema" may need an updated definition.
      Shouting in a cinema is misquoted and completely inapplicable.

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