These seven moral rules – love your family, help your group, return favors, be brave, defer to authority, be fair, and respect others’ property – appear to be universal across cultures.
- Identity Politics – Left, right, and the making of Trump’s America
- Political Correctness – The tyranny of “PC culture” is real — and a threat to liberal society
- Big Government – Slouching toward illiberalism
- Campus Censorship – The purpose of higher education and why and how it is censored
- Free Speech in a Global Context – Dangerously illiberal trends in liberal societies
- Religious Liberty – The right to religious belief and expression is of first importance to a free society
- Education – School choice both manifests and strengthens the liberal order
This was stuck in my drafts folder. I have published it on the date of creation. It is half-baked and unfinished, so forgive the roughness.
Few argue with the stated objective of hate speech legislation, but it is widely abused for political means, interferes with free inquiry (needed for science and democracy) and is often counterproductive (inflames rather than reduced ethnic tension).
Countries like Australia are ditching it. We have ancient and effective laws against incitement that are enough to handle direct harms. Look at Sweden. It has the most draconian Hate Speech legislation and has an exploding problem with extreme far-right nationalism. A significant part of the problem is that honest dialogue is impossible because the laws are used a political weapon.
Here in Denmark where we have great free speech, we have no such problems. People speak freely, there is a marketplace of ideas, pragmatic and fair solutions are created where all stakeholders – including the often silenced minorities – are considered. This leads to increased social cohesion, not less.
In Europe, we waged a 1000 year fight against religious and state authorities to establish rights that you take for granted and are the underpinnings of liberal democracy. People are entitled to believe what they want, even if it is that certain groups are sub-human (Freedom of thought). They also have the rights to express those beliefs (freedom of speech). Those natural rights are, as you say, constrained by the harm principle (You should not hard others with your actions). The argument since WW2 has been what harms come from certain kinds of speech. We have gone from direct incitement (“Kill that man!”) to a situation where merely insulting people is now criminal.
In our desperate effort to contain the problems arising from mass migration and botched multiculturalism, we are destroying our rights. The second order effects are damaging to democracy and ruinous if not utterly destructive to minorities. We are like rats gnawing on the ropes that keep us from falling into the sea. In our short-sighted effort to address the symptoms of our problems (Hate speech, rising social tensions, erosion of democracy, radicalism) we damage the tools we will need to fix them (like freedom of speech).
It is impossible to explain the subtleties here, but please read the magnificent book Kindly Inquisitors by the gay rights activist Jonathan Rauch. It is one of the finest books on the subject.
Another example – from the Tito era – is the perpetuation of social and political silliness because people want to avoid offending other’s beliefs or are too scared to say things out loud. This wonderful RSA animated presentation by Professor Renata Salecl on The Paradox of Choice. Check out her description of people in Yugoslavia pretending to believe in Communism despite almost no one really believing it.
- We protect free-speech as fiercely as we can.
- Fist we believe we can find a political solution – no more fatalism and pessimism.
- We do not leave this to the state, it has failed to manage this and cannot be trusted. We address it at a civic level.
- We use the ancient tools of building trust: Honest dialogue, acknowledgment, the truth
- We make it safe for people to speak up. We establish genuine politico-cognitive diversity
- We (Europeans) accept immigrants as 100% equals as citizens and stakeholders (like in the USA)
- We repudiate essentialism. You are defined by what you espouse and choose to support e.g. you may be judged for supporting slavery, not because you are white.
Great video from Haroon Ullah, a senior State Department advisor and a foreign policy professor at Georgetown University.
[Update: After I posted this I came across a great study – “On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit” [PDF] – freshly published in November 2015. Well worth a read. I also recently came across this old but great post from Scott Berkun “How to Detect Bullshit“]
Because I see so much of this on Facebook, I wanted to post the classic essay “On Bullshit” by Harry G. Frankfurt.
Here is Wikipedia on the essay:
“On Bullshit (2005), by Harry G. Frankfurt, is a philosophical essay that presents a theory of bullshit that defines the concept and analyzes the applications of bullshit in the contexts of communication. As such, bullshit can be neither true nor false; hence, the bullshitter is someone whose principal aim — when uttering or publishing bullshit — is to impress the listener and the reader with words that communicate an impression that something is being or has been done, words that are neither true nor false, and so obscure the facts of the matter being discussed. In contrast, the liar must know the truth of the matter under discussion, in order to better conceal it from the listener or the reader being deceived with a lie; while the bullshitter’s sole concern is personal advancement and advantage to their own agenda.”
Here are some quotes:
Humbug is not designed primarily to give its audience a false belief about whatever state of affairs may be the topic, but that its primary intention is rather to give its audience a false impression concerning what is going on in the mind of the speaker. Insofar as it is humbug, the creation of this impression is its main purpose and its point.
Consider a Fourth of July orator, who goes on bombastically about “our great and blessed country, whose Founding-Fathers under divine guidance created a new beginning for mankind.” This is surely humbug. …the orator is not lying. He would be lying only if it were his intention to bring about in his audience beliefs which he himself regards as false, concerning such matters as whether our country is great, whether it is blessed, whether the Founders had divine guidance, and whether what they did was in fact to create a new beginning for mankind. But the orator does not really care what his audience thinks about the Founding Fathers, or about the role of the deity in our country’s history, or the like. At least, it is not an interest in what anyone thinks about these matters that motivates his speech. It is clear that what makes Fourth of July oration humbug is not fundamentally that the speaker regards his statements as false. Rather…the orator intends these statements to convey a certain impression of himself. He is not trying to deceive anyone concerning American history. What he cares about is what people think of him.
…Her statement is grounded neither in a belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth – this indifference to how things really are – that I regard as of the essence of bullshit.
…The characteristic topics of a bull session have to do with very personal and emotion-laden aspects of life for instance, religion, politics, or sex. People are generally reluctant to speak altogether openly about these topics if they expect that they might be taken too seriously. What tends to go on in a bull session is that the participants try out various thoughts and attitudes in order to see how it feels to hear themselves saying such things and in order to discover how others respond, without it being assumed that they are committed to what they say: It is understood by everyone in a bull session that the statements people make do not necessarily reveal what they really believe or how they really feel. The main point is to make possible a high level of candor and an experimental or adventuresome approach to the subjects under discussion. Therefore provision is made for enjoying a certain irresponsibility, so that people will be encouraged to convey what is on their minds without too much anxiety that they will be held to it.
…Each of the contributors to a bull session relies, in other words, upon a general recognition that what he expresses or says is not to be understood as being what he means wholeheartedly or believes unequivocally to be true. The purpose of the conversation is not to communicate beliefs. Accordingly, the usual assumptions about the connection between what people say and what they believe are suspended. The statements made in a bull session differ from bullshit in that there is no pretence that this connection is being sustained. They are like bullshit by virtue of the fact that they are in some degree unconstrained by a concern with truth.
…It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.
…Someone who lies and someone who tells the truth are playing on opposite sides, so to speak, in the same game. Each responds to the facts as he understands them, although the response of the one is guided by the authority of the truth, while the response of the other defies that authority and refuses to meet its demands. The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether. He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.
One who is concerned to report or to conceal the facts assumes that there are indeed facts that are in some way both determinate and knowable. His interest in telling the truth or in lying presupposes that there is a difference between getting things wrong and getting them right, and that it is at least occasionally possible to tell the difference. Someone who ceases to believe in the possibility of identifying certain statements as true and others as false can have only two alternatives. The first is to desist both from efforts to tell the truth and from efforts to deceive. This would mean refraining from making any assertion whatever about the facts. The second alternative is to continue making assertions that purport to describe the way things are but that cannot be anything except bullshit.
Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more excessive than his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic. This discrepancy is common in public life, where people are frequently impelled – whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others – to speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant. Closely related instances arise from the widespread conviction that it is the responsibility of a citizen in a democracy to have opinions about everything, or at least everything that pertains to the conduct of his country’s affairs. The lack of any significant connection between a person’s opinions and his apprehension of reality will be even more severe, needless to say, for someone who believes it his responsibility, as a conscientious moral agent, to evaluate events and conditions in all parts of the world.
The contemporary proliferation of bullshit also has deeper sources, in various forms of scepticism which deny that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality and which therefore reject the possibility of knowing how things truly are. These “anti-realist” doctrines undermine confidence in the value of disinterested efforts to determine what is true and what is false, and even in the intelligibility of the notion of objective inquiry. One response to this loss of confidence has been a retreat from the discipline required by dedication to the ideal of correctness to a quite different sort of discipline, which is imposed by pursuit of an alternative ideal, sincerity. Rather than seeking primarily to arrive at accurate representations of a common world, the individual turns toward trying to provide honest representations of himself. Convinced that reality has no inherent nature, which he might hope to identify as the truth about things, he devotes himself to being true to his own nature. It is as though he decides that since it makes no sense to try to be true to the facts, he must therefore try instead to be true to himself.
…Facts about ourselves are not peculiarly solid and resistant to skeptical dissolution. Our natures are, indeed, elusively insubstantial – notoriously less stable and less inherent than the natures of other things. And insofar as this is the case, sincerity itself is bullshit.
Wikipedia’s great article on Lies that described the many types of lies.
The BBC Ethics page on Lying
St Augustine on the 8 types of lie
Is there a war on the exception (radical) to the detriment of humanity?
From The Guardian:
Elton John has called for a boycott of fashion brand Dolce and Gabbana after he said the designers labelled children born through IVF “synthetic”.
The singer and songwriter, 67, who has two children with his husband, David Furnish, angrily rebuked the Italian designers for criticising same-sex families and the use of fertility treatment.
Business partners Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, who were once a couple, have previously voiced their rejection of same-sex marriage, but in an interview with an Italian magazine this weekend they extended their objection to include same-sex families.
In an Instagram post on Sunday morning, John said: “How dare you refer to my beautiful children as ‘synthetic’.
“And shame on you for wagging your judgemental little fingers at IVF – a miracle that has allowed legions of loving people, both straight and gay, to fulfil their dream of having children.
“Your archaic thinking is out of step with the times, just like your fashions. I shall never wear Dolce and Gabbana ever again. #BoycottDolceGabbana.”
In summary, If I disagree with your opinion, I will attempt to destroy your livelihood. No dialogue, no tolerance, no debate, no attempt to persuade – just attack!
Gabbana is spot on in his response:
“I didn’t expect this, coming from someone whom I considered, and I stress ‘considered’, an intelligent person like Elton John.
“I mean, you preach understanding, tolerance and then you attack others?
“Only because someone has a different opinion? Is this a democratic or enlightened way of thinking? This is ignorance, because he ignores the fact that others might have a different opinion and that theirs is as worthy of respect as his.
“It’s an authoritiarian way of seeing the world: agree with me or, if you don’t, I’ll attack you.”
Elton John would do well to remember that human rights (including gay rights) were built on the principles Free Speech, empathy and tolerance. Elton John preaches tolerance but displays utter intolerance to anyone who disagrees with him. This is both hypocrisy and chauvinism.
Let me give Jonathan Rauch the last word. This is from his magnificent book Kindly Inquisitors:
Today I fear that many people on my side of the gay-equality question are forgetting our debt to the system that freed us. Some gay people—not all, not even most, but quite a few—want to expunge discriminatory views. “Discrimination is discrimination and bigotry is bigotry,” they say, “and they are intolerable whether or not they happen to be someone’s religion or moral creed. ‘ Here is not the place for an examination of the proper balance between, say, religious liberty and anti-discrimination rules. It is a place, perhaps, for a plea to those of us in the gay-rights movement—and in other minority-rights movements—who now find ourselves in the cultural ascendency, with public majorities and public morality (strange to say it!) on our side. We should be the last people on the planet to demand that anyone be silenced.
Partly the reasons are strategic. Robust intellectual exchange…serves our interest. Our greatest enemy is not irrational hate, which is pretty uncommon. It is rational hate, hate premised upon falsehood. (If you believe homosexuality poses a threat to your children, you will hate it.) The main way we eliminate hate is not to legislate or inveigh against it, but to replace it—with knowledge, empirical and ethical. That was how Frank Kameny and a few other people, without numbers or law or public sympathy on their side, turned hate on its head. They had arguments, and they had the right to make them.
And partly the reasons are moral. Gay people have lived in a world where we were forced, day in and day out, to betray our consciences and shut our mouths in the name of public morality. Not so long ago, everybody thought we were wrong. Now our duty is to protect others’ freedom to be wrong, the better to ensure society’s odds of being right. Of course, we can and should correct the falsehoods we hear and, once they are debunked, deny them the standing of knowledge in textbooks and professions; but we equally have the responsibility to defend their expression as opinion in the public square. Finding the proper balance is not easy and isn’t supposed to be.
What I am urging is a general proposition: minorities are the point of the spear defending liberal science. We are the first to be targeted with vile words and ideas, but we are also the leading beneficiaries of a system which puts up with them. The open society is sometimes a cross we bear, but it is also a sword we wield, and we are defenseless without it. We ought to remember what Frank Kameny never forgot: for politically weak minorities, the best and often only way to effect wholesale change in World One and World Two, the worlds of things and sentiments, is by effecting change in World Three, the world of ideas. Minorities therefore have a special responsibility to Peirce’s injunction: Do not block the way of inquiry. Our position as beneficiaries of the open society requires us to serve as guardians of it. Playing that role, not seeking government protections or hauling our adversaries before star chambers, is the greater source of our dignity.
From the Sydney Morning Herald comes this, “Anti-vaccination group encourages parents to join fake church“:
A controversial anti-vaccination group is encouraging people to sign up to a fake church because it may help them bypass Australia’s emerging “no jab, no play” childcare laws.
…children who are not fully immunised are unable to enrol in childcare unless their parents declare they have a medical reason or personal, philosophical or religious objection.
…But with some doctors refusing to sign the documents, the Australian Vaccination Skeptics Network Inc (formerly known as the Australian Vaccination Network), is spruiking 1 the “Church of Conscious Living” as a religion that is opposed to vaccination.
Now imagine how this could go down here in Denmark, where according to the Blasphemy laws
“Anybody who publicly mocks or insults any in this country legally existing religious community tenets of faith or worship, will be punished by fine or imprisonment for up to 4 months.” – § 140 of the penal code
A pseudo-science believing loon can simply join or establish a religious community. They declare these claims to be tenets of faith or worship. They declare they are insulted by any disputation of their tenets of faith. Anyone arguing with them publicly commits a crime.
[Note: Fleming has a response to this characterization in the comments below]
The Onion nails it, as usual:
(Thanks Farren for the heads up on Danish blasphemy laws)