Friday, October 13, 2006
Peggy Noonan has a rather excellent column this morning about dissent and freedom of speech. After reviewing various examples of leftists who have shouted down conservatives with the purpose of interdicting their dissent, Noonan writes this:
There's a pattern here, isn't there?
It is not only about rage and resentment, and how some have come to see them as virtues, as an emblem of rightness. I feel so much, therefore my views are correct and must prevail. It is about something so obvious it is almost embarrassing to state. Free speech means hearing things you like and agree with, and it means allowing others to speak whose views you do not like or agree with. This--listening to the other person with respect and forbearance, and with an acceptance of human diversity--is the price we pay for living in a great democracy. And it is a really low price for such a great thing.
We all know this, at least in the abstract. Why are so many forgetting it in the particular?
Let us be more pointed. Students, stars, media movers, academics: They are always saying they want debate, but they don't. They want their vision imposed. They want to win. And if the win doesn't come quickly, they'll rush the stage, curse you out, attempt to intimidate.
And they don't always recognize themselves to be bullying. So full of their righteousness are they that they have lost the ability to judge themselves and their manner.
Noonan touches on two points that freedom-loving people cannot repeat too often. The first is this invidious idea that the intensity of a speaker's feeling in some way validates or strengthens his argument. It does not. Intensity of feeling means only that the speaker is passionate about his cause, and the revelation of that feeling to his audience is either intentionally manipulative or undisciplined and immature. However, depth of feeling has no bearing on whether the speaker has the better argument. This is why I deplore the idea that the intense feelings of Muslims who riot over this or that perceived slight somehow validate their point of view. They do not.
The second point is about freedom of speech, and while it is unbelievably obvious it seems lost on many of today's political activists, particularly those on the left. The right of freedom of speech is unnecessary for people who espouse popular ideas. It is only important to protect the freedom of people whose ideas most of us despise. The purpose of the right of freedom of speech is to protect unpopular speakers from officials who might otherwise cater to the demand of the majority that the speech be censored. If it were otherwise, democracy would be sufficient protection for speech.
"They are always saying they want debate, but they don't. They want their vision imposed."
I would agree this is a problem. I'd disagree that it is isolated to the Left and would suggest anecdotally that I see MUCH more of this on the Right than I do on the Left (and could send you to the blogs I've been kicked off from to support my anectdotal experience...)
Well, I admit I don't really get the whole bit about expelling people from blogs.
I think that it is not so much that the left is much worse than the right (as Noonan suggests), but that it is relatively new for the left and more out of sync with the left's professed ideology of free expression. In general, though, I think that a lot turns on one's milieu. I am a rare conservative in a very liberal town, and well aware that conservatives here often disguise their political views so that they are not ostracized socially. Liberals in Princeton freely talk about politics, but conservatives are very chilled. It wouldn't shock me if the reverse were true in Tyler, Texas.
The purpose of the right of freedom of speech is to protect unpopular speakers from officials who might otherwise cater to the demand of the majority that the speech be censored. If it were otherwise, democracy would be sufficient protection for speech.
Indeed, the apparent failure to grasp this truth is also the biggest flaw in President Bush's democracy offensive in the Muslim world, the bulk of which operates under de facto (and in a few cases de jure) shari'a law, which (in)famously doesn't allow much of an outlet for dissent.
For this reason, it may well be that shari'a as a legal or quasi-legal system has to go the way of the Hindu caste system in order for liberal democracy to be able to thrive in that part of the world.
No matter how much lipstick you put on O'Donnell and Streisand..........
Dr. Sanity has some interesting psychological thoughts on these narcissistic solipsistic self-absorbed witless, clueless fools on the far left addicted to their own solecisms. My personal take is that they are victims of mass psychosis.
If you haven't seen Glenn Greenwald's reaction to Noonan's piece, I advise you to read it here. He points out that these examples of leftist suppression of speech are not coming from prominent figures but assorted individuals.
He also points out that many prominent figures from the right, such as Michael Reagan, Charles Krauthammer and Sean Hannity, lack the "grace" that Noonan finds so desirable.
Definitely worth a read.
I think that it is not so much that the left is much worse than the right (as Noonan suggests), but that it is relatively new for the left and more out of sync with the left's professed ideology of free expression.
I do appreciate the clarification about the left not being worse than the right. Noonan has been around the block enough to know better than nasty discourse being reflective of a partisan or ideological measuring stick. A tit-for-tat with just this election cycle's attack ads from each party would be a long volley indeed.
What is absurd about the Noonan piece is that it inevitably distracts from a real debate about governmental shifts with respect to free expression, all of which have been exercised against "the left" (solely by virtue of it being a one-party government of the right, admittedly). Maybe they're all worth the cost to our rights, but they are worth discussing, and, as time has passed since the beginning of the War in Iraq, the discussion has been had chiefly by the left, and mostly out of self-interest. I find this one-sidedness unfortunate.
The extreme interpretations of time, place and manner restrictions have defeated the ability of anti-war protestors to protest anywhere near events at which President Bush or Vice President Cheney appear, instead literally keeping protestors behind fences in ironically named "First Amendment Zones" that are located blocks away from paths of transit or the event itself. Does this not chill the protest movement? If the protest is solely for an isolated echo chamber to a parking lot in a warehouse district, fewer people will show up to the next protest, as is completely obvious.
In addition, as has been reported in fits and starts over the last few years, FBI counterterrorism officials have been gathering files, taking pictures, infiltrating meetings and otherwise conducting surveillance on left-leaning organizations (like, for example, the ACLU) as well as individual citizens who have attended anti-war protests. Are these activities, which in some cases are so preposterously attenuated from probable cause (infiltrating the Quakers?), clearly about law enforcement, or are they meant to have a chilling effect? Can these actions be read apart from the consistent message from the White House that we are either with it or against it? Having stripped the benefit side of the equation, an increase in the cost can chill as well.
There are principled arguments to be made about the nature of law enforcement, the iffy-at-best nature of some characters in the anti-war movement, etc. And, of course, even a degradation of the ability to protest may not rise to a Constitutional foul play. That being said, if we are to discuss threats to free expression, and we are to consider unpopular views as those most worth protecting, then perhaps we need not be as concerned about Elizabeth Hassleback's ability to contend with the onslaught of Rosie O'Donnell's pontificating about gun control as we might be about a citizen protestor who now has a file at the FBI for doing nothing more than holding a sign that said "US Out of Iraq" at a time when that was an overwhelmingly unpopular sentiment.
Funny, I don't recall Tigerhawk objecting when a Public Health Prof at Columbia forced the Dean of Int'l Affairs to uninvite the President of Iran. Nor were there objections when the (outside based and funded) David Project forced through an investigation of (supposed) Årab professors.
If you go back and read the Columbia post, TigerHawk did mention that disinvitation and explained why that case was completely different than the assault on the Minutemen. You may disagree about his conclusion in that regard (which would be silly), but you can't deny that there is a difference between the two situaitons.
And a blogger banning a commenter -- whatever one thinks of it -- is quite a different case from incidents like the Columbia incident or the bums rush of the Minuteman. No one could claim that dissenting commenters have a right to silence th owner of the blog.
I hope anyone who considered Noonan's negative annecdotes will consider a few counter-examples. First, we have the flag-burning ammendment. How does one chose between liberty and patriotism? I think that's an issue for honest debate. A lot of Congress however, thinks it's a wedge issue to get more votes. It would be easy and popular for liberal Democrats to wrap themselves in the flag and stop being the "bad guys". Still, most defended the first ammendment even at electoral expense. Second, I've yet to hear of any Democrats requiring a loyalty oath to attend campaign rallies. Evidently that's an accepted practice, but not for liberals. Third, the most well-known litigator of civil liberties, the ACLU, has defended the rights of it's ideological enemies. One example is their amicus brief on behalf of Rush Limbaugh's legal troubles, but there are others as well.
Those are all examples where liberals had something to gain by stifling liberty, but chose not to. I'll stop there because I'm a novice and can't think of anything else off the top of my head. I don't feel too bad though, because even a professional like Noonan could only get examples from a student organization, two catty celebrities, and annonymous persons within CBS news. Those are are pretty small fish when it comes to the state of liberalism in the United States. To me the fact that her targets were so lame suggests the real liberal powers-that-be must be keeping their noses clean.
"...defeated the ability of anti-war protestors to protest anywhere near events at which President Bush or Vice President Cheney appear..."
Uh, not the same. The anti-war types don't want to just stand there and hold signs. They want to shout the President and VP down, and basically disrupt the entire proceding. I know this because Code Pinko's like Media Benjamin and Gail Murphy do sneak into presidential speeches and dry and disrupt the event. Which is what the leftists at Columbia did to Gilcrest.