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February 22, 2017

Actually, Ben Shapiro, We Had Plenty of Evidence To Go On

One of the aspects of the right I find most depressing, illusions-shattering, and depressing is their eager adoption of every trendily retarded aspect of the left, just five years after the left adopts it. (Conservatism, for many, seems to be "progressivism plus a short period of time to give it some veneer of 'beloved tradition.'")

One of the left's recent inventions was the doctrine of "No Platforming," or #NoPlatforming, as the kids say on Twitter. The idea of it is that people should not merely oppose, contradict, refute, or rubbish statements they do not like, but apply social and economic pressure to block such statements from even being made at a venue they control (or influence). Hence, "No Platforming" -- we will blockade anyone from even providing a platform to people whose speech we don't like.

This is sadly now accepted by many quarters of the right. Perhaps it always was.

Ben Shapiro not only seems to accept the practice, but to endorse it-- despite the fact that he himself has been the target of many #NoPlatforming campaigns.

He begins his piece by sketching out a scenario in which a speaker -- no names yet! That's the trick! -- is disinvited from speaking at a campus by leftist groups. The #NoPlatforming works -- the speaker is disinvited.

Now, Shapiro asks you -- do you support the disinvitation?

He counts on you to say "No," but only because leftists pushed the #NoPlatforming.

He claims you actually don't have enough information yet to make this determination, then, with a flourish, reveals the name of the successfully #NoPlatformed speaker -- David Duke.

This, I guess, is supposed to be a comet impacting the planet of your brain with great velocity. See, you were tricked. You thought the speaker shouldn't be disinvited, but then, when you found out he was a Bad Guy, you then agreed he should be disinvited.

But what if you still don't agree with the #NoPlatforming tactic? What if you still don't agree with the left's -- not the right's, at least not until the right's own cadre of Social Justice Warriors legitimized the tactic in a bipartisan uniparty sort of way -- tactic of denying speakers a platform, even if the speaker in question is odious?

What if you still believe in the classical liberal formulation that the free marketplace of ideas should have as few barriers to entry as possible -- and certainly not huge walls put up by minds fearful of hearing ideas they don't like?

What if you still don't think that Social Justice Warriors of the left or the right should be employing the tactic of shutting down speech, instead of simply confronting it with, get this, more speech?

Ben Shapiro makes the charge that anyone who got okey-doked by his silly rhetorical gambit of not revealing the name is guilty of tribal thinking.

But who's actually doing the tribal thinking here? Who's actually guilty of saying "Let him speak if I consider him respectable or at least acceptable enough to speak, but shut that shit down if I don't?"

Let me quote Shapiro on this point:

If you did not answer that the story provided too little information for you to judge, it's time to check your biases.

Perhaps I ought to check my privileges while I'm down there as well.

What if I felt I did have enough information, Ben? What if I felt before the reveal, and felt after the reveal, that I object the left's (and now the right's) acceptance of #NoPlatforming and pressure groups creating barriers to the marketplace of ideas?

What then?

Did you decide that the speaker was on the right because the protesters were on the left? Did you decide that the speaker had something valuable to say if he ticked off the Left enough, if he melted enough snowflakes?

Unfortunately, many conservatives have embraced this sort of binary thinking: If it angers the Left, it must be virtuous. Undoubtedly, that’s a crude shorthand for political thinking. It means you never have to check the ideas of the speaker, you merely have to check how people respond to him. That's dangerous.

That's dangerous? That's political thinking?

It seems to me that Shapiro is the one guilty of political or tribal thinking here -- he will support, or withhold support for, free speech depending entirely on whether the speech in question is speech he agrees with, or at least agrees is tolerable enough that he'll permit it.

Don't believe me?

Well, let me ask Ben this: Does he support the #NoPlatforming efforts deployed against himself?

He doesn't, of course. Why not? For many leftists, Shapiro's speech is just as bad as David Duke's, or at least they make no distinctions between them. Shapiro seems to be arguing that this tactic is okay so long as You agree that the speech in question offends your political sensitbilities.

But the left genuinely is offended by Shapiro -- they're not lying about that. They lie about many, many things, but they are extremely emotional and they have cultivated a sense of outrage to the point that they really are terribly offended and made to feel "unsafe" by Shapiro. Their claims to be "offended" by Shapiro are real -- they're crazy. They are offended by many, many things.

So by their lights -- they are doing the right thing. They are shutting down speech they really do find offensive.

And Shapiro, by inescapable implication, agrees with them on this on a foundational level. Shapiro may disagree with them as to which speech "should" cause one to become upset, and therefore which speech it is permissible to deploy the #NoPlatforming tactic against, but he clearly supports #NoPlatforming when it's directed against the appropriate targets.

I don't know how on earth he could possibly have this argument with a leftist. Shapiro says "No, only use #NoPlatforming against people who are really bad, like David Duke, or Milo."

The leftist says: "I agree with #NoPlatforming them, but I'm also offended by you, and I will #NoPlatform you as well."

What does he say in return? "No, I'm Good, you see?"

What kind of principle is that to argue over, when the real thing in dispute is not over the procedural concern of a general caution about shutting down speech, but the substantive matter of whether Ben Shapiro is "good" enough to deserve free speech rights?

A principle in favor of free speech is not a principle of free speech if it turns on one's subjective evaluation of whether the speech in question is worthy of protection.

That is elementary -- the ACLU, before they decided to abandon the principle, preached that for years.

It's not the speech we agree with that we have a principle of free speech ot protect. Free speech you agree with needs no protection, for the love of God!

On college campuses, you are of course free to talk about how terrible the Tampon Tax is and how White Privilege can only be eradicated by getting rid of Whiteness (or Whites, period). Because the dominant cultural cohort controlling speech there approves of that speech.

As is often remarked, of course in Nazi Germany you were "free" to say nice things about Hitler, and in the re-sovietified Russia, you are "free" to attack Putin's enemies.

Speech which is approved of by the dominant social order does not need protection, ever, under any circumstances, and is not the sort of speech that we are even speaking about when we speak of free speech at all.

Free speech is about -- has always been about -- must always be about -- the speech we find offensive ourselves.

It is only that speech -- the speech we are sorely tempted to squelch ourselves, or too cavalierly shrug at as our allies or semi-allies squelch it for us -- that is in need of protection from without and especially from within.

A principle, Mr. Shapiro, is not just a weapon one wields against one's enemies, limiting what they may do.

A principle is supposed to be a restraint on ourselves first and foremost, imposing limits on us ourselves before it's ever applied outwardly to restrain other people.

A line which we ourselves will not cross even though we'd really like to do so.

An ethic of procedure -- no thought of the substance of it allowed, and whether we agree with that substance or not -- which binds us even though we might vigorously struggle against those bounds.

If you find a "principle" does not cause you discomfort, or restrain you from doing things you'd like to do, or sometimes compel you to do things you'd rather not do, then it is not a "principle" at all.

It's merely a convenient high-minded-sounding rationalization or justification for whatever action you choose to take in a principle-free, ad hoc manner.

A "principle" which does not impose limits and duties upon the alleged holder of said "principle" is not a principle. It's simply a license for one's own actions, and an attack line against one's enemies actions.

So no, I do not agree that we "didn't have enough information" to judge. Some group at that college used their free speech rights and decided, for whatever reason, to invite David Duke. That for me is plenty enough information to say that I should reject the left's -- the left's, Ben -- faddish embrace of the #NoPlatforming tactic and let Duke's odious speech be met by other speech.

Shapiro concludes that deviating from his notion that #NoPlatforming is wrong for Ben Shapiro, but might be right for people Ben Shapiro agrees are really, objectively bad:

It leads to supporting bad policies and bad men. The enemy of your enemy isn't always your friend. Sometimes he’s your enemy.

Let me respond: abandoning your own solid principles -- in a here-or-there, now-it's-in-operation-and-now-I've-rescinded-it self-serving way according to whether you feel the targets of a tactic deserve it enough is supporting a bad principle in a zealot's quest to hunt down the "bad men."

The enemy of your enemy isn't always your friend, Ben says. True!

But the tactics of your enemy also aren't your friends, even when you get to use them against your enemies.

There is a distinction between procedural matters -- rights, obligations, and principles we extend to all with no regard for the substance under debate -- and substantive matters.

Ben Shapiro is on solid ground opposing Duke, or Milo, for that matter, on substantive grounds.

But he makes the mistake that many motivated-reasoning people do, which is to smuggle substantive conclusions into his thinking about purely procedural matters, which should have no substantive aspect to them at all.

He should do better separating these two elements of analysis in his thinking, so that he doesn't continue asserting that the tactics of my enemy are now the tactics of my tribe.

Either you're fighting for the actual principle, or you're just playing for time until they get 'round to outlawing you.

And they will. They're not even really denying that any longer.

Update: A commenter suggests this comparison:

OUT: "I may not agree with what you're saying, but I'll defend with my life your right to say it!"

IN: "It's complicated"



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posted by Ace at 04:28 PM

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