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    THE ANTI-MISANDRY BLOG: EPISODE VII

    A CASE STUDY: FREE SPEECH vs. FREE SPEECH

    In my recent posts FREE SPEECH FROM FEMINISM Part 1 & Part 2, I describe what I believe have been disruptions to free expression in the last few years by so-called feminists on Canadian universities who not only protested, but also attempted to bar men’s and equal rights groups from presenting speakers who possessed counter-narratives to academic feminism. I referenced a debate on The Agenda with Steve Paikin, with English professor and feminist skeptic Dr. Janice Fiamengo and free speech advocate Justin Trottier (National Policy Director at the Centre for Inquiry) arguing on the one side that the above-described campus feminists were indeed exhibiting actions that infringed on free thought, while their opponents in the discussion, feminist and philosophy professor Dr. Alice MacLachlan along with feminist, writer, and activist Rachel Décoste countered that the protests were beautiful examples of the sort of free expression that fuel free thought.

    In this spin-off post, I’d like to examine a pair of contentions made by the MacLachlan-Décoste team, which I found to be logically objectionable.

    (1) The “You benefitted from it” argument:

    In trying to prove that the suppressing treatment that Fiamengo received on university campuses was, in fact, an example of free speech, MacLachlan points out that Fiamengo’s ideas may have received greater exposure as a result.

    “I was only recently made familiar with Janice’s [Fiamengo’s] experiences,” MacLachlan said. “I had the chance to watch them on youtube. And what I saw warmed me. I saw people who cared very much about gender issues, some identifying as feminists, some identifying as men’s rights activists, vigorously, wholeheartedly, and determinedly engaging with each other. Yelling, not always being polite. And as a result, I know that Janice’s work has received a much wider audience, including a platform on this show. I think this is the very opposite of silencing and it’s how a society of free speech works.”

    Later, Fiamengo asked MacLachlan “how [she] would feel if [she] were giving a talk and [she was] shut down by a group of protesters? Would [she] say, ‘This was a wonderful example of freedom of speech,’ if [she] never got to say [her] first sentence?”

    This provoked MacLachlan to reiterate her argument that the protests had ultimately served Fiamengo well.

    “I would certainly not frame it in terms of freedom of speech,” she said. “How I would feel is I would feel shocked. If that led to a much wider platform for my views, including an entire episode of The Agenda being dedicated to them, I’d probably be pretty pleased about the whole thing, and I suspect that’s the case for [Fiamengo] as well.”

    This is a dangerous game of unintended consequences justifying troubling means. It may be the case that Fiamengo’s career has, in the long run, been enhanced by the discussion provoked by the problematic actions of these protestors; it’s also possible that Fiamengo’s reputation has been injured by the shameful and baseless accusations that she is a misogynist and a rape apologist. I have no idea whether, on the balance, Fiamengo has benefitted or not from these protests, but for the purpose of this discussion, I will stipulate that she has done well by them. However, such a result does not retroactively justify crimes and attempts to censor Fiamengo and other speakers.

    The question in this debate is whether particular actions of the protestors were legitimate or not. The notion that some of their alleged victims inadvertently benefitted from their alleged crimes should have no weight whatsoever upon our assessment. Similarly, someone who is the victim of an assault may consequently receive positive public attention that offers them career opportunities that they might not have otherwise had. However, I hope that we all agree that such unintended proceeds do not justify the assault. I see no difference here.

    (2) The “You started it” argument:

    This one requires some context. In her defense of the notion of quelling Fiamengo’s public presence in universities, Décoste argued that Canadian civil rights do not promise her a platform.

    “The charter of rights and freedoms guarantees freedom of expression,” she explained. “It doesn’t guarantee you the right to dispel your drivel, really, just untruths, to impressionable minds with a mic, and amplifier, and an audience of impressionable students.”

    Thus, she concluded that, while she technically disagreed with pulling fire alarms, it was not appropriate for Dr. Fiamengo to spread her counter-to-feminist-gospel ideas at a university of all places.

    “I don’t agree with the fire alarms pulled,” she said, “but when somebody says that the statistics that we’ve been based on forever are wrong, and therefore rape is not as much of an issue as it should be, I think that draws laughter, if not crying, because it’s just so preposterous. So, if she wants to speak, that’s fine, but she doesn’t get to have the forum of our publicly funded universities, paid for my and your taxes, to disseminate that information that’s just not right.”

    Apparently, while Décoste may not agree with something as dangerous as fire alarm pulling, she does ask the state to pull a metaphorical alarm before such a scandalous talk.

    Her philosophical opponent, Trottier, argued in reply that drivel-banning would be problematic, because, strangely, not everyone would have the same definition of unworthy speech.

    “These are public universities,” he said. “We all pay through tuition subsidies, that kind of thing, from the government. Many of us are students at these universities, and have differences of opinion. We all pay tuition to attend them. The thing, though, is if we can pull back for a second, free speech starts from the very simple premise. I may be wrong. I am fallible in my opinion. You were just referring to what happened, and what Janice was saying as ‘drivel.’ I don’t think that I’m in a position or I can decide for everyone’s sake what’s drivel and what’s to be heard. And, when we have opponents who set themselves up as arbiters who block the doors so that other students can’t judge for themselves what’s drivel, and what’s maybe a gem of wisdom, I think there’s a problem there.”

    This provoked both Décoste and her compatriot MacLachlan to claim that Fiamengo had put herself in that very role of speech-arbiter when she criticized feminism:

    “Janice [Fiamengo],” Décoste said, “first talked about how it was ‘radicals’ who were against her. So she’s characterized people who were against her as radicals when they’re just citizens with opinions that are offended by what she’s saying, and the characterization of radicals is already starting in that direction that she started, actually.”

    “I might add,” MacLachlan echoed, “that many of Professor Fiamengo’s talks start by her characterizing a whole swath of her colleagues as ‘intellectually empty, incoherent, and dishonest.’ This is exactly the sort of conversation move that’s designed to provoke a fierce, angry, or laughing response.”

    A major problem with this “She started it” defense is that it’s a false parallel. Fiamengo did not load her criticism with the additional weight of telling those with whom she disagreed that they had no right to speak. Unlike Décoste, she did not tell her opposing “citizens” that they should not be allowed an audience.

    “My challenge to you all tonight,” Fiamengo said, at the conclusion of her talk at the University of Toronto, “is to be true scholars, real thinkers, genuine intellectuals. For those of you who are doing feminist work, let it be genuine feminist work. Be open to evidence that might take you in surprising directions. Research your subject fully. Do not mistake self-righteousness for scholarly passion. It’s an intoxicating emotion, but it is ultimately hollow and unreliable. And avoid the temptation of blaming the usual suspects. For those men and women of good will here tonight who are uneasy with things you hear in university classrooms, educate yourselves so that you can challenge the myths of academic feminism. And do it with style, not with nastiness, not with slander, not with personal attacks, especially not with hatred.”

    While Fiamengo does express the view that modern academic feminists have lacked scholarship in their work, she does not argue that they should be silenced; instead she suggests that both wings of the discussion feed their arguments with facts, and engage in respectful debate. In no way does she live down to Décoste and MacLachlan’s accusation of hypocrisy: she does not, that is, advocate reaching for the nearest fire alarm when one is bothered by feminist arguments. Nor does she suggest that her harsh diagnosis is justification for universities to cancel feminist presentations on campus.

    Nevertheless, MacLachlan expanded upon the “you started it” defense by arguing that being yelled at by protestors was a natural consequence of insulting them in the first place.

    “If you set out to say things designed to offend and harm people,” she explained, “you can’t complain that your free speech is being violated when people respond with offense, anger, and protest… [free speech] doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a platform to speak.”

    Once again, this is a mischaracterization of Fiamengo’s argument: she is not saying that protestors don’t have the right to argue or protest (although I suspect she would criticize some of their methods as anti-intellectual); the only behaviours that she refers to as infringements of free speech are those that physically bar others from being heard. It is only that kind of physically imposed dogma that she and Trottier argue crosses a crucial protective line that a free society must have.

    MacLachlan, though, is not dissuaded by this distinction; instead, she delicately transitions from the (probably true) premise that Fiamengo offended some students, to subtly advocate for university censorship.

    “[Free speech] doesn’t mean you get to speak all the time,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that public universities necessarily have to make a place for you or that, if students at those universities want to protest you being given a platform to expound ideas they find harmful, offensive, insulting to their experiences, that they don’t have the right to object to that, by whatever means they have.”

    It is only MacLachlan and Décoste who actually suggest or imply in this debate that university censorship may have a legitimate place in such disputes. Never does Fiamengo or Trottier argue for censoring dissent.

    “I would certainly never complain,” Fiamengo said (in response to MacLachlan’s argument above), “that my free speech was violated because people responded with anger or laughter. My point about the Queen’s speech [where students called out and sarcastically laughed during the presentation, but no fire alarms were pulled] was that that was an ideal example of freedom of expression and of lively debate… [But] To say that objection and absolutely shutting someone down who has been invited by a university group, who has rented the space that that university group’s dues go to pay for, and has been invited to speak to a group of students, some of whom want to hear what the speaker has to say, to say that it’s okay to shut that down, that that doesn’t somehow count as a suppression of free speech, seems to me absolutely non-sensical.”

    Nevertheless, this strange reversal of claiming for one’s own side the injury of censorship when one is criticized for having advocated censorship is an interesting phenomenon (which is not localized to this debate: see the Intelligence Squared debate regarding whether “Free speech must include the license to offend”). Whether it is sincere or not, the “You censor me when you criticize me” defense demonstrates that even the censorship-apologists (to borrow from a vicious phrase) want to protect some controversial speech. This overlap between both sides ought to have brought us back to Trottier’s vital question: when censorship is contemplated, who, indeed, should be the deciders as to which controversial presentations are unfit for public contemplation?

    As the late journalist and intellectual Christopher Hitchens argued in the above-referenced Intelligence Squared debate, “Who is going to decide?… Who will you appoint? Who will be the one who says, ‘I know exactly where the limit [on free speech] should be. I know how far you can go. And I know when you’ve gone too far. And I’ll decide that’? Who do you think, who do you know, who have you heard of, who have you read about in history who you would give that job?”

    It may be the most challenging question that the true believer in the limiting of free expression must contemplate. Even righteous free speech will sometimes offend, so what moral framework can be utilized to make a distinction between what is offensive and worthy of consideration, and what is offensive and unworthy?

    Unfortunately, due to the red-herring claim that the protestors were being censored, too, MacLachlan and Décoste were spared taking on this daunting question.

    P.S. If you would like to examine my examination of this debate for fairness of quoting, I have included a transcript of their conversation as the first comment on this post.

    Posted by SethBlog @ 3:35 PM

  • 4 Responses

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    • SethBlog Says:

      The following is the entire discussion (transcribed by the best of my ability) on which this post is based. Is it from an episode of The Agenda https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8kcNJLpRJ4 published May 14th, 2014.

      The agenda with Steve Paikin:

      Legend: Since the panelists and the host on this show refer to each other by their first names, for ease of following along, I will use their first names as their identifiers. No disrespect intended.

      HOST (Steve Paikin): In the last few months, there has been a flurry of loud and angry debates on social media about what can be said and what ideas can be expressed. For example, the head of Mozilla was asked to resign because the board learned that he had given money to a campaign that opposed the adoption of same-sex marriage in California. Ayaan Hirsi AIi had her offer of an honouary degree from Brandise University rescinded on the grounds that her views on Islam were unacceptable to Muslim students at the university. And more recently, of course, LA Clippers basketball owner, Donald Sterling was banned for life from the NBA because of racist comments he made in a secretly recorded conversation. All three cases have shown deep divides in the contemporary market place of ideas.

      To help us understand the state of free speech, we welcome:

      In our Nation’s capital, Rachel Décoste: she’s a community organizer, motivational speaker, and Huffington Post blogger.

      And with us here in studio, Janice Fiamengo, professor of English at the University of Ottawa; Alice MacLachlan, Professor of Philosophy at York University; and Justin Trottier, National Policy Director at the Centre for Inquiry.

      And we welcome you three here in our studio, and Rachel, nice to have you on the line from Ottawa.

      Janice, I want to start with you because you’ve given a number of talks where loud demonstrations have met your attempts to give talks, most recently, I guess, at Queen’s University. Let’s just start with this: what do you think it is about your appearances that causes so much controversy?

      JANICE: Well, clearly, my talks are challenging a very much cherished and deeply held series of beliefs, particularly feminist ideology because I have been questioning some of the major tenets of feminist ideology. And I have also been trying to make that case that men’s issues deserve to be heard as well, and there’s a certain element of the feminist community on campus that doesn’t want to hear that, and finds it threatening in various ways.

      HOST: Having said that, do you understand the intensity of the reaction you run into when you try to advance your views?

      JANICE: Sure, absolutely. I was a radical feminist when I was younger. I was a radical student. I still believe in protest. I believe that students have the right to challenge very vigorously and aggressively speakers with whom they disagree. I guess where I draw the line is actually shutting down a speaker, which is what happened to me at the University of Ottawa. I wasn’t even able to begin the talk, and I did eventually, after an hour of interruption, speak for about fifteen minutes before the fire alarm went off, but obviously the useful Q&A that we were looking forward to couldn’t place, and I think discussions around these charged issues are really damaged when that kind of discussion can’t take place. So that’s too bad.

      HOST: Okay, Justin, to you now. Gender issues are one thing. Do you want to put a few more things on the list where these kinds of events take place?

      JUSTIN: Well, if we’re talking about recent examples, very often we are seeing right- wing groups and right-wing perspectives that are often the target of censorship. Hasn’t always been like this. If we go back to the 50s and 60s, there was a time when it was the left, and their protests against perhaps the Vietnam war, their protests in favour of civil liberty legislations, ending desegregated schooling, that sort of thing, that was the contentious idea that was subject to censorship. But these days it is criticism of feminism, or radical feminism, it is men’s issues, it is abortion debates. My organization has been involved in debating abortion on campus. We take the pro-choice side. But very often these debates get shut down by well meaning, but unfortunately, not well applying student unions that use the wrong methods to defend their morals, which they see to be superior to the rest of us.

      HOST: So once upon a time, it would have been – if I can just characterize it generally – left-wing student radicals unhappy with a particular issue trying to shut down debate; now you’re seeing more of right wing student radicals doing it?

      JUSTIN: Well now those student groups have in a weird sense have become the establishment. And so when there are events on campus – and I gave the abortion debates, but there others – where those debates are seen as an affront to the rights of women, perhaps; that they might create a dangerous space on campus, then, in the name of preserving a safe space, these often left wing groups will take it upon themselves to do things like bullying and intimidation and harassment, which themselves constitute an affront to preserving a safe space on campus.

      HOST: Okay, Alice, we mentioned a couple of examples off the top, you got the Mozilla case, the Ayaan Hirsi AIi cases, the former owner, or still owner, I guess, but maybe potentially soon-to-be former owner of the LA Clippers. We’ve heard this referred to as the culture of “Shut up.” Do you think that’s an apt description of the kinds of divisions we’re seeing nowadays?

      ALICE: Absolutely not. There are lots of things that contribute to a culture of “Shut up.” The end of net neutrality contributes to the culture of “Shut up.” Government silencing of scientists contributes to a culture of “Shut up.” State surveillance of private correspondence contributes to a culture of “Shut up.” Students protesting controversial speakers, that’s an example of free speech; it’s not the end of free speech. So I was only recently made familiar with Janice’s experiences. I had the chance to watch them on Youtube. And what I saw warmed me. I saw people who cared very much about gender issues, some identifying as feminists, some identifying as men’s rights activists, vigorously, wholeheartedly, and determinedly engaging with each other. Yelling, not always being polite. And as a result, I know that Janice’s work has received a much wider audience, including a platform on this show. I think this is the very opposite of silencing, and it’s how a society of free speech works.

      HOST: Janice, I’m not sure you saw it that way, did you?

      JANICE: No, I most certainly wouldn’t say that. I think that’s a complete mischaracterization. What happened at Queen’s University was precisely that. There were a lot of angry comments during my talk, laughter, heckling, that sort of thing, but the talk was able to go forward. And then there was an extremely heated, but I think productive, question and answer period afterwards. That is the definition of free speech. When a speaker is actually not able to go forward with the talk, that is not an example of free speech in any way. That’s bullying and intimidation, and it’s, I think, to be deplored. I’ve had emails from people afterwards who talked about how they had driven for forty-five minutes because they lived outside of Ottawa to come and hear my talk. They weren’t able to hear it because it was shut down by a few students who felt that they had the right to determine what ideas could be–

      HOST: Okay, Alice, would you like to jump in there?

      ALICE: Yeah, I would love to jump in, thank you. I think it’s important to talk about what we mean by free speech. I care a lot about free speech. I teach John Stuart Mill. I’m committed to philosophy. We started because Socrates was silenced. Free speech means freedom from government interference and sanction. It doesn’t mean freedom from consequences. And these consequences can include vigorous reactions, criticisms, protests. Unfortunately, it can even mean that the debate doesn’t happen, or doesn’t go the way you’d want it to–

      JANICE: There was no debate.

      JUSTIN: If I may get in here. I was at the events as well. The consequences were violations of university policy, policy on free speech, policy on the non-disruption of sanctioned events, doors were blocked, and fire alarms were pulled, that’s dangerous.

      ALICE: Absolutely–

      JUSTIN: Blocking the exit after pulling the fire alarm–

      ALICE: No mainstream feminist, including me, none of us are ever going to defend the pulling of the fire alarm, if you can point–

      JUSTIN: There were hundreds of students who were doing this.

      ALICE: If you can point to a single mainstream feminist thinker or defender, who wants to defend the idea of using fire alarms to shut people down, I will personally apologize for them.

      HOST: Rachel’s been unbelievably patient so far. Rachel, come on in here, and give us your view. Where are you on this?

      RACHEL: The charter of rights and freedoms guarantees freedom of expression. It doesn’t guarantee you the right to dispel your drivel, really, just untruths, to impressionable minds with a mic, and amplifier, and an audience of impressionable students.

      HOST: What are you referring to there?

      RACHEL: I listened to the Youtube video of the professor at Queen’s, and when students laughed it was because she was saying stuff that was not true, and it drew laughter.

      HOST: For example?

      RACHEL: So that was their reaction to hearing a presentation of ideas that were just not based on any fact that could be backed up.

      HOST: Could you give an example of something you found–

      RACHEL: And that’s their right to.

      HOST: Okay, could you give an example of something that you found so egregious that it deserved to be laughed down, or fire alarms pulled or whatever?

      RACHEL: I don’t agree with the fire alarms pulled, but when somebody says that the statistics that we’ve been based on forever are wrong, and therefore rape is not as much of an issue as it should be, I think that draws laughter, if not crying, because it’s just so preposterous. So, if she wants to speak, that’s fine, but she doesn’t get to have the forum of our public universities, paid for my and your taxes to disseminate that information that’s just not right.

      JUSTIN: These are public universities. We all pay through tuition subsidies that come from the government. Many of us are students at these universities and have differences of opinion, and we all pay tuition to attend them. The thing, though, is if we can pull back for a second. Free speech starts from the very simple premise: I may be wrong. I am fallible in my opinion. You were just referring to what happened and what Janice was saying, as drivel. I don’t think that I’m in a position or I can decide for everyone’s sake what’s drivel and what’s to be heard. And when we have opponents who set themselves up as arbiters who block the doors so that other students can’t judge for themselves what’s drivel, and what’s maybe a gem of wisdom, I think there’s a problem there.

      ALICE: And I think the problem is confusing–

      RACHEL: Janice first talked about how it was radicals who were against her. So she’s characterized people who were against her as radicals when they’re just citizens with opinions that are offended by what she’s saying, and the characterization of radicals is already starting in that direction that she started, actually.

      HOST: Alice?

      ALICE: Absolutely. I might add that many of Professor Fiamengo’s talks start by characterizing a whole swath of her colleagues as “intellectually empty, incoherent, and dishonest.” This is exactly the sort of conversation move that’s designed to provoke a fierce, angry, or laughing response. I’m with Rachel on this. If you set out to say things designed to offend and harm people, you can’t complain that your free speech is being violated when people respond with offense, anger, and protest.

      JANICE: I would certainly never complain that my free speech was violated because people responded with anger or laughter. My point about the Queen’s speech was that that was an ideal example of freedom of expression and of lively debate. I don’t care if people laugh at what I have to say. And, yes, I’m deliberately provocative to some extent in my speeches because I want people to engage in a lively manner. But to absolutely shut me or anyone else down to prevent me from expressing my views is a violation of free speech, and to say that the only cases–

      HOST: Free speech doesn’t mean free ride, though, does it?

      ALICE: Nor does it mean you’re guaranteed a platform to speak. It doesn’t mean you get to speak all the time. It doesn’t mean that public universities necessarily have to make a place for you, or that, if students at those universities want to protest you being given a platform to expound ideas they find harmful, offensive, insulting to their experiences, that they don’t have the right to object to that, in whatever means they have.

      HOST: Okay, come on back on this, Janice.

      JANICE: To say that objection and absolutely shutting someone down who has been invited by a university group, who has rented the space, that that university group’s dues go to pay for, and who has been invited to speak to a group of students, some of whom want to hear what the speaker has to say, to say that it’s okay to shut that down and that doesn’t somehow count as a suppression of free speech, seems to me absolutely non-sensical.

      JUSTIN: The other problem is where all of this might lead. I want to see a safe space on campus preserved and people not being–

      ALICE: Yeah, absolutely, for debate–

      JUSTIN: If I may just finish–

      HOST: If you could just let him finish.

      JUSTIN: Because you don’t know where I’m going with that. I want to see a safe space preserved on campus preserved on campus. And I worry about the consequences – we’re talking about consequences. If the route that we go, as we went, for example at the university of Toronto, and almost at Ryerson, where we’ve seen events taking place, Janice, for example, and other speakers on men’s issues coming to those universities. And because of the threat of a protest, the universities decide to charge often thousands of dollars of security fees to supposedly preserve a safe space. But the consequences of that in the long run are that you are in fact rewarding people who engage in protest, sometimes law-breaking protest, where it actually does cross that line. And, if we do that, we’re actually sending a signal: please, keep doing this, please keep harassing people at these events.

      ALICE: No, keep protesting and keep speaking. I think we have to be very careful not to confuse criticism with control. So you’re suggesting that you’re perfectly open to criticism as long as you get to control the manner in which it happens, the forum in which it happens, and so on. These students were using the forums available to them. Street protests, which is one of the most fundamental aspects of freedom of speech. They were using every venue possible to them to debate vigorously exactly the ideas and concepts that–

      
JANICE: There was no debate.

      ALICE: There was absolutely debate. I witnessed it.

      JANICE: There wasn’t.

      ALICE: I don’t think you get to decide what–

      JANICE: Horn blowing.

      ALICE: –counts as debate.

      JANICE: That’s not debate.

      ALICE: I’ve witnessed many rights activists and feminists speaking–

      HOST: If I could just ask if everyone shouts at everyone at the same time, is that a reasonable debate?

      ALICE: Is it a reasonable debate? Not necessarily. Is it a debate? Yes. Do I get to–

      HOST: Is it a desirable debate?

      ALICE: Do I get to decide that all debate meets my standards of reasonable? Absolutely not. I love a quiet, calm debate, which is why I don’t usually engage in this sort of topic. But do I think that all debates have to meet my standards for what a reasonable debate looks like? Absolutely not. That’s where freedom comes in.

      HOST: Stand by. I want to get Rachel back in. Because Rachel, you were involved – I think you were involved – in an attempt a couple years ago to prevent Ann Coulter, who again is a pretty… well, let’s just say controversial speaker out the United States. She was given an opportunity to speak at the University of Ottawa. You didn’t think it was right that she be allowed to speak there. You participated in the effort to prevent it from happening. You were successful. You prevented her from speaking. Why do you think it was the right thing to do to prevent her from coming, from responding to an invitation from the university to speak?

      RACHEL: Ann Coulter’s shtick is already known. She blames all problems of America on minorities. We know what that looks like. And I spoke out, along with other people, saying, ‘I don’t think that’s a good use of our taxpayer dollars. And I wonder if Ottawa U had thought this out because when it comes to alumni giving money and giving their co-op students jobs for summer, that’s something that we think about. So that was the right move. And Ann Coulter, if she wants to do be invited to speak, let them do it with the private sector. Let them pay for her speaker fees, but I don’t want my tax dollars being used to subsidize Ann Coulter speaker fees or any of the hate that she spews.

      HOST: What happened to a university being a place in society – a safe place, as Mr. Trottier calls it – for controversial views to be heard and discussed?

      RACHEL: There’s a difference between a monologue and a debate. What I saw at Queen’s University was a monologue by Janice. That is not a debate. A debate would be Ann Coulter and an antidote and a fact checker checking her every time she says something that makes no sense. And giving the alternate explanation. That’s a debate. That would be a great way for universities to welcome these radicals, these so-called radicals and have a discussion, but letting them have free reign is not a good way to educate our young people’s minds.

      JUSTIN: What I hear is that these events can place take place, provided you can put in place the controls that you think are appropriate to kind of constrain the nature of the event. That gives me some pause. You know, Ann Coulter came to Canada – she spoke in Ottawa and in other venues – to prove a point. And she proved it. She proved that we don’t have the kind of robust free speech that we sometimes claim we do. She got far more attention than she deserves. I’m not a fan of Ann Coulter. I think much, if not all that she says is despicable. However, what we’ve done is we’ve given her more of a podium to say these despicable things. So if we’re interested in understanding why these people have these hateful views that they have, I don’t think that shutting them down, and thinking that makes the problem go away, is an appropriate way to respond.

      
ALICE: I think it’s interesting that alternate voice got called a control there, so Rachel proposed that, if Ann Coulter came to speak, there should be two people speaking, representing different perspectives–

      JUSTIN: That’s not what I said.

      ALICE: You said that what Rachel wanted to do–

      JUSTIN: Her defining the terms of an appropriate debate, and banning any other, that’s control.

      ALICE: Absolutely, so I think what’s interesting here, we hear the language of a culture of “Shut up,” when people and perspectives are used to entirely having the floor, either aren’t given the floor, or asked to share the floor with someone else, or face the consequences of having the floor, namely vigorous, angry, occasionally less than polite, protest. And I think we have to think carefully about why we’re questioning a culture of “Shut up.” Has “Shut up” just entered the stage? Or is “Shut up” being lobbied at people who aren’t used facing any consequences for their speech?

      HOST: What’s wrong with speaker speaks, audience asks questions afterwards, in a civil atmosphere?

      
ALICE: That again is my favourite sort of venue to attend, and the kind of atmosphere I look for in a debate. Is it the only way to have a vigorous free speech, when matters of principle are at hand? Absolutely not.

      HOST: Is it the only constructive way to have it happen?

      ALICE: I don’t even think it’s the only constructive way. I think we need to look at the history of civil disobedience and protest, which isn’t always nice, isn’t always rational debate, isn’t always confined to shows like The Agenda or classrooms to see just how constructive and progressive from the point of view of social progress it can be. Progress doesn’t always look pretty.

      JANICE (to Alice): Well I would certainly like to ask you how you would feel if you were giving a talk and you were shut down by a group of protesters? Would you say, ‘This was a wonderful example of freedom of speech’ if you never got to say your first sentence?

      ALICE: I would certainly not frame it in terms of freedom of speech. How I would feel is I would feel shocked. If that led to a much wider platform for my views, including an entire episode of the agenda being dedicated to them, I’d probably be pretty pleased about the whole thing, and I suspect that’s the case for you as well.

      JANCE: If every time you tried to speak after that, students decided that you shouldn’t be allowed to speak–

      JUSTIN: Being called a misogynist and somebody said you promoted incest, and all sorts of things like that?

      ALICE: Well, for one thing, what I might do is think about some of the claims I’m making, including that all of my colleagues in women’s studies are intellectually and dishonest, that feminists don’t care about–



      JANICE: I never said that. I said that women’s studies as a discipline was intellectually empty and dishonest.

      ALICE: And a discipline is made up of people working in it, so I might think about that–

      JANICE: No, it has to do with the dominant discourse.

      ALICE: And I might think about the claim that feminists don’t think about men’s suffering.

      HOST: One at a time, please. One at a time.

      ALICE: So, you asked me how I would feel. I would feel shocked, and I would feel hurt. And that would be part of the reaction that people were going through because one of the things that being shocked and hurt and facing the consequences of free speech does is it forces you to confront the consequences of what you’re saying. You are making a vast array of claims about rape victims, about feminists, about women, about those who disagree with you, that are often specious arguments based on very little evidence or are twisted to be provocative, and I think that perhaps a productive use of your conversation and the protests would be to rethink some of what you’re saying.

      JANICE: Well, that’s what you would like me to do.

      ALICE: You asked me how I would feel?

      JANICE: Isn’t that an example of controlling, too?

      ALICE: No, that’s not controlling. It’s engaging.

      JANICE: If you start to say that blowing a horn and beating on drums is a productive way of engaging with a speaker with whom you disagree, then I’m not sure what role you think that intellectual exchange has at a university. If university is not about the place where we work through ideas in a rational way — not through emotion, not through shouting, not through accusations — where you challenge what you believe to be false with evidence. If you don’t believe that, then what is a university for?

      ALICE: I absolutely believe that, and–

      JUSTIN: This is just one specific example of the way in which we deal with the feminist debate, or the gender debate at the university setting, and I wonder if we can broaden that just for a moment. Because somebody mentioned earlier – it got raised a couple of times – that free speech doesn’t mean that there are no consequences, right?

      ALICE: Absolutely.

      JUSTIN: To the words that you choose to use, and I agree with that.

      JANICE: Mmm, hmm. Me too.

      JUSTIN: And, when we talk about a university, though, university is an interesting kind of beast because it’s quasi-private, quasi-public, as I suggested earlier, and I do think that it is – as Janice is suggesting – the location for the free, unfettered kinds of debate we need to train youngsters how to engage in, and hear ideas that are disagreeable to them. And react in an appropriate way. Well, let’s also remember, even private companies can’t do anything they want to their employees. We have human rights codes. So you can’t punish someone for being a member of a racial or a religious minority. But right now we can punish people, and to get to some of the examples Steve mentioned about Mozilla and other companies that have done just that, for having minority points of view. Now, why is that? I think that the right to free speech is a fundamental human right. Why isn’t it protected just the way other kinds of rights are protected, even in private workplace environments?

      HOST: Okay, but it was never meant to be free of consequences. It was, you say what you want, but you take the consequences, if what you say is stupid.

      JUSTIN: Yes, absolutely.

      HOST: And Donald Sterling found out all about that last week, right?

      JUSTIN: But simply having a minority point of view in a particular work place–

      ALICE: He didn’t just have a minority point of view, he discriminated against–

      
JUSTIN: I’m not talking about the Donald Sterling example, I’m talking about Mozilla.

      ALICE: Well that was what Mr. Paikin was talking about.

      HOST: Okay, let me get back to Ottawa here. Tom Flanagan, who was also on this program, and his example of where he said something, perhaps not as well as he would like to have said it – let’s put it that way – and then the reaction to that, was this YouTube video that was uploaded with the headline, “Tom Flanagan: Okay with child porn.” And the virtual mobbing that took place after that. Rachel, I just wonder, are you worried about the chilling effects that these kinds of virtual mobbings can have?

      RACHEL: I mean I think it’s great that people who were once kind of relegated to the back corners of the world, and the barber shop, and the church basement, can now rise up and say what they feel immediately after something happens. That’s a great way to use social media. And it’s a way for the person who misspoke to readjust as soon as possible and clarify what he said. So he had a right to speak. He misspoke. And hopefully, I hope, he changed his tune after hearing the comments that came from his misspeaking.

      HOST: Okay, let me follow up with this, then. Certainly one of the desired effects from Donald Sterling’s stupid, racist comments was that even private, presumably, people are going to think twice about saying those kinds of things. And yet hockey fans, at the very least, and I’m sure a much broader audience beyond that, will know that, when the Montreal Canadiens player P.K. Subban scored in overtime last week – for those who don’t know, he’s a black defenseman for the Montreal Canadiens – and he was subjected to thousands upon thousands of racist emails and tweets and so on, some really filthy stuff. If you’re anonymous, if you’re not the owner of an NBA franchise, if you’re not an all-star defenseman for a National Hockey League team, it’s pretty difficult to police all this stuff, isn’t it, Rachel?

      RACHEL: It is. It’s impossible to. But I guess what I’d like to say is that there are certain people, of dominant demographics, who have never had a place that hasn’t been safe to speak, until now, until the internet, until people who have never had a safe place to speak, outside of the barber shop, can now voice their opinions, so it’s a re-shifting of the playing field, and people are going to have to learn that they can’t just say anything anymore. They’ll have to answer for what they say. And minorities who have never had a voice in the dominant media now have a voice. So I think it’s a good thing. I think the Sterling saga had a good ending. And it’s going to open those dialogues that need to happen, and haven’t happened, especially in Canada, that we need to address these things; we need to address these misconceptions about race, about sexism, and talk about it in order to move forward. And it isn’t pretty, and it won’t be easy, but it’s how we progress as a society. So, I think this whole thing is a great – if it’s used for dialogue – and I think the hockey, the NHL especially, needs to have that dialogue, they’re still kind of pretending like it’s something that’s apart from them, but it’s part of that organization, and hopefully, these racial comments—

      HOST: Wait a second, I’ve got to check in here–

      RACHEL: –will cause them to have that discussion.

      HOST: I need to understand what you meant by, “It’s part of that organization.” The Boston Bruins came out the next day and said, “These are not our fans who did this. We disassociate ourselves from that.” When your’e saying, “It’s part of the organization,” are you saying that the Boston Bruins endorsed what happened to P.K. Suban?

      RACHEL: They didn’t endorse, but you can’t say that these aren’t your fans. On their Twitter page is whole, “Go Boston Bruins. This is my team,” so we know that these are their fans. We know that people had monkey noises that they yelled at when P.K. went into the box that night. We know that there are still black face people that go to NHL games. So they do have an issue with race; they’re pretending like it’s not their fans – I don’t think that’s actually going to work – but hopefully, the fact that people are being caught saying it, and that there’s proof, is a way for people to start talking about it, and maybe, hopefully move forward.

      HOST: Okay, Justin, what’s wrong with boundaries surrounding this kind of hateful speech? Which I think you’d agree, the Sterling case, the Suban case, that’s pretty hateful speech, what happened in those two instances. Is it wrong to put some boundaries around that kind of speech?

      JUSTIN: Well, boundaries are not wrong. And I accept that there are legitimate boundaries to free speech generally, things like slander and libel and incitement to violence certainly. I agree with those. But those aren’t meant to curtail legitimate opinion. And I think that’s where I draw the line. They’re meant to protect people, not opinions or ideas. So I think the boundaries around protecting people should be drawn much more tightly, but the boundaries around protecting opinions as though opinions have fundamental rights to be free from offense, I think that’s where that boundary needs to be drawn much wider.

      HOST: How about you on that, Janice?

      JANICE: Yeah, well that’s my concern as well. This idea that ideas somehow have rights, and that ideas deserve to be protected. Ideas don’t have rights. Ideas should be vigorously challenged and debated. And what’s worrisome to me – especially in the university setting, where we are supposed to debate ideas in a rational manner – and what seems to happen instead, is that there is a kind of irrationality that comes in that emotions suddenly matter as much as ideas. That if someone is made to feel uncomfortable or outraged or hurt by an idea, that’s somehow a legitimate reason, therefore, to shout and scream and blow horns or do whatever, that’s where I really become very worried and think that we’ve really lost our way as a society if we aren’t able to recognize that sometimes people’s feelings are hurt as we thrash out ideas.

      HOST: I want to give a real life example of something that happened actually on this program, and get your take on it. Several years ago, when Dwight Duncan was the Minister of Finance in Ontario, he made some changes to a particular program in a budget that the group involved really objected to. And we had a public town hall, I think at the Monk school, on this, and in the midst of our interview, a number of people in the audience rushed the stage, and they shouted him down, and they opened up their banners and signs, and we had to go off the air. I mean we literally had – there was no point in continuing. We had to go off the air, and have them escorted out, and then continue, because the promise, of course, of this program is a safe, reasonable place to have a conversation and a debate. Was that an acceptable thing that happened?

      ALICE: Well, I think there’s – your example actually brings up something nice. And that’s there isn’t always a clear distinction between ideas and people. It wasn’t ideas who rushed the stage. It was people who were directly hurt by the effect of this program. And the examples that Justin and Janice have both alluded to, they’re talking about, “Ideas shouldn’t have rights: we’re concerned with people protecting ideas.” But Donald Sterling wasn’t presenting a view about ideas. He was insulting people. The people who used racist slurs and black face against a hockey player weren’t insulting ideas or expressing ideas, they were hurting a person. And if you are a rape apologist, you deny a rape culture, you say that victims of rape are responsible by their conduct, or their dress or so on, you are hurting people. So you are not just making people uncomfortable. You are not just challenging their view; you are not just opening up a provocative statement that might lead to an interesting conversation; you are silencing them by telling them that they don’t matter, they don’t have value, they don’t have the same place at the table that you do, there isn’t a place at the table for them. And throughout history, the most powerful and brave response to the kind of message that said, “You’re not valuable, you’re not smart, you don’t belong here,” is for people to use every means possible to express the counter view, which is, “I belong. I have a right to speak.” That isn’t always pretty; it isn’t always polite.

      HOST: Okay, we have a couple minutes left here. Rachel, taking offense these days seems to change all the rules. It seems, some people will argue, that once offended, one doesn’t have to explain why that idea is wrong. Offense is enough. That’s a view held by many. What’s your view on that?

      RACHEL: Offense is not enough. It’s good to explain the offense. But sometimes it’s easier to offend in a bumper stick way of a couple of words, than to explain what is offensive. When you talk about black face, just to take an example, it’s not just that it’s offensive; it’s that there is a historical meaning to it, and it doesn’t fit on the bumper sticker. And people don’t want to listen to that, so what they do listen to is somebody rushing the stage. What does make the news is somebody saying, you know, rolling out a banner somewhere. So, if we had a forum to explain why it’s so offensive, we would do it more frequently, but often we don’t have that forum. So we have the [Swee Park? – Sorry, I couldn’t make this term out] kind of like, bumper sticker, cutesy, way to react. And that’s unfortunate, but that’s the way the business works.

      HOST: Okay, Janice?

      RACHEL: Especially the media business.

      JANICE: Well I just wanted to respond to what was said about ideas, how they can silence people. That is simply non-sensical on its face. Ideas cannot silence people. Ideas get exchanged. To say that, to make a comment about rape, to challenge feminist statistics, to talk about the messy facts of consent after two people have been drinking, that in no way sends a signal to anyone that they cannot speak. And to pretend that ideas have a kind of power to silence that they do not have, in a free, democratic society, where people have equal rights, is precisely to silence the free exchange of ideas, and therefore to guarantee that we won’t be able to debate things in a useful way.

      HOST: Justin, I have about thirty seconds left.

      JUSTIN: Well, freedom of speech, I think, throughout history – and historical perspective has been brought up, and I think it is important to remember historical perspectives – throughout history it’s been the tool – free speech has – of the marginalized and the oppressed. To be able to call into question the status quo, and to demand change. That’s been done by the left and by the right equally when necessary to demand change, and I just hope that we’re not losing that.

      HOST: Okay, that’s our time. And I’m delighted to have welcomed all four of you here for this discussion, and nobody pulled a fire alarm, and that’s great. Rachel Décoste, the community organizer, Huffington Post blogger, out of the nation’s capital. Rachel, good to have you on the program for the first time.

      RACHEL: Thank you.

      HOST: Janice Fiamengo, professor of English at the University of Ottawa, also first time for you, Janice, thank you so much.

      JANICE: Yes. Thank you.

      HOST: Alice MacLachlan, the professor of Philosophy at York University, second time I think for you, Alice?

      ALICE: Yes.



      HOST: Welcome back.

      ALICE: Thank you.

      HOST: And Justin Trottier, National Policy Director at the Centre for Inquiry, second or maybe third time for you on this program?

      
JUSTIN: Third.

      HOST: Third time. Good stuff. Nice to have you all along.

    • Tom2 Says:

      Nicely framed analysis of the discussion between the two groups. It reminds me of a discussion I was having with someone on the issue of Aboriginal politics, and suddenly finding myself being screamed at for daring to have a counter opinion to the one that was ‘so obvious’. That was the end of the discussion because at the point it was no longer about the facts, but about raw emotion. I do suspect that such people feel any tactic is fair when they feel strongly enough about their issue.

    • SethBlog Says:

      Thanks Tom2. That scares me. I agree with you that discussion of First Nations politics in Canada is as repressive to criticism as feminist ideology. (See my post regarding the public rage against both (1) a person who criticized First Nations perspectives of modern injustice in a letter to the editor, and (2) the Vancouver Island newspaper for publishing it. http://www.sethblogs.com/?p=589) Regardless of the veracity of your or the letter writer’s assessments, when we don’t allow people to discuss more than one point of view on a serious topic, the protected perspective becomes a sort of religious institution of righteousness. I think this is dangerous for our society. As I’ve argued several times now, criticism is crucial to the logical health of any philosophy, no matter how morally righteous it may seem to be.

    • Tom2 Says:

      That certainly is food for thought when considering when censorship should be applied. I must say that Dr. Fiamengo might have avoided all this if she were a little more circumspect in the personal form of criticism she used before the fire alarm went off.

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