Sunday, February 05, 2017

The Left Shoots Itself in the Foot Again

I'm a few days late writing this, but since it appears to be an ongoing problem, I'm going to give my two cents here.

The recent protests at Berkeley and New York City are not only wrong, but they are extremely counter-productive.

First of all, everyone has freedom of speech.  To quote Noam Chomsky: "If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all."

But even more than that, this is tactically a huge error.

It was incredibly predictable how this would all play out.  As soon as I saw the headlines about how protesters had prevented Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking in Berkeley, I already knew how the conservative media would frame the issue.  I didn't even have to check Fox news to know that the talking point for the next few days would be about how the Left was against free speech.

And sure enough, when I got on Facebook, all my conservative friends were having a hey-day over this.
To them, this proved that it was the Left that had been against freedom of expression all along, and that they were the ones who were defending liberty.

This comes at a time when the Left is already losing.  We can not afford this.  We have to bring more people over to our side to stop Trump.  Alienating people from our cause is the worst thing we can do now.

That's not to say that Milo Yiannopoulos is not despicable.  But he's managed to completely play the Left on this issue.
If he had been allowed to speak, at worst he would simply have gone unnoticed by the most of the country.  At best, the Left could have used his speech as propaganda to show the country exactly what kind of hateful people are in league with Trump.
Now, Milo Yiannopoulos has managed to completely control the national dialogue, by portraying himself as the poor little victim of bullying Leftists, and made himself out into a martyr for free speech.

And then in NYC the same thing happened with another controversial right-wing speaker Gavin McInnes. To the same result.


On Facebook this past week, I've encountered my fellow Leftists making the following argument why it was good that  Milo Yiannopoulos speech was stopped:

1) He's so ridiculously hateful that there's no use debating him
2) The government didn't shut him down, private citizens did, so we don't need to be worried about protection of freedom of speech
3) The first amendment doesn't protect all speech
4) Milo Yiannopoulos was going to use his platform to out certain students

I'll briefly address why I find these arguments unconvincing

1) He's so ridiculously hateful that there's no use debating him

Either we take Milo Yiannopoulos's ideas seriously, or we do not.  If we take  them seriously, then we can debate him.  If we think his ideas are so ridiculous that it's no use to debate him, then what's the harm of letting him speak?
The only reason to shut down a speaker is if you are worried that he will make converts with his ideas.  But if his ideas are powerful enough to convince people, then there must be counter-arguments to his ideas that can be used.

2) The government didn't shut him down, private citizens did, so we don't need to be worried about protection of freedom of speech

From a strictly legalistic perspective, I'll grant that there's a distinction here.  But in a free and open society, everyone would respect the ideal of free speech, and not just the legal technicalities.  Plus, it would be better if Milo was shut down in a debate, rather than shut down by force.  

3) The first amendment doesn't protect all speech

First of all, the actual text of the first amendment itself does not include any exceptions.  What people mean by this is that over the years the Supreme Court has made legal precedent for certain kinds of speech being unprotected.
But these kind of legal technicalities do not impress anyone who is not a lawyer.  The point is that all forms of speech should be protected.

4) Milo Yiannopoulos was going to use his platform to out certain students

I've heard two different versions of this.  One version was that Milo was going to use his platform to publicly out transsexual students, and then encourage everyone to harass them.
The other version is that he was planning to out undocumented immigrants.

The fact that there are different versions of this story give me pause as to their authenticity, but for the sake of argument I'll assume that one of these was authentic.

This is the most serious argument, and, if true, the only argument that made me almost reverse my position and side with the protesters.

But ultimately, it's no good shutting down Milo's right to free speech.  It just acts like propaganda for Milo, because then he can go and point to protesters shutting down his speech.

I suspect Milo is deliberately playing the Left.  He comes up with a speech topic that he knows they can't allow him to talk about, then he waits for them to riot and shut down his talk, and then he goes on Fox News and complains about how the Left doesn't respect free speech.   He's got this down to an art form, and the Left falls right into his trap.

If we want to defeat Trump in 2018 and 2020, we can not afford to fall into these kind of traps.  
It's better to let Milo speak, and then work to change laws and attitudes to protect transsexual students and undocumented immigrants.
The problem, after all, is not that Milo is going around naming names.  The problem is that we live in a society where someone can create this kind of harm simply by identifying another human being as transsexual or undocumented.  


Also worth watching:


My own rule of thumb for ethical protesting (which I've tried to be consistent on over the years):

It's okay to protest government officials for what they have done, but not okay to protest ideologues for what they have said.  

So, for example, when Media Mouse protested Ann Coulter coming to Grand Rapids, I said on this blog that I didn't agree with that protest.  But, when Media Mouse protested Henry Kissinger coming to Grand Rapids, I joined in.

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