Cato Institute holds forum on “Marxist Origins of Hate Speech Legislation and Political Correctness”

Today, Tuesday November 28, 2017, the Cato Institute held a 90-minute symposium “Marxist Origins of Hate Speech Legislation and Political Correctness”.

The basic link is here.  (Cato will presumably supply the entire video in the live space soon.)

The event was moderate by Marian L. Tupy, and featured Danish author Flemming Rose (author of “The Tyranny of Silence”, now a Cato fellow), and Christina Hoff Sommers. Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute.

Rose focused at first on UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1965), Article 20, Paragraph 2, which included a definition of “hate speech” to include “any advocacy or national, religious or racial hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence…”.   That is, incitement is more than incitement for near term lawless action (as in the US); it includes encouraging others to discriminate. The US and most European countries voted against this at first, but most European countries have come around to this notion in their hate speech laws today.  Authoritarian countries favored this approach, because dictators think that they can stay in power if various minority groups are placated.

Rose traced legal sanctions against both hate speech and fake news distribution to the early days of Communism, back with the Bolshevik revolution (like the 1981 movie “Reds”) where news distribution was viewed in terms of propaganda.  Fake news manipulation (as a propaganda exercise) by foreign enemies is more likely when those who view themselves as educated and elite (“Hillary-like”) have little personal contact with those who are not;  in 2016 the Russians seem to have taken advantage of unawareness of “populism” by more conventional policy pundits.  But it should be obvious that fake news runs the legal risks of libel and defamation litigation, which may be a little easier to parry in the US than in Europe.

Rose also made the point that minorities need free speech to advance themselves, rather than regard free speech as an incitement or invitation to others to continue discrimination.

Authoritarian and leftist interpretation of hate speech law tends to give very little credit to the individual to be able to think and learn from himself, but assumes people will vote in terms of tribal interests, which often is true (as we found out with the election of Trump and Russian meddling). Rose included some panels of modern European fake news law, from Germany and Italy.

Sommers talked about the rapid expansion of campus speech codes, with ideas like trigger warnings and microaggressions and safe spaces, since about 2010.  This seems to have developed rather suddenly. Sommers attributed the rise of these campus speech codes to an ideology of “intersectionality”, a theory of multidimensional group oppression.

At least two questions from the audience came from undergraduate college students, one at GWU, who said that influence of “intersectional” thinking had been quite shocking to him. Milo Yiannopoulos had spent a good part of his “Dangerous” book explaining the perils of this idea.  But other writers, as in the transgender community recently, have tried to make a lot of it.  Again, there seems to be a loss of the idea that self-concept should come from the self (a tautology) and not inherited group identification.

Several thoughts need reinforcement. One is that “hate speech” codes don’t draw a clear line between actual commission of acts and becoming connected to others doing bad things (like “watching” and journaling but not intervening — the “no spectators” idea).  Another is that these collectivist behavior norms regard “systematic” discrimination against identifiable groups (or “intersections” of groups) as akin to actual violence and aggression against the constituent individuals.  Still another idea is that “meta-speech”, where commentators or journalists speak about the discriminatory value systems of the past in order to impart a sense of history, sometimes may come across as an invitation or gratuitous reminder for aggressive politicians to try the same behaviors again;  speakers should be expected to put their own skin in the game.  Finally, there is a loss of interest in individualism itself, partly because “hyper-individualism” tends to leave a lot of people behind as less “valuable”. There is more emphasis on belonging to the tribe or group, or at least in meeting standards of supervised community engagement.

Many attendees had seen the breaking news of (Communist) North Korea’s missile test today on their smartphone just before the session started.

(Posted: Tuesday, November 28, 2017 at 10:30 PM EST)

Coercion from others: how we deal with it is an important component of character

I won’t keep up with the counter volleying of rhetoric over Trump and his apparent deferral to his base. It seems like the alt-right “started it” fully intending to become combative in Charlottesville (we need not re-enumerate all the groups) and the “Left” (just some of it) believed it needed to become combative to defend itself.

I don’t join other people’s mass movements, or become combative myself to protect other people – and yes, I don’t have my own kids so I very much resent it when others expect this of me. Part of me sees simply joining up in claiming group systemic oppression as a sign of personal weakness. If I was “better” I wouldn’t need to.

We all grow up with coercion, and how we deal with becomes a character issue.

Our parents apply coercion as we grow up, until we gradually become mature enough to accept responsibility for our own choices. At an individual level, accepting responsibility for the direct consequences of personal choices certainly form the libertarian idea of personal morality. But in a real world, it’s important to take one’s part as a member of the group – family, community, religious affiliation, cultural affinity, or country. That means sharing some of the “chores” of the group (work for which usually monetary compensation is of little or no importance), common risks, and particularly the consequences of group hostility (warfare) against the group. The plot of “Romeo and Juliet” lives at several levels.

There is tension between individualized personal responsibility, and accountability to a group. A very good example is that an individual level, we don’t want people to have children until they are ready to raise them (which usually means in a legally recognized marriage, which today could be same-sex). With some people, that will tend to result in never having children. That can be bad for the future of some groups or countries, which fear being underpopulated. This tension, over procreation, as far as I am concerned, has always been at the heart of coercive behavior by many religions and many governments (now days, generally non-Western) against homosexuals and transgender. Part of the issue is that until more recent times, most cultures perceived it was important that most people perform according to their biological genders, including the capacity of males, becoming combative and fungible when necessary, to protect the women and children in the tribe – its genetic future. Consider how this plays out with our history with the military draft and controversy today over whether women should be required to register for Selective Service (or whether there should be conscription at all.)  In those days, personal “cowardice” (a somewhat dying concept) had a distinctly physical aspect. Today, childless people still have to take care of aging parents (even more so as people live longer with falling birthrates), and often wind up raising siblings’ children.

All of this winds up being experienced as coercion – what you have to do, because if you don’t, someone else will have to take the risk and possibly make the sacrifice. So rather than dividing people into subgroups according to various abilities, we tend to judge everyone on one continuum, or at least I did.  I would say that in “Gone with the Wind“, Scarlet O’Hara has to deal with coercion, but “you” can be offended because her slaves had needed to deal with so much more, as indeed they had.

But as I moved into adulthood, I moved into different groups. In the mid 1970s, as I entered my thirties in New York City, that group was the Ninth Street Center in New York City (the East Village), now the Paul Rosenfels Community. I would tend to cherry pick the people I met for those who satisfied my need for “upward affiliation”. That would irritate or disappoint some others. In fact, the whole idea of personal growth seemed to revolve around an existential challenge that we called “creativity”, which in turn meant learning new ways to care about and provide for other people (including, sometimes, of other races, or those who were much less glamorous or even much less intact) without the obvious catalyst of conventional sexual excitement and then sexual intercourse leading to having one’s own children, who would become “the” dependents. It was caring without an obvious personal lineage. Yet, what I sometimes experienced in the group was “coercion”.   In any group, there are those in charge. There is volunteer work to be done (like washing dishes after those Saturday night potluck suppers, in the days when there was no escape from the smoke), in order to share one’s portion of the physical labor of the group.

As I move further into adult life, I became, somewhat, the Pharisee, the watcher, and recorder, being effective politically without having to run for anything or ask for money – ironically that sometimes seems as “Dangerous” (Milo-speak) as conventional partisan bickering. Yes, the capability to do this could be yanked away from me by extreme legislation or perhaps direct hostility. I see that as coercion.  People have hinted, with some breath of a threat, “Why don’t you shut up and shut down online, and then volunteer for us?”  Well, if I didn’t have my own mission and own message (other than letting a group be my voice) I wouldn’t be effective as a volunteer (particularly to remedy claimed systemic group oppression and victimization).  But, I could be forced to, unexpectedly and unforeseeably, perhaps. Then maybe I have no choice to work for “you” in order to “live”.  That kind of bargaining with my life, starting perhaps with a knock on the door, is coercion.

So then we come back to some of the more dangerous issues today for the whole country – nuclear weapons, safety of the power grid. Also, civil disorder (which, yes, was most recently perpetrated by the radical right) and terrorism from various sources, by no means always Islamist. The end result is that anyone can be placed into a situation of subservience and helplessness by the “coercion” of another or others. Anyone can wind up housed in a shelter by the Red Cross or other charity. Anyone can experience expropriation and be forced to learn how “the others” have to live, suddenly. The fact is, it is the individuals in a country who bear the ultimate consequences (and therefore “responsibility”) of what their politicians do, even if those consequences are delivered by ISIS or by Kim Jong Un.  In that sense, anyone is a potential conscript or combatant. That’s why I see “victimhood” as so ugly (nothing to be proud of) and I call it “casualty-hood” and yet to survive it and rise again, from whatever station in life events place you, seems so essential to resilience and to future generations, if we are to have a future at all.

And, yet, I believe in civilization. I believe in law and order. But there are a few grave threats (like the power grid issue, which I have covered here before) that we must solve (without partisanship) if we are not to leave the world to the doomsday preppers. I would have nothing to contribute to the world depicted in NBC’s series “Revolution”. Don’t ask me to stick around for it.

(Posted: Tuesday, August 15, 2017 at 9:45 PM EDT)




Do security companies overstate privacy risks on social media, maybe for political motives?

Every time I go into Twitter or Facebook on my new laptop, I get a lecture from Trend Micro on my lenient privacy settings.

Particularly I get warned that the Public can see my Facebook posts and Twitter messages, that others can tag me in photos, and that others can see personal information.  On the last point, only “business address and phone” information ever gets posted online, anywhere.  In fact, I normally don’t have circles of security clearances among who can see what information about me online.  It’s all or nothing.

Some of my curiosity about this was motivated by the video in the previous post, where the speaker (a television station reporter)  said that allowing anyone but approved “Friends” (Faceook) or approved “followers” (Twitter) would create gratuitous security risks that insurance companies would find unacceptable behavior on the part of consumers.

Facebook has different concepts, like Friends, Pages, and Groups.  Many people have Pages with followers.  They cannot be made private (you can block comments from specific people).  You can make a Group by invitation only, which is closer to the concept Trend seems to be encouraging.  The conventional wisdom has been that you allow only Friends to see your posts on your Friends page.  But Facebook allows up to 5000 friends.  It is common for people to have over a thousand.  Many, perhaps most, Facebook users don’t carefully screen who gets approved as a friend.  I do allow friends from overseas (including Arabic names).  I generally disapprove of minors only.  (Posts made by others on your timeline in public mode can normally be seen by “friends of friends”).

Some people, after being friends, do behave in an unwelcome way.  Some send greetings or messages and expect to be answered back.  A couple have made pleas for “personal” help with matters I can do nothing about (at least lawfully).  One female kept making silly posts on my Timeline claiming to tag me in sexual pictures when the individual was not me.  I did unfriend her and the posts stopped.

I also had one occasion where someone created a fake copy of my account with no posts.  A legitimate friend (the person who copyedited my books) caught it and reported it to Facebook and the entry was removed before I knew about it.

Tagging has crept up as a problem, for users who allow it.  I’ve noticed that some people are more sensitive about being photographed in bars or discos than they used to be, say, before 2010.  A few social establishments have started prohibiting photography inside their facilities.

In Twitter, it is possible to set up your account so that all followers have to be approved.  Relatively few users do this, but they will block followers who seem stalky or who don’t follow supposed etiquette (by replying to too many tweets when not being co-followed), although etiquette standards are changing again rapidly.

As a practical matter, limiting visibility of posts to “Friends” or approved followers probably doesn’t increase security very much, because it is so easy to be approved and because, to be successful and have an outreach, people need friends and followers.  Indeed, it wouldn’t stop “catfishing” (as in Nev Schulman’s 2010 film “Catflish” for Rogue pictures, as with a recent incident from a fake female catfisher in Manitoba).

On Facebook, I notice that some Friends (even with privacy set to “Friends only”) will “check in” with that red dot that lets others track their movements;  I don’t think this is a good idea myself.  But part of this is that I don’t want anyone to “take me for granted”, beyond security.  Likewise, I don’t announce (even to Friends) what events I will attend, even if I report on the events after the fact on blogs.  Maybe that isn’t playing ball.  I think back to the days of my upbringing in the 50s;  my parents probably “shared” their lives with about ten other families, as with Thanksgiving and Christmas gift sharing that I remember so well (and with the Ocean City beach trips with one family I remember, too). As for services like Snapchat:  I feel that if I need a conversation that doesn’t go anywhere, I just have it by smart phone or in person.  I don’t like the idea of sharing video or photo that disappears.  (Kathy Griffin should know.)


All of this is interesting because Zuckerberg invented Facebook at the time that Myspace had become popular (to the extent that Dr. Phil had programs about misbehavior on Myspace), and, despite winning out over several competing ideas (the movie “The Social Network”; the books “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich, or “The Facebook Effect” by David Kirkpatrick).  Zuckerberg originally intended to set up Facebook for campus environments.  It wasn’t fully public until about 2007 and it didn’t get into its controversial news feed aggregation (so plagued by the fake news that is said to have helped elect Donald Trump) until maybe about 2010 (when Time Magazine honored Zuckerberg as person of the year, the “Connector”).

What such a practice would do, however, is try to discourage online self-publishing with free content.  Social media was built on the premise that known lists of people see your content, more or less like email listservers (or restricted membership sites) that were popular before modern social media.  When people are popular and have lots of “fans”, the practical effect is that social media account is public anyway. It is true that actual friends or followers are more likely to see posts even on public accounts. Blogs can also have “followers” and, with Blogger, can be made “private” (as can YouTube videos), but the normal result is that few people would see them.  Blog following has become less popular since Facebook took off, although YouTube channel subscription is still somewhat popular.

The relevant point seems to be that when you publish a hardcopy (or Kindle or Nook) book, you don’t have the “right” to know who bought it.  That’s the traditional idea or model of “open publication”.  Self-instantiation by open self-publication, with leaving a lot of content free, seems to be a morally suspect or gratuitous practice (even if it purports to offer alternative viewpoints and critical thinking as I think mine do) in the minds of some people:  if it doesn’t pay its own way, it competes unfairly with writers who do need to make a living at it;  it discourages professionalism and facilitates fake news, it can attract cultural enemies (to others as well as the self), leading to the insurance concerns, and (probably most of all) it breaks up political solidarity for those (on both the (alt) right and left) who want to recruit loyal volunteers and who want to control the (often polarized and tribally-centered) message.  “Belonging” to some group seems to be imperative.  The election and  relentlessly tribal and boorish behavior of Donald Trump seems to have brought this point home.

In fact, in the eyes of intellectual property law, this isn’t quite right.  “Publication” in defamation law is communicating the false defamatory claim to even one person who understands the message (which can be one approved friend or follower, or just one email recipient).

I opined before, back in 2000, that “open” self-publication can become an unethical practice for people in some positions (like those with direct workplace reports, when there is a concern over possible workplace results).  Now it’s a possible security issue, especially in asymmetric warfare where civilians can attract enemies who view civilians as combatants.  Yet it’s odd that security company like Trend Micro gets to define what that means, for everybody.

Some observers (like Ramsay Taplan, “Blogtyrant” of Australia) urge an inside-out approach to blogging, focusing on consumer niches that are inherently profitable, the narrower the better.  Then, he says, become aggressive in building email lists from actual customers who need you wand welcome hearing from you, which confounds the conventional wisdom today about spam.  But this practice refers to writing that supports an inherently commercial product or service, not self-expression online for its own sake or even for promoting critical thinking on political or social controversies.

(Posted: Saturday, June 3, 2017 at 11:15 AM EDT)

Trump has pitched the virtues of living “locally” at his “thank you” rallies

One of the points Donald Trump tried to move his crowd with at a “thank you” rally in Ohio was the idea that people want to live locally and take care of their own business locally, and that people should live relationally and locally.  That goes along with his more recent speculative comment (in relation to Russian hacking of both major political parties) that “no computer is safe.”

That sounds like a potential, anti-intellectual anathema for someone like me, who likes to play the role of global observer, a sort of alien anthropologist which Mark Zuckerberg has become much more successfully than I did – but I had first helped forge “a path ahead” in the 90s.  Indeed, in the LGBT community there is a certain sort of cosmopolitan gay male who seems himself this way – Milo Yiannopoulos, the quintessential bad boy, anticipated by “bad boy” Shane Lyons’s character (played by Timo Descamps) in the now classic sci-fi fantasy “Judas Kiss”, linking modern world values to the ironic moral problems associated with the notorious Biblical character’s betrayal of Jesus (as in the CNN series “Finding Jesus”). In the “straight” world (again, ironically), people have perceived celebrities like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and punk-master Ashton Kutcher this way.  (Any one of these three would have been fit to be president now.)

Local values have played out in different ways.  Back in the 70s and 80s, people were moving to the suburbs, and companies followed them from the cities, to provide safer and more segregated lives for their “families”. This was bad for a singleton like me, who needed geographical mobility as a kind of “power” (and in my case, in the early 70s, to “come out”).  Now, the genie is instant self-broadcast in public mode online, influencing “strangers”.

Local values are more or less commensurate with “family values”, being able to find meaning in the emotional connections to others, of varying ability, in one’s immediate “family group”, before moving out into the world.  Finding emotional connections meant local focus, and it also emphasized hands-on practical skills at home.  For example, this used to mean conformity to gender-related expectations.  All of this can be quite challenging to someone who is “different” and is likely to move into a different community as an adult.  Yet, when someone does, he or she is likely to find a comparable expectation of loyalty and openness to emotional connectedness, and resentment of cherry picking, in a new social community.  But local values can impose original family obligations, meaning everyone needs to learn to be hands-on taking care of the elderly and even other people’s children;  “Raising Helen” scenarios are indeed unpredictable.

Local values may grate against “identity politics”.  People are born into families and communities (subsuming socially constructed races and politically constructed nation-states) and often expected or goaded into accepting these as their “groups”, which indeed remain the objects of “zero-sum thinking” political barter.  But people often perceive themselves as members of other self-defined marginalized groups (especially with respect to gender and sexuality).  Religion is somewhere in between.

“Local values” are also commensurate with “doomsday prepper” values.  These precepts include the idea that everyone should have the practical skills to survive in a small social unit without dependence on modernity. These included self-defense (responsible gun ownership), mechanical skills, to do repairs on home and automobiles, and some ideas of chivalry, like that men should be able to change tires for women.  There is an idea that one should be “good” with this before moving on to the bigger world “on the outside” as an adult.

Sometimes these ideas seem anti-intellectual, prone to pressure to accept religious dogma and fellowship as dictated by others as truth (partly because it is so easy to rationalize anything “globally”).

But, again, the point is for the individual to consider just what will be expected of him and her, by a society that may look at him as beholden to others by definition. It certainly invites authoritarianism, even feudalism. Information is handed down along with political and social authority, and limited to what can achieve immediate practical results for the community.  Personal creativity is discourage for all but the very few who “make it”. Everyone else must live and reproduce for the good of the group.

When one does acquire fame and wealth and the things “adults” typically want in a modern western society (“democratic capitalism”) one is challenged by the idea that one is obligated by the sacrifices others in his “family groups” have made.  But he’s also inherited karma from these groups.  If his family lived off of ill-gotten gains, he or she may wind up on the hook for it.  That’s sort of the lesson Scarlet O’Hara learns and lives through in “Gone with the Wind” – but perhaps Scarlet was a prepper after all (“I’ll never be hungry again,” and she wasn’t.)  Remember how the novel begins, with her denial of the talk of war, which could disrupt her comfy life (funded in an ill-gotten way by slavery);  then at the end, she has gotten it all back, but loses another man (Rhett).  It’s easy to imagine many situations where people face the same thinking today:  young people who grow up in settlements on the West Bank, for openers.  Do you really inherit ancestral rights as part of a religious group or nationality?  I’ve never believed that as a moral precept.  Things can be taken away from you so easily.

Preppers may be on to something else.  They often believe that existential shocks to civilization are inevitable and happen cyclically, even if civilization is to survive for millennia and some day move to other worlds – which will provide new moral problems (how to select who gets to go). So they believe everyone needs to be willing to participate in a world where their old lives could end and where they still have to hand over a world to future generations. But I think we have to get smart enough at some point that we take care of our planet and don’t let our way of life get away from us.  Yes, we can.

(Posted: Monday, January 2, 2017 at 3 PM EST)

Media outlets still fear Trump will try to deport “Dreamer” students and productive workers


CBS News tonight echoed fears that children of undocumented immigrants face an uncertain future in the Trump years, with this report.

The president of Pomona College wrote a letter to the president-elect, now signed by 250 other colleges, asking the new administration not to disturb children brought here by undocumented parents while getting their educations.  Some are on scholarships.  One female student interviewed by CBS came here at age one month as a baby and did not know she was undocumented until almost a teenager.

The  Washington Post this morning ran an op-ed by Zachary Price, analyzing the legality of how any mass deportation would work, saying that Trump cannot legally use information given by immigrants’ children when apply for DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals) status under Obama’s rules, as that would violate due process.

Julie Hirschfield Davis and Julia Preston, on Nov. 14, for the New York Times,  analyze Trump’s more modest proposal to target criminals (first), with “What Donald Trump’s vow do deport three million immigrants would mean”.  The writers claim it would tear up communities.

Here is Donald Trump’s interview with Leslie Stahl, as Trump speaks to a divide nation on CBS 60 Minutes Nov. 13, link.  No “toddler CEO” and “Is that a question?” this time. (But maybe in 2020, when Mark Zuckerberg is old enough to be president.)

Large scale deportations, even limited to criminal records, could divert law enforcement resources and intelligence sources, and undermine the effort to stop terror, so it does not sound likely.  Still, some scenarios could have some students leavings school and scholarships, and some people not allowed to work.  Although there are rules on filing for asylum (like within a year of arrival), in some cases there could be more asylum seekers, who present a much more challenging problem for volunteer agencies than fully vetted refugees.  I personally don’t expect the large deportation effort feared by these media reports, as they would be totally impractical to carry out, to say the least.  But Trump is likely to deny future DACA status, under a tribalistic “you take care of your own first” mentality.


Update: Nov. 26

The Washington Post has a Metro Sections story by Arelis R. Hernandez about how different members of an undocumented family fleeing gang violence and extortion in Hondouras (El Salvador is even worse) are managing in Montgomery County, MD, “A family reunited in Md., but for how long?”  The father had crossed the Texas border illegally and managed to drift and find work in Maryland. The rest of the family was held in detention later when “caught” at the border and asked for asylum.  INS did allow the father to buy them a plane ticket to Baltimore and to house them.  INS currently will allow asylum seekers to be released to other relatives who are themselves undocumented when the other relatives don’t have criminal records (another wrinkle in the asylum system of which I wasn’t aware).  Trump could undo this, but again it looks very impractical for him to do so.

(Published: Friday, Nov. 25, 2016 at 11 PM EST)