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)

“Identity politics” is not for me, and it doesn’t solve problems

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I’m not particularly a fan of identity politics – or of abstract equality, or liberation politics either (they are all different things).

At its worst, “identity politics” leads to group combativeness, joining mass movements, and a belief that violent confrontation with the establishment and overthrow is necessary.  That’s happened a lot in history.

But more often, the process means disciplining the members of the group to become loyal to its own internal leadership and social structure, and not to distract it by allowing concerns from the outside world to seem “legitimate”.

The most obvious example right now would invoke race – the Black Lives Matter movement, which demands recognition for specific redress for past grievances, which are quite real.  It feels the counter statement “all lives matter” to be an insult (although the latter statement would invoke concerns like right to life, service, willingness to bond with others in challenging circumstances – resilience).  Identity politics would justify unrest, as in Milwaukee (maybe in Ferguson) even when the facts suggest (although maybe don’t conclusively prove) that officers had some justification for the action they took against a specific suspect.

In another worst case implementation, if you flip identity politics – you get an “Us v. them” mentality that Donald Trump seems to be exploiting.

Most often, identity politics involves a trait (like race) or behavior pattern (like religious practice) that you were born into (as part of a “natural family”), and did not choose.  Sometimes it is a kind of ethnic identity (like the Basque people in Spain). Yes, such characteristics do tend to become the targets for bigotry for its own sake.  But the underlying motive for such bigotry is usually preservation of an unearned economic or political advantage.  That’s the “Gone with the Wind” narrative of the Old South *and of Margaret Mitchell’s literary masterpiece, as well as 1939 epic film).  Nationality functions somewhat this way, as we see with the immigration debate, where race and religion obviously play in (particularly in the mind of Donald Trump).

You could consider the “worker class” (and labor union members) as a subject of identity politics.  “Workers” are indeed arguably “exploited” by capitalism – that is, people who did not do the labor with their own hands benefit from it with some degree of unseen sacrifice by workers (sometimes substandard wages overseas, even living in dormitories like pseudo-slaves).  They generally aren’t the targets of emotion-laden bigotry, but they are the subjects of political and economic manipulation by the already wealthy and powerful.  And labor leadership tends to be heavily politicized internally, demanding local loyalty of its members, sometimes with strong-arm tactics.  The Left can the as oppressive as the Right.

That brings us to “LBGTQ” (Donald Trump stumbles over remembering to say “Q” while pointing or raising his pinkie finger, as if Stephen King could serve up a nurse to amputate it (“Misery”, 1990).  Historically (much less so in more recent decades in western countries including the U.S. but still so in many Muslim and sub-Saharan “Christian” countries) there has been a lot of plain hatred and bigotry that defies rationality.  One prosecutor in (Pence’s)  Indiana tells me that he sees it just as another way for some people to feel more powerful in the pecking order (to have people “to feel superior to”).  It seems like common sense that a lot of it has to do with procreation.  “Conservative” parents may believe they are being denied a lineage (especially relevant in my case because I am an only child), or people in communal settings or less mature economies (like Russia) could believe that gay men will make other men feel less secure about having their own kids and families (which is all some people have “to look forward to” and is maybe a religious connection to vicarious immortality).  Then, in the 1980s, there was the way the right wing construed the public health “amplification” argument.

“LGBTQ” is really several communities (rather like saying Spain comprises several autonomous countries)  The cultural and personal values in the Trans community, or in black communities, can be quite different from “conventional” white gay males.   It is also usually a community someone was not born into, but “chose” (so to speak) to join, at least implicitly.  People often do not have the freedom even to make these choices, especially overseas.

But within the more challenged sub-communities, internal discipline is often strong, just as in other movements (like labor).  Leadership likes loyalty of its members.  It welcomes conventional talk of the outside world in terms of that world’s oppression of “us” as a disliked, marginalized or beleaguered group, but resists discussion of issues that would affect the prosperity or sustainability of the larger “democratic” outside world as a whole, as something that it cannot do anything about anyway.

That has sometimes been the attitude against me in the past when I have brought up the way external threats (like energy security) could compromise my life and probably “ours” (or “theirs”).  Sometimes people react as if I were playing “I told you so”, in that I could have a pretext for feeling superior to “them” if anything really happens, and have an excuse for having to share my spare or life with “them” with more  intimacy or emotional connection than I usually have shown “outside my box” in the past.

I also get the impression that I am expected to support people “where they are” when members of a disadvantaged group.  I’m supposed to support the idea that anyone who feels dispossessed by gender circumstances can automatically use any bathroom she chooses without question, as if this were the highest political priority.  I am definitely “different” myself, and grew up with the idea that it was my responsibility to learn to carry my own weight when it comes to participating in common needs (the military draft and deferment issue of my coming age helps form that narrative, but many younger people are largely unaware of it today – which is one reason why feeding historical narrative as I do is important).  But personal responsibility, and karma, would also require giving back if one has been lucky with unearned economic advantages.

If I, as someone who is “different”, am still going to take “penultimate” responsibility for what I make of myself in life, then the “global” outside world matters.  Infrastructure matters, and may have a lot more bearing on how well I turn out that particularized discrimination.  Indeed, one observation is that poor people typically live in less reliable infrastructures, and are more vulnerable to natural disasters and to negligent landlords (which may well turn out to be the case with the recent major apartment explosion in Silver Spring, MD).

Indeed, many of the “threats” that LGBTQ people face as individuals or that African Americans face, can come from the “outside world”.  If we “work smart”, we can reduce these threats.   I realize that I can drive on a city street with less chance of being pulled over by a cop.  Maybe that’s privilege now.  But how many other people understand what it was like to live in a dorm in 1961 when other men feared merely being around me could make them fail with women.  They honestly thought that.

It does seem that there are some external issues that transcend conventional identity politics and tend to draw people together to deal with complexity and moral ambiguity.  Immigration, with all the nuances of refugee and asylee assistance, is one such issue today.

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Update: Oct. 19, 2016

Here’s an essay by Shawn Schossow, motivated by the debate over voting for third party candidates (Jill Stein), which defends the idea of “intersectionality“.

(Published: Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016, at 12 Noon EDT)