Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Inherent Limitations of Free Speech and Expressions of Guilt

Thank you to my friends for their help in shaping and improving the thoughts below.

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Prior to posting my 'Nazi Prevention' article, I made a prediction:

That Dogpatch Press editorial staff would maliciously poison the well, and that their readership would be rabidly unreasonable. 
I've seen several good things occur post-article, and the one which makes me happiest is being proven wrong about the Dogpatch readership. True that a handful resorted to party-line insults, but a plethora of reasonable people came forward, to agree and disagree, in good faith. Most of them only felt comfortable doing so through private channels. This is a fact which stands out in my mind.
The best public response I could find was by Darkend, a talented editor at Sofawolf press. Rather than resorting to ad-hominem, he focused on well-reasoned disagreement directed at the ideas we presented. He was considerate enough to post his thoughts as a journal, and I would encourage everyone to read it. (links at the bottom.)
The community is currently riven with fear and loathing. I'm hopeful that placing emphasis on thoughtful good-will interactions can improve things. So to that end, please express appreciation to Darkend for being willing to speak, and I hope he'll be open to reading if I clarify some of my positions.
Brevity was among my primary concerns in the initial article, which led to me excluding... Well, everything in existence outside of those 2,000 words. That has opened the door to some misinterpretations, which I'd be pleased to address.  One interesting, and one troubling.


Darkend believes that the article "fetishizes" free speech, to the exclusion of all other values, considerations, and consequences. 
I think he's entirely correct that elevating one value above all others, and using that abstraction to subordinate everything, is a bad idea. In fact, such thinking often constitutes the very worst ideas, manifesting as totalitarian ideologies. 
Conceptual systems like these can be identified by their tendency to have one utopian solution for every problem. For Nazis, the solution was ethnic homogeneity. For Stalinists, forced equality of economic outcomes. Others enshrine the idea of free markets, or individual responsibility, or diversity. When totalizing systems are imposed fully scaled and uncompromised upon reality, they degenerate quickly into hellish suffering.
Simple solutions are tempting in a complicated world- in fact, they are necessary.  None of us are capable of fully comprehending the complexity.  Abstractions are an a-priori requirement for making value judgments and decisions.
On an individual level, I think it's healthy to have a handful of different lenses, and more so on a macroscopic social level.
For whatever harm a misguided individual may inflict with their totalitarian obsessions, an entire society can magnify it. And virtually everyone wants to avoid that. In fact, I think we have a common desire:

The minimization of unnecessary human suffering.

So far, it appears that individual rights and freedoms have served that end better than any previous system of concepts. Partially because free speech helps uncover and defuse bad ideas early. Which is why the next perception of Darkend's was troubling to me.
His perception of free speech entailed no philosophically inherent limitations, up to and including stabbing a political opponent in the throat (or punching them in the face.) Blurring the line between speech and murder is dangerous, and for that reason I think it's worthwhile to briefly reiterate what I think most people mean when they are talking about free speech:

Free speech is a mechanism by which the interaction of a diversity of ideas is facilitated.

Information is exchanged, reasoning examined, and suppositions assessed. Using open inquiry to identify bad ideas provides intellectual immunizations that can be shared with those who may be susceptible. Good ideas can be identified and likewise shared.
Conceptualizing free speech in this manner introduces immediate and obvious inherent limitations. Murder and physical violence are used to suppress ideas, not engage with them. Though it may be expressive, throat-stabbing a political opponent is clearly not covered under this definition of free speech. Neither is shouting down a lecturer with obscenities, destroying Berkeley with a riot, pulling fire alarms during speeches, or bringing airhorns into the classroom. Violence, aggression, mislabeling, and bad-faith tactics all obstruct the beneficial mechanics of free speech.
Because this definition provides explicit boundaries and substance to the idea of free speech, I find it more useful, and it's generally what I have in mind. That's why I agree with Darkend when he points out,

"The purpose of some forms of speech, specifically harassment and intimidation, are designed to suppress the speech of others. It's a way to say, 'If you speak up, you'll be next.'" 

I spoke up with my article. Subsequently I received a small but implacable contingent of furries mislabeling me as a Nazi, Nazi sympathizer, and advocating for my ostracization, as publicly as they possibly could.
Observers might class such behavior as harassment and intimidation.  Those same observers do not want to be next.
I believe that is why the majority of thoughtful responses to my article are being shared with me in private. People are afraid.
And I'm not talking about white supremacists. Pro-LGBT conservatives, libertarians, egalitarians, liberals- they are afraid to speak up, because they know what will happen. They might just get called a Nazi and be banned forever.
Is there persecution being conducted along party lines?
I don't know.  Politics has gotten so ugly it seems defined now by deception. False flags and misinformation are the norm.

But I do know a few facts.

I have been accused, publicly and repeatedly, of being a Nazi and a Nazi sympathizer. These accusations are categorically false, and often attached to coy ultimatums, hints that obedience might end the abuse.
I have clarified my position calmly, publicly, and truthfully. Such clarifications are rejected out of hand. It is made clear that only capitulation will suffice. 
I also know for a fact that I am not the only person who has been falsely and maliciously labeled a Nazi or sympathizer. These labels are used by a small and unhappy group within the community as moral justification to act on their feelings of hatred and to exercise social power. Which brings us to another good point that was shared by Darkend. 

"Loosely defined laws restricting speech are almost always turned into tools to oppress minorities."

I believe he meant 'minorities' here to refer to the birth characteristics of an individual, but his point holds true even for literal numeric minorities of people. Even for subdued majorities.
My personal experiences above lead me to assess similar anecdotes with credence. And while I'm grateful that I can simply shrug off the lies and social pressure, those who are less established are often not so fortunate.
Darkend touched on some additional points that merit brief mention.

1) FA isn't the government and as such is largely free to choose who they do and do not wish to host. This isn't anyone's free speech issue.
2) "Exluding (sic) the speech of people will only turn them into nazis" is the abuser's "Look what you made me do!"

He's correct on point one- private platforms are free to make their own rules, and fair moderation is necessary to maintain a healthy functioning atmosphere.  But it is possible for corporations to infringe on individual rights, and by some accounts, that appears to be happening. 
The second point, I'm not sure how Darkend equates a cause-effect observation to an assignment of guilt. Acknowledging incentives and results doesn't inherently require a scapegoat.
However, seeing this objection appear repeatedly on twitter makes it appear salient. It is being used as a justification for the moral rectitude of social purges, and indicates preoccupation with blame. 
Perhaps it means that people feel guilt, and are eager to redirect it.

What's the truth, and what's spin?  I don't know for sure.
I'm not advocating for or against AltFurry. I'm not particularly keyed in to the politics of the furry community, and I'm not certain what any of these groups actually stand for, so any endorsement- or denouncement- would be hollow. I tend to be quite detached, scribbling away at drawings rather than reading furry news or tuning in to the latest gossip. But when that gossip is resulting in mass expulsions predicated on group affiliation... Well, when an oblivious chap like me can see that things are getting bad, they must be very bad indeed.
I'm hoping that examination and consideration might help us start fixing things together. I would like to thank Darkend for sharing his thoughts, and hope that he finds my response agreeable.

Readers may be interested in digesting more points of view. Below is the original Dogpatch Article I submitted, with the thoughts and feelings of their editorial staff. In the following days QuQu-media posted an article, and 2-Gryphon posted a video which deal with the same subject matter. Also below is a link to redacted screencaps of some of the private notes we received and Darkend's journal.

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Initial Dogpatch Press article and Staff Commentary "The Milo Story, Nazi Prevention, and A Simple Hope"

Darkend’s Journal response:

QuQu-Media "Why political extremism within the furry fandom should deeply concern you."

2-Gryphon "Bird Bawks- Altfurry"

Redacted private commentary:

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