Monday, October 9, 2017

Who Should Speak?

Conor Friedersdorf got a sneak peak at the data collected by a big Cato Institute/YouGov poll on free speech, and he posted some tidbits. This is a question put only to people who had been to college: Suppose the following people were invited to speak at your college, should they be allowed to speak? The number is the percent who answered "no," that is, they think this speaker should be banned:
  • A speaker who advocates for violent protests (81 percent)
  • A speaker who plans to publicly reveal the names of illegal immigrants attending the college (65 percent)
  • A speaker who says the Holocaust did not occur (57 percent)
  • A speaker who says all white people are racist (51 percent)
  • A speaker who says Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to come to the U.S. (50 percent)
  • A speaker who advocates conversion therapy for gays and lesbians (50 percent)
  • A speaker who says transgender people have a mental disorder (50 percent)
  • A speaker who publicly criticizes and disrespects the police (49 percent)
  • A speaker who says that all Christians are backwards and brainwashed (49 percent)
  • A speaker who says the average IQ of whites and Asians is higher than African Americans and Hispanics (48 percent)
  • A speaker who says the police are justified in stopping African Americans at higher rates than other groups (48 percent)
  • A person who says all illegal immigrants should be deported (41 percent)
  • A speaker who says men on average are better at math than women (40 percent)
I found it interesting how many answers fall around 50 percent; it seems like half of Americans want to ban anything that smacks of controversy. Or maybe anything that might be interpreted as a personal attack; what we have here is a nation, or half a nation, of people who want everyone to be very nice.

And sure enough, when you ask people whether insults directed at other people's race, ethnicity or religion should be made illegal, you get plenty saying they should:
Who should get protection against hate speech? 46 percent would support a law making it illegal to say offensive things about African Americans; there is less support for banning insults against other groups (41 percent for Jews, 40 percent for immigrants and military service members, 39 percent for Hispanics, 37 percent for Muslims, 36 percent for gays, lesbians, and transgender people, 35 percent for Christians).

47 percent of Latinos, 41 percent of African Americans, and 26 percent of whites would favor a law making it illegal to say offensive things about white people in public.
Again, I don't think people thought through these answers very clearly, and just because they said this doesn't mean they would actually support jail time for trash-talkers. But there seems to be a strong sentiment in the country for politeness.


G. Verloren said...

My takeaway is that the more people perceive someone's speech as being directly harmful to other people, the more they object to it. There's clearly a difference between merely expressing an ugly opinion, and doing things like directly calling for violence or threatening specific actions against specific people.

In addition, the cited list seems to suggest that some notions mat be generally perceived as more or less harmful than actually are, telling you something about our culture at large, and our societal flaws, biases, and blindspots.

Unknown said...

John, if you think that not wanting to give a hearing to holocaust denial is about wanting everyone to be nice, or wanting to avoid controversy, that's pretty disturbing.

Unknown said...

I am reminded of those medieval Italian towns that sealed the ending of internal social conflicts by banning the expression of factional slogans, symbols, rallying cries, insults, and the like. Both cases reveal the common, laudable human insight that insults and slights and other purely social behaviors are fundamental causes of social conflict, as much or more than material factors.

You seem to be interested, in the name of social peace, in the left silencing its tendency to accuse its opponents of racism. Very well then, you may be right, but by the same token, will not the right have to silence itself in turn? If social peace is the goal, can we have it that accusing Charles Murray of racism is to be labeled a dangerous call to violence, while the bell curve itself is simply an interesting idea that deserves an airing?

Perhaps we are truly heading to a period of history in which we will need a more Hobbesian state to keep us from each other's throats.

Unknown said...

I would add, you often cite with respect the founding fathers' belief that the personal virtue of its citizens is an absolute prerequisite for the preservation of republics. In the last few decades, much of our virtue has been about the avoidance of saying certain things, the discouragement of the airing of certain ideas, and indeed, the effective silencing of certain people by common consent--a very necessary virtue in a multiethnic society. That virtue is now in the way of becoming corrupted, and its corruption will mark a severe test of our republic.

John said...

Oh, I certainly think people *should* avoid attacking each other; I do my best. I'm just not sure they should be fired from their jobs for voicing their rancid beliefs.

The point about the state limiting verbal conflict is interesting. Germany decided after WW II that the country simply could not tolerate any defense of Nazism, and that seems to have worked out pretty well for them. But do we in the US really need to ban whole categories of speech to preserve a civil political discourse? It seems like a nightmare to me. But I agree that nothing else seems to be working.