Thursday, March 29, 2018

Liberdade de expressão e censura social/privada (II)

The Free Speech Dilemma, por Chris Dillow:

What role should social pressure play in the policing of free speech? (...)

Such social pressure has worked well in the case of David Irving. He should be legally free to deny the holocaust, but the rest of us are entitled – and correct – to treat his as a pariah.

I’m even relaxed about most cases of no-platforming. Nobody has a right to speak at (say) a students union, any more than I have a right to a column in the Telegraph. A right to speak does not give the rest of us an obligation to host you.

Nor does that right entail freedom from the consequences of exercising it. You have a right to speak, and the rest of us have a right to tell you forcefully that you’re talking shit or to ignore you.

In fact, if the marketplace of ideas is to work, bad ideas must be weeded out. This is done by vigorously opposing them.

All this leads me to think that we should police speech not with the law but with the force of others’ opinion – either shunning them or opposing them depending on context.

Except, except, except. Here are four counter-arguments:

- Some privately-provided platforms are so widespread and important that withdrawing them is, as Robert Sharp says, a form of “privatized censorship.” He’s talking of Facebook’s banning of Britain First. They deserve no sympathy, but there’s a slippery slope here: if Facebook can ban them, it can – as Robert says – also censor others.

- Private sanctions against speech we don’t like can be excessively harsh. For example, I wouldn’t want firms to be able to sack employees just because they have opinions their employers don’t like.

- There’s a point, perhaps not easily defined, at which vigorous and widespread opposition becomes bullying: was Mary Beard bullied after her (I think) ill-judged tweet about “’civilized’ values”? I’m not sure. But women are especially vulnerable to an ugly mob rule.

- John Stuart Mill had a point in warning us of the tyranny of the majority. This he wrote, is
more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them;

My point here is that we face a genuine dilemma. On the one hand, there’s much to be said for using social rather than legal sanctions against speech we don’t like. But on the other, those sanctions can be as excessive and misapplied as legal ones.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Em defesa da mudança da hora

Agora parece que é moda dizer mal da mudança da hora.

Pois eu acho uma maravilha – no Verão posso, depois do trabalho ficar mais uma hora na praia do que ficaria se tivéssemos a hora “solar” (que não é bem, porque já está meia hora adiantada, mas pronto…) o ano todo.

E não, não era melhor ficarmos sempre na hora de Verão (mais uma hora e meia do que a hora solar), porque assim tínhamos (bem, muitos já têm, mas seriam ainda mais) que ir para o trabalho ainda de noite no Inverno, e não se ganhava quase nada ao fim do dia, porque de qualquer maneira normalmente não há tempo – tanto “weather” como “time” – suficiente para se fazer qualquer coisa depois do  trabalho que requeira luz solar (frequentemente está frio, chuva, e de qualquer maneira anoitece cedo).

Sim, há quem diga que a mudança de hora afeta a saúde, mas também há quem diga que não; confesso que a mim custa-me a acreditar - em primeiro lugar, por experiência própria: nunca senti mais dificuldade em acordar nos dias a seguir a uma mudança de hora nos que em qualquer outro dia (mas pronto, admito que eu não seja estatisticamente significativo); mas sobretudo porque isso me parece difícil de conciliar com a nossa história evolucionária - durante (creio) dezenas de milhares de anos fomos caçadores-recoletores, uma atividade que frequentemente requeria grandes mudanças no horário de trabalho durante o ano e até durante a semana - mesmo há bocadinho estive a ver um documentário sobre os esquimós do Canadá a apanharem mexilhões, atividade que está muito dependente das marés (no caso deles, porque a maré cria "grutas" no gelo onde eles vão apanhar os mexilhões, grutas essas que se fecham quando a maré muda, em principio matando quem não saia de lá a tempo), pelo que imagino que a rotina diária deles mude bastante ao longo da semana conforme as marés (de certeza que não vão todos os dias à mesma hora à pesca); e depois uns milhares de anos como agricultores, uma atividade talvez mais regular que a caça-e-recoleção, mas também com mudanças de ritmo ao longo do ano (logo o clássico trabalhar de "sol-a-sol" em vez de "das tantas às tantas", que por si só implicaria que, pelos padrões modernos, a hora do levantar e do deitar estaria sempre a mudar ao longo das estações). Assim, custa-me a acreditar que tenhamos mesmo essa necessidade de nos deitarmos e levantarmos a horas certas (padrão de comportamento que me parece mais otimizado para assalariados numa sociedade industrial ou pós-industrial - por um lado dependendo muito menos dos ritmos da natureza, e por outro dependendo muito mais dos ritmos das outras pessoas, pelo que dá jeito termos horários sincronizados, ou pelos menos previsíveis - do que para humanos vivendo em estado natural) e que vamos ficar cheios de perturbações na saúde por causa da mudança da hora.

Admito uma exceção ao que escrevo - os trabalhadores por turnos, que têm que trabalhar ao fim de semana e por isso muitos terão menos uma hora de sono no dia da mundança de hora (nem me admirava que os tais estudos que indicam um aumento de problemas de saúde nos dias a seguir à mudança de hora estejam a ser inflacionados por dados referentes aos trabalhadores por turnos).

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Liberdade de expressão e censura social/privada (I)

A Litany of the Ways In Which Facebook Corrupts the Spirit of Free Speech, por Robert Sharp:

Inciting violence and hate is what Britain First group appear to have been doing, so the Facebook decision to ban their page feels righteous. Good riddance? Nothing to see here? Move along?

Not quite. This development is still problematic and draws our attention to the unexpected role that social media plays in our politics. We have been discussing these problems for years without, in my opinion, coming any closer to solving them.

It is important to remember that this is not an example of state censorship. Facebook is a private company, and it is entitled to set its own terms of use and to enforce them as it sees fit. The Britain First Facebook page has no protection under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights or the First Amendment to the United States constitution.

And that is the first problem, because no-one else’s Facebook page has such a protection either. Vast swathes of political discourse take place on Mark Zuckerberg’s platform. We treat it like a public square, but it is not. At any moment, the messages we post, and the networks we have built can be taken away from us.

Whatever mechanise that has been used to shut down the far right will be used to censor other groups. Campaigners will note the demise of the Britain First page and seek to have other pages similarly banned. Islamist groups and the Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists will be at immediate risk, but other kinds of political discussion will soon be targeted. Any legitimate political cause that contains militant elements, such as pro-Palestine or pro-Kurdish groups, could easily find their Facebook privileges are revoked when those who are ideologically opposed start gaming the complaint features.

This is privatised censorship. Individuals and interest groups can and will enlist the help of a billionaire to shut up people with whom they disagree. (...)

Our response to this cannot be “well, you can always go elsewhere”. Where exactly? MySpace? Friends Reunited? Independent websites (such as this blog) do not have the same networking opportunities and potential for ‘virality’ that the leading social media platforms offer. Social media is where our discourse happens now and all other content is filtered through these platforms. They are private spaces where we conduct very public politics. Denial of access to these spaces presents a huge barrier to expression for anyone thus suppressed. A single American company should not be the final arbiter on what organisations get to participate in British politics. We may think they have made the right call in banning Britain First… but even a stopped clock is right twice a day. (...) 

Another problem, most relevant internationally, is that social media platforms present a single point of failure. Recent history is littered with examples of governments seeking to block access to social media. Iran did so during the ‘Green Revolution’ protests of 2009 and Egypt did so during the ‘Arab Spring’ protests of 2011. During the London riots that same year, British members of Parliament
expressed support for the idea that the government might take social media services entirely off-line during times that suited them. I wrote a commentary on this idea at the time.


The counter to this threat is to distribute the network. Use different platforms or use technologies that do not require a centralised server like RSS or Mastodon. By spreading out we are harder to stop. We have known that this is important for nearly a decade, but everyone, including yrstrly, seems wedded to the corporate silos.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Protecionismo, direita e esquerda

Free Trade Shouldn’t Be a Litmus Test for Conservatism, por Paul Gottfried (The American Conservative):

According to a recent analysis in the New York Times, President Trump’s “isolationist” trade policy is “at odds with longstanding conservative orthodoxy about the benefits of free and open markets.” The reader is further told that the president is under pressure from his working-class base, which is obstreperously demanding that protectionist taxes be placed on imported steel and aluminum.

I say not so fast.

The Times presents the GOP base’s supposed impatience with free trade as a departure from almost sacred Republican beliefs, and free trade itself as a permanent conservative characteristic. Their evidence is that large corporations favor free trade while labor unions have generally been more protectionist.

But both assertions represent gross oversimplifications. Those who present free trade as a “conservative” position are skimming over whole chapters of the past.They conveniently overlook (or are totally ignorant of) the fact that well into the 20th century, American statesmen who could hardly be characterized as leftists—like Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay, and William Howard Taft—were outspoken advocates of tariffs. (...)

In Europe, such non-leftists as Louis XIV, Frederick the Great, and Otto von Bismarck favored tariffs to protect the agricultural and commercial products of their countrymen.(...) England practiced free trade in the 19th century principally because it was the most advanced industrial nation with the largest supply of credit. When these conditions changed before the First World War, the English government reverted to protectionism. This change in England’s fortunes and views about trade provided the theme of a famous book, The Strange Death of Liberal England, by George Dangerfield, which was published in 1935. Not surprisingly, it was the Tories who were accused of giving the death blow to English free trade.

It is not often mentioned—but should be, for the sake of accuracy—that the major advocates of free trade in the 19th century were radicals like John Bright, Richard Cobden, and James and John Stuart Mill. Such free traders believed in extending the suffrage to women, and in various mechanisms for breaking down national barriers. Although the goals of these radicals have become mainstream positions by now, in the 19th century they certainly were not.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

O novo modelo económico do Labour

The new economics of Labour, por Hilary Wainwright (introdução) e John McDonnell:

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell can usually barely breathe a word about nationalisation without setting off a media frenzy – so it’s strange that his most interesting comments yet on the subject passed with so little comment.

Speaking in London about the Labour Party’s new economics, McDonnell said: ‘We should not try to recreate the nationalised industries of the past… we cannot be nostalgic for a model whose management was often too distant, too bureaucratic.’ Instead, he said, a new kind of public ownership would be based on the principle that ‘nobody knows better how to run these industries than those who spend their lives with them’.

Maybe the media's silence on this profoundly democratic vision of public ownership is not so surprising : for it directly contradicts the attempt to warm up Cold War scares of a secretly pro-Soviet Labour leader whose public ownership plans are the first step towards imposing a Soviet style command economy onto the unsuspecting British people.

Now that the Czech spy stories have fallen flat – as false – we can discuss Labour's new democratic thinking more productively and maybe some of the media will pay attention; for this new thinking about public ownership opens up a rich seam of new economic thinking: beyond both neoliberalism and the post-war settlement. While neoliberalism says the market knows best, the Fabian-inspired model of the 1945 welfare state – while it has considerable merits – left workers with no role in the management of the newly nationalised industries. Beatrice Webb, a leading Fabian, declared her lack of faith in the ‘average sensual man’ (who can ‘describe his grievances’ but not ‘prescribe his remedies’) and wanted public industries to be run by ‘the professional expert’. In practice, this often meant the same old bosses from the private firms being brought back to run the public version, along with an few ex-generals or two.

Underlying Labour’s New Politics is a new and very different understanding of knowledge – even of what counts as knowledge – in public administration, and hence of whose knowledge matters. For industries to be run by ‘those who spend their lives with them’ means recognising the knowledge drawn from practical experience, which is often tacit rather than codified: an understanding of expertise that opens decision-making to wider popular participation, beyond the private boss or the state bureaucrat. As McDonnell put it, we need to ‘learn from the everyday experiences of those who know how to run railway stations, utilities and postal services, and what’s needed by their users’.