Thursday, May 24, 2018

Liberdade de expressão, "discurso de ódio", etc.

A Socialist Approach to Free Speech, por Samuel Farber (na revista Jacobin):

Following the Obama administration’s historic suppression of government whistleblowers, Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on the media, and controversies on college campuses nationwide, Timothy Garton Ash’s Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World is well-timed.

Garton Ash offers a wide-ranging exposition on the right to self-expression and a coherent defense of free speech from an explicitly liberal point of view. Socialist theory and practice has never satisfactorily established the place of free speech in the struggle for social transformation and in a future socialist society — all the more reason to seriously grapple with the challenge posed by Garton Ash’s new book. (...)

Garton Ash’s confusion over free speech and power becomes most clear in his defense of Larry Summers, the economics professor who was force to resign as president of Harvard University after suggesting that the “low proportion of women in science and engineering might result from innate differences in ability and inclination, as well as the pressures of family life and other factors.”

Garton Ash returns to John Stuart Mill to argue that Summers’s statement was intended to advance knowledge. He asks, “Was Summers trying to insult or demean women? Or was he, however provocatively, genuinely trying to advance scientific understanding? Looking at the evidence,” Garton Ash concludes, “I judge that it was the latter.” Aside from the fact that Summers’s statement rested at least partially on discredited theories of genetic difference, Garton Ash’s conclusion fails to adequately address the context in which Summers spoke.

As an economist, Summers has no credible expertise on gender difference. Further, the protests against his remarks did not imperil his academic freedom as a professor in economics, but rather his position of power as university president. From the protesters’ perspective, Summers had used his position against the interests of women. Contrary to what Garton Ash implies, this had nothing to do with freedom of expression, but rather with an expression of power.

The same confusion crops up when liberal pundits criticize student protests against political figures invited to speak on campus. Garton Ash misrepresents these demonstrations, imagining that they primarily occur when speakers are invited to defend their positions on some controversial matter. In fact, many of these protests take place when the person arrives to be honored by the university.

For example, in 2014 Rutgers University invited Condoleezza Rice to serve as commencement speaker and receive an honorary degree. Rice’s withdrawal in the face of student and faculty protest does not represent a defeat for free speech, but instead a small but real victory for those objecting to Rutgers’s decision to celebrate a figure who embodies American imperialist policies.

Similar considerations should apply to calls to rename Calhoun College at Yale University and the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, institutions that honor well-known racists. Disputes about how institutional honors like these enhance their recipients’ reputations do not relate to free speech, but to the legitimation of power holders, and their political and cultural uses.

When we turn to public figures invited to speak about controversial topics, we must distinguish between racist persuaders and violent racist intimidators. People like Arthur Jensen, Richard Herrnstein, and Charles Murray, who propagate offensive racist myths under the guise of social science, are racist persuaders. Their pronouncements take place entirely within the realm of discourse, to which opponents can respond through rational discussion and careful refutation.

Other free speech rights, including the venerable traditions of picketing and heckling, stop short of using force to stop figures like these from speaking. Even the sharpest ideological struggle abides by implicit rules that social movements have occasionally violated when they have replaced persuasion with the use of force. This not only violates the speakers’ fundamental rights, but is also bad strategy. Protests ignoring the right to free speech alienate both the audience attending the event, whom protesters should be trying to win over, and those who wish to preserve free speech.

This differs from racist or antisemitic acts of intimidation perpetrated by organized groups with a history of physical violence. The 1936 march organized by the British Union of Fascists in the Jewish-majority East End of London illustrates this distinction. Oswald Mosley, the demonstration’s leader, did not intend to persuade the Jews living in that neighborhood to join their group. Rather, he wanted to terrify them. Nor did the American neo-Nazi group that applied for a march permit in the also heavily Jewish Chicago suburb of Skokie in 1978 set out to convert the residents, many of whom were Holocaust survivors, into Nazis. (...)

These same considerations should influence our analysis of the recent controversy surrounding Milo Yiannopoulos, whose appearance at Berkeley was canceled following a massive demonstration and the actions of a small group of fifty to one hundred people who engaged in the destruction of university property. His previous political record shows Yiannopoulos as a racist persuader of a particularly reactionary and obnoxious kind who, as we argued above, certainly requires that the protesting students exercise their free speech rights with massive picketing and heckling while respecting the principles of free speech, stopping short of a forceful suppression of the event.

However, some have claimed that Yiannopoulos had planned to reveal the names of undocumented students. Had he tried to do so, then the clash between him and the protesters would have moved to a different ground beyond persuasion, and the audience would have been entitled to shut him off immediately.

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