Free speech and freedom of and from religion

One more Fidalgo post for now: Wendy Kaminer on free speech.

A free-speech stalwart herself, authoring a magazine piece on atheism as “the last taboo” that was formative to this writer, Kaminer tells this conference full of the irreligious that free speech and freedom of and from religion are “inextricably linked,” and warns that there exists now there is a “progressive retreat from free speech.”

Yes about that magazine piece; same here. I’ve admired Kaminer’s writing for decades. I sometimes disagree with her, but I always see her point.

It’s an extremely touchy issue here, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Straightaway, it was clear that some folks in attendance were in full agreement with Kaminer, and others were aghast. Everyone, I think, has similar aims: a free exchange of ideas without anyone being oppressed or harmed. How we get there, well, there are some very different ideas about that, and the emotions on this topic run very high in both directions. One way to think about these differences that Kaminer posited was new to me, that those who seek social justice are results-oriented (working toward a specific, tangible end), while civil libertarians, the free-speech absolutists, are process-oriented (more concerned with the structure within which goals are pursued).

Another way of putting that is that free-speech absolutists can be oddly blind to the results, aka the consequences. Many of them simply assume things like “truth will always win in the end” and “the best answer to bad speech is better speech.” The trouble is, bad speech often wins, and the consequences can be horrific. For me the classic example (therefore you may have seen me say it before) is Radio Mille Collines in the days leading up to the Rwandan genocide. Radio Srbska is another. There is no “end” in which truth wins for people who are slaughtered in genocides that have been fomented by various forms of speech.

Things became even more interesting when celebrated veteran journalist Katha Pollitt, who will be speaking later herself, asked Kaminer to take into account the “constant barrage of low level harassment in public society” that women face, harmfully affecting their everyday lives in practical ways. How, Pollitt asked, are they expected to deal with this? Suck it up?

Kaminer agreed with Pollitt’s characterization of the state of things, and said she was less concerned about policing of real *macro*-aggressions as opposed to people, particularly women, being told in advance, “You will be traumatized by this, you will be intimidated by this. and if you are not, you are in denial.” And the only way out, Kaminer said, was to make this coarsened behavior less socially acceptable.

Yes, with the result that there is less of it, so that kind of behavior is less “free.”

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