Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The Philadelphia Statement

 While we're at it, The Philadelphia Statement is another effort to broadcast the value of free speech and open inquiry, with 15163 signatories so far.  A few choice quotes: 

Our liberty and our happiness depend upon the maintenance of a public culture in which freedom and civility coexist—where people can disagree robustly, even fiercely, yet treat each other as human beings—and, indeed, as fellow citizens—not mortal enemies. 

And not just as morally deplorable by virtue of disagreement. We need to listen, not silence.  

... As Americans, we desire a flourishing, open marketplace of ideas, knowing that it is the fairest and most effective way to separate falsehood from truth.

Not an army of censors at internet companies. Concrete objections: 

Common decency and free speech are being dismantled through the stigmatizing practice of blacklisting ideological opponents... Responsible organizations are castigated as “hate groups.” Honest people of good faith are branded “hate agents.” Even mainstream ideas are marginalized as “hate speech.” This threatens our ability to listen, discuss, debate, and grow.

....Corporations are enacting “hate-speech” policies to protect people from “wrong” and “harmful” content. Similarly, colleges and universities are imposing speech regulations to make students “safe,” not from physical harm, but from challenges to campus orthodoxy. 

An interesting perspective: 

These policies and regulations assume that we as citizens are unable to think for ourselves and to make independent judgments. Instead of teaching us to engage, they foster conformism (“groupthink”) and train us to respond to intellectual challenges with one or another form of censorship.

A bit of unhappy history:

Humanity has repeatedly tried expunging undesirable beliefs and ideas....

It has not turned out well.  A nice conclusion:

If we seek to change our country’s trajectory; if we desire unity rather than division; if we want a political life that is productive and inspiring; if we aspire to be a society that is pluralistic and free, one in which we can forge our own paths and live according to our own consciences, then we must renounce ideological blacklisting and recommit ourselves to steadfastly defending freedom of speech and passionately promoting robust civil discourse.


  1. Man, whoever invented blogging obviously couldn't imagine your trash blog

  2. Excellent. I often disagree with John Cochrane, but I am happy to say I agree with him entirely on this particular matter, and I feel broadened when I read his commentary on matters in which we disagree.

  3. The socialists are coming. Taxpayers beware. You won't have any private property to complain about if you don't watch out. Slogan of socialists: " If God did not want them sheared, He would not have made them taxpayers..."

    1. I have stated repeatedly that the trend in this country is toward a fascist system with communist slogans. But what all of today’s pressure groups are busy evading is the fact that neither business nor labor nor anyone else, except the ruling clique, gains anything under fascism or communism or any form of statism—that all become victims of an impartial, egalitarian destruction.
      -Ayn Rand ,1971

  4. "As Americans, we desire a flourishing, open marketplace of ideas, knowing that it is the fairest and most effective way to separate falsehood from truth."

    But can you acknowledge that maybe in just a small number of instances, FURTHER discussion in the 'marketplace of ideas' is at best pointless, and at worst, harmful? E.g. Do we really need to allow people to mislead the gullible and stupid into believing that the earth is flat? I find it a completely overblown slippery slope argument to say literally everything should be allowed under the guise of free speech. Perhaps flat earth ignorance is practically meaningless anyway, but if we JUST outlawed that argument, would society crumble? I can't even see how allowing it could be a net gain for society, but I can imagine how it causes some minute harm to a few idiots.
    Are ALL of these countries also worse off for preventing people from spreading lies?https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legality_of_Holocaust_denial#Germany

    The truth often gets ignored, no matter how free your speech is:

    Sometimes paternalism is justified.

    1. One man's 'truth' is another man's 'lie'. Aristotle's model of the heavens was elaborate and complex in its movements. The Church put the Earth at the center of the Universe. Galileo posited an alternative explanation of the movement of the planets and the stars. He was put to the inquisition, and recanted his theories and writings. He was spared the rack; others weren't so lucky. Your statement, "Sometimes paternalism is justified[.]" is a slippery slope that pitches the unwary into a state of Totalism, i.e., the political philosophy that can be summed up as "paternalism writ large". Once you start controlling speech in the interest of paternalism, speech control becomes the be all to end all speech except speech that is acceptable to the censor. The censor may be your next-door neighbor, or the woman across the street. Or, it may be an A.I. machine completely devoid of humanity, built on Machiavellian principles.

    2. @ATM There is a fair concern about the potentially damaging effect of spreading false beliefs. We can agree that certain ideas are so preposterous and at odds with factual evidence that there is virtually no point in discussing them -- I do not say categorically because being forced to defend an idea is helps deepen your understanding of this idea. Still, we do agree that certain things are clearly false and others hard to presume not to be true.

      The problem has something to do with human behavior more than it has to do with the unwarranted conviction that letting people speak will expunge the world of all bad ideas.

      To control the flow of ideas, you need people to decide on what constitutes falsehood and on what constitutes hateful speech and you need other people to monitor speech and to enforce the rules. I am sure that, being intelligent, you realize that we cannot presume those controlling and monitoring speech to be quite like God -- that is, both benevolent and omniscient. They are human beings with their all too human judgment being marred by their own personal interests, their own values and their particular own experiences.

      The evidence at the moment is abundantly clear that people will abuse this power. On platforms such as Twitter, the ideological bias is baked right into the user policies.

      But let me indulge you for a minute, just to see if you are committed to handling such problems in a non-partisan manner. I think that arguments defending looting made on the political left are glorifying acts of aggression against innocent people as a means of rectifying perceived injustices invariably committed by someone else. I do not think you can possibly argue that explicit incitement to violence do not incite violence. In the beginning of the Floyd riots, I have seen the far-left march with a large red banner depicting a black revolutionary fist strangling a rattle snake with the phrase 'we will thread.' This is unambiguously a threat -- it's literally phrased as a threat. It is dangerous, hate mongering rhetoric pushed forward by people who have been known to engage in vandalism, assault, theft, arson and even murder. I will most definitely add discussions surrounding 'whiteness' on the far-left as yet another form of hate speech -- and not just against white people. When far-leftists falsely attribute characteristics associated with protestant work ethic and western European ideals (hard work, ambition, autonomy, etc.), they deny important contributions made by other groups of people. People in Asia, Africa and America had some understanding of schedules long before Europe moved around with its own views on the matter.

      The far-left is replete with science-denying, despicable, hateful bigots. Virtually all of their views, I regard as offensive, hateful or misinformed. I hate all of it, very much for the same reasons I cannot stand the religious rights, neonazis, white supremacists...

      You can try to explain why the far-left isn't bigoted or hateful. If you do that, you will confirm to every sane person why I am right not to want anyone controlling speech. For my part, I don't mind the far-left making their case. They're just like Nazis: letting them reveal their own stupidity is how you vaccinate populations. The same was true with Powell and the election recently... she made crazy allegations that she predictably failed to substantiate. Let them talk. I want to know who's crazy and I want a chance to respond to the crazies.

    3. > Sometimes paternalism is justified.

      Did you get this from the Bible, the Communist Manifesto or Mein Kampf? It surely wasn't the Declaration Of Independence. Mans independent mind is his basic method of survival. Man cannot survive, as man, with a gun between his mind and reality, saying, "Thou shalt not focus your mind onto reality." This is deeper than the truth. Its about mans ability to know the truth. Destroy that ability and you destroy man. The unthinking brute of virtually all history is what you will create. You are opening the door to Stalin, Hitler and all the tyrants of history who reduced man to a mindless animal. And what will you do when your political enemies turn your paternalism on you? Look to the future, not merely the present in which your tribe is on top. Look at the intellectual, cultural, poltical and economic stagnation of virtually all of mans's 200K years. Then look at the effect of merely 450 years of Greece and the Enlightenment, the only basically rational cultures. There is no alternative to independent judgment except spears and guns. Your "good" intentions will not stop one drop of blood. Look out at reality, not inward. Focus your mind.


      Man must be free i society to peaceably express his mind in speech and press.

  5. And who should make the decision about which ideas are allowed and which are not? Donald Trump is president--should he decide?

  6. Why shouldn't private firms be allowed to delete content that they host? Are you saying they should be socialized as a public utility? Either they have a property right to their servers and what they host or they don't and the public has the right to control them. You even censor comments on this blog, should you be prevented from doing so, or prevented from deleting comments that you don't like?

    Free speech is important, property rights are too. Trampling one to save the other is misguided.

    1. Can the phone company prevent your calls from going through because they don't like what you might say? Why is Big Tech different?

    2. @TX_ECNMST It is a fair point that there is something crazy about it, although I strongly suspect we already have a solution to the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Google: Competition. Because these companies abused their influence, competitors built entire platforms around protection of free speech and data privacy. It's baked right into their policies, explicitly.

      I don't have a Twitter account, but I have a Parler account. I don't want Congress to open Pandora's box and give progressives an excuse to regulate speech on all platforms.

  7. Absolutely, let's proceed straight to book burning...we'll have a group of individuals who burn the books. Let's call them, Gestapo! No, sorry, too on the nose. Firemen? Sorry, ah crap, that's already taken by Mr. Bradbury. Ah yes! Let's call them social justice activists. I'd like to start by burning Kant's Critique of Pure Reason please

    1. > I'd like to start by burning Kant's Critique of Pure Reason

      Whether that is sincere or sarcastic is not obvious. But Kant systematically, fundamentally, comprehensively split mind from reality (to save the religious morality of sacrifice from science).
      Our nihilist modern culture, via many lesser philosophers, is Kantian. Conservatives sacrifice mind to faith. Progressives sacrifice mind to consensus. That is mainstream culture now, opposed only by Ayn Rand. We are drifting to religious egalitarianism and environmentalism. The recent Presidential election offered the alternatives of aggressive mindlessness and passive mindlessness.

  8. Stéphane SurprenantNovember 2, 2020 at 9:23 PM

    I am pleased, although not surprised, to find out that you support freedom of speech and recognize the value of rationally debating issues, especially with people who hold different views than ours. You might remember how John Stuart Mill defended free speech in his treaty On Liberty: the greater benefit of free speech is enjoyed by the audience, not the author, because it exposes them to precisely the ideas they are the likeliest to ignore.

    I have, however, grown extremely disappointed with many academics who oppose this liberal ideal, even in the middle of universities of all places. Some people call them stupid, but there rarely is a lack of intelligence or knowledge among leading figures on the Far Left, at least in some sense. They're smart enough to see how manipulating governmental agencies and businesses can silence the opposition, but apparently aren't wise enough to realize that any powers they concentrate for their own purposes can later be used against them.

    I don't know if they drew the lessons of history entirely, but authoritarian forces never come without rationales or cause. There's always a reason to justify the power grab. It starts with statements so disgusting every sane person would condone them, but then it moves on to the next one and the next one... until you reach a point where a patently politically biased fact checking procedure second guesses the president of the United States, or flags the House Judiciary Committee's website as disinformation.

    If you're interested, Nadine Strossen whose name probably rings a bell top you gave an interview on the topic of free speech and censorship to Amy Peikoff from Parler. The interview is easy to find on youtube. She published a book on this recently and explains at length why it's a bad idea across the board to censor hate speech. It's interesting that a broad array of different people still value free speech.


Comments are welcome. Keep it short, polite, and on topic.

Thanks to a few abusers I am now moderating comments. I welcome thoughtful disagreement. I will block comments with insulting or abusive language. I'm also blocking totally inane comments. Try to make some sense. I am much more likely to allow critical comments if you have the honesty and courage to use your real name.