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Freedom of expression and thought

by t-------------- Tue Aug 26th, 2008 at 11:07:42 AM EST

It is quite easy to detect formal limitations to freedom of expression. Say in dictatorships freedom of expression is either formally limited by the law or it is dead obvious that you cannot say something without the state interfering with your freedom to do so. Much has been said about those.

There are other ways of limiting freedom of expression which are recognized by all and essentially accepted as "reasonable" in western societies: Freedom of expression at work is curbed a lot. In fact modern workplaces are mostly hierarchical dictatorships. This is known, discussed.

One thing that concerns me a lot is informal but pervasive ways of curbing freedom of expression.

Imagine going to a typical religious (probably creationist) group and defending a evolutionist position? You will probably be labeled as a frickin' nut. Of course you could opt not to go there, but if all your friends, if most of your social life is there, is that really an option? Are you going to leave your community just because of that? Most probably you won't. So you will adapt, adapt by not avoid saying that "sacrilege".

Of course one can abstract the reasoning and replace "religious group" by any other group. Let's say "European Tribune". Is is possible to have a healthy discussion on issues like "race", immigration, science? Can one easily defend here that that, say, immigration is "bad"?

[Don't see this has a criticism to ET (probably one of the few places that I know where this issue is less noticeable), this was just an attempt to have an example that is near (as opposed to impute this behavior just to others)]

Obviously, non-conforming points (to any group) will make the system respond back, that is normal. The problem is that, some responses make people be afraid of genuinely speak their hearts out: You might be fired, or be ignored or not "invited to the party" (social pressure is a mighty deterrent).

This has consequences: first, and sometimes very consciously, you avoid speaking from your heart, but you might still think it. So you might have that "strange" idea about X, but you don't utter it but probably practice it (think catholics and condoms/abortions). Another, probably more damning consequence is that you end up training yourself to think only inside the box. Some thoughts are dangerous if uttered by mistake... The limit becomes "hard-wired": there is no need for formal control of freedom, it is inside you.

This is to be seen in many lefty groups where some ideas are cast in stone: race, environment, emigration, ... . These issues are sometimes called "principles" (a word sometimes used for issues that is not to be discussed - dogmas).

Not only there is the whole principle of freedom of expression and the fundamental ability to be spiritually free, but it is probably also a pragmatic issue, e.g., if there had been space for a candid discussion on immigration in some countries in Europe, there would probably have been less space for the emergence of certain far-right parties. But the truth is, that it is very hard to have a non multiculturalist view on the left without being branded by some with some very bad epithets. This is an example among many.

Living in the UK (and I comment on the UK because it is one of the few examples that I do based on my real experience), I sometimes think that the local politeness/friendliness ends up having precisely the same effect: There is a framework where it becomes very difficult to voice your "strange" opinions (voicing disagreement is very difficult to do without being branded "rude").


Display:
So tell us what you think.

ET is generally a good place to express your non-conformist views, even though, like any community, there are some unwritten rules.  But hopefully arguments are critiqued on the basis of justice and reason and practicality, and not on community norms.  

Anyway, I'd much rather hear your controversial opinions than have you feel you can't express them and then listen to people complain no one ever posts here anymore.  So indulge us.  

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Tue Aug 26th, 2008 at 11:38:07 AM EST
Just don't mention the C word ...
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Aug 26th, 2008 at 11:43:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The C word ? What, c*mm"n!sm ??

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Aug 26th, 2008 at 02:31:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]


Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.
by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Aug 27th, 2008 at 02:04:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]

So tell us what you think.

This was not a rant about ET in particular, but a general comment about ways to curb freedom in places where that freedom formally exists.


ET is generally a good place to express your non-conformist views, even though, like any community, there are some unwritten rules.  But hopefully arguments are critiqued on the basis of justice and reason and practicality, and not on community norms.  

I also think that ET is one of the best places that I know off, again this was not targeted at ET.


Anyway, I'd much rather hear your controversial opinions than have you feel you can't express them and then listen to people complain no one ever posts here anymore.  So indulge us.  

Some topics that might get interesting at ET (I am not saying that I agree or disagree with the typical ET position - in fact in most cases I do agree, as I am mostly a typical ET - to the point of being in the center of the ET political compass results):

  1. Do different cultures have the same ability to bring in a sensible society?
  2. Is global warming a scam?
  3. Is "race" an important factor?
  4. Do you trust science and to what degree?

Let me offer a typical problematic argument (irrespective of if I do agree with it or not):
  1. It can be argued on scientific grounds that genetic diversity is good
  2. Human populations were subjected to a bottleneck when getting out of Africa. Genetic diversity is therefore bigger in African populations
  3. (1+2) Populations of mainly African origin are more important for our communal gene pool than others from the outside.

Could one easily discuss this? By the way and as a side, I do think that this is actually a real problem in science, some studies in human population genetics are probably not done because the results, whatever they were, would be too hot to handle. Moreover (and sticking to human population genetics), as it is a scientific area with lots of unknowns it would be easy to do some work with problematic conclusions that would be disproven in the near future (therefore making the authors look very bad).

I would argue that in some circles, if you offer a sensible argument against the consensus you will get into trouble. You will certainly be misinterpreted at least.

But my main point is not about ET at all, it is about shaping a society where you can genuinely voice your opinions and where we can loose our own internal "thought police".

by t-------------- on Tue Aug 26th, 2008 at 12:30:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Could one easily discuss this

Sure, though it would be peppered with me asking for clarification of terms and other good stuff.

The main issue  you bring up is one of the ones I try to highlight every so often: group think is often caused by politeness and group dynamics, not by fiat, intimidation or law.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Aug 26th, 2008 at 12:34:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Sure, though it would be peppered with me asking for clarification of terms and other good stuff.

Again, my main point is not with ET.

Getting away from ET...

Take as an example the James Watson controversy. Most of the people that attacked the man didn't even read his words. Is is possible to have a rational discussion on the topic? My argument is that although there is formal freedom of expression on the subject, you cannot informally discuss it as you might get into big trouble.

The same line of reasoning can be applied to, say, freedom of expression in the work sphere: in theory you can give feedback and complain. But in practice these freedoms are very limited. With time, people start finding these restrictions normal, and that is a disaster.

by t-------------- on Tue Aug 26th, 2008 at 01:17:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
James Watson was an idiot because he based his claims on Bell Curve type rubbish that has been long discredited. The problem then comes that if he's still citing it 25 years after it was trashed, then it means that he's hanging around with unsavoury people who still cling to this. Which says a lot more about his prejudices than it does about black people.

There may be something useful to say about intelligence across populations, but it has to be evidence-based and very careful to eliminate cultural processes and migrations. So far such research has not been attempted because the methodologies invovled are too complex.

And if black people can throw up the odd Gandhi and Mandela, whilst white people keep throwing up Limbaughs and Tebbits, I'm not really sure there's a lot to establish.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Aug 26th, 2008 at 02:44:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]

James Watson was an idiot because he based his claims on Bell Curve

The issue is not with the fact that you might label him an idiot or not.
The issue is that he made a statement and suddenly was uninvited from lots of conferences and "retired". Stupid statement = massive consequences.

This is a lot about externalities:

Now forget about Watson a bit and think on any person that might have something interesting to contribute about the said topic (cognitive differences between human populations), that person might be so inclined - because of perceived consequences - to avoid addressing the issue. Even if the person decides to go forward others might be inclined to ignore the person (say, avoid publishing the opinion).

With time, people will naturally and unconsciously avoid those issues (might hurt their career, reputation, social life, ...).

There should be some tolerance for opinions that are way off the mark. Calling him an idiot, that is OK. "Retiring" and uninviting a person because of them, is too much. Not only because of the said person, but because of the consequences to us all, and the perceived freedom that we have.

PS (regarding Watson) - Irrespective of stupid comments and most probably underlying crude racism - and classism [1] - I do think that opinions like these are worthwhile considering. Unfortunately this opinion is voiced by a person that seems to be, simultaneously, a crude racist.

[1] People are so preoccupied in pointing that the guy is a racist that they seem to not notice that he is also very classist.

by t-------------- on Wed Aug 27th, 2008 at 12:05:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think we approach the same solution from different directions. My point is not that there are not possibly interesting things to say about race and intelligence (if race can properly be said to exist in a population as genetically similar as humans), but that if you're going to say such things in these politically consequential times, you need to have better evidence than Bell Curve bullshit.

Nobody has done such studies as the methodology doesn't even exist. We can argue it might be difficult to establish funding to develop such methodologies because the field has such a history of dishonest intentions that anybody would suspect the motivations involved.

But, to repeat my point, Watson was a fool, not just because he cited discredited research, but because the fact that he gave such research credibility says an awful lot about the company he keeps. And classist almost certainly comes in with that.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Aug 28th, 2008 at 06:47:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Speaking just for myself - no, you could not argue in defense of James Watson without being attacked. He was arguing that certain races are inherently inferior to others.  On the other hand, while I'm pretty pro-immigration, there are plenty of non-racist arguments one can use against it. Same goes for multiculturalism.

The informal norms which you describe are what I think of as soft political correctness, something I'm rather strongly in favour of.

by MarekNYC on Tue Aug 26th, 2008 at 03:06:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To some extent, social control is inevitable (and even desirable): If I'm having dinner with a girlfriend's parents, I don't - for example - tell the parents that they are being obnoxious. They may be obnoxious, and I may have every legal right to tell them, but I have other social reasons for not wanting to tell them to their faces.

I think the real question is which of these informal restrictions on speech are due to illegitimate exercise of social control, or reinforces such illegitimate social control.

To take one of your own examples, I would argue that the restrictions on employee freedom of speech derive directly from the asymmetric power relation between the boss and the employee. If the boss gets mad at the employee, the employee gets fired or otherwise screwed over. If the employee gets mad at the boss... nothing much happens.

As long as such an asymmetric power relation exists, those restrictions will "seem normal." If one contends that the employer-employee power relation is unjust or illegitimate, then those restrictions are a symptom of that underlying problem. If one accepts the employer-employee relation as legitimate (or at least justified on balance), then the informal restrictions on employee freedom of speech are part of the package.

As to the other examples you've brought up, I would agree that they would probably receive a hostile reception, but I think this fact derives less from power relations than from the fact that they are filled to the brim with wingnut talking points.

If I don't know anything about someone, and he starts spewing talking points, then he has less than 100 words to convince me that he's worth listening to if he doesn't want me to write him off as a shill. If someone spends the first hundred words you hear spouting talking points, then it's likely that he a) isn't arguing in good faith, and b) is going to keep spewing (the same old) talking points.

You can call that prejudice if you want to, or you can put it down to experience with (paid and unpaid) shills.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Aug 27th, 2008 at 03:07:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The thing that's interesting about the situations you cite is that asking the question frames the answer. The most obvious one is "Is global warming a scam ?". This implies that the burden of proof lies with those  who argue that it isn't. Ask the question the other way and you get a different argument altogether.

Another is "Is race an important factor ?" Given the constriction on human genetic variation, the concept of race in humans is laughable. Colour is simply an adaptation that can be turned on or off in a few generations. I've heard geneticists say there is more variation in a single litter of puppies than across the whole human race.

So our discussions here tend to strip away framing elements very quickly and get to the nitty-gritty of whether there is a useful discussion to be had or merely to provide the quesitoner with an education. and I speak as somebody who's asked the dumb questions on several occasions and had to take an evening's lecture. It's instructive and fun so long as you check your ego at the door.

I'm not sure other sites or other groups have quite the forensic capabilities some of the people do here. There are frighteningly brilliant people on this site and the bs factor stays accordingly low.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Aug 26th, 2008 at 02:55:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would argue that in some circles, if you offer a sensible argument against the consensus you will get into trouble.

I think you are absolutely correct, and it's not just outside the scientific community but within. I'm not saying trouble always means being burned at the stake, but history even in the last century is full of nasty conflicts over differing theories within the scientific community. It's just human nature.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Thu Aug 28th, 2008 at 12:47:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I generally write what I think even though I know it's not going to be popular here.  I know I don't fit the ET European liberal mold much of the time, but I'm generally uninhibited in what I write.  Just scan my comments and the responses I get when I disagree with an ET popular theme.  Until someone starts censoring my comments, I'll be here.

I'm Christian, Southern, former Govt/law enforcement/military/security/intelligence career, and American, what do you expect?  At least one, usually more, of these categories comes in for a healthy dose of criticism on this site practically every day and 95% of the responses are in agreement. The site needs discourse with varying opinions and I'm happy to provide an alternative view in a respectful way when I can. Still, I read a lot here and learn. I respect the opinions of others, and I believe ET members generally do the same. I know some just ignore the opinions of those with whom they disagree, but that's their loss. No one has all the answers.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Thu Aug 28th, 2008 at 12:34:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you'd have a hard time claiming immigration is bad, but not necessarily because of political correctness. You'd end up having to justify national borders, nation states and such things ...
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Aug 26th, 2008 at 11:45:47 AM EST
Funny how restricting people's freedom of movement within a single country (say, across regional borders) is considered a symptom of a police state or a feudal system, and restricting movement across national borders is considered natural.

A vivid image of what should exist acts as a surrogate for reality. Pursuit of the image then prevents pursuit of the reality -- John K. Galbraith
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Aug 26th, 2008 at 11:57:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, most redistribution systems function only within the confines of state borders. If you want workers, goods and capital to move across borders, you'll need a multinational fiscal and industrial policy and a multinational redistributive policy.

Workers moving around is probably the least problematic of the three, but even there, there are potential problems, such as workers emigrating from countries with weak traditions for trade unions(another area where state-based systems exist and work better than international ones) to countries with strong traditions for trade unions and failing to unionise (or being prevented from unionising) on arrival.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Aug 26th, 2008 at 12:20:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, most redistribution systems function only within the confines of state borders. If you want workers, goods and capital to move across borders, you'll need a multinational fiscal and industrial policy and a multinational redistributive policy.
In fact, is you want goods, services and capital to move freely across borders, then you need redistribution or free movement of labour. Free trade with captive capital and labour works. Free movement of capital without refistribution or free movement of labour doesn't.

A vivid image of what should exist acts as a surrogate for reality. Pursuit of the image then prevents pursuit of the reality -- John K. Galbraith
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Aug 26th, 2008 at 12:27:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you want workers, goods and capital to move across borders, you'll need a multinational fiscal and industrial policy and a multinational redistributive policy.

I like to call it "World Government".
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Aug 26th, 2008 at 12:35:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And we all know how well that washes with The Powers That Be...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Aug 26th, 2008 at 12:57:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, don't tell the Bilderberg group

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Aug 26th, 2008 at 02:38:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
don't tell the Bilderberg group

Lasthorseman, I command you to leave Helen's body!

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Tue Aug 26th, 2008 at 03:19:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
European Tribune - Freedom of expression and thought
But the truth is, that it is very hard to have a non multiculturalist view on the left without being branded by some with some very bad epithets. This is an example among many.

That's possibly because diversity (up to a point) is a left-ish principle, just as circling the wagons (and/or xenophobia) is a right-ish one.

But you can't really have discussions like this without defining terms and picking apart meanings. 'Immigration' is a mix of experiences and phenomena, some of which are deliberately managed and orchestrated, while others are spontaneous. There are historical motivations, economic motivations, political motivations, and personal motivations.

If there's a problem on some parts of the left it's a tendency to abstract these issues into tokenism to the point where moral positions become caricatured and drawn in crayon, so that whole swathes of the population - 'men', 'women', 'blacks', 'muslims' - have generically stereotyped and predictable relationships with other whole swathes.

Stereotyped relationships certainly happen sometimes, but they don't happen all of the time. Mistaking an individual for a social signifier of a stereotype is an abstract but not unpopular kind of personal abuse.

One giveaway is how people who live on the boundaries of stereotypes and are seen as neither one thing nor another have an unusually interesting time.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Aug 26th, 2008 at 04:16:24 PM EST
ThatBritGuy:
Immigration' is a mix of experiences and phenomena, some of which are deliberately managed and orchestrated, while others are spontaneous.

Exactly.

If we define "Immigrants" as..."People who come from abroad to be paid fuck all to do the shitty jobs that we don't want to do"....it puts a slightly differnt perspective on it.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Aug 26th, 2008 at 06:46:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In the U.S., considerable constraint on expression is applied by employers. Since one depends on one's employer not only for a weekly paycheck but also for health insurance, it is not advisable to make public statements that are not acceptable.

For example, in Colorado Springs it is perfectly acceptable to have a Christian icon on one's desk and perhaps a framed picture of The Savior on the office wall, but to state that one is a Pastafarian is likely to result in immediate social isolation at least.

by asdf on Thu Aug 28th, 2008 at 06:45:24 PM EST


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