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Blurred Lines: The Humanitarian Threat to Free Speech – Article by Aaron Tao

Blurred Lines: The Humanitarian Threat to Free Speech – Article by Aaron Tao

The New Renaissance HatAaron Tao
June 25, 2015
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“Think of liberalism … as a collection of ideas or principles which go to make up an attitude or ‘habit of mind.’” – Arthur A. Ekirch

In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville was keen to observe that “once the Americans have taken up an idea, whether it be well or ill founded, nothing is more difficult than to eradicate it from their minds.”

Reflecting upon my experience as a first-generation immigrant who grew up in the United States, I concur with Tocqueville; this inherent feature of the culture and character of the American people holds true even today.

In America, there are no sacred cows, no one is above criticism, and no one has the final say on any issue. It is worth emphasizing that today, the United States stands virtually alone in the international community in upholding near-absolute freedom of personal expression, largely thanks to the constitutional protections provided by the First Amendment.

But without certain internalized values and principles, the legal bulwark of the First Amendment is nothing more than a parchment barrier.

As cliché as it may sound, it is important to recognize that our cherished freedom to think, speak, write, and express ourselves should not be taken for granted. Defending the principle of free speech is a perennial conflict that has to be fought in the court of public opinion here and abroad.

Unfortunately, a number of recent developments have greatly alarmed civil libertarians and may very well carry long-term negative repercussions for the United States as a free and open society.

In his new book, Freedom from Speech, Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and tireless free speech advocate, highlights a troubling cultural phenomenon: the blurring of physical safety with psychological and ideological comfort.

It is a disturbing trend that is not limited to the United States:

People all over the globe are coming to expect emotional and intellectual comfort as though it were a right. This is precisely what you would expect when you train a generation to believe that they have a right not to be offended. Eventually, they stop demanding freedom of speech and start demanding freedom from speech.

On the other side of Atlantic, Great Britain is undergoing what one writer describes as a “slow death of free speech.” The land of Milton is now home to luminaries who wish to reinstate Crown licensing of the press (not seen since 1695!).

Meanwhile, ordinary people face jail time for callous tweeting. In British universities, student-driven campaigns have successfully shut down debates and banned pop songs, newspapers, and even philosophy clubs.

While the United States is fortunate enough to have the First Amendment prevent outright government regulation of the press, cultural attitudes play a greater role in maintaining a healthy civil society.

Lukianoff reserves special criticism for American higher education for “neglecting to teach the intellectual habits that promote debate and discussion, tolerance for views we hate, epistemic humility, and genuine pluralism.”

Within academia, “trigger warnings” and “safe places” are proliferating. In a truly Bizarro twist, it has now come to the point that faculty members are defending individual rights and due process and decrying mob rule, while their students run off in the opposite direction.

We now hear on a regular basis of campus outrages involving a controversial speaker or perceived injustice, and the “offended” parties responding with a frenzied social media crusade or a real-world attempt to shame, bully, browbeat, censor, or otherwise punish the offender.

A small sampling from this season include attempts to ban screenings of American Sniper at the University of Michigan and the University of Maryland, resolutions to create a Stasi-like “microaggression” reporting system at Ithaca College, and the controversy involving AEI scholar Christina Hoff Sommers speaking at Oberlin College.

These incidents are just the tip of the iceberg.

With the endless stream of manufactured outrages, perhaps it is fitting that George Mason University law professor David Bernstein would raise the question, “Where and when did this ‘makes me feel unsafe’ thing start?”

My personal hypothesis: When postmodernism found itself a new home on Tumblr, spread across the left-wing blogosphere, became reinforced by mobs and echo-chambers, and spilled into the real world.

Luckily, not all progressives have sacrificed the basic principles of liberalism to the altar of radical identity politics and political correctness. One liberal student at NYU courageously pointed out the grave dangers posed by the ideology embraced by many of his peers:

This particular brand of millennial social justice advocacy is destructive to academia, intellectual honesty, and true critical thinking and open mindedness. We see it already having a profound impact on the way universities act and how they approach curriculum. …

The version of millennial social justice advocacy that I have spoken about — one that uses Identity Politics to balkanize groups of people, engenders hatred between groups, willingly lies to push agendas, manipulates language to provide immunity from criticism, and that publicly shames anyone who remotely speaks some sort of dissent from the overarching narrative of the orthodoxy — is not admirable.

It is deplorable. It appeals to the basest of human instincts: fear and hatred. It is not an enlightened or educated position to take. History will not look kindly on this Orwellian, authoritarian perversion of social justice that has taken social media and millennials by storm over the past few years.

I, too, am convinced that these activists, with their MO of hysterical crusades, are one of today’s biggest threats to free speech, open inquiry, and genuine tolerance, at least on college campuses. The illiberal climate fostered by these their ideologues seems to be spreading throughout academia and is continuing to dominate the headlines.

As of this writing, Northwestern professor (and self-described feminist) Laura Kipnis is undergoing a Kafkaesque Title IX inquisition for writing a column in the Chronicle of Higher Education and making comments on Twitter that offended a number of students. The aggrieved mobilized in full force to have her punished under the federal sex discrimination law.

These groups and their tactics represent what Jonathan Rauch would describe as the “humanitarian” challenge to free speech. In his must-read book, Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, Rauch identified how these “humanitarians” sought to prevent “offense” to “oppressed and historically marginalized” peoples. In the name of “compassion,” words became conflated with physical action.

As speech codes spread and the definition of “harassment” (reading a book in public, for instance) became broader within the bureaucracy of academia, an “offendedness sweepstakes” was cultivated and turned into the norm.

Rauch’s book was published in 1993, but his diagnosis and arguments still apply today, if not more, in the age of social media when the “offendedness sweepstakes” are amplified to new levels.

Nowadays, PC grievance mongers can organize much more effectively and more often than not, get rewarded for their efforts. The future of a free society looks very bleak should these types become a dominant force on the political landscape. I can’t help but shiver at the prospect of seeing the chronically-offended eggshells of my generation becoming tomorrow’s legislators and judges. The chilling effects are already being felt.

Even as numerous challenges emerge from all corners, free speech has unparalleled potential for human liberation in the Digital Age. The eternal battle is still that of liberty versus power, and the individual versus the collective. I remain confident that truth can still prevail in the marketplace of ideas. It is for this reason we should treasure and defend the principles, practices, and institutions that make it possible.

Last month marked the birthday of the brilliant F.A. Hayek, the gentleman-scholar who made landmark contributions to fields of economics, philosophy, political science, and law, and established his name as the twentieth century’s most eminent defender of classical liberalism in the face of the collectivist zeitgeist.

For all his accomplishments, Hayek practiced and urged epistemological humility (a position that should be natural to any defender of free speech) in his Nobel lecture. Looking back on his life’s work, Hayek was highly skeptical of the nebulous concept of “social justice” and its totalitarian implications. He even went as far as to devote an entire volume of his magnum opus, Law, Legislation, and Liberty, to completely demolish The Mirage of Social Justice.

Hayek concluded:

What we have to deal with in the case of “social justice” is simply a quasireligious superstition of the kind which we should respectfully leave in peace so long as it merely makes those happy who hold it, but which we must fight when it becomes the pretext of coercing other men [emphasis added].

And the prevailing belief in “social justice” is at present probably the gravest threat to most other values of a free civilization.

Hayek did not predict that “social justice” would be first used to silence dissent before moving on to its long-term agenda, but it would not have surprised him. Weak ideas always grasp for the censor in the face of sustained criticism — and feeble ideas made strong by politics are the most dangerous of all.

Humanitarians with guillotines can be found from the French Revolution to present day. Modern day defenders of individual liberty would do well to heed Hayek’s warning and resist the Siren song of “social justice,” the rallying cry of collectivists who cannot realize their vision without coercion.

Aaron Tao is the Marketing Coordinator and Assistant Editor of The Beacon at the Independent Institute.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

The Ukrainian Regime’s Censorship Spreads West to Canada, and Political Correctness is to Blame – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The Ukrainian Regime’s Censorship Spreads West to Canada, and Political Correctness is to Blame – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
April 14, 2015
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There is nothing friendly to liberty or to Western values about the government of Petro Poroshenko and Arseniy Yatseniuk in Ukraine – a regime completely incapable of understanding the principle of individual rights or the freedoms of speech, property, and conviction that this principle entails. The Ukrainian government has just enacted a law prohibiting the private expression of Communist symbols and ideology, while elevating to “national hero” status the Ukrainian Insurgent Army of Stepan Bandera, who collaborated with the Nazi army during World War II and committed systematic acts of genocide against Russian, Belarusian, Polish, and Jewish civilians. Bandera serves as an explicit inspiration for the neo-Nazi Right Sector paramilitary organization, whose fighters have been documented by Amnesty International to have committed extensive war crimes against civilians in the Donbass region, and whose leader Dmytro Yarosh now holds a prominent position as advisor to the Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief.

Criticism of Bandera and his Ukrainian Insurgent Army is now illegal in Ukraine. According to UaPosition, a Ukrainian website aimed at informing non-Ukrainians about Ukraine, the text of the law legitimizing Bandera’s thugs reads as follows: “Public denial of the legitimacy of the struggle for the independence of Ukraine in the twentieth century [is] recognized [as an] insult to the memory of fighters for independence of Ukraine in the XX century [and as] disparagement of the Ukrainian people and is illegal.”

As David Boaz put it, “One difference between libertarianism and socialism is that a socialist society can’t tolerate groups of people practicing freedom, but a libertarian society can comfortably allow people to choose voluntary socialism.” No libertarian or even remotely quasi-libertarian society would censor the expression of even the most strident socialist or communist viewpoints. On the other hand, legal censorship of opposing viewpoints was indeed a hallmark of the former Soviet Union. A government that attempts to censor the ideas that, at least ostensibly, animated Soviet policies, becomes just a mirror image of the Soviet regime by adopting the very same policies in essence. In addition, the Ukrainian regime has prohibited films alleged to “glorify” the Russian military and has imprisoned journalists and activists who criticized military conscription, such as Ruslan Kotsaba.

The Poroshenko/Yatseniuk government has assumed the worst characteristics of the former USSR regime without any of its few decent attributes. By validating both historical genocidal ethnic nationalism and its neo-Nazi successor movements, the Ukrainian regime has departed from one of the most important admirable aspects of the post-1941 USSR: its adamant opposition to Nazism and to the plethora of ethnically tinged fascist movements that arose in the wake of Hitler’s invasions of Eastern Europe. Indeed, one of the reasons why so many Soviet subjects of diverse ethnicities acquiesced to the tyranny of Stalin and his successors was the fact that the Soviet regime did act to protect them against the worse threat of genocide by Hitler and his petty nationalist allies. The prohibition on criticism of the Banderites is, in the eyes of many Ukrainians, Russians, and Belarusians, a prohibition on criticism of the armed gangs who murdered or tried to murder their grandparents.

Even more troubling, however, is that the zeal of “pro-Ukrainian” activists in the West is creating a chilling effect on speech and criticism of the Ukrainian regime even in Canada. Valentina Lisitsa, a world-renowned pianist born in Ukraine who became a US citizen and is currently residing in Paris, has become the latest victim of the campaign to silence those who disagree with militant Ukrainian nationalism. Lisitsa’s performances of classical compositions (see and hear examples here, here, here, and here) are completely apolitical and have attracted tens of millions of views on her YouTube channel. She was due to play Rachmaninoff’s Concerto #2 (earlier recordings are here, here, and here) at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, before her appearance was cancelled at the behest of anonymous Ukrainian nationalist activists, who also fueled a social-media outcry against Lisitsa. The reason? Lisitsa posted on her Twitter account satirical, often scathing criticism of the Ukrainian government and its war against separatists in the Donbass – specifically condemning the neo-Nazi and genocidal strains among the Ukrainian government’s paramilitary supporters. She has remained steadfast in defending her posts as free expression – and rightfully so, as her liberty to express her views does not require those views or the manner of their expression to be inoffensive or universally agreeable to all. Furthermore, any manner of words or imagery she used pales in comparison to the real deaths of over 6,000 civilians (and likely many more) in the Donbass, many at the hands of the Ukrainian army and its allied “volunteer” paramilitary battalions. Lisitsa was outraged at the people and policies that brought about the deaths of these innocents, and she was right to proclaim her outrage.

But whether or not one agrees with Lisitsa or with the manner in which she expressed her views, her performance of Rachmaninoff had no relationship to any of her political activities – and none of her other classical performances over the course of many years had even the remotest political aspect. By successfully pressuring the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to cancel Lisitsa’s appearance, the Ukrainian nationalist activists recreated in Canada the same politicization of classical music for which Stalin’s Soviet Union was infamous. Some of the most innovative 20th-century composers – including Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Aram Khachaturian – were often victims of Stalin’s denunciations and sometimes came perilously close to imprisonment or worse. In a free society, it is generally recognized that a person’s artistic prowess and political positions are separate matters unless the artist wishes to intentionally combine the two – as, for instance, in a work of explicitly politically motivated art. Preventing the performance of art that is inherently apolitical, on the grounds of the artist’s outside political activities, creates a chilling effect on both art and peaceful political activism. Artists, fearing that their livelihoods would be denied to them if they became too vocal about current events and ran afoul of one pressure group or another, would be incentivized to stick only to bland, uncontroversial statements or avoid discussing any subjects where significant disagreements might arise. Art would suffer, as works of technical and esthetic merit would become more difficult for audiences to access, given that anybody with controversial political views would be shut out of the talent pool.

The cultural reign of political correctness in the West further exacerbates the threat of the chilling effect on art and speech. The political repression of art in the contemporary West would come not from a top-down decree by a government, but rather due to any sufficiently vocal special interest claiming to be “offended” – not just by an idea contrary to its own agenda, but by the whole person expressing that idea. It then becomes the case that no Stalin is necessary – but the effect is the same: ideologically motivated threats cowing artists into acquiescence to the popular political agenda of the day. A person can become widely denounced, blacklisted, and shut out from opportunities that should be determined by artistic merit alone – not due to any conspiracy, but rather because the typical, middle-of-the-road decision makers in private as well as public institutions become fearful of the special interests’ ire. Political correctness is not primarily a problem of governments, but rather a problem of a deeply broken societal and intellectual culture, where not giving offense is prioritized over the pursuit of truth and justice. In the case of Lisitsa, as usual, the politically correct prohibition on offense results in the most offensive possible ideologies having a free hand to shut down dissenting views. What “offended” fundamentalist Islam has been able to perpetrate in shutting down debate in Europe for over a decade, “offended” Ukrainian nationalism is beginning to inflict in Canada now, often with the vociferous support of media commentators crusading against “hate speech” – a phrase which can mean anything they want it to mean.

The Ukrainian nationalists are able to export their agenda of censorship and intimidation to the West as parasites taking advantage of a weakened host. Political correctness is the disease that renders Western public discourse vulnerable to their arguments, while endangering the vital critical voices who need to be heard in order to prevent a tragic Western-led escalation of the Ukrainian civil war. It seems that the only way the Ukrainian regime and its nationalist allies will be able to render Ukraine more Western is to render the West more like Ukraine. We in the West need to strengthen our defenses and develop an immunity against this incursion of illiberalism by reaffirming the values of individual rights, open discourse and debate on controversial ideas, free expression of dissenting views, and resistance to the dependence of art on political orthodoxy.

We Must Proudly Reassert Free Speech and Universal Western Values – Video by G. Stolyarov II

We Must Proudly Reassert Free Speech and Universal Western Values – Video by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
January 12, 2015
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The horror of the attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine – the murder of 17 people – journalists, policemen, and ordinary shoppers – by Wahhabist Islamist fanatics in Paris on January 7-9, 2015, highlights the stark threat that religious fanaticism poses to Western civilization. The perpetrators of this barbarism have thankfully been eliminated due to the concerted, decisive, and careful work of French police, who managed to destroy the murderers and hostage-takers without harming or terrorizing innocent, peaceful civilians in the process. But unless the Western world resolutely affirms the untrammeled right of free expression of ideas, the already commonplace heckler’s veto over speech will turn into the murderer’s veto.

Mr. Stolyarov explains the need for an assertive revival of Western Enlightenment values (which are also universal human values) and a widespread, unconditional defense of freedom of speech – in order to prevent humankind from relapsing into the muck of barbarism.

References

– “We Must Proudly Reassert Free Speech and Universal Western Values” – Article by G. Stolyarov II – January 12, 2015
– “Excellent News from Turkey Regarding the Possibility of a More Humane Islam” – Post by G. Stolyarov II – November 28, 2008 – Excellent News from Turkey Regarding the Possibility of a More Humane Islam
– “German Newspaper Attacked After Publishing Charlie Hebdo Cartoons” – The World Post – Kirsten Grieshaber – January 11, 2015
– “These Are The Charlie Hebdo Cartoons That Terrorists Thought Were Worth Killing Over” – The Huffington Post – Catherine Taibi – January 7, 2015
– “Transhumanism” – Wikipedia
– “Wahhabism” – Wikipedia

We Must Proudly Reassert Free Speech and Universal Western Values – Article by G. Stolyarov II

We Must Proudly Reassert Free Speech and Universal Western Values – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
January 12, 2015
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je_suis_charlie_fist_and_pencil

The horror of the attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine – the murder of 17 people – journalists, policemen, and ordinary shoppers – by Wahhabist Islamist fanatics in Paris on January 7-9, 2015, highlights the stark threat that religious fanaticism poses to Western civilization. The perpetrators of this barbarism have thankfully been eliminated due to the concerted, decisive, and careful work of French police, who managed to destroy the murderers and hostage-takers without harming or terrorizing innocent, peaceful civilians in the process. But unless the Western world resolutely affirms the untrammeled right of free expression of ideas, the already commonplace heckler’s veto over speech will turn into the murderer’s veto.

Anything but complete, unconditional condemnation of this attack allows the murderers and thugs to win. Anyone who claims, “I condemn the attack, but…” is blaming the victims and suggesting that any provocation, any motivation is capable of forming an acceptable causal connection between peaceful expression of ideas and murder. For those who resolutely defend the Western values of individual rights and secularism, the only question should be, “Does the expression of a viewpoint ever, under any circumstances, justify the death penalty?” If the answer is a resounding “No!” – as it should be – then there can be no “but…”.

The Western values that developed over millennia of philosophical evolution and finally emerged brilliantly during the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment are universal human values – affirming human dignity and decency, the potential for peaceful cooperation among diverse viewpoints, the superiority of the creative mind over brute force, the potential for the human condition to be elevated through reason and persuasion, not intimidation. The Age of Enlightenment tamed Christianity in the West, turning it from a religion of bloodthirsty Crusaders, superstitious witch-hunters, and intolerant inquisitors, into a relatively soft cultural force that, at any given time, largely echoes the prevailing moral climate some thirty years prior. Christians who have been influenced by the Enlightenment – and even those who reject it, who have nonetheless found it necessary to adapt to the world it shaped for over two centuries – accept, with the exception of a fringe of fundamentalist fanatics, the basic preconditions for life in a civilized society, including the respect for the political, economic, and philosophical freedoms of those who think differently from them.

The Islamic world still awaits its own Age of Enlightenment, though some Muslims have, to their credit, accepted the Western Enlightenment as their own or attempted a courageous modernization of Islamic theology. Those Muslims who say “Je suis Charlie” are my allies, and I wish to see more Muslims embrace this attitude. But they have an uphill battle to fight – not just against their fanatical co-religionists, for whom no human life is sacred, but against the purveyors of postmodernist political correctness in the West, for whom the avoidance of giving offense trumps the necessity of standing on principle when the stakes are high. And the stakes are high indeed: if the murderer’s veto can result in any idea becoming inexpressible due to self-censorship and pressure from the “reputable” elements of society, then it does not matter what laws or constitutions say. If a sufficiently large element of society exists, whose members have a hair-trigger for offense and will kill you if you infringe upon their arbitrary taboos, then freedom of speech becomes a legal fiction, and de facto blasphemy law is the reality.

The best protection for freedom of thought is its frequent and prominent exercise by as many people as possible. Had prominent newspapers and magazines given frequent circulation to the wittily and refreshingly irreverent cartoons that Charlie Hebdo produced – which does not, by the way, rule out also publishing critiques or rebuttals from any other peaceful perspectives – then the murderous quartet that planned the Paris attacks would have had trouble choosing a target. Indeed, much about Western culture and lifestyles “offends” Wahhabist Muslims today, yet we do not see Westerners being routinely shot for failing to pray five times per day, facing Mecca. Almost everything about Western science, representational art, music, and clothing is inimical to Wahhabist Islam, yet the purveyors of these ubiquitous aspects of Western life – many Muslims among them, too – go unharmed by the fanatics. If politically correct fears are allowed to marginalize any form of expression for fear that it might “offend”, then any person who dares stand up for that expression – as is that person’s inalienable right – becomes a target for those who would relinquish even their own lives in order to cow a society into submission to their twisted, progress-stifling ideology. Political correctness accelerates the transformation of rights into taboos, until nothing of importance can be said, and any act of substance, any design to improve the human condition, would involve maneuvering through a minefield of hysterical, volatile, contradictory, and irrational “sensibilities” of the offended parties du jour.

So what is the solution? The elimination of the murderers themselves does not guarantee that similar murders will not recur. Indeed, the few courageous newspapers that reprinted the Charlie Hebdo cartoons have themselves become victims of threats and even an actual attack on the Hamburger Morgenpost in Germany. The solution is to resolutely reject victim-blaming, and for the prominent political, journalistic, and cultural figures of the Western world to themselves espouse the sentiments that the murderous fanatics considered so enraging. “Je suis Charlie” is a decent start, but a reiteration of the messages of particular cartoons would be far more effective. If the cartoons were republished on whitehouse.gov, parliament.uk, and elysee.fr, as well as the websites of all other national governments and publications with large readership, then a strong signal would be sent that Western societies still stand for the complete ability of any intellectual expression to occur, without its author receiving the death penalty or the kind of politically correct condemnation that invites the executioners to try. While it is not the role of governments to opine on matters of religion, it is their role to protect the rights of their constituents against infringement. Standing by the Charlie Hebdo cartoons – and similar critiques of any religion – would be a stand for the safety of anyone who would express a controversial or unpopular idea. Without a clear promise that such safety will be pursued, free speech means nothing in practice, since the expression solely of bland, prevailing, or popular ideas can occur in any society, with or without legal protections. We should be thankful to the few publications that did re-post the Charlie Hebdo cartoons – such as the Huffington Post, which presented a prominent sample here.

To encourage the expeditious arrival of an Islamic Enlightenment, a clear distinction between “moderate” and “radical” Muslims should be made. Every cultural figure of prominence should emphasize the following minimal criteria to be considered a “moderate” Muslim:

  • Complete rejection and denunciation of any killing motivated by religion
  • Opposition to the enactment of blasphemy laws or any laws prohibiting the criticism of any religion
  • Opposition to the legal establishment of Islamic sharia law in the West
  • Opposition to the persecution and/or prosecution of any person, Muslim or otherwise, who refuses to adhere to sharia law
  • Opposition to the persecution and/or prosecution of “apostates” who choose to leave Islam for any reason
  • Opposition to all laws that bring special restrictions upon women, homosexuals, atheists, and others, based on gender, sexual orientation, or lack of religious belief
  • Support for the right of those who disagree with any tenet or practice of any variant of Islam to peacefully express their disagreement or criticism, even if such expression is uncomfortable to some Muslims and offends their sensibilities
  • Recognition that any individual should have the right to draw Mohammad or any other religious figure, and the choice to exercise that right or not is a purely personal matter.

Finally, the alarming tendency of many long-time residents of European societies to drift toward fundamentalist Islam should be culturally combated by means of a New Renaissance of Western culture. For those who consider, rightly or wrongly, contemporary Western life to lack a sense of purpose or direction, there are far better antidotes than a murderous creed of militant fanaticism, whose spread is explained by its function as a “mind-virus” that short-circuits logical thinking and renders its carrier impervious to empirical evidence. Here, the damage done by the postmodernist critics of Western culture and its universal human values should also be reversed. In particular, the idea of progress – of the ability of humans to dramatically improve their condition through the application of reason, science, and technology – should be revived and asserted with renewed vigor in all areas of life. Beyond survival, what is the purpose of life? To achieve progress, to uplift human lives by harnessing the laws of nature to solve previously insoluble problems.

The humanism of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment should be extended into its logical next phase – transhumanism: the application of science and technology to overcome age-old limits to the human condition. The deployment of the next generations of technologies – from medical breakthroughs to efforts to colonize other worlds – should occur as rapidly as possible in all fields. No amount of help is excessive in pursuing this goal, and so anyone can find meaning in contributing. While we implement such a decisive push forward along the path of progress, we should also remember that we stand upon the shoulders of giants. Great historical achievements of Western art, music, science, literature, architecture, and engineering should be emphasized and celebrated. The achievements of Middle Eastern thinkers of the early Islamic era – prior to the lapse into doctrinaire orthodoxy that occurred due to Al-Ghazali’s influence during the 11th century – could also be incorporated into this celebrated legacy, as doing so would show many Muslims that their own cultural history offers a way out of the quagmire of fanatical intolerance. New cultural monuments should emerge, inspired by the achievements of the past but also embodying an aspiration toward a better future. The legacy of the Enlightenment, in particular, could by itself create an exquisitely sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and proudly assertive cultural manifestation that would have far more to recommend itself than an orthodoxy based on a seventh-century creed ill-adapted to a hyper-pluralistic world of accelerating technological progress.

The murder of human beings for the expression of ideas draws humankind back into the muck of barbarism. It has no place in the twenty-first century, and no part of the world can claim itself to be civilized unless it decisively resists and neutralizes such threats to free speech. The threats, however, have metastasized beyond the individuals who carry them out. A major reassertion of the universal human values of the Enlightenment must happen in order to defuse the hostile environment in which these threats incubate. All decent human beings everywhere are welcome to take part in the revival of these values. Perhaps one day all of us can once more raise our eyes to the stars, without the fear of descending into the quagmire of savagery in which humans murdered each other over disagreements for vast stretches of history, until the Enlightenment raised some of us out.

The Internet Memory Hole – Article by Wendy McElroy

The Internet Memory Hole – Article by Wendy McElroy

The New Renaissance Hat
Wendy McElroy
November 24, 2014
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Imagine you are considering a candidate as a caregiver for your child. Or maybe you are vetting an applicant for a sensitive position in your company. Perhaps you’re researching a public figure for class or endorsing him in some manner. Whatever the situation, you open your browser and assess the linked information that pops up from a search. Nothing criminal or otherwise objectionable is present, so you proceed with confidence. But what if the information required for you to make a reasoned assessment had been removed by the individual himself?

Under “the right to be forgotten,” a new “human right” established in the European Union in 2012, people can legally require a search engine to delete links to their names, even if information at the linked source is true and involves a public matter such as an arrest. The Google form for requesting removal asks the legally relevant question of why the link is “irrelevant, outdated, or otherwise objectionable.” Then it is up to the search engine to determine whether to delete the link.

The law’s purpose is to prevent people from being stigmatized for life. The effect, however, is to limit freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and access to information. Each person becomes a potential censor who can rewrite history for personal advantage.

It couldn’t happen here

The process of creating such a law in the United States is already underway. American law is increasingly driven by public opinion and polls. The IT security company Software Advice recently conducted a survey that found that “sixty-one percent of Americans believe some version of the right to be forgotten is necessary,” and “thirty-nine percent want a European-style blanket right to be forgotten, without restrictions.” And politicians love to give voters what they want.

In January 2015, California will enforce the Privacy Rights for California Minors in the Digital World law. This is the first state version of a “right to be forgotten” law. It requires “the operator of an Internet Web site, online service, online application, or mobile application to permit a minor, who is a registered user … to remove, or to request and obtain removal of, content or information posted … by the minor.” (There are some exceptions.)

Meanwhile, the consumer-rights group Consumer Watchdog has floated the idea that Google should voluntarily provide Americans with the right to be forgotten. On September 30, 2014, Forbes stated, “The fight for the right to be forgotten is certainly coming to the U.S., and sooner than you may think.” For one thing, there is a continuing hue and cry about embarrassing photos of minors and celebrities being circulated.

Who and what deserves to be forgotten?

What form would the laws likely take? In the Stanford Law Review (February 13, 2012), legal commentator Jeffrey Rosen presented three categories of information that would be vulnerable if the EU rules became a model. First, material posted could be “unlinked” at the poster’s request. Second, material copied by another site could “almost certainly” be unlinked at the original poster’s request unless its retention was deemed “necessary” to “the right of freedom of expression.” Rosen explained, “Essentially, this puts the burden on” the publisher to prove that the link “is a legitimate journalistic (or literary or artistic) exercise.” Third, the commentary of one individual about another, whether truthful or not, could be vulnerable. Rosen observed that the EU includes “takedown requests for truthful information posted by others.… I can demand takedown and the burden, once again, is on the third party to prove that it falls within the exception for journalistic, artistic, or literary exception.”

Search engines have an incentive to honor requests rather than to absorb the legal cost of fighting them. Rosen said, “The right to be forgotten could make Facebook and Google, for example, liable for up to two percent of their global income if they fail to remove photos that people post about themselves and later regret, even if the photos have been widely distributed already.” An October 12, 2014, article in the UK Daily Mail indicated the impact of compliance on the free flow of public information. The headline: “Google deletes 18,000 UK links under ‘right to be forgotten’ laws in just a month: 60% of Europe-wide requests come from fraudsters, criminals and sex offenders.”

American backlash

America protects the freedoms of speech and the press more vigorously than Europe does. Even California’s limited version of a “right to be forgotten” bill has elicited sharp criticism from civil libertarians and tech-freedom advocates. The IT site TechCrunch expressed the main practical objection: “The web is chaotic, viral, and interconnected. Either the law is completely toothless, or it sets in motion a very scary anti-information snowball.” TechCrunch also expressed the main political objection: The bill “appears to create a head-on collision between privacy law and the First Amendment.”

Conflict between untrue information and free speech need not occur. Peter Fleischer, Google’s global privacy counsel, explained, “Traditional law has mechanisms, like defamation and libel law, to allow a person to seek redress against someone who publishes untrue information about him.… The legal standards are long-standing and fairly clear.” Defamation and libel are controversial issues within the libertarian community, but the point here is that defense against untrue information already exists.

What of true information? Truth is a defense against being charged with defamation or libel. America tends to value freedom of expression above privacy rights. It is no coincidence that the First Amendment is first among the rights protected by the Constitution. And any “right” to delete the truth from the public sphere runs counter to the American tradition of an open public square where information is debated and weighed.

Moreover, even true information can have powerful privacy protection. For example, the Fourth Amendment prohibits the use of data that is collected via unwarranted search and seizure. The Fourteenth Amendment is deemed by the Supreme Court to offer a general protection to family information. And then there are the “protections” of patents, trade secrets, copyrighted literature, and a wide range of products that originate in the mind. Intellectual property is controversial, too. But again, the point here is that defenses already exist.

Reputation capital

Reputation capital consists of the good or bad opinions that a community holds of an individual over time. It is not always accurate, but it is what people think. The opinion is often based on past behaviors, which are sometimes viewed as an indicator of future behavior. In business endeavors, reputation capital is so valuable that aspiring employees will work for free as interns in order to accrue experience and recommendations. Businesses will take a loss to replace an item or to otherwise credit a customer in order to establish a name for fairness. Reputation is thus a path to being hired and to attracting more business. It is a nonfinancial reward for establishing the reliability and good character upon which financial remuneration often rests.

Conversely, if an employee’s bad acts are publicized, then a red flag goes up for future employers who might consider his application. If a company defrauds customers, community gossip could drive it out of business. In the case of negative reputation capital, the person or business who considers dealing with the “reputation deficient” individual is the one who benefits by realizing a risk is involved. Services, such as eBay, often build this benefit into their structure by having buyers or sellers rate individuals. By one estimate, a 1 percent negative rating can reduce the price of an eBay good by 4 percent. This system establishes a strong incentive to build positive reputation capital.

Reputation capital is particularly important because it is one of the key answers to the question, “Without government interference, how do you ensure the quality of goods and services?” In a highly competitive marketplace, reputation becomes a path to success or to failure.

Right-to-be-forgotten laws offer a second chance to an individual who has made a mistake. This is a humane option that many people may choose to extend, especially if the individual will work for less money or offer some other advantage in order to win back his reputation capital. But the association should be a choice. The humane nature of a second chance should not overwhelm the need of others for public information to assess the risks involved in dealing with someone. Indeed, this risk assessment provides the very basis of the burgeoning sharing economy.

History and culture are memory

In “The Right to Be Forgotten: An Insult to Latin American History,” Eduardo Bertoni offers a potent argument. He writes that the law’s “name itself“ is “an affront to Latin America; rather than promoting this type of erasure, we have spent the past few decades in search of the truth regarding what occurred during the dark years of the military dictatorships.” History is little more than preserved memory. Arguably, culture itself lives or dies depending on what is remembered and shared.

And yet, because the right to be forgotten has the politically seductive ring of fairness, it is becoming a popular view. Fleischer called privacy “the new black in censorship fashion.” And it may be increasingly on display in America.

Wendy McElroy (wendy@wendymcelroy.com) is an author, editor of ifeminists.com, and Research Fellow at The Independent Institute (independent.org).

This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education.

Ferguson: The War Comes Home – Article by Ron Paul

Ferguson: The War Comes Home – Article by Ron Paul

The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
August 26, 2014
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America’s attention recently turned away from the violence in Iraq and Gaza toward the violence in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting of Michael Brown. While all the facts surrounding the shooing have yet to come to light, the shock of seeing police using tear gas (a substance banned in warfare), and other military-style weapons against American citizens including journalists exercising their First Amendment rights, has started a much-needed debate on police militarization.The increasing use of military equipment by local police is a symptom of growing authoritarianism, not the cause. The cause is policies that encourage police to see Americans as enemies to subjugate, rather than as citizens to “protect and serve.” This attitude is on display not only in Ferguson, but in the police lockdown following the Boston Marathon bombing and in the Americans killed and injured in “no-knock” raids conducted by militarized SWAT teams.

One particularly tragic victim of police militarization and the war on drugs is “baby Bounkham.” This infant was severely burned and put in a coma by a flash-burn grenade thrown into his crib by a SWAT team member who burst into the infant’s room looking for methamphetamine.

As shocking as the case of baby Bounkham is, no one should be surprised that empowering police to stop consensual (though perhaps harmful and immoral) activities has led to a growth of authoritarian attitudes and behaviors among government officials and politicians. Those wondering why the local police increasingly look and act like an occupying military force should consider that the drug war was the justification for the Defense Department’s “1033 program,” which last year gave local police departments almost $450 million worth of “surplus” military equipment. This included armored vehicles and grenades like those that were used to maim baby Bounkham.

Today, the war on drugs has been eclipsed by the war on terror as an all-purpose excuse for expanding the police state. We are all familiar with how the federal government increased police power after September 11 via the PATRIOT Act, TSA, and other Homeland Security programs. Not as widely known is how the war on terror has been used to justify the increased militarization of local police departments to the detriment of our liberty. Since 2002, the Department of Homeland Security has provided over $35 billion in grants to local governments for the purchase of tactical gear, military-style armor, and mine-resistant vehicles.

The threat of terrorism is used to justify these grants. However, the small towns that receive tanks and other military weapons do not just put them into storage until a real terrorist threat emerges. Instead, the military equipment is used for routine law enforcement.

Politicians love this program because it allows them to brag to their local media about how they are keeping their constituents safe. Of course, the military-industrial complex’s new kid brother, the law enforcement-industrial complex, wields tremendous influence on Capitol Hill. Even many so-called progressives support police militarization to curry favor with police unions.

Reversing the dangerous trend of the militarization of local police can start with ending all federal involvement in local law enforcement. Fortunately, all that requires is for Congress to begin following the Constitution, which forbids the federal government from controlling or funding local law enforcement. There is also no justification for federal drug laws or for using the threat of terrorism as an excuse to treat all people as potential criminals. However, Congress will not restore constitutional government on its own; the American people must demand that Congress stop facilitating the growth of an authoritarian police state that threatens their liberty.

Ron Paul, MD, is a former three-time Republican candidate for U. S. President and Congressman from Texas.

This article is reprinted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

The Law of the Jungle is Taking Over: Professor Eric Posner Calls for Censorship – Article by Charles N. Steele

The Law of the Jungle is Taking Over: Professor Eric Posner Calls for Censorship – Article by Charles N. Steele

The New Renaissance Hat
Charles N. Steele
September 30, 2012
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Another highly placed America legal scholar is endorsing gutting the First Amendment in favor of anti-blasphemy laws and censorship.  It’s the most anti-First Amendment op-ed I’ve seen yet.

It turns out “we overvalue free speech” (foreigners’ values are the right ones, so we must abandon ours) and “often free speech must yield to other values and the need for order.”

So says University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner, who also argues “We have to remember that our First Amendment values are not universal; they emerged contingently from our own political history, a set of cobbled-together compromises among political and ideological factions responding to localized events…”

This is not true.  The case for free speech is a profoundly philosophical one, with a very long history — and it is not only a Western idea, either.  Posner is highly educated legal scholar — I suspect he knows this already (umm, is it to be prohibited to suggest that some public figure is, umm, lying?)

“As often happens, what starts out as a grudging political settlement has become, when challenged from abroad, a dogmatic principle to be imposed universally. Suddenly, the disparagement of other people and their beliefs is not an unfortunate fact but a positive good. It contributes to the ‘marketplace of ideas…'”

Yes, in fact the freedom to examine and criticize people and beliefs is a positive good, and how else will we ever be able to separate good ideas from bad ones?  There is no other way other than freedom of discussion.  And one can’t specify in advance which ideas or criticisms are and aren’t permitted — that would assume we already knew and agreed on Truth.

“…as though we would seriously admit that Nazis or terrorist fanatics might turn out to be right after all. Salman Rushdie recently claimed that bad ideas, ‘like vampires … die in the sunlight’ rather than persist in a glamorized underground existence. But bad ideas never die: They are zombies, not vampires. Bad ideas like fascism, Communism, and white supremacy have roamed the countryside of many an open society.”

They also don’t die if we suppress them, and in fact do fester and grow.  Rushdie is right.

“So symbolic attachment to uneasy, historically contingent compromises, and a half-century of judicial decisions addressing domestic political dissent and countercultural pressures, prevent the U.S. government from restricting the distribution of a video that causes violence abroad and damages America’s reputation.”

No, it doesn’t cause violence.  Religious fanatics and psychopaths choose to engage in violence.  If they did not, we would not be having this debate.  The video would simply be a case study in bad filmmaking for a few reviewers.

“And this is a video that, by the admission of all sides, has no value whatsoever.”

No!  The filmmakers disagree.  For that matter, I disagree!  I think the first parts, which illustrate the attacks of Salafi muslims on Coptic Christians, and Egyptian state complicity, have merit. Our values have zero weight?  Why?

Let’s take this farther.  If I find Posner’s op-ed blasphemous and utterly without merit, is that sufficient for me to call for its suppression and his prosecution?  If not, how many of us does it take?  How big a mob must I organize and how violent must we become?

Professor Posner, you’re a professor of law, so explain for us the legal criteria your argument implies.  I want to know now, in advance, what the boundaries are.  What speech will be prohibited?  Is it really only that which ex post “causes” others to engage in violence?

I’m quite certain that Michael Totten has it right, that these kinds of arguments are equivalent to giving terrorists veto power over our thought, speech, and actions.  Conversely, Posner tries to claim that this is just about having a reasonable debate over “whether a government should be able to curtail speech in order to safeguard its relations with foreign countries.”  Never mind Posner’s confusion of religious rioters with foreign states, this point is simply disingenuous.  The purpose of our government is to protect our rights from attack by foreigners, not restrict them when foreigners are 1) offended and 2) engage in criminal behavior.  What the hell can Posner be thinking?

Posner thinks we need to understand “that often free speech must yield to other values and the need for order.”  In Pakistan, “yielding” to “other values” has lead to what one Muslim cleric calls “the law of the jungle…”  If a mob is sufficiently violent, the police arrest the “offender” and courts convict, all in the name of defending the mobs’ values and maintaining a pretense of civil order.  Note that it is Pakistani Muslims who are recognizing that Islamic anti-blasphemy laws are empowering the worst people in their country.

“Law of the jungle” is an apt description.

Not all academics have gone mad, of course. Professor of Sociology Mahfooz Kanwar — a Muslim — warns that “[t]he blasphemy law is clearly a very blunt and effective tool used to destroy the lives of one’s enemies…” and that “[t]he entire Muslim world, not just Pakistan, is agitating for the United Nations to pass an anti blasphemy law. The rest of the civilized world must oppose this at every turn.”

Why isn’t this obvious to Posner, and everyone else tripping over themselves to abandon the First Amendment?  There can be no law but the law of the jungle under Posner’s standards.  Go ahead and “yield to other values” and you’ll see what kind of order that gets us.

This article originally appeared on the Unforeseen Contingencies blog.

Dr. Charles N. Steele is the Herman and Suzanne Dettwiler Chair in Economics and Associate Professor at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan. His research interests include economics of transition and institutional change, economics of uncertainty, and health economics.  He received his Ph.D. from New York University in 1997, and has subsequently taught economics at the graduate and undergraduate levels in China, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the United States.  He has also worked as a private consultant in insurance design and review.

Independence from ACTA Day – July 4, 2012 – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Independence from ACTA Day – July 4, 2012 – Video by G. Stolyarov II

July 4 now has a new meaning: it is the day European pro-liberty activists helped humankind declare independence from the powerful special interests that attempted to impose censorship, online surveillance, and draconian stifling of creativity via the misnamed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).

Following the rejection of ACTA in the European Union Parliament by a vote of 478 to 39, ACTA is effectively dead. A great threat to human civilization is averted.

Remember to LIKE, FAVORITE, and SHARE this video in order to spread rational discourse on this issue.

Support these video-creation efforts by donating at The Rational Argumentator: http://rationalargumentator.com/index.html

References:
– “ACTA: The War on Progress, Freedom, and Human Civilization” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II
– “Victory! ACTA Suffers Final, Humiliating Defeat in European Parliament” – Rick Falkvinge
– “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement” – Wikipedia

CISPA is the New SOPA – Article by Ron Paul

CISPA is the New SOPA – Article by Ron Paul

The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
April 24, 2012
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Earlier this year, strong public opposition led by several prominent websites forced Congressional leaders to cancel votes on two bills known in Washington as “SOPA” and “PIPA.”  Both of these bills threatened search engines and websites with possible shutdowns if the Justice Department deemed them insufficiently cooperative with our phony “war on terror,” or if they were merely accused of copyright infringement.  Fortunately the American public flooded Capitol Hill with phone calls and Congressional leaders dropped both bills.

But we should never underestimate the federal government’s insatiable desire to control the internet.  Statists of all parties, persuasions, and nationalities hate the free, unbridled flow of information, ideas, and goods via the internet.  They resent the notion that ordinary people can communicate and trade across the world without government filters or approvals.  So they continually seek to impose controls, always under the guise of fighting terrorism or protecting “intellectual property” rights.

The latest assault on internet freedom is called the “Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act,” or “CISPA,” which may be considered by Congress this week.  CISPA is essentially an internet monitoring bill that permits both the federal government and private companies to view your private online communications with no judicial oversight–provided, of course, that they do so in the name of “cybersecurity.”  The bill is very broadly written, and allows the Department of Homeland Security to obtain large swaths of personal information contained in your emails or other online communication.  It also allows emails and private information found online to be used for purposes far beyond any reasonable definition of fighting cyberterrorism.

CISPA represents an alarming form of corporatism, as it further intertwines government with companies like Google and Facebook.  It permits them to hand over your private communications to government officials without a warrant, circumventing well-established federal laws like the Wiretap Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.  It also grants them broad immunity from lawsuits for doing so, leaving you without recourse for invasions of privacy.  Simply put, CISPA encourages some of our most successful internet companies to act as government spies, sowing distrust of social media and chilling communication in one segment of the world economy where America still leads.

Proponents of CISPA may be well-intentioned, but they unquestionably are leading us toward a national security state rather than a free constitutional republic.  Imagine having government-approved employees embedded at Facebook, complete with federal security clearances, serving as conduits for secret information about their American customers.  If you believe in privacy and free markets, you should be deeply concerned about the proposed marriage of government intelligence gathering with private, profit-seeking companies.  CISPA is Big Brother writ large, putting the resources of private industry to work for the nefarious purpose of spying on the American people. We can only hope the public responds to CISPA as it did to SOPA back in January.  I urge you to learn more about the bill by reading a synopsis provided by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on their website at eff.org.  I also urge you to call your federal Senators and Representatives and urge them to oppose CISPA and similar bills that attack internet freedom.

Representative Ron Paul (R – TX), MD, is a Republican candidate for U. S. President. See his Congressional webpage and his official campaign website

This article has been released by Dr. Paul into the public domain and may be republished by anyone in any manner.