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So, for the record: sure, Phil Robertson has the right to say whatever he wants, including shockingly ignorant racist crap. I recognize that there's a market for that stuff.

But I'm not sure as hell not going to get upset when he loses a public forum because he says shockingly ignorant racist crap in public and the public objects to it. Quite the contrary.

The number of people who, by contrast, feel the need to defend Robertson is dismaying.

And, yes, I get that it's a tribal thing... U.S. liberals are loud about opposing shockingly ignorant racist crap, so U.S. conservatives get loud about defending people's right to spew shockingly ignorant racist crap, because showing opposition to liberals is more important in that community than showing opposition to racism.

But it's still dismaying.

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( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
ckd
Dec. 22nd, 2013 06:08 pm (UTC)
And, of course, some of the same people saying that he's being persecuted for his speech were right up front saying that Martin Bashir should lose his job, or calling the Dixie Chicks traitors for opposing the Iraq war.
rmd
Dec. 22nd, 2013 06:35 pm (UTC)
Best noted, imao, by America's Best Christian, Mrs Betty Bowers:
tweet text: @SarahPalinUSA I need your help in locating your tweet supporting Martin Bashir's right to free speech. TIA! #DuckDynasty
drwex
Dec. 23rd, 2013 03:17 pm (UTC)
So
I've always taken the First Amendment to say "you have a right to be wrong, in public". I don't think calling for people to be fired because they're loudly wrong in public is a good idea.

Then again, one of the worst knock-down, drag-out fights I ever got into with my dad was because I supported the ACLU defending the American Nazis in Skokie.
dpolicar
Dec. 23rd, 2013 03:39 pm (UTC)
Re: So
We absolutely have the right to be wrong in public. Not just wrong, but downright hateful.

Whether we get paid a regular salary for doing so is a whole different matter. Most of us don't... not even Nazis in Skokie. I'm OK with that.
drwex
Dec. 23rd, 2013 03:49 pm (UTC)
Re: So
Yeah, I am just uncomfortable with saying someone can't be paid while holding awful opinions. I wouldn't employ such a someone. And I'd like it if companies I patronized didn't pay to support such a person - I'm thinking of advertisers on Rush Limbaugh's show.

But I'm worried that we risk narrowing the spectrum of discourse in dangerous ways. I similarly object to people who exert pressure on, say, doctors who advocate abortion as birth-control option. Even if that doctor is on some form of semi-public media like a cable show.

dpolicar
Dec. 23rd, 2013 03:59 pm (UTC)
Re: So
I'm... confused.

You'd prefer that companies you patronize not pay to advertise on Rush Limbaugh's show.

But if it turned out that nobody wanted to advertise on Rush Limbaugh's show, such that he lost that job, that would be problematic?

I don't see how that's sustainable. If I want Limbaugh to stay on the air, I ought to be willing to pay to keep him there. If nobody is willing to pay enough to keep him there, why should he stay on the air?
drwex
Dec. 23rd, 2013 04:11 pm (UTC)
Re: So
Not exactly.

There are a bunch of actors in the drama, so let me list them.

A, an asshole. A has unpopular opinions and spouts them off in potentially offensive ways.
E, an employer. E pays A's salary.
Ad, a company that has a relationship with E. Part of that relationship may be placing ads on A's shows as part of paying for them.
Me, a person who objects to A's stated views. Me may buy Ad's products.
Ad2, another company like Ad except Me doesn't buy from them.

If Me says "E, you should fire A" then Me is saying "Due to your unpopular views you should become unemployed." That troubles me.

If Me says, "Ad, due to your support of A's show on E I am not going to buy your products any longer" then that's an indirection. E could replace Ad with Ad2, or E and Ad could change their agreement so that Ad no longer sponsor's A's show. Whether E finds it acceptable or profitable to continue having A do a show in this situation is another matter.

If Me is a devout Catholic person, A is a doctor who advocates abortion, and E is a hospital I likewise object to Me saying "E, you should fire doctor A because of her views." If Me instead says, "I refuse to patronize E because E employs A" well that's Me's choice. Perhaps Me will convince others to do the same.

At base, I'm trying to work through the principle that "the solution to bad speech is more speech, not suppressing the bad speech."
dpolicar
Dec. 23rd, 2013 04:43 pm (UTC)
Re: So
If Me stops buying Ad's products, and Ad in response stops advertising on A's show, that creates pressure on E to fire A.

If Me complains to E, that creates pressure on E to fire A.

But on your view, the second example is more problematic because it's direct pressure. By contrast, the first example is indirect pressure.

And the reason the difference matters is that Ad2 exists, so E has options other than firing A. Ultimately maybe E fires A, maybe not, but that's up to E and has nothing to do with Me, really.

Have I understood your view?
drwex
Dec. 23rd, 2013 05:48 pm (UTC)
Re: So
I think that's right, as a specific, but there are two other related factors that are more generally guiding what I'm trying to think (out loud) here.

The first is first-order versus second-order. I think first-order understanding of speech effects is important and necessary and second-order is impossible because it's multivariate. For example, if I comment in your LJ I consider the first order effect of your response to my comment. However, there are dozens of people who come through and may read this comment and have their own responses, not least of which would be "why are you wasting his time with such stupid drivel?"

I can't control for that, nor do I take it majorly into account. People in general will have a variety of responses and I can't anticipate them all or if I try I descend into analysis paralysis.

Second is the directionality or targeting of speech. If I get up in someone's face and yell "fuck you!" then that's a directed speech act with a fairly foreseeable set of consequences. If I get frustrated and shout "fuck you all" at a group of people the impact on any individual is muted compared to the first example, and empirically we see that people respond differently in the second case to the former.

I have no idea if this is making things any clearer...
dpolicar
Dec. 23rd, 2013 09:41 pm (UTC)
Re: So
Well, I don't know about clearer exactly, but it's painting a more complete picture.

For my own part:
- I certainly agree that if I legitimately don't have a clue whether an act will make the world better or worse along a certain axis (e.g. second-order effects of speech in your example), then it's best not to even try to take that axis into account when deciding whether or not to perform that act. But to say that a direct action is worse than an indirect one because it's more predictable seems like a mistake. Taking actions whose effects I can more reliably predict is preferable to taking only actions whose effects I cannot predict.

- I agree that second-order effects of speech are typically less predictable than first-order. (There are exceptions, though. For example, there was a time when I could be pretty sure that a post like this one would lead to an argument among the members of my friends list.)

- I agree that saying someone can't be paid while holding awful opinions is problematic. As is saying that someone must be paid despite their awful opinions.

- I agree that a message directed to a crowd is more diffuse and typically has lower impact-per-person than a message directed to an individual. (It might have higher impact on group behavior, or it might not, depending on specifics.)

- If Sam's Coffee Shop puts up signs espousing opinions that disgust me, it is not in the least problematic for me to say to Sam "Your signs disgust me, and I will not purchase your services while you continue displaying them." If Sam instead hires an entertainer who espouses those opinions, it's equally nonproblematic for me to say the equivalent thing to Sam.

- In both of the above cases, this is more direct and more targeted and more first-order than telling some third party that the signs disgust me, and will likely have a stronger effect. That doesn't necessarily make it worse.

Edited at 2013-12-23 09:43 pm (UTC)
eirias
Dec. 23rd, 2013 11:08 pm (UTC)
"What can you say in public and keep your job" is a popular topic these days. See also here.

In a relationship between two equals, it's clear to me that if party A says something obnoxious, party B needs to be able to visit consequences on that. If over Sunday dinner you hurl vulgar insults at my mother, I am under no obligation to invite you over again the next week. But once large power differentials come into play I start feeling more conflicted. I feel like maybe there is some loose analogy to privacy and transparency: I want privacy facing "up" the hierarchy and transparency facing "down." This isn't hypocrisy, it's acknowledgement of another variable. I have to think more about what that would mean here, though. Certainly historically racists and homophobes have not been underdogs (far from it). But employers/employees generally? I dunno. I feel there is something interestingly messy here.

I should mention I have no great love for people who say racist and homophobic things. I would just prefer for that consideration not to be driving my opinion about which speech should be protected, from what consequences, under what circumstances.
dpolicar
Dec. 23rd, 2013 11:15 pm (UTC)
Agreed that power differentials matter.

Losing your job because you say nasty things about the CEO of your broadcasting company, for example, is different from losing your job because you say nasty things about a minority demographic group.

In particular, it's both more problematic, and vastly more common.

eirias
Dec. 24th, 2013 12:55 am (UTC)
Interesting! So you are thinking about the power dynamic between three actors, then, where I'd only been considering two. Suppose I work for a large multinational and I make a public statement maligning men, a dominant group if there ever was one. Should my boss be able to fire me for that?
dpolicar
Dec. 24th, 2013 01:30 am (UTC)
If your employee pisses off a significant portion of all men in the world and your business suffers accordingly, I'd say you should be free to fire them, just like you should be free to fire anyone else who causes your business to suffer.

That said, if we want to establish some protections around certain classes of employee such that you have to keep employing them despite that causing your business to suffer, we can do that, and if you are part of that protected class, then no, your boss can't fire you.
eirias
Dec. 24th, 2013 03:07 am (UTC)
Many would argue (certainly the AAUP would) that professors are and should be such a protected class. I'm not sure. The professors I have known have not been, as a class, more deserving of a safe platform from which to opine than have other people I've known. Nor has it been clear to me that they used this freedom in any way that meaningfully affected their teaching. In fact I would argue that the entire process of professor creation is geared toward weeding out people who are likely to say troublesome things. I have wondered whether tenure in this way actually reduces the diversity of opinion we might otherwise hear.
dpolicar
Dec. 24th, 2013 03:23 am (UTC)
I'm not sure, myself.
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