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John Durham Peters: Courting the Abyss: Free Speech and the Liberal Tradition A humble presentation by Brent Roberts, COMT530 April 2007.

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Presentation on theme: "John Durham Peters: Courting the Abyss: Free Speech and the Liberal Tradition A humble presentation by Brent Roberts, COMT530 April 2007."— Presentation transcript:

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2 John Durham Peters: Courting the Abyss: Free Speech and the Liberal Tradition A humble presentation by Brent Roberts, COMT530 April 2007

3 Free Speech and “the Abyss” What is “free speech”? What is “free speech”? What is “the Abyss”? What is “the Abyss”? How do these ideas come together? How do these ideas come together?

4 Public Communication “In the heart of every democrat since beats the pulse of Athens envy, and a desire to put on a toga and speak swelling oratory. The early modern era adds a new item of apparel and medium of communication to the mix: friends of democracy like to fancy themselves donning powdered wigs and taking quill in hand to compose declarations and encyclopedias that will set tyrants trembling.” “In the heart of every democrat since beats the pulse of Athens envy, and a desire to put on a toga and speak swelling oratory. The early modern era adds a new item of apparel and medium of communication to the mix: friends of democracy like to fancy themselves donning powdered wigs and taking quill in hand to compose declarations and encyclopedias that will set tyrants trembling.”

5 What is a “liberal”? “insistence on religious and other forms of ideological diversity” “insistence on religious and other forms of ideological diversity” “rejection of conscious design as the ultimate source of social order” “rejection of conscious design as the ultimate source of social order” Respect for due process Respect for due process Respect for “equal protection against the tyranny of the majority” Respect for “equal protection against the tyranny of the majority” “appreciation for eccentric behavior” “appreciation for eccentric behavior”

6 What is a “liberal”? Moderns/liberals Moderns/liberals –Committed 100% to free speech Fundamentalists Fundamentalists –Low threshold for disgust –Sickened and offended –Sensitive to violence and insult

7 Liberals Why do they do it? Why do they do it? –If it doesn’t kill us, it makes us stronger –“Showing off” –Civic righteousness

8 Liberals “Liberal citizens are supposed to run the gauntlet of what disgusts them and to find a little poison gas in the air a good immunization against bigger woes. Citizens grow in wisdom by passing through folly, and dalliance with demons adds up to the greater education of all.”

9 Where is JDP on Free Speech? “Defending the speech we hate does not mean we need to learn to love it or think it is really good stuff. Refusing to make laws prohibiting speech and expression does not mean that speech and expression are necessarily free of ill effects. One can oppose censorship while maintaining a capacity for judgments about the value and quality of cultural forms.”

10 The free speech story Heroes Heroes –Big names: Milton, Mill, Locke, Thomas Jefferson –Today: Journalists, Librarians and ACLU “Librarians are perhaps the most passionate believers in the free speech story in the United States, with the ACLU.”

11 “Marketplace of Ideas” What is it? What is it? –“motor of democratic life” –“nasty talk will call forth countervailing words of equal force and greater wisdom”

12 Marketplace of Ideas-Origins Milton, Areopagitica (1644) Milton, Areopagitica (1644) “Let her [Truth] and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter.”

13 JDP on the Marketplace “worst of the intellectual frameworks commonly foisted on the essay” “worst of the intellectual frameworks commonly foisted on the essay” That “writing and reading should take place in an unrestricted, open-ended, and voluntary space, fair enough.” That “writing and reading should take place in an unrestricted, open-ended, and voluntary space, fair enough.” BUT…… BUT……

14 Homeopathic Machismo and Free Speech Theory Define homeopathy Define homeopathy Define machismo Define machismo Define homeopathic machismo Define homeopathic machismo “The notion that a tincture of poison will lift us to heights of tolerance and civic- mindedness.”

15 Emergence of the “marketplace of ideas” 20 th Century 20 th Century “The real grip on the public and legal imagination is held by the idea that we are righteous in proportion to our refusal to judge.”

16 Libraries (again!) “People whose livings and lives depend on the propagation of information and opinion in speech and text naturally believe theirs to be holy work.”

17 Oliver Wendell Holmes (1841-1935) Fought in the Civil War Fought in the Civil War Supreme Judicial Court of MA Supreme Judicial Court of MA Supreme Court justice, 1902-1932 Supreme Court justice, 1902-1932 “Great dissenter” “Great dissenter” Abrams (1919): “free trade in ideas” Abrams (1919): “free trade in ideas”

18 Holmes “most famous exponent of the idea that the first amendment’s purpose is to teach us to appreciate ideas that we hate” “most famous exponent of the idea that the first amendment’s purpose is to teach us to appreciate ideas that we hate” “consistent defense of the right of all parties to compete” “consistent defense of the right of all parties to compete” “not free thought for those who agree with us, but freedom for the thought of those we hate” “not free thought for those who agree with us, but freedom for the thought of those we hate”

19 Judge’s “two bodies” Personal opinions Personal opinions Judicial opinions Judicial opinions

20 Holmes “He wanted a strong first amendment not because he thought more speech was the cure for bad speech, but because he wanted to leave the evolutionary battlegrounds uncluttered—like a Roman official making sure the gladiators all have water and bread before they head into combat.” “He wanted a strong first amendment not because he thought more speech was the cure for bad speech, but because he wanted to leave the evolutionary battlegrounds uncluttered—like a Roman official making sure the gladiators all have water and bread before they head into combat.”

21 Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) Supreme Court 1916-1939 Supreme Court 1916-1939 Seen as radical Seen as radical –Fought monopolies –Fought to protect industrial laborers (especially women) –Defended individual human rights –“Brandeis brief”

22 Brandeis Active discussion: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” Active discussion: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” Noxious doctrine Noxious doctrine “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

23 Skokie Case “The peculiar righteous indignation of insisting on the other’s right to free speech, even at the risk of one’s own life, points to an emerging professional, self- sacrificial culture”

24 Landmark free speech cases Times v. Sullivan Times v. Sullivan Cohen v. California Cohen v. California Pacifica Pacifica Hustler v. Falwell Hustler v. Falwell RAV v. St. Paul RAV v. St. Paul

25 Critical Race Theory What is it? What is it? “call for a tender recognition of particular cultural traits and pains” “call for a tender recognition of particular cultural traits and pains” Self-esteem and care Self-esteem and care “absolutist first amendment response to hate speech has the effect of perpetuating racism” (Mari Matsuda) “absolutist first amendment response to hate speech has the effect of perpetuating racism” (Mari Matsuda) “rich and the educated consistently support free expression rights most vigorously…libertarian faith is a philosophy of the privileged” “rich and the educated consistently support free expression rights most vigorously…libertarian faith is a philosophy of the privileged”

26 JDP’s position “We need not be moral and intellectual Gumbies while we wait for the returns to come in on the gore and vomit that some of our liberal colleagues want to suspend judgment on. Life is too short to think we can postpone some decisions forever. Impersonality is, as Paul knew, a good norm to live by, but it does not mean that we stop fighting for decency in the meanwhile.”

27 “Watch, Therefore”: Suffering and the Informed Citizen Milton and Mill Milton and Mill Today Today Two questions: Two questions: 1. “What is our responsibility to distant and local suffering?” 2. “When, if ever, is it just to shut our eyes to the misery of the world?”

28 3 ways to look at suffering I. Catharsis II. Compassion III. Courage

29 Responses to pain and suffering Psychological relief Psychological relief Intellectual illumination Intellectual illumination Aroused to sympathy, called to action Aroused to sympathy, called to action “Shut our eyes” “Shut our eyes”

30 Samantha Power “Distance is no excuse for ignorance” “Distance is no excuse for ignorance” “Too much faith in human decency and due process keeps us unprepared to cope with the brutal realities of genocide” “Too much faith in human decency and due process keeps us unprepared to cope with the brutal realities of genocide” “People who could know, but do not bother, are implicated to some degree in the crime they could have helped prevent” “People who could know, but do not bother, are implicated to some degree in the crime they could have helped prevent”

31 Pity “Pity is the totalitarianism of the righteous” “Pity is the totalitarianism of the righteous” “Distance furnishes clarity and catharsis” “Distance furnishes clarity and catharsis” Pride and deception Pride and deception “Pity is a persuasive technique rather than an ethical virtue” “Pity is a persuasive technique rather than an ethical virtue”

32 News Thoreau Thoreau “We have to pay attention because the present is different from what was and what will be” “We have to pay attention because the present is different from what was and what will be” “The past is solid, the future is gas, but the present is liquid” “The past is solid, the future is gas, but the present is liquid” “Possible futures (and pasts) come into being or vanish with every event” “Possible futures (and pasts) come into being or vanish with every event”

33 News “The now will never leave us in peace. Whether we pay attention to the news or ignore it, we will regret it either way.”

34 Conclusion: Augustine “Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special regard to those who, by the accidents of time or place or circumstance, are brought into closer connection with you.”

35 Social Science Evidence Evidence Self-denial, detachment, self-restraint Self-denial, detachment, self-restraint Removes personal bias Removes personal bias “Skepticism toward any and all firm beliefs” “Skepticism toward any and all firm beliefs”

36 Social Science: “chaste discourse” “colorless style of social scientific writing” “colorless style of social scientific writing” Detached inquiry Detached inquiry Franklin Franklin “Time, not contention, is the measure of truth; participants must restrain themselves and their passions in the quest for truth; discourse must be mellow, irenic, and civil.” “Time, not contention, is the measure of truth; participants must restrain themselves and their passions in the quest for truth; discourse must be mellow, irenic, and civil.”

37 Democracy Statistical analysis=“lingua franca of the social sciences” Statistical analysis=“lingua franca of the social sciences” Data! Data! Democracy is quantitative Democracy is quantitative Reducing many voices to a single data summary Reducing many voices to a single data summary “Numbers are democracy’s ideal language: suited for gods, machines, and collectives” “Numbers are democracy’s ideal language: suited for gods, machines, and collectives”

38 Objectivity & Self-Mortification Philip Marlowe, George Smiley, John Wayne, Sherlock Holmes Philip Marlowe, George Smiley, John Wayne, Sherlock Holmes Doctors Doctors Journalists Journalists Enlightenment/spirituality Enlightenment/spirituality

39 Statistics “God’s-eye vide of a spectator of the drama of world history” “God’s-eye vide of a spectator of the drama of world history” “In our private choices we unwittingly promote something else” “In our private choices we unwittingly promote something else”

40 Statistics “Few people recognize the autonomy of events from their own willings and doings” “Few people recognize the autonomy of events from their own willings and doings” Ignore individual fates Ignore individual fates Removes possessiveness, ego, sentimentalism Removes possessiveness, ego, sentimentalism “meaningfulness lies only in the aggregate” “meaningfulness lies only in the aggregate”

41 Statistics “Life experiences are, in a sense, artifacts of insufficient sampling” “Life experiences are, in a sense, artifacts of insufficient sampling” “illusions of selfhood” “illusions of selfhood” “statistical discipline teaches us to place the other before the self” “statistical discipline teaches us to place the other before the self”

42 Stories v. Statistics Stories Stories –Fudge details –Compress characters and events –Teach the ethic of caring Statistics Statistics –Tell it all –Give us the grand pattern(s) –Teach the ethic of not caring


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