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The Future of Free Speech
September 13, 2004 11:29 PM   Subscribe

Cass Sunstein's The Future of Free Speech

"I seek to defend a particular conception of democracy — a deliberative conception — and to evaluate, in its terms, the outcome of a system with perfect power of filtering."
posted by Kwantsar (9 comments total)

That’s interesting but a bit too long for me to go into in any great depth right now. Did seem to rely on a fairly large inference and was possibly an argument for paternalist government, whether it realised it or not.
posted by ed\26h at 2:02 AM on September 14, 2004

> a deliberative conception

Grah. I parsed that a couple of times in a row as "a collaborative deception". I don't know if that's what I expected to see, or my eyes are trying to tell me something.
posted by SteelyDuran at 2:58 AM on September 14, 2004

If you're curious, you should pick up the whole book ( and read it. It was published in 2000. He makes some interesting points (particularly if you're a deliberative democracy theorist) that I'm sure he feels are borne out by the current state of blogs, wherein virtually no one reads the blogs of people they disagree with, which makes it awfully hard to actually deliberate about anything.

[As a side note, I'm disappointed by the quality of the Wikipedia entry on Deliberatiive Democracy... it seems both skimpy and in some places very wrong. Though, I suppose, in general, it gets it right.]

[If you have a lot of time on your hands, the canonical 'deliberative democracy and the internet' paper is Froomkin's Brilliant paper if you're into this sort of thing.]
posted by louie at 5:42 AM on September 14, 2004

By the way, Andrew Sullivan's Email of the Day I is a great description of exactly what Sunstein is talking about.
posted by louie at 5:54 AM on September 14, 2004

i'm annoyed ... i read and feel that he misunderstands something about people ... that if they don't want to know, or they don't want to listen, only an all out catastrophe can make them ... if the freepers wanted to read a site like dailykos or democratic underground, they would ... and visa versa ... forcing web site owners to display icons to remind people of their existence is absurd ...

you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink ... you can lead a fool to college but you can't make him think ... no matter how paternalistic you are

my view is monopolitical sites keep the children in the romper rooms while the adults talk things over

besides ... if he really wants to encourage diverse views, he should support trolling as an god given right ...

on preview ... it was an ms word document cleverly photoshopped to simulate the unevenness of a typewriter ... see ... 3rd party supporters and moderates can figure things like this out ...
posted by pyramid termite at 6:06 AM on September 14, 2004

What Sunstein wants is a bit opaque to anyone who hasn't experienced the University of Chicago Law School. The Law School in its current incarnation is, no small thanks to Sunstein, an almost perfectly equal balance of liberal and conservative, with each side paying careful attention to the other and frequently finding common ground.

While, of course, the environment is remarkably fruitful for conservative scholars and students -- who for once don't have to spend their time either in disguise or playing the thankless role of the cranky outnumbered dissenters -- there is a tremendous benefit for liberals, too. They get asked hard questions, have to endure skeptical audiences, have to try on market- and choice-based approaches to problems. Some end up far more conservative (like your humble servant), but others end up just as liberal but a lot more thoughtful.
posted by MattD at 6:45 AM on September 14, 2004

It's perfectly transparent to anyone who has done any reading in deliberative democracy. But yeah, your description of the UC Law School is... very appealing :)
posted by louie at 7:14 AM on September 14, 2004

i read and feel that he misunderstands something about people

I read it, and felt that he didn't get the web. For one thing, he titled his book with a URL he didn't own. Second the whole nature of community is that there's some sort of intentional planning to the thing, someone in charge to set and enforce rules. So Metafilter and Slashdot are communities, but "the Internet" isn't, it's more like a geographic location [in terms of its current level of law enforcement and ownership] so you couldn't force people to add a link to an opposing viewpoint any more than you could tell everyone in the world that lives on a river to keep out of it.

That said, I often try to represent the right-wing librarians on my left-wing librarian blog and I'm not sure it's at all worthwhile, though I continue to do it. The right wing librarians take me to task for misrepresenting them [even though I take some serious care to be pretty careful in the language I use to describe them] and the left wingers often ask "why do you even bother with those guys?"

While it's understandable how "the government" [that Sunstein refers to solving some of these problems] can regulate broadcasters because at some level the fact that they have a section of the spectrum to broadcast on is a gift from the government [in the US]. So you can mandate some stuff, like swear words on prime time, and the presence of public television, etc. This metaphor doesn't fit neatly on the Internet. It obviously doesn't. We may be in a reublic, but the whole world isn't. I know that sometimes in the US we like to feel that our laws are everyone's laws, but they're not. I don't mind someone being a bit utopian and saying "it would be great if there were a food machine that dispensed free food to everyone" but I do mind when someone takes an existing system and tries to ignore some of the fundamental design elements of the thing and then refit it to suit their own idea of how they should work.

Why won't my laptop make toast?

Why won't the Internet support my form of civil society?

I know it's tough when you think you've got a great idea and yet you lack the totalitarian regime to enforce it for you, but the thing that Sunstein find so compelling about the Internet also contains the reason why it will never be like he wants it to be.
posted by jessamyn at 7:44 AM on September 14, 2004

I read it, and felt that he didn't get the web. For one thing, he titled his book with a URL he didn't own.

I thought that may have been a reference to Plato.
posted by ed\26h at 7:55 AM on September 14, 2004

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