No, I Will Not Debate You
September 19, 2018 5:17 AM   Subscribe

In a new longform piece, Laurie Penny explains why debate is not going to save us from fascism, that arguments defending bad faith debate are disingenuous, and why she won't debate those operating in bad faith. (SLLongreads)

Laurie Penny previously.
posted by NoxAeternum (89 comments total) 108 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thank you for introducing me to Penny
posted by growabrain at 5:45 AM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


IANAD, but sunlight isn't the best disinfectant right?

We use chemicals and poisons that really aren't concerned with the germs fighting back, because we're not in it for a fair fight, we're in it to win, because the alternatives are unacceptable.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 5:53 AM on September 19, 2018 [18 favorites]


i mean technically fire would be a much better disinfectant
posted by poffin boffin at 5:57 AM on September 19, 2018 [69 favorites]


She still friends with Milo?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:57 AM on September 19, 2018 [5 favorites]


She still friends with Milo?

Given that she says, in that piece, “Since that day, there is absolutely nothing I have been able to say to Milo to persuade him that we are not friends.”, I’m gonna go with “No.”
posted by Etrigan at 6:05 AM on September 19, 2018 [66 favorites]


From the newly-linked article: We met four years ago when he was just another floppy-haired rightwing pundit and we were guests on a panel show. Afterwards, we got hammered and ran around the BBC talking about boys.

Since that day, there is absolutely nothing I have been able to say to Milo to persuade him that we are not friends.

posted by kimberussell at 6:06 AM on September 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


She still friends with Milo?

No, she isn't
posted by Merus at 6:06 AM on September 19, 2018 [22 favorites]


I think of the "free speech absolutism" vs "nazis" as something where the concept of "fighting words" or "imminent lawlessness" comes into play. If you are pushing a philosophy that is literally threatening my life and existence (not just "you can't do all the things you'd like" but "you should be rounded up and killed"), well, fuck those guys.

"Ideological diversity" seems to be a new buzzword for the free speech absolutists. But somehow the ideological diversity is never "and let's talk about socialist philosophies" or "well, I think we should have a flat tax" but instead is "have we considered that [racial group] aren't really people? JUST ASKING QUESTIONS HERE"
posted by rmd1023 at 6:10 AM on September 19, 2018 [33 favorites]


Remember kids it's never wrong to slap a Nazi.
posted by adamvasco at 6:13 AM on September 19, 2018 [16 favorites]


I need to create a macro that pastes a link to that article. It'll save me time when replying to people who claim, "the answer to bad speech is more speech." That's a pithy statement that ignores that bad speech plus more speech equals a cacophony. It assumes that "bad speech" will be self-evident, or revealed as bad by the sunlight of others' brilliant speech. It won't, and it won't. We have bad actors who've stripped away our societal guardrails and then sent us careening down the mountainside.
posted by sgranade at 6:14 AM on September 19, 2018 [20 favorites]


punching a nazi, like punching a terf, makes you the righteous among nations
posted by poffin boffin at 6:19 AM on September 19, 2018 [40 favorites]


Obligatory:
"Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past. It is not that they are afraid of being convinced. They fear only to appear ridiculous or to prejudice by their embarrassment their hope of winning over some third person to their side." -- J.P. Sartre, "Anti-Semite and Jew" (1946)
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 6:24 AM on September 19, 2018 [97 favorites]


Us: An argument is a series of statements intended to establish a conclusion. The goal is a conclusion.

Them: An argument is an attention seeking device that creates a false equivalency between two parties. The goal is to have an argument with someone respectable.
posted by Horkus at 6:34 AM on September 19, 2018 [87 favorites]


Reminds me of Neville Chamberlin.
posted by ZeusHumms at 6:37 AM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


The central pillar of liberalism is three-tiered: people are capable of (1) examining all the ideas being presented in the marketplace, (2) spotting and discarding the self-evidently bad ones, and (3) choosing the 'best' ones, i.e. those that best defend themselves. The last three years have caused me to wonder whether any of these is true any longer. The marketplace is awash with unconscionable ideas, presented with a straight face and signal boosted for a couple of dollars worth of Facebook advertising. Critical thinking is no longer valued in public spheres. People who debate in good faith are drowned out by a sea of bots echoing the same genocidal counter-arguments, presented as though they have equal validity when considered on pure merits. Arguing with someone in a public forum is likely to get you piled-onto or doxxed, so anyone paying attention has stopped engaging in good faith.

I'm not sure what the alternative to liberalism in modern political economy is, but I have a feeling we're about to find out whether it's socialism or fascism. Good luck, y'all.
posted by Mayor West at 6:38 AM on September 19, 2018 [16 favorites]


Us: An argument is a series of statements intended to establish a conclusion. The goal is a conclusion.

Mr. Vibrating: No it isn't.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:45 AM on September 19, 2018 [14 favorites]


Faint of Butt: Yes it is!
posted by SansPoint at 6:47 AM on September 19, 2018 [9 favorites]


"Most Yumenescenes prefer polite abstraction over vulgar actuality."
posted by avalonian at 6:47 AM on September 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


The far right does not respect the free and liberal exchange of ideas. It is not open to compromise, and it does not want a debate. It wants power.

sgranade, you may want to use this quote as the link text in your macro.
posted by seyirci at 6:49 AM on September 19, 2018 [19 favorites]


No, I am not still beating my wife.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:54 AM on September 19, 2018


How could anyone read that 2016 Guardian piece and think she is FRIENDS with Milo? The entire piece mocks him as an idiot and dangerous even though he is as hollow as a drum. I also enjoy this article where she gets on his bus of Lost Boys. Laurie Penny and ContraPoints (Natalie Parrott) give me hope that we can stomp these fucking fascists out.

There's something about Laurie's writing that cuts through the bullshit in as little space needed as possible. It is also funny, and sad, and makes you not want to take any shit from people who argue that "it" is all the brown people's fault. "It" being literally any problem they think is real or imagined.

Anyway, ContraPoints is quite good at highlighting why these people are not arguing in good faith and to attempt to do so back at them is pointless. They have no real ideas and no beliefs.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 7:21 AM on September 19, 2018 [16 favorites]


> Mayor West:
"The central pillar of liberalism is three-tiered: people are capable of (1) examining all the ideas being presented in the marketplace, (2) spotting and discarding the self-evidently bad ones, and (3) choosing the 'best' ones, i.e. those that best defend themselves. The last three years have caused me to wonder whether any of these is true any longer."

Any "longer"? You really think this was true at any point in history? In my reading, the powerful have always been able to impose their agenda, their discourse and ideas on those less powerful especially those who don't share their wealth, class, gender and race.
posted by signal at 7:23 AM on September 19, 2018 [13 favorites]


I don't debate libertarians for precisely this reason. A movement (it's not a philosophy) which has as its primary argument tactic the abuse of language is not one fit for polite discussion.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:24 AM on September 19, 2018 [10 favorites]


It's not immediately clear, but it seems she's specifically referring to public oral debates rather than those conducted via written correspondences. That's fine, but it means the claim is a bit more narrow than it seems at first. I agree with that narrow point, but it's not entirely clear to me how she feels about non-oral debates.

I believe that the potential value of a public debate is almost never derived from an opportunity to convince the other party. It's the ability to sway third parties. And though she's correct that theater may gain more attention than debate, (1) that doesn't mean that they are worthless, and (2) she doesn't really present an alternative. Not showing up means that you lose the performance, too.
posted by Edgewise at 7:31 AM on September 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


How could anyone read that 2016 Guardian piece and think she is FRIENDS with Milo?

Because women cannot even make the appearance of a mistake (which I think that bus article was, but I was irritated for a minute instead of a lifetime) once ever or they must be burned to the ground within four comments on everything they ever do again.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:31 AM on September 19, 2018 [49 favorites]


IMHO LP is more or less correct about this. By "debating" the fascists you can only help them, never hurt them no matter what they do or say. Because their propaganda of deed is their projection of power and strength, and any time you give them a platform to engage in the performative belligerence and bullying they always engage in, you are allowing them to propagandize on their terms. And simultaneously you help open the Overton Window to the right. Shunning them works possibly better. Confronting and renouncing them even more so. I can think of some exceptions to this, but generally speaking this seems the wiser strategy to follow.
As an aside. It looks like the far right of all stripes has internalized the modus disputationis of the creationists, who by getting serious scientists to debate them have managed to increase the influence of their position in public dialogue, at least in the U S. This quote from S. J. Gould works perfectly well if one replaces "creationists" with "fascists":
Debate is an art form. It is about the winning of arguments. It is not about the discovery of truth. There are certain rules and procedures to debate that really have nothing to do with establishing fact—which creationists have mastered. Some of those rules are: never say anything positive about your own position because it can be attacked, but chip away at what appear to be the weaknesses in your opponent's position. They are good at that. I don't think I could beat the creationists at debate. I can tie them.
posted by talos at 7:33 AM on September 19, 2018 [33 favorites]


IMHO LP is more or less correct about this. By "debating" the fascists you can only help them, never hurt them no matter what they do or say.

You can hurt (well, trigger) them. You just have to stop playing so gosh darn nice, and have an ounce of empathy.
posted by Leon at 7:34 AM on September 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


I read that bus article like I'd read investigative reporting on how young men were recruited into ISIS. Maybe it was a mistake, I don't believe that I have the judgement/wisdom so I'll defer. I gained knowledge from it.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 7:34 AM on September 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


I believe that the potential value of a public debate is almost never derived from an opportunity to convince the other party. It's the ability to sway third parties.

With a huge downside: debating with extremists lends credibility to extremism, which she does discuss. Fascists and bigots want public debates because they're exposing more people to their ideology, and there's a very good chance some of the public are open to that ideology.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:36 AM on September 19, 2018 [14 favorites]


Leon: yes, that's what I mean by "confronting" them. And I mean high ranking fascists, not neighbours and such.
posted by talos at 7:36 AM on September 19, 2018


As a librarian I work with a lot of free speech absolutists, some of whom are reconsidering their positions as the evidence mounts that free speech absolutism is increasingly being very effectively weaponized in an attempt to destroy many of the things they hold dearest. Boy, does this quote ever seem quaint these days.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:42 AM on September 19, 2018 [16 favorites]


Dear Sir Oswald,

Thank you for your letter and for your enclosures. I have given some thought to our recent correspondence. It is always difficult to decide on how to respond to people whose ethos is so alien and, in fact, repellent to one’s own. It is not that I take exception to the general points made by you but that every ounce of my energy has been devoted to an active opposition to cruel bigotry, compulsive violence, and the sadistic persecution which has characterised the philosophy and practice of fascism.

I feel obliged to say that the emotional universes we inhabit are so distinct, and in deepest ways opposed, that nothing fruitful or sincere could ever emerge from association between us.

I should like you to understand the intensity of this conviction on my part. It is not out of any attempt to be rude that I say this but because of all that I value in human experience and human achievement.

Yours sincerely,

Bertrand Russell
posted by theodolite at 7:44 AM on September 19, 2018 [111 favorites]


I am reminded of perennial presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche, whom many called a fascist; he served prison time and has not been much of a force in today's alt-right as far as I can tell. Was he just a sui generis personality cult, or can we learn anything from how his influence was minimlized?
posted by zaixfeep at 7:55 AM on September 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


The part of her essay that really resonated with me is contrasting reasoned intelligent speech with the theatrical spectacle of outrage. They are not the same kinds of acts. There is no reason to give a stage to fascists actors, acting in bad faith.
Remember the U.S. presidential debates of 2016? Remember how the entire liberal establishment thought Hillary Clinton had won, mainly because she made actual points, rather than shambling around the stage shouting about Muslims? What’s the one line from those debates that everyone remembers now? It’s “Nasty Woman.” What’s the visual? It’s Trump literally skulking around Hillary, dominating her with his body. It’s theatre. And right now the bad actors are winning.
posted by Nelson at 7:59 AM on September 19, 2018 [16 favorites]


With a huge downside: debating with extremists lends credibility to extremism, which she does discuss. Fascists and bigots want public debates because they're exposing more people to their ideology, and there's a very good chance some of the public are open to that ideology.

Which is why this topic, I think, is inexorably linked to deplatforming. This isn't about not showing up to debates - it's about not inviting fascists into mass media; not injecting their ideas into millions of people's homes via their TV, radio, or internet.
posted by entropone at 8:08 AM on September 19, 2018 [8 favorites]


I got deleted last time I tried to post this, but I'm going to try again because I think it's important:

The online spaces that don't have moderation are already lost. You've already lost them to people who don't play by your rules. The best you can do is deny the use of them to your enemy. Sow the ground with salt, at minimal effort to yourselves: figure out what abuse will actually sting, lob it over the fence and walk away. Don't engage, don't debate, just make those spaces a wasteland of invective, because you've already lost them.

If you can't figure out what stings, I'm afraid you're on your own.
posted by Leon at 8:09 AM on September 19, 2018 [13 favorites]


And though she's correct that theater may gain more attention than debate, (1) that doesn't mean that they are worthless, and (2) she doesn't really present an alternative. Not showing up means that you lose the performance, too.

No, not showing up means you don't legitimize them. She's not obligated to present an alternative (and demanding one is a classic deflection tactic), and besides, there isn't one, because the problem is that giving them a platform legitimizes them.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:13 AM on September 19, 2018 [22 favorites]


> The best you can do is deny the use of them to your enemy. Sow the ground with salt, at minimal effort to yourselves: figure out what abuse will actually sting, lob it over the fence and walk away. Don't engage, don't debate, just make those spaces a wasteland of invective, because you've already lost them.

it's silly for people to waste their valuable time trying to jam up or troll low-value communications platforms. Like, seriously, that's the definition of childish and immature.

Instead of wasting your time posting abuse to unmoderated platforms in order to childishly, immaturely "salt the earth" under your opponents' forums, instead you should do adult, responsible, reasonable things. For example, you could write and deploy scripts to automatically shitpost those forums to death, achieving the same effect but using a minimal amount of valuable human thought and time.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 8:15 AM on September 19, 2018 [43 favorites]


no i still want to use fire
posted by poffin boffin at 8:16 AM on September 19, 2018 [42 favorites]


No, not showing up means you don't legitimize them.

Not trying to derail here, but in the back of my head this also kind of explains why my congressman hasn't had a physical town hall meeting in over a decade. He's already accepted this tactic.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:17 AM on September 19, 2018 [12 favorites]


I am reminded of perennial presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche, whom many called a fascist; he served prison time and has not been much of a force in today's alt-right as far as I can tell. Was he just a sui generis personality cult, or can we learn anything from how his influence was minimlized?

As much as LaRouche may resemble latter-day extremists--bad-faith arguments, strange bedfellows, even standing candidates for office in mainstream parties--I don't think that the comparison holds up to scrutiny. The core group of LaRouchies may have been as few as 500, with occasional bumps in de facto membership thanks to deceivingly-named groups such as the National Caucus of Labor Committees, the National Democratic Policy Committee, and the Fusion Energy Foundation, all of which were ultimately exposed as LaRouchie fronts that helped funnel money to him. LaRouche himself was eventually imprisoned for credit card fraud, and the closest that he ever got to real power was getting a couple of his followers nominated for secretary of state and lieutenant governor on the Democratic ticket in Illinois, mostly thanks to the staggering incompetence of Adlai Stevenson III. He mostly had the woo-woo conspiracy nut/lunatic fringe constituency to himself before Alex Jones et al. came along.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:23 AM on September 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


Before reading this, my go to article for similar thoughts was Greta Christina's "Having a Reasonable Debate About Abortion". While I'm still a fan of her article, this one just replaced it as my new fave on the topic.

JoeZydeco Not trying to derail here, but in the back of my head this also kind of explains why my congressman hasn't had a physical town hall meeting in over a decade. He's already accepted this tactic.

And I'm fine with that as long as we bring it up. Because by not showing up at town halls he is declaring that you, the voters, are not legitimate and he chooses not to legitimizes you by being at a town hall with you.

That is both his right and his duty. We must all decide which people we choose to see as having legitimate ideas worth of discussion, and which people we choose to see as people so far gone into ideas we find utterly loathsome that we will not speak to them for fear of adding unwarranted legitimacy to those ideas.

I happen to think that debating Nazis, Klansmen, and Creationists falls into the category of "wrongly giving false legitimacy to inherently illegitimate ideas". Your congressman clearly thinks that speaking to you and your fellow voters falls into that same category, and views you and your fellow voters in a manner similar to the way I view Nazis and Klansmen. And, again, that's entirely within his rights.

But it's also entirely within your rights to shout loudly from the rooftops that Representative X thinks meeting with his constituents is giving those constituents improper legitimacy.
posted by sotonohito at 8:32 AM on September 19, 2018 [7 favorites]


I love that it took fewer than five comments to bring into question the female author's social life. I love it because elsewhere it's usually three so hey, Metafilter has that going for it.

But Penny is absolutely right that there is no point in debating fascists. The request for debate is a rhetorical pungi pit and it's not even hidden well. There are conservatives who I can respectfully disagree with, but disavowing facistis in no uncertain terms is a prerequisite for that respect.

And no, I won't disavow socialism.
posted by East14thTaco at 8:48 AM on September 19, 2018 [12 favorites]


the answer to bad speech is more speech.

This is how I set up my network router
posted by benzenedream at 8:56 AM on September 19, 2018 [11 favorites]


How could anyone read that 2016 Guardian piece and think she is FRIENDS with Milo? The entire piece mocks him as an idiot and dangerous even though he is as hollow as a drum.

A lot of people criticized her Milo articles when she was writing them as playing into that crowd's hands in basically the same way as debating them would. That's what's being alluded to here. IMO that assessment is probably not wrong, but also doesn't need to come up every single time she writes anything else - the point has been made.
posted by atoxyl at 9:00 AM on September 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


the answer to bad speech is more speech

One of the many ways this piece is excellent is that it acknowledges the way this has some truth in it and then details the many ways it is non-functional in practice. Not just the fact that a lot of the population, if not all of it, isn't necessarily receptive to quality logic over compelling performance. But also the fact that life has a lot of scarcity in it. There's a limit to how many hours of time people can be given on tv (as much as it doesn't feel that way as a viewer of cable news). There's only so many people you can have on your panel or at your event or in your congress.

So at some point there's no more room for more speech, so what you have is what you have. You can't fix that toxic component with more speech because it's corrosive and harmful. Don't worry about that bad speaker advocating genocide, folks, we increased the number of people at the event so now only 5% of the talks will be in favor of exterminating a bunch of the population, not 20%. Obviously people will focus on the 95% of the event that's not pro-death!

Don't worry about the rat poop in the soup, folks, we've made the bowls twice as big!
posted by phearlez at 9:05 AM on September 19, 2018 [15 favorites]


Here's a slight problem: If you're going to take your ball and go home, you better make sure it's your ball. And not the Economist's.

I'm kind of convinced at this point that the only effective answer to bad-faith arguments is ridicule. Or a bigger ball.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 9:08 AM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


I don't think I understand that objection. Penny is stating that first and foremost places like The Economist shouldn't set up these "debates" that have no value. But beyond that she's saying that if someone books the room for the discussion, don't play along. It's "The Economist's ball" only in the sense that they set up the event and coordinate the talks; without the various guests it's just a printed program and a conference center. Or if every non-fascist/racist says no thanks then it's just a collection of racists and conference coordinators.
posted by phearlez at 9:16 AM on September 19, 2018 [7 favorites]


Enough talk!
posted by FJT at 9:18 AM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


>Or if every non-fascist/racist says no thanks then it's just a collection of racists and conference coordinators.

That's exactly what she's saying and what she (and I) hope every alt-right piece of shit is reduced to.
posted by East14thTaco at 9:29 AM on September 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


I wonder if the argument reduces to "just ignore them and they will go away" -- the Milo example in the article suggests so, and the point of outright denial of a stage to talk on seems to have this as the goal. But not every stage is created equal, and not every rule must be absolute. The Economist is not a neutral party setting up a chat on various topics to stimulate the free exchange of ideas -- it's a very opinionated publication that stands in opposition to Bannon's ideas. That they chose to invite him does not mean that everyone should invite him -- Penny is indeed correct that giving fascists a stage plays into their abuse of tolerance. But infrequent and calculated participation could sometimes be worth carrying out in the correct context.

I'm not sure about my argument here, and so perhaps I'm trying to rationalize two positions I identify with concurrently. I inherently feel that the argument that intolerant people should not be tolerated is solid. But it also feels that absolutism had limits, and sometimes in some corners of society one can listen to what these people say, so as to build better defense against them. Given the obvious antithesis of the Economist's positions to Bannon's ideas, it feels that this could be one of these cases.
posted by haykinson at 9:35 AM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


No, quarantine doesn't work, as studies of Reddit have shown. Furthermore, their goal is to be legitimized by the mainstream, which is why they look to attend these forums.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:51 AM on September 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


I think is LP was asked if denying fascists a platform was the only thing we should ever do to fight fascists she would say no. I mean "ignore them" doesn't comit you to " they go away if ignored, so don't do anything else to defend your side etc". ignoring them is better than debating them.... but by all means keep voting, keep organizing and outreach and educating the public.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 10:20 AM on September 19, 2018 [7 favorites]


On his channel youtube video essayist Ian Danskin (aka Innuendo Studios) has done a series on the rhetorical strategies of the alt-right. In this talk he talks about how you might start to overcome these strategies. I found it very illuminating.

In general he also concludes that debating directly with them is not good for anyone. But you can still discuss their views indirectly. Even then you have to be kind of careful with the alt-right, because they might get riled up by what you write and go after women on twitter in response.
posted by Erberus at 10:33 AM on September 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


The Economist is not a neutral party setting up a chat on various topics to stimulate the free exchange of ideas -- it's a very opinionated publication that stands in opposition to Bannon's ideas. That they chose to invite him does not mean that everyone should invite him -- Penny is indeed correct that giving fascists a stage plays into their abuse of tolerance. But infrequent and calculated participation could sometimes be worth carrying out in the correct context.

I am not sure I can think of any circumstance where it's really necessary to get the hate straight from the horse's mouth in order to debunk and fight it, but I'd listen to a nuanced argument on a case by case basis provided we shift to a model where the presumption is on excluding them, rather than the current scheme where there's a default of letting anyone come in regardless of their baloney.
posted by phearlez at 10:40 AM on September 19, 2018 [7 favorites]


So it seems like LP would not identify as a liberal, just based on some of her wording and critique, but I can't seem to find what her ideology is.

Anyone know? Like some variety of socialist or anarchist seems probable, but I'm curious.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 10:47 AM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Laurie Penny's politics:
"The biggest single change, though, was discovering socialist and anti-capitalist politics in my mid-teens, which I came to through reading feminism and realizing that there were broad economic questions at play that needed bigger answers than simply "close the gender pay gap." Intersectional feminism is the heart of my anti-capitalism, which is why I become so confused and livid when people try to separate class struggle from "identity politics." The two are and always have been synonymous, and anyone who claims otherwise ought to take a good hard look at their priorities. Just as you can't construct a useful feminism that only works for wealthy white women, you can't build a politics of class struggle that does not have feminist, anti-racist, and queer politics at its core. Well, you can, and people do, but they're silly and ineffective and their parties are boring."
posted by talos at 11:48 AM on September 19, 2018 [13 favorites]


More speech, but at the right rates, places, and times. Talk to people in bits they can digest, when they're mentally available to take it in, and in situations where they're not pressured to defend whatever they think you're accusing them of.
posted by amtho at 11:58 AM on September 19, 2018


More speech, but at the right rates, places, and times. Talk to people in bits they can digest, when they're mentally available to take it in, and in situations where they're not pressured to defend whatever they think you're accusing them of.

No.

The alt-right is not engaging in good faith. They are trying to use rules they would happily shred against you, in order to exploit you to legitimize their position.

In that situation, the only winning move is not to play.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:32 PM on September 19, 2018 [9 favorites]


It's not really about "freedom of speech" because anyone can get a free pulpit on any of the big social media sites, or build their own for about $10 a month.

It's about media theatre. It's about not giving them the privilege of saying, "I debated Laurie Penny and see! Isn't she ridiculous!" (*) Creationists made a big theatrical show of this by debating an empty chair with a name tag for Dawkins, Meyers, or someone else that they decided to pick on. Famously, we had Eastwood debate an empty chair as a surrogate for Obama. In this case, the Economist had positioned Bannon to have the last word or response to a #MeToo panel, and Penny, Bates, and Fogg said, "no, I won't do this framing."

This is also, BTW, a reason why Lewinski walked out on a taped discussion about internet harassment earlier this month. Levi broke a prior agreement to lead with a question about Clinton, and Lewinsky refused to give Levi a platform for that subject.

The third party in all this, between feminists and alt-right trolls, is the news media. They have largely collaborated in alt-right trolling by selling the use of the dual talking-head format as "analysis." Walking away from forums and out of interviews sends a clear message that there are limits in how news producers manipulate their interview subjects.

(*) In the eyes of an anti-feminist audience.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 1:17 PM on September 19, 2018 [22 favorites]


See also: community leaders in Charlottesville refusing to give interviews to reporters who interview Nazis.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:21 PM on September 19, 2018 [8 favorites]


Also, I'm in love with this passage:
I’m not saying that there’s no point in talking to the far right at all. I have interviewed members of the far right in my capacity as a journalist. But academic research and investigative journalism are very different from formal public debate. Public debate — at least the way I was taught to do it at my posh school — is not about the free exchange of ideas at all. You only listen to the other guy so you can work out how to beat him, and ideally, humiliate him. I’m choosing my pronouns deliberately here. The format is fundamentally an intellectual dick-smacking contest dressed up in institutional lingerie, and while there are plenty of women out there who can unzip their enormous brains and thwack them on the table with the best of them, the formula is catastrophically macho.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 1:48 PM on September 19, 2018 [22 favorites]


Clarification: Lewinsky and Levi agreed prior to the discussion to not talk about Bill Clinton. Levi broke this agreement and led with a question about Clinton. Lewinski walked out of the taped discussion.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 2:05 PM on September 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


And I would bet that Levi made the agreement in bad faith, thinking that once he had her on for the interview, norms about "politeness" would keep her there.

Her walking out illustrates the point - you can't work with bad faith actors.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:13 PM on September 19, 2018 [23 favorites]


Truly, one of the most liberating realizations of the last few years for me has been that you do not need to deal in good faith with those who do not approach you in good faith. Saves so much time and energy.
posted by praemunire at 2:14 PM on September 19, 2018 [20 favorites]


Talk to people in bits they can digest, when they're mentally available to take it in, and in situations where they're not pressured to defend whatever they think you're accusing them of.

That’s not a debate then, is it, let alone a public one. And who are the people you would talk to in bits, Bannon? Milo? Or are you imagining having a gentle series of conversations with your ordinarily racist grandma or uncle or cousin? Because if you’re under the impression this would work on racists like Bannon et. al it’s like you haven’t been paying attention to anything that’s happened in the last couple of years
posted by rtha at 2:55 PM on September 19, 2018 [11 favorites]


My current distillation of this concept is "a mugger doesn't get to debate his victim about who owns her purse." I'm open to improvements on this.
posted by sapere aude at 3:45 PM on September 19, 2018 [35 favorites]


w/r/t more speech fights bad speech:

i won't debate you about my fundamental humanity and right to exist.
i won't dignify your bigotry and hatred with attention or consideration.
i won't defend your "right" to call for my extermination with my death.

if this means i don't believe in free speech, then i agree.
i do not believe in free speech as an end in and of itself.
i do not believe in free speech that ultimately silences me.
posted by anem0ne at 6:51 PM on September 19, 2018 [20 favorites]


if this means i don't believe in free speech, then i agree.
i do not believe in free speech as an end in and of itself.


I often point out to randos on Twitter that using "But what about free speech!" as a defense means that the best thing you can say about someone's point is that it is not illegal for them to make it. So imagine whether you'd go to a movie that was reviewed as "Releasing this film did not break any actual laws."
posted by Etrigan at 7:37 PM on September 19, 2018 [7 favorites]


I brought this up before in a thread about Le Pen appearing at a tech conference in Portugal (she was subsequently de-platformed).

Most people don't know what free speech means. It doesn't mean anyone can say anything anywhere and must be allowed to do so. It does mean that, as a foundation of the idea of Liberty, you should not be punished (outlawed, arrested, etc) simply for expressing your beliefs.

Even so, there are libel laws and there are laws against hate speech. These arise from the fact that, yes, you are allowed to express your Liberty but very reasonably, you must also not be impinging on the Liberty of others.

Hate speech is an attack on Liberty. It has been brought up before that the Economist wouldn't dare to invite a representative from ISIS, or even Duterte to perhaps tell us all about his innovative ideas on criminal justice. They could use the same defence word for word. But if they did so, it would be painfully obvious that the only difference is that most Economist readers aren't as threatened by white nationalists as they are by other forms of hate.

You'll hear arguments about a slippery slope. If you start denying platforms to people, where will it end? No, there is no slippery slope. The rule is pretty simple: If your ideology questions other people's right to exist as free and equal individuals, then its a no-go. The slippery slope is actually in the other direction: As soon as anyone can be platformed, now you have allowed rapists, murderers, terrorists and fascists to stand there on the the platform and attempt to persuade others that their views are as valid as yours. Thats the slippery slope. Then the magical thinking that Penny rightly calls out becomes clearer: You've confused intellectual ideas with moral ones.
posted by vacapinta at 1:47 AM on September 20, 2018 [17 favorites]


Bad faith players are simply predators upon humanity.

They exist in every generation, and once they have identified themselves by their behaviour they should be shunned, broken, and driven into the wilderness without mercy.

And kept there.

I lost a grandfather fighting the Nazis. Sure as shit wasn't just so vicious little pissants Milo or Bannon or Trump could inherit the world and fuck it up for everybody. :(
posted by Pouteria at 11:03 AM on September 20, 2018 [9 favorites]


Whatever one can discuss about free speech as a principle, it is important to point out that what LP is saying is most certainly not about free speech. Me deciding who I want to debate is an integral component of my freedom of speech, and has nothing to do with the freedom of speech of those whom I refuse to debate. Freedom of speech includes everybody's freedom to independently decide who they want to speak to or not speak to
posted by talos at 12:49 PM on September 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


Yes, as I said up above, "free speech" is buying into Bannon's framing of the issue. Laurie Penny refused to participate in a particular form of political performance defined by The Economist. That's a key difference that's central to the linked article.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 12:57 PM on September 20, 2018 [5 favorites]


I've had plenty of conversations, even here on MeFi, where free speech absolutists believe that freedom of speech includes being obligated to provide a platform and a right to be heard.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:10 PM on September 20, 2018 [6 favorites]


The fact that the cheapening of information has led to the attention economy is something we as a culture, society, and economy have very little formal recognition of, and we're utterly clueless when it comes to dealing with the effects and implications such as the death of newspapers and the rise of disinformation campaigns. I don't like the direction we're going in but we need to recognize the technological and economic underpinnings of what we're dealing with. The First Amendment was written in a time when attention was plentiful but information scarce. Maybe it's time we revisit its assumptions to a degree.
posted by bookman117 at 1:26 PM on September 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


their goal is to be legitimized by the mainstream
I noticed Brit Hume defending Tucker Carlson's remarks about diversity today, and it made me think about how ideas go from the political extremes to the political mainstream. I kind of have a model in my head for how this process happens.

[...]

Conservative writers and thinkers who under a Reagan or a Bush would support nonwhite immigration now cannot.

Because figures like Carlson managed to turn the issue into a high-profile left-right battle, the entire right must line up behind Carlson's position.

[...]

The entire thing hinged on a few media entrepreneurs, particularly Bannon and Carlson.

By seizing on the previously fringe issue of diversity and turning it into a flashpoint for left-right conflict, they harnessed the power of oppositional thinking...
posted by kliuless at 9:49 PM on September 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


When you accept no-platforming as approapriate for sufficiently loathesome people (and I do), you also raise the interesting question of who the worst person is you can think of that you wouldn’t no-platform.
posted by moorooka at 9:49 PM on September 20, 2018


In a perfect example of how the alt-right uses norms of free speech as weapons without believing in them, Jordan Peterson threatens a feminist critic with a lawsuit:
Among the statements Levitt objected to: Manne’s contention that Peterson’s book included “some really eyebrow-raising, authoritarian-sounding, and even cruel things,” as well as her observation that “it doesn’t seem accidental that [Peterson’s] skepticism about objective facts arises when it’s conveniently anti-feminist.” The lawyer and his client were equally unhappy with this line: “I also suspect that for many of Peterson’s readers, the sexism on display above is one tool among many to make forceful, domineering moves that are typical of misogyny.”

Manne, who coined the instantly immortal portmanteau “himpathy” to describe the disproportionate sympathy our society extends towards men, says her fellow academic’s letter is “morally disappointing, but seems quite predictable.” So far, Peterson hasn’t made good on his threat to file suit, though neither she, Cornell, or Vox have complied with his requests. “It’s a classic attempt to chill free speech,” Manne says. “Like many of his ilk, what he really seems to be demanding — when one examines his actions rather than words — is to be able to speak free from legitimate social consequences, such as other people talking back.”
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:27 AM on September 21, 2018 [14 favorites]


Don't worry about the rat poop in the soup, folks, we've made the bowls twice as big!

Phearlez, that made me laugh out loud and will now be my standard rejoinder to the "best remedy is more speech" argument.

I also really like the point from early in the thread that sunlight is not the best disinfectant. The sunlight metaphor only applies if merely exposing the idea will cause it to wither. But that's not the effect of "exposing," say, Jordan Peterson's facile lobster arguments; engaging publicly with those ideas just passes along to even more men a tempting story that absolves them of taking personal responsibility. Even moreso with his horrendous, "just asking" bloviations about forced monogamy--the disinfectant of choice for virulent toxins like that is borax, bleach, fire, etc. because we need such dehumanizing vectors to be gone, not merely for them to receive better lighting.

(I'm focused on Peterson because I'm currently forcing myself to read through a pirated copy of his book--couldn't bring myself to even give him the library check-out stats--in order to better understand his appeal to some young men, in order to come up with an alternative path my men's group can offer some of them, based on integrity, vulnerability, boundaries, etc. Reading it is a drag and I don't recommend it.)
posted by mabelstreet at 11:12 AM on September 21, 2018 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure how to do the research on this, but I'm pretty sure "sunlight is the best disinfectant" originally referred to rooting out corruption.

In which case, it's true, corruption generally takes place out of the public view, so exposing it is a viable strategy. Likewise with cryptofascist types like Peterson or even maintstream alt-righters like Richard Spencer: they gain their respectability through obscuring their true positions, so fracturing their facades can disempower them.

But in no case does simply giving a platform to fascists to talk about their fascist principles in terms of their choosing -- like in the context of a formal debate that positions both "sides" as equally legitimate from the start or in the context of letting Bannon have the last word after a panel on #MeToo for crying out fucking loud -- count as "disinfecting" anything.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:32 AM on September 21, 2018 [7 favorites]


Don't encourage me, mabelstreet, I'm already only like 5 seconds away from wanting to script this into a Pythonesque sketch and put it on YouTube. I understand they're using the more speech approach too and will sometimes allow some non-racist/MRA videos.

I think the appeal of the Petersons of the world isn't really any different than the way Ayn Rand appeals to self-satisfied teen boys. It tells them things they want to hear, feels a little transgressive, and then wraps it up in just enough nice-sounding pseudo-academic phrases to let them feel smart for Understanding The Truth that other brainwashed folks Just Don't Get.

In some ways it reminds me of product tie-in novels, which can be good but often are just horrible dreck. Similar to umpteenth-sequel straight to video stuff. Someone who isn't primed for it with a predisposition to like the material looks at it and thinks who in the hell is buying this stuff? But some folks who love the, say, BattleTrekWars games, read this stuff and think it's brilliant... because their brains are filling in all the gaps with their fondness for the setting and smoothing over the bumps as things that aren't really there, since the correct and better "larger universe" overrides them.
posted by phearlez at 11:37 AM on September 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure how to do the research on this, but I'm pretty sure "sunlight is the best disinfectant" originally referred to rooting out corruption.

That makes a lot of sense. Otherwise my standard rejoinder is "Then how comes sewers are underground?"
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:35 PM on September 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


Otherwise my standard rejoinder is "Then how comes sewers are underground?"

Yeah, except a lot of sewers connect to treatment plants where the final step is exposing the processed waste to sunlight to break it down.
posted by Merus at 8:23 PM on September 21, 2018


This tweet from July is interesting in this context, I think.
posted by Leon at 3:16 AM on September 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


This discussion is reminding me of childhood injuries, and the day Mom would take the bandage off "so the sun and air can get to it."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:45 AM on September 22, 2018


When people describe sunlight as the best disinfectant, a reasonable interpretation isn't that awareness alone will curtail bad/wrong ideas; the awareness has to be followed up with some sort of reproach.

The sleight-of-hand used by freeze-peach fetishists is to pit the first part against the second part. "Whoa, don't get all hasty by acting like certain ideas are beyond the pale! They've got to stay in the sunlight, forever, until they manage to discredit themselves without our help!"

But of course, this argument can be re-used an infinite number of times. That's why the Nazi zombies of various video games are an ideal metaphor -- like corpses in the employ of a necromancer, Naziism keeps getting resuscitated by supposedly well-meaning "centrists". We can't just dismiss an idea without a proper debate, after all. We just have to keep debating them until some unspecified point at which they've become truly "disproven", somehow. Hey, why are you liberals running away from the free exchange of ideas? Come back!

In reality, deplatforming is what the "disinfection" process looks like in a healthy society. The sunlight is just the part where we figured out, yup, that's where the disease is. It's tempting to imagine that any collective societal rejection of ideas is inherently Orwellian and scary... but it's basically an inevitable part of having a society. There are going to be things the society considers good and things it considers bad. Nobody really acts like the reality is otherwise; they just pretend to, when convenient.

Once it's agreed that societies do have, you know, norms, we can discuss what the norms should be. But it's extremely telling when an idea has managed to become so discredited that its only recourse is to toss in a smoke bomb of obfuscation by, in effect, arguing against the whole concept of discrediting any ideas.
posted by InTheYear2017 at 2:19 PM on September 22, 2018 [8 favorites]


freeze-peach fetishists is to pit

I see what you did there.
posted by benzenedream at 7:03 PM on September 22, 2018


freeze-peach fetishists is to pit

I see what you did there.


I'm a little fuzzy on it myself.
posted by phearlez at 7:58 AM on September 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


I feel like I have read Penny before but this piece was excellent and Bitch Doctrine is now in my Kindle queue. Thanks.

Edit on non-preview: oh yes, the Milo piece from The Guardian.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:54 PM on September 24, 2018


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