Gene Expression

Canada is not a “free society”

That’s all I have to say to Eric Michael Johnson’s post, Ann Coulter, Hate Speech, and Free Societies. OK, seriously, from what I recall Eric is an American, though resident in the forgotten north. American absolutist stances on free speech are not shared by most Western societies, so demanding total free speech is quixotic and culturally tone deaf. Granted, Europe or Canada are not barbaric like China or Muslim societies when it comes to speech, so that communication about this issue is possible. But here are the exceptions to free speech enumerated in the European Convention on Human Rights:

The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or the rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

I bolded aspects which I think Americans would assume are going to be open to abuse. The new Irish blasphemy law is rumored to be motivated by a fear of Muslim violence aimed at those who defame their primitive superstitions (the cowardly Irish atheists know that Western Christians tend to be lax about agitating violently on behalf of their superstitions, so they blasphemed Catholicism, this was an error, see below). Though it isn’t just Muslims who are barbaric, a few years ago Sikhs in Britain rioted over a blasphemous theater production, and the arguments that it isn’t speech if it “hurts feelings” were voiced by them as well. This is a normal human viewpoint, protection of patently offensive speech is probably a cultural aberration. What to Americans seems a universal human right is actually a perverse extremism from the viewpoint of outsiders (though do note that the abolitionists seemed to be perverse extremists in their time, so numbers don’t always predict where history will flow)

One of Eric’s stupid commenters linked to this op-ed, Ann Coulter, Hate Speech, and Free Societies:

This is why Coulter’s speech is not just “free” (i.e. bias-free, objectively sent out into the atmosphere). The effects of her speech when launched into public space are not simply situational. They are another series of burps in the historical and currently existing framework that has normalized a particular way of thinking about Muslims, gays and lesbians, and other marginalized groups.

Pretty funny that Muslims are marginalized along with homosexuals, since when Muslims are a majority they have a tendency to persecute or kill homosexuals with more efficacy than other cultures (though not homosexual behavior). Naturally Muslims in the West are exempt from the injunction toward not engaging in homophobia, as it’s naturally part of their barbaric set of beliefs. The op-ed continues:

From this framework, we can see how free speech is a slippery problem. Ironically, it seems to surface when there is a need to stifle speech that challenges social power (which is what the U of Ottawa students were doing – challenging the inequitable social power relations that Coulter’s “speech” upheld).

Really someone should ban the usage of quotations, because morons like this will get drunk on them. Though seriously, I’m expressing a very cultural biased viewpoint here, an American one, and I’m of conscious of this. I really don’t see a point in castigating Canadians for being Canadians, they’re not China or Syria, but neither are they the United States. Even the British have insane libel laws which stifle speech operationally, though there’s a chance that the law might be tightened up. We alone should be the City upon a Hill where the blasphemers and peddlers of bigotry can take refuge, because we’re already the last best and only hope.

* I use the term “barbaric” to refer to societies which I feel express values which are fundamentally different from those of my own so that there is a lack of commensurability of discourse. From the perspective of many Muslim societies American culture is barbaric and kuffar, while the Chinese have their own set of values as evident with the recent conflict with Google over censorship. I use the term “savage” to delineate those societies which dehumanize other cultures. So the Aztecs were savage because they waged wars against other polities for the sake of harvesting sacrificial victims, who were later cannibalized.


  1. #1 Kaviani
    March 24, 2010

    Who the hell pissed in your grits? Are you Ann Coulter’s fanclub president or something?

  2. #2 razib
    March 24, 2010

    interesting, the retard above is american! but it shows that barbarism has a long reach within the united states. note, because i defend ann coulter’s speech i must be a fan of the content of her speech. this is a normal barbaric way to reason. generally though barbarians understand realpolitik: american left-wing barbarians should understand that they’re way outnumbered by right-wing barbarians. so if their moronic viewpoints about constraining “hate speech” legally gain traction, expect the christian right start talking up offense to “people of faith” a lot more.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    March 24, 2010

    I think you use of the terms “Savage” and “Barbaric” borders on tribal.

  4. #4 razib
    March 24, 2010

    it is tribal. i’m not an anthropologist, why should i make a professional habit of pretending i’m not normatively influenced? anyway, anthropologists just pretend, they are too (though i think professionally it is best to try). i’m being descriptive in pointing out that eric michael johnson’s stance toward free speech would seem strange to most of the world’s population, and even many westerners. i’m being prescriptive in asserting americans should man the barricades on this aspect of exceptionalism. americans often talk about their extreme stance on freedom of speech as if it’s self-evidently a human universal. as a matter of fact, it isn’t. therefore, perhaps we should cut our losses and defend it as another peculiarity of our society.

  5. #5 Monson
    March 24, 2010

    I think the organizers of the event canceled it for their own gain. Threatening? What a farce.

  6. #6 Melykin
    March 24, 2010

    Ann Coutler is an idiot but it was very rude of those students to shout her down. It would have been much smarter for them to stay away from her speech if they didn’t want to hear it. All they have done is give her more publicity, which she loves. They have helped her sell more of her hateful books, so I hope they are happy with themselves. Idiots.

    I agree that the anti-hate speech laws we have in Canada are repressive and should be done away with. I think Europe has a lot of similar laws that were brought in after WW2.

    I think the problem with the liberal mind set in Canada is that a lot of views are held like a religion, and considered to be the *only* proper views to have. People aren’t thinking things through logically. Most of the people I know are like this. People are afraid to express any opposing view because they will be called names such as xenophobe, racist, etc.

    Basically if a person of a non-white race does a bad thing, or if a whole group of them do a bad thing, great care must be taken not to mention it in the media, because it might give offense. So we don’t, for example, put a lot of effort into finding a way to control the alcoholism of aboriginals, or trying to stop domestic violence and gangs in the Sikh community, or put a lid on fraud in the Chinese community* because we don’t want to admit out loud that these problems exist. Actually I think a lot of people don’t want to admit even to themselves that problems such as this exist. So we just turn away and nothing is done.

    I’m tired of the whole thing.

    *getting drivers licenses by bribery and creating zapper software to help restaurants fraudulently avoid paying tax are just a couple of examples I can think of off hand

  7. #7 razib
    March 24, 2010

    but private speech continues, right? i have nader supporting lefty friends who lived in vancouver for a few years, and privately to me they had no issue expressing the problems with thrill crime by sikh youth in that city (e.g., they wouldn’t park in certain neighborhoods but used public transit because they were worried that sikh teenagers would jack their car).

  8. #8 Melykin
    March 24, 2010

    Yes, people will talk about this sort of thing with trusted friends. But no where else, and certainly not publicly. Especially if you are a politician or media person–that would be kill your career.

    I guessing that within *all* groups (ethnic or otherwise) there are some people who make unflattering remarks about other groups. Maybe it is some sort of tribal behaviour that reinforces within-group bonding.

  9. #9 zlz
    March 24, 2010

    Private speech continues.

    There was a (relatively) recent high-profile case in Canada on charges of promoting hatred, which might prove instructive (well, it provides a single data point, that being an example of what has merited charges) if people are interested in the boundaries of what will actually result in hate charges being filed:

  10. #10 zlz
    March 24, 2010

    I remark that that to which Melykin refers is social disapproval, not criminal sanctions.

  11. #11 Chris B
    March 24, 2010

    The creepiest thing about this incident was the letter to Coulter by a senior administrator at the university, full of we’re-too-good-for-American-style-free-speech smugness. There’s sense up here that anything American is automatically suspect, so I always rant about “American-style political correctness” to my leftist friends, which nicely disorients them.

    The actual cancellation, though, was the usual combination of narcissism (by the protesters) and learned helplessness (by the authorities). That sort of thing has happened on some U.S. campuses, I think (though not with Coulter).

    BTW, she’s an amusing polemicist, but I think her facts tend to be shaky, so I don’t often read her.

  12. #12 Melykin
    March 24, 2010

    Apparently Ahenakew (an elderly First Nations leader) was drunk when he said that stuff about Jews. A lot of people think the reason he wasn’t convicted was because he wasn’t white. He just died a few weeks ago.

  13. #13 Clark
    March 24, 2010

    I completely agree with Melykin. The PC speech rules in Canada are ridiculous. Further it’s the people in power who enforce them typically against those with little power. So the whole “power relations” mindset most of these clowns got from Foucalt makes zero sense. The biggest problem though is the lack of checks and balances and the fact the folks imposing all these punishments are themselves a powerful minority with no accountability.

    All that said I can’t stand Ann Coulter. And many of those attacked by these speech laws are often not terribly sympathetic. But it has a very chilling effect on political discourse.

  14. #14 Clark
    March 24, 2010

    Chris – reminds me of a joke that Canadians are just like Americans and the only way to tell them apart is to say that. LOL. But I think a real Canadian nationalism has developed the past decade or so. It’s not just the “we’re not Americans” that was typical when I was young. On the other hand I’ve been living in the states for over 20 years now, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

  15. #15 Tyler DiPietro
    March 24, 2010

    Razib has apparently forgotten that calling Muslim culture barbaric is racist regardless of how barbaric Muslims actually act. He should stop being a white supremacist neo-colonialist and adopt the enlightened viewpoint that no culture can legitimately claim to be superior, and that everything else is hate speech.

  16. #16 Rod
    March 24, 2010

    The two positions seem to be: The light of public scrutiny seems to subject nutty and unpopular ideas to ridicule and tends to diminish their impact. The other seems to be that why should a semi-public intsitution give views like Ann Coulter (and others) a free soap-box?
    On another note, there seems to be a view among some in Canada (not me, I am a free-speech Canadian) that everyone is entitled to not be offended by anything stated or printed in public. To which I say: Hell with that. I want to be able to challenge anything I think deserves it, offensive or not. How fragile does an idea have to be? Why should I worry about your delicate sensibilities or fragile egos?
    A plague on all their houses!

  17. #17 Snippet
    March 24, 2010

    Very interesting and relevant point.

    One thing that gets my goat though is the way that so much of this “cultural difference” regarding free speech seems to be motivated more by fear of offending (ahem) certain (ahem) people, rather than some sort of adherence to principle.

  18. #18 Lampang
    March 24, 2010

    So savage seems to mean different and barbaric means different in a bad way, but, of course, devoid of all the wildly negative connotations that those words actually have so there’s nothing reprehensible in referring to the Chinese or Arabs as savage barbarians. Right. By your own admission, these labels can justifiably be placed on American culture and, in fact, seemingly any culture can use them about any other culture. So, what’s the point? If we take you at your word and you’re not using these with pejorative force, they’re pretty much meaningless but if we want the words to have a useful sense, then you really are saying that the Arabs and the Chinese (and, I guess, all of us who stupidly didn’t choose American parents) are savage barbarians with the full force of those words.

  19. #19 Lampang
    March 24, 2010

    “One thing that gets my goat though is the way that so much of this “cultural difference” regarding free speech seems to be motivated more by fear of offending (ahem) certain (ahem) people, rather than some sort of adherence to principle.”

    Heaven forbid that offending people should be a concern in deciding what you say. That would be an outrage, wouldn’t it? I certainly hope you don’t teach your children anything as savage and barbaric as wilfully not causing offence.

    And the article is predicted precisely on a lack of principle. What’s the justification for America’s prioritisation of freedom of speech over other rights? It’s American. That’s the beginning and end of it. So I get to sit in my bunker shouting “Septics are all twats” and you – apparently – get to sit in yours shouting “Chinese are all savages”. Lovely.

  20. #20 razib
    March 24, 2010

    just so barbarians can understand this correctly: i do mean savage pejoratively, i don’t really mean barbaric very pejoratively. i think savage cultures should be reformed by force. ergo, cultures which practice slavery or cannibalism, which is inhuman, should be stamped out. OTOH, we should establish a modus vivendi with barbarian cultures. e.g. we can’t expect china to have the same individualist emphasis on rights that we do, and nor should we attempt to reform them by force. we can’t expect muslims and india to take a more chilled out attitude toward religious identity which removes its corporate and communal valence, because that’s just how they are. that difference does not mean equivalence. there are foods that you may not like, and there is trying to make you eat shit. barbarians have practices we may not like, even understand, but their values allow them to flourish. OTOH, i think “savage” is a practice which violates cross-cultural aspects of “basic human rights” as understood in the contemporary zeitgeist. the british in the early 19th century clamped down on the slave trade and eliminated the freedom of slaving cultures because they viewed it as fundamentally inhuman. the USA put pressure on saudi arabia to abolish slavery in 1960 because of its inhumanity. on the other hand, we seem to tolerate with unease the legal second class status of women in that nation. there is not an overwhelming international consensus that differentiation based on sex is as abhorrent as differentiation based on race. or frankly religion, as non-muslims have circumscribed rights in saudi arabia as well, while china has plenty of religious persecution (even if that follows from political considerations less than theological ones).

    now, as to pejorativeness and judgement. i do prefer the norms of western society, and in particular american society in regards to speech. why? i’ve been inculcated toward those norms, they are a part of who i am, and express core values. i am aware of the cultural embeddness of some of these values, ergo, i don’t think there should be a global crusade to enforce american norms (in fact, i do disagree with some american norms myself!). but, just as i have particular individual aesthetic preferences, and so make choices in my local environment to reflect those preferences, so particular societies have values which influence the choices they make, and the preferences they have. in regards to speech,i think perhaps a new tack that americans should take is this: acknowledge cultural differences, and assert strongly american uniqueness on this aspect and deny the importance of non-american categories. in particular, implicit within most society’s understanding of speech seems to be a society wide level of utility. e.g. “speech exists to foster understanding,” “speech exists to maintain harmony.” and such. many non-americans do not understand, i believe, that we are often little perturbed by these arguments because we don’t view speech through group-level utility metrics, excepting cases such as yelling fire in a theater. rather, we view speech as an individual level end unto itself, not necessarily a means. so arguments about hate or social utility carry little water with us. on the other hand, they are very important for other societies, and we should understand that.

    note: many americans have normal human impulses in regards to speech, especially toward disliked viewpoints. the indoctrination toward speech absolutism is rather more evident among elites, resulting in a lack of diversity of viewpoint. but i have heard the head of the american catholic league argue for blasphemy laws, while some feminists are fans of punishing “hate speech.” our free speech absolutism and its lack of emphasis on utility is probably nearly incomprehensible to barbarians.

  21. #21 razib
    March 24, 2010

    lampang, just an fyi, you’ve inverted. i think chinese culture is barbaric. and i assume chinese think american culture is barbaric. though it seems that we appreciate aspects of each other’s culture too. OTOH, i think it is harder to admire aspects of savage cultures. the nazi regime was efficient, and had some artistic production and aesthetic, but its basic savagery allows for little genuine admiration.

  22. #22 Lampang
    March 24, 2010

    “So savage seems to mean different and barbaric means different in a bad way”

    Ah. Got these the wrong way round: barbaric is different and savage is different in a bad way.

    My mistake but it is so difficult using these technical terms correctly.

  23. #23 razib
    March 24, 2010

    they’re not technical terms. they’re terms i’ve attempted to reuse in non-academic contexts to try and trace important grades of cultural difference and comprehensibility. i wouldn’t use them in cases where concerns are purely descriptive; i don’t refer to ancient romans as barbaric or savage though some of their values are clearly so when viewed through a normative lens. that being said, in the age of multiculturalism there is a delusion that cultures which view each other as fundamentally barbaric can coexist easily. i do not view that as so.

    p.s. just so there is no confusion, barbarism or savagery is not necessarily heritable. my parents were not born in this country, and espouse some frankly barbarized values. they do not speak much of their opinions about homosexuals in public in large part because they understand that most americans would find their views shocking (though not so americans in the 1950s).

  24. #24 T. Bruce McNeely
    March 24, 2010

    PZ provides an account of this incident that I am inclined to believe – that a relatively orderly crowd of protesters appeared (exercising their right to freedom of speech), with the only disruptive action being some assclown pulling the fire alarm. Coultergeist and her people were the ones who chickened out. There was no mob of thousands screaming at her. Coulter is being as truthful as ever.
    I personally feel that Canadian Human Rights Commissions and Hate Speech laws are counterproductive. Coulter should be free to make an ass of herself if she so chooses.
    There are three idiots that stand out here – the U of O bureaucrat who wrote that stupid letter, the fire alarm nitwit, and Coulter herself, for being such a ludicrous drama queen (and for being Anne Coulter).

  25. #25 Russell
    March 24, 2010

    The style of free speech America has implemented, thanks in large part to liberal judges and the ACLU, is in my view the part of our legal system of which we can be most proud, and hold up as an example. Yes, I understand other nations do differently, and that Ireland’s blasphemy law is not the equivalent of China’s great internet wall. But can we not criticize the former, without falling into that false equivalence?

  26. #26 Lampang
    March 24, 2010

    I was being facetious, but never mind.

    I’m not sure I follow your argument. America’s prioritization of freedom of speech is justifiable because it’s American. There’s no appeal to rights or, indeed, any kind of universal justification. (“we should cut our losses and defend it as another peculiarity of our society.”) This is the basis of barbarism, right? I say tomaaahhhtooohhhh and you say tomayto. But savagery does seem to point to some kind of universalism (“i think “savage” is a practice which violates cross-cultural aspects of “basic human rights” as understood in the contemporary zeitgeist.”) But that solves nothing because you still need to make clear how we’re to judge what constitutes a basic human right and how to adjudicate between competing rights – this is a highly contentious issue which is precisely at the root of why you choose to prioritise freedom of speech over freedom not to be offended. Surely America culture doesn’t randomly prioritise certain rights over others; it does so for a reason but the question is why and is that prioritisation justifiable.

    A second point: how does America escape being described as savage? Your country’s crimes are too numerous and too well known to need repeating here but it’s certainly guilty of violating “basic human rights”. Your example of savagery is “the Aztecs were savage because they waged wars against other polities for the sake of harvesting sacrificial victims, who were later cannibalized.” Well, it’s fairly clear that the American state wages war for the economic benefit of an elite. I’m not sure what formulation of “basic human rights’ you’re operating with, but I can’t see how sacrificial cannibalism is savage when murder for economic gain isn’t. Perhaps this isn’t a concern of yours but people and glass houses and throwing stones and all that. And if America is savage, who is to take up arms and reform it? Is that what you want?

  27. #27 razib
    March 25, 2010

    Surely America culture doesn’t randomly prioritise certain rights over others; it does so for a reason but the question is why and is that prioritisation justifiable.

    the reason is america’s particular history. and the zeitgeist itself is a product of history. all rights are “fundamentally” unrooted in any ultimate principle. they evolve as societies evolve (e.g., after the bronze age the greeks and chinese both turned against the human sacrifice which was prevalent in their societies, and labelled it savage and “against the gods”). i suspect there is a “direction” to moral history, but that’s a different post.

    And if America is savage, who is to take up arms and reform it? Is that what you want?

    the only people who have practical power over this are americans through representative democracy. since i’m the type of person who will refer to a “warfare state” you’ll get no apologia from me in regards to aggression…but as a practical matter the international system can’t totally constrain the united states now. i assume in the near future this is not going to be much of an issue because of china.

  28. #28 razib
    March 25, 2010

    also, of course america can be perceived as savage. there are many in the world who perceive the rights which we grant to homosexuals now (over time) as “against nature.” westerners tend to disagree with this now, but we’re in the minority. see the conflicts in the anglican communion.

  29. #29 AG
    March 25, 2010

    Could this have some thing to do with Canandian’s politeness? Law always reflects culture value.

  30. #30 Tyler DiPietro
    March 25, 2010

    “Surely America culture doesn’t randomly prioritise certain rights over others; it does so for a reason but the question is why and is that prioritisation justifiable.”

    That assumes that there is some right that conflicts with free speech. In other societies there seems to be a consensus around some right not to be offended, in America there is not.

  31. #31 Lampang
    March 25, 2010

    “That assumes that there is some right that conflicts with free speech. In other societies there seems to be a consensus around some right not to be offended, in America there is not.”

    Really? I’m not American so obviously I don’t really know but that sounds very surprising. Do you really not see any conflict at all? Does nobody in America? Has there never been conflicts over this? If so, how did the concept of ‘hate speech’ come about?

  32. #32 razib
    March 25, 2010

    tyler’s comment points to the “not even wrong” aspect of some of these conversations. it’s almost worthless, people just need to assert their differences and move on. a lot of this stuff is tautology or sloganeering. e.g., “hate speech is not free speech,” etc. it makes sense within a particular social or cultural framework, but for many americans it just elicits as WTF?!?!

  33. #33 Lampang
    March 25, 2010

    “people just need to assert their differences and move on”

    So after all that, anyone can call anyone else anything they like and it’s all just relative. You’re no less a savage barbarian than anyone else and it’s all just pointless, meaningless name-calling. Cracking stuff.

  34. #34 razib
    March 25, 2010

    it’s all just pointless, meaningless name-calling.

    no, don’t mind read.

  35. #35 EMJ
    March 25, 2010

    Of course, I said nothing about Canada not being a free society and I “demanded” nothing. I don’t believe a government should have a role in deciding what viewpoints are permissible and, as far as I’m aware, it’s okay to express that while living in Canada (even as an American). In many cases I think the US could learn something by looking at Canadian policies. In this case I think the US has unusual freedoms of expression that should be appreciated. Hate speech that calls for the attack of someone or the perpetuation of a crime is a different issue in my opinion. We just need to understand that what one political perspective views as “moral” or against “public safety” is quite different from another. We either protect the speech of those whose ideas we abhor or we’re really not interested in free speech at all.

  36. #36 Tyler DiPietro
    March 25, 2010

    “If so, how did the concept of ‘hate speech’ come about?”

    I didn’t say that there weren’t individual advocates for it. I just said that no societal consensus exists for some right not to be offended, whereas it does elsewhere.

  37. #37 Morgan
    March 25, 2010

    The new Irish blasphemy law is rumored to be motivated by a fear of Muslim violence aimed at those who defame their primitive superstitions (the cowardly Irish atheists know that Western Christians tend to be lax about agitating violently on behalf of their superstitions, so they blasphemed Catholicism).

    What blasphemy are you referring to when you call Irish atheists ‘cowardly’? The twenty-five blasphemous statements published by Atheist Ireland in protest against that law includes several directed at Islam (and one at Buddhism). They may be found in a link in the NYT post you linked yourself; did you not read them?

  38. #38 razib
    March 25, 2010

    morgan, my bad! didn’t see that list, i had read something else. thanks for the correction.

  39. #39 Birger Johansson
    March 25, 2010

    The Swedish law that limits free speech is targeted at those who preach hate against etnic groups, homosexuals et al. The use of swastikas and other nazi symbols are also prohibited under the same law. By this law Ann Coulter would be in a grey zone, I am not familiar with much of her rhetoric so I cannot say for certain.

    Each nation must try to find a way to combine free speech with necessary constraints against unacceptable behaviour. Neo-nazi thugs shouting Sieg Heil obviously belongs to the latter group. But most belligerent behaviour is not so clear-cut.

  40. #40 alexander87
    March 25, 2010

    Canada is not a free society at least not when in comparison to the united states there’s to many limits on what u can and can not say and do for that matter. i do think ann caulter is a bit close minded Canada may not be as free as the united states but it is free and allot less regulated in comparison to countries in the EU there are Canadian and American cultural differences when it comes to free speech and race and well allot of things people don’t normally think of and well this ann caulter lady just seems like a close minded American that refuses to look at any side but her own

  41. #41 Mark
    March 25, 2010

    “That assumes that there is some right that conflicts with free speech. In other societies there seems to be a consensus around some right not to be offended, in America there is not.”

    The whole “right not to be offended” is as dangerous as it is infantilizing. Speaking as a member of a minority group (gays) whose behavior and even existence was once seen by the overwhelming majority of Americans as despicable and offensive in the extreme, I thank God that we have a First Amendment in this country. Otherwise the gay rights movement might never gotten off the ground. I can easily imagine the first stirrings for gay equality in the 50s and 60s being snuffed out by the government on the grounds that discussion of homosexuality was “offensive.”

    Incidentally, there’s a lecture coming up at my law school for which I have seen flyers entitled “Is some racist hate speech discriminatory?” I’m a swamped law student so I don’t have time to go, but somehow I suspect I know what the answer to that question will be. People keep trying novel ways to get around the First Amendment. Based on her picture on the flyer, the woman giving the speech is an obvious dyke. What is it with lesbians and politics? Too much testosterone combined with the female penchant for personalizing… everything…?

    Sorry if that offended anyone.

  42. #42 quidnunc
    March 25, 2010

    Although the relevant laws aren’t absolutist it’s far more limited than is presumed. Said laws may create a chilling effect but it’s pretty much limited to stupid race hate and other nonsense.

  43. #43 Snippet
    March 25, 2010

    >> Heaven forbid that offending people should be a concern in deciding what you say.

    It should

    >> That would be an outrage, wouldn’t it? I certainly hope you don’t teach your children anything as savage and barbaric as wilfully not causing offence.

    I don’t.

    I also will not teach them to PREVENT people from expressing views they (my children) disagree with.

    Is this where Canada is going with this – The criminalization of offending people?

    Or…the criminalizing of offending people who react violently to offense.

    Here is my prediction. In order to mask the true motivation, Canada will criminalize ALL offensive opinions, or will attempt to do so.

  44. #44 Interrobang
    March 25, 2010

    Did any of you actually read the letter the U of O administrator sent to Coulter? All it said was basically “The laws are different here, so mind that you don’t get yourself into trouble.” Knowing Coulter’s history of demonising everyone she doesn’t like to an unreasonable and insane degree, that’s probably actually good advice, not that I wouldn’t have minded her doing a stint in the hoosegow, just on principle. She has a bad case of memetic rabies, and it shows. It was hardly “smug,” nor was it attempting to stifle her speech in any way, since it explicitly did not try to tell her what she could and couldn’t say, merely that she should know the law before speaking here. If you can’t (or won’t) parse the difference there, there really isn’t any help for you.

  45. #45 miko
    March 25, 2010

    My understanding is that the Coulter people cancelled the event due to the protesters, but the protests were on the whole peaceful and there was no threat to her person or her ability to say whatever she wanted. So how was her speech limited, except by her not being comfortable without her usual crowd of ecstatic mouth-breathers?

    And yeah, Canadians strive for collective good in addition to individual rights…this opens up some opportunities for abuse but on the whole they have done an incredibly good job of balancing these priorities. Which is ironic, because chants of “USA BEST” are usually based on our COLLECTIVE military might and COLLECTIVE GDP, while by every possible standard of INDIVIDUAL quality of life and well-being, Canada is kicking our ass.

  46. #46 omar
    March 25, 2010

    Interesting discussion. Razib, American free speech rights are probably safe for now, but a silly and inflated notion of “hate speech” certainly infects many universities and entire cities (like San Francisco), it could get worse….I personally think there is such a thing as “hate speech” but regulating it by law is utterly pointless because the only time it is remotely justified to regard it as worthy of a ban is when the oppressed group is REALLY oppressed and “hate speech” is part of a vast social apparatus of oppression; and in that situation, the law will be on the side of the haters anyway (I am thinking of the pre-civil rights south). By the time it can be successfully regulated by the law, the worst is over and the obvious downsides of regulation are far worse than any benefit to be gained from it. Then the real purpose is to make somebody feel the glow of being good and moral (“yet another glorious victory for the brave anti-imperialist bullshitters league”)OR (in case of more sophisticated anti-imperialism) to strike a blow to undermine the smooth functioning of a society that you want to destroy anyway.

  47. #47 omar
    March 25, 2010

    I do agree with McNeely that in this case Coulter is being a drama queen (as usual) and while these “hate speech” notions are silly and contrary to ideals of free speech, it may well be that her speech being cancelled is not exactly a good example of “hate speech” laws run wild…

  48. #48 Richard
    March 25, 2010

    Alan Rock’s (President of the University of Ottawa)statement was just right:

    He is also the former Justice Minister for the federal government of Canada.

    Ann Coulter is a liar (stop the presses). But I fully support her right to lie.

  49. #49 Steve
    March 25, 2010

    In reply to nobody in particular, Hitchens addresses this issue in a speech in opposition to hate speech laws in Canada.

    What they say is, it’s not just the right of the person who speaks to be heard, it is the right of everyone in the audience to listen and to hear, and every time you silence somebody you make yourself a prisoner of your own action, because you deny yourself the right to hear something. In other words, your own right to hear and be exposed is as much involved, in all these cases, as is the right of the other to voice his or her view. Indeed as John Stuart Mill said, if all in society were agreed in the truth and beauty and value of one proposition, all except one person, it would be most important, in fact it would become even more important, that that one heretic be heard, because we would still benefit from his perhaps outrageous or appalling view.

    Later in the speech he says this…

    Bear in mind ladies and gentlemen, every time you violate, or propose to violate the free speech of someone else, you, in pretensia, you’re making a rod for your own back, because the other question raised by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes is simply this. Who’s going to decide? To whom do you award the right to decide which speech is harmful, or who is the harmful speaker? Or to determine in advance what are the harmful consequences going to be, that we know enough about in advance to prevent? To whom would you give this job? To whom are you going to award the task of being the censor?

    Whom to would you give the job of deciding for you, relieve you of the responsibility of hearing what you might have to hear? Do you know anyone,…

    Any proponent of any kind of speech limiting should consider the question, “Who decides?” A government should not be in the business of deciding what the citizens should say, hear or think.

  50. #50 miko
    March 25, 2010

    “I didn’t say that there weren’t individual advocates for it. I just said that no societal consensus exists for some right not to be offended, whereas it does elsewhere.”

    It certainly exists in the U.S., where the federal government fines any broadcast media that transmits language or terms it has deemed offensive. Whether you agree with them or not, hate speech laws, in contrast, are not about preventing offense, they are about preventing incitement to violence or harassment.

    First Amendment freedoms in the US have been curtailed regularly almost since the moment of its passage, often in ways that would horrify us today (the Sedition Act), often in ways that make sense. Free speech absolutists are ideologues, therefore pointless to talk to.

The site is currently under maintenance. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.