Saturday, April 23, 2022

#113 / Bothsidesism

The New York Times ran an editorial statement in its March 18, 2022, edition. The headline stated, "America Has A Free Speech Problem." The body of the editorial contained these statements:

Americans are losing hold of a fundamental right as citizens of a free country: the right to speak their minds and voice their opinions in public without fear of being shamed or shunned.

This social silencing, this depluralizing of America, has been evident for years, but dealing with it stirs yet more fear. It feels like a third rail, dangerous. For a strong nation and open society, that is dangerous.

How has this happened? In large part, it’s because the political left and the right are caught in a destructive loop of condemnation and recrimination around cancel culture. Many on the left refuse to acknowledge that cancel culture exists at all, believing that those who complain about it are offering cover for bigots to peddle hate speech. Many on the right, for all their braying about cancel culture, have embraced an even more extreme version of censoriousness as a bulwark against a rapidly changing society, with laws that would ban books, stifle teachers and discourage open discussion in classrooms.... 
The full-throated defense of free speech was once a liberal ideal. Many of the legal victories that expanded the realm of permissible speech in the United States came in defense of liberal speakers against the power of the government — a ruling that students couldn’t be forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, a ruling protecting the rights of students to demonstrate against the Vietnam War, a ruling allowing the burning of the American flag. And yet many progressives appear to have lost faith in that principle....
According to Substack commentator Matt Taibbi, this statement by The Times, which seems to articulate what many might consider to be a commonplace, and a statement that Taibbi calls "the world's dullest editorial," made lots of people furious, with many commentators offended that The Times said that those expressing hateful and horrible political opinions should get to express them without any responding censorship or shaming.
Taibbi cited to numerous statements from other media that said just that, including a charge by Dan Froomkin of Press Watch, who called The Times' editorial, “toxic, brain-deadening bothsidesism.” Froomkin "went on to demand a retraction and a “mass resignation” of The Times' editorial board. Click this link to get Froomkin's point of view. You might also want to read this piece by Froomkin, which documents a conversation between Taibbi and Froomkin about how "free speech" is actually supposed to operate in the real world. 

I have to say that I do tend to agree with The New York Times, and its view of free speech. I also think I have to rise to the defense of "bothsidesism." 

Opinions abound, and if we care about out individual and collective ability to figure out what positions are better, and which worse, we need to let everyone (as a practical matter, and not just as a theoretical matter) "fight it out" in the public square. 

People espousing all points of view, all "sides," should get to be stupid, in public. 

That's the way I see it, anyway. 

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