Sunday, February 17, 2013

What is Right to Speak?

While it might be nice to say hate-speech should be excluded from the college campus, it is pretty hard to get people to agree to what constitutes hate speech. No one ever comes along and says, “Hey. I am going to rouse the crowd into hating a particular group.” One admits to engaging in “criticism” or “speaking truth to power.”

I would like to suggest what I believe to be a better, more objective rubric to be used to determine what should or shouldn’t enjoy the platform offered by the college campus or any other responsible civic organization: honesty.

A presentation should be honest in 3 ways: explicitly, implicitly and intellectually.

Explicitly honest means a presentation is factually correct. I think this is pretty straight forward.

Implicitly honest means that important context and historical information is included. Here is an example:
A team of several masked, well-armed men break into a man’s home in the middle of the night and shoot him in front of his family. As they leave, they steal his computers.
You are probably feeling one way about the victim. Now I tell you that I have just described the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Context changes everything.

Finally, intellectually honest means that conclusions and opinions are supported by the evidence, that counter evidence is not ignored, but can be explained, that cause and effect are not reversed, that correlation is not confused with causation, etc.

It seems to me this standard could be applied to any presentation, controversial or not. As far as I remember, it was the standard for scholarship back when I went to college. Maybe it could be used to determine what makes a "contribution to the intellectual life of the campus" and should be part of "the open and free exchange of ideas."

How does BDS fit into this?  That is for next time.


  1. "...intellectually honest means that conclusions and opinions are supported by the evidence, that counter evidence is not ignored, but can be explained, that cause and effect are not reversed, that correlation is not confused with causation, etc."

    Ah, now there's the rub. On a number of sites which I view and on some of which I comment, there seems to be a distinct and definite inability to see the need for what genuinely disinterested observers (and I'm definitely not disinterested when I comment there, tho' I do believe in evidence, etc) see as evidence.

    I do notice a fair degree of assertion, repetition and even changes of topic, but nary a scintilla of evidence in sight, despite siren calls for it to be cited.

    Could this be because those I am debating with (if only it was a debate) appear to think that their views on BDS are so self-evident that evidence is superfluous?

    1. Brian -

      Thank you for visiting and commenting on my blog. I am familiar with your writing and comments at other site. I am honored to have you consider my thoughts.

      I think the lack of evidence speaks to the low intellectual level of debate. This is somewhat surprising in light of the high education levels of BDS advocates such as Butler or Shulman.

    2. Thank you for the welcome. It's a pleasure being here. It's always nice to join one's friends and allies in the good fight.

      It is indeed surprising that many of those who support BDS - and often go further and out themselves as anti-Israel - do fail to cite evidence in their own support. I've often asserted that high levels of formal education by no means equal common sense, let alone the ability argue and debate outside their own tightly defined area of academic expertise.

      This is not to say that there isn't any evidence that can be cited to support their claims re-Israel. I don't, obviously, believe that the evidence is valid, but they not only fail to cite it, even when challenged again and again, but they fail to query in an appropriate manner the evidence we cite. I have, for example, yet to see a reasoned response to Benjamin Pogrund's assessment of the silliness of the equation of Israel=apartheid.

      Our opponents also appear to think that their case is self-evident and only fools and poltroons could fail to see the sense. So of course we find ourselves asking the air for their evidence.

  2. Another point: Barbara, congratulations on your (and others, of course) largely successful fight against various organisations declaring a boycott against Israel.

    While there are regimes I'm delighted to boycott (I'm very careful which country I buy my dates from, and I'm delighted that my nearest large supermarket stocks Israeli dates - so yah, boo sucks to BDS types), I'm very careful not to tell people that they must do as I do. They will do as they want. Just don't tell me I must do the same.

    1. Thank you, Brian. We just had our 1-year anniversary.

      That is very interesting about not telling other people what to do. As most people I know who are supporting BDS, define themselves as "liberals and supporters of freedom and rights," it is ironic that they are working so hard to impose their will on everybody else.


    2. re: "it is ironic that they are working so hard to impose their will on everybody else", may I introduce you to the term "Rancid Left"? It was coined by Noga of the Contentious Centrist blog, but it's such a great phrase that I've hijacked it.

      It describes exactly the people you mention: if we regard ourselves as "progressive", then we absolutely do exactly as they do, otherwise we fail their imposed test as to being on the left or "liberal".

      Nick Cohen in his book "What's Left?" has it right: the invasion of Iraq was right, but for the wrong reasons. It should have been because Saddam was a fascist dictator, murdering his own people, not because he was part of the "axis of evil", which he wasn't. Or at least not in the sense that Bush meant it.

      One of the ironies for me is that I never thought that I'd find so many allies in _this_ fight on the democratic right and so few on my natural home, the democratic left - except that I'm not so sure that my opponents on the left are necessarily _that_ democratic.

      C'est la vie!


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