March 19, 2015

Trust the state. The state is your friend. It hardly ever uses its power to oppress people, particularly minorities.

A few links of the day, on a general "careful what you wish for" theme. Proponents of greater state control in a good cause never seem to consider the quite likely possibility that these instruments of enforcement might well be turned against themselves.

1. Here's an almost literally interminable denunciation of the First Amendment, the United States, and liberalism in the name of furthering "progressive" aims for a more just society.

Now, it may well be a parody, or "trolling" or somesuch. On the other hand, it may not be, and I've bumped up against enough right-on good and true self-identifying "progressives" who sincerely share these views to put that question in irresolvable doubt. If this particular writer is not sincere, she might as well be. tl;dr (and boy is it ever "tl"): the US is backward and uncivilized for failing to join Europe and other more "progressive" countries in imprisoning those who express unpleasant, unhelpful, offensive, or otherwise forbidden views about this or that. In a better world (e.g. Australia) people would be judged "automatically guilty of offending, insulting, humiliating, or intimidating minorities unless they can prove their innocence beyond any reasonable doubt." Further: "in Australia, you absolutely cannot call yourself a progressive unless you actively work to criminalize all forms of un-progressive speech."

Well, what could go wrong? "Progressive" in the sense used here is quite vague, characterizing a mood and a sense of cultural affinity rather than anything specific or concrete; and what might, over time, constitute the presumptively inviolable ok "progressive" type of speech is accordingly subject to a great deal of uncertainty. (Indeed, it varies widely from progressive to progressive at present; everyone has an ox they'd rather not see gored, even the putative "good people.") Moreover, states can and will use such laws as pretexts to target those it deems to be enemies, who could well include some of the good people, oddly enough. How do you know whether your ideas are forbidden or "okay" at any given point? Answer: wait to see if the state decides to punish you for them. Trust the state. The state is your friend. It hardly ever uses its power to oppress people, particularly minorities.

Indeed,the notion that the sort of system proposed here is likely to protect minorities, rather than subject them to arbitrary abuse, now or down the road, is puzzling-to-insane. It can only seem sensible, it seems to me, to someone who believes he or his will never, ever be in the crosshairs, a particularly ludicrous assumption for a left-activist to make. In fact, this essay itself feels quite hate-y, as it were. Would our ingenuous Australian progressive care to roll the dice and let someone else decide whether or not she should be imprisoned for it? The First Amendment is an attempt to take the state out of that equation, and thank God we've got it. Maybe, if the article is a parody, that's the point being made here as well, oblique, leaden, and interminable though it may be. ("Assaults on the human dignity of Muslims are simply not tolerated in Europe." Irony or mere distance from awareness of reality? You decide. Regardless, Bill of Rights all the way.)

2. Fredrik deBoer comments on the latest Laura Kipnis controversy summarized here. tl;dr: Professor Kipnis wrote a flippant article decrying sexual policing and the new censorious spirit on campus, in response to which a group of students showed up outside her office with mattresses (because apparently this is a thing now -- the mattress is the new pitchfork) demanding that the university officially condemn her, and demonstrating her point more eloquently than the essay itself ever could. Irony noted by deBoer, who adds:

That should be a lesson to the left in general: we should oppose incursions on free speech not merely out of principle but also because the left is vulnerable and lacks power, by its very nature. Precisely because we speak for powerless constituencies, the left will very rarely control the ability to dictate which kinds of speech are permissible. We are much more likely to be censored than to effectively censor others. Only in the funhouse mirror views of campus life or online bubbles could we become so sure of our own ability to dictate who gets to say what, when. It’s for that reason that I say, for example, that the day we pass anti-hate speech legislation in this country is the day that Palestinian activism is declared hate speech, because of inequities in political power in this country. The left’s flirtations with censorship are not merely wrong on principle; they’re self-destructive.

3. Finally, a quote from Reason's Robby Soave, in his post about the latest case of abuse by Virginia's Department of Alcohol Beverage Control. (They beat a black UVA student bloody after he was turned away from a bar.) Apparently the increased police presence was at least partly instituted "for the protection of women."


It does suck. But as was the case with the terrible choking death of Eric Garner, liberals should remember that a general call for more things to be illegal—for the government to do more about a problem—is by necessity a call for increasingly vigorous policing. A demand for bigger government is essentially a request for more clashes between cops and citizens (socially-marginalized citizens, in particular).

Or, in meme form:

Whenever government agents are caught abusing citizens on the basis of some inane pretext, well-meaning people always respond with sincere calls for the institution of still more such pretexts, that is, for greater, rather than lesser, effective power to the institutions responsible for the abuse. There are great problems in our society, obviously, but if anything is clear from the last several decades, it's that you can't simply criminalize your way out of social problems without the risk of making them far worse. e.g., the War on Drugs most egregiously but I believe it's something like a generally applicable dynamic as well. Activism for greater state power on behalf of those most vulnerable and likely to suffer from it truly boggles my mind.

Posted by Dr. Frank at March 19, 2015 06:02 PM