Mea Culpa: Free Speech Legalism Edition

Apologies to Ken White for this, he was correct.

More from him:

Patrick: We have an ongoing dispute about whether or not vivid rhetoric implies (totalitarianism! nazis! book-burning!) an assertion of rights. My position is that it does, or at least deliberately blurs the nature of the assertion, and attempts to capture the moral weight of rights and import it into criticism of private speech and action.

In that spirit, I’d rather compare Twitter to Tyrell Corporation or Weyland-Yutani than to Orwell’s imagined society.

It’s not just the blurring the nature of an assertion on the part of the asserter, but the blurring of the nature of the assertion by those on the receiving end of the assertions. I avoided “totalitarianism! nazis! book-burning!”-style arguments, and tried to focus on what sort of self-imposed, self-assumed ethical constraints a private actor is or should be bound when marketing one’s self as a free speech proponent(or, really, proponents of any sort of ideals, virtues, value system), but, having had multiple discussions with unequivocal supporters of Twitter’s actions, failing each and every time come to a mutual understanding of even basic points of contention, I’ve realized it’s all for naught.

As Ken notes in the actual post,

The right to free speech is America’s most important right because it’s how we identify and defend all rights. But you can’t defend a right you don’t understand or can’t define. Distorting or blurring the definition of a right undermines it. In short: free speech legalism matters.

While I don’t “think that Twitter has a civic or moral obligation to uphold “values of free speech””, I do think they have an ethical obligation to not shit that particular bed. However, the power of free speech rhetoric, even with the most careful of wordings, and covered in numerous qualifiers about the non-rights-asserting nature of a particular argument, is in a fragile enough state, that it might be best to abstain completely from its use in private actor concerns. To do otherwise might actually jeopardize real free speech-threatening situations if enough people make distorting or blurring arguments, or enough people distort or blur arguments being made by others that everyone reflexively stops believing the Boy Who Cried Book-Burning, Nazi Totalitarianism.

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