More on Free Speech

Saturday, December 10, 2005
Melanie Phillips is reporting that you can now receive a visit from the police in Britain if you publicly question the right of homosexuals to adopt children. My question in this post is not your opinion on same sex marriage or adoption. But why would anyone imagine that a plainly-stated opinion on such matters qualifies as a "homophobic incident" in need of cautionary policing?

Homophobia is a concept rooted in the fact that we all learn our desires from each other. For example, when we see a very beautiful person, we may simply gaze in awe, needing no other confirmation of this truth of nature, and often feeling no desire to hold or own this beauty. But this is an exception to the rule: most of the time, our natural instincts are subject to cultural mediation. We turn to our fellows to confirm or deny our desire. On a scale of one to ten...

I may not normally be focussed on homoerotic imaginings, but when exposed to them I may well have reason to think I risk falling under their spell, under the other's desire, unless I make an effort to reject them. To the other, this effort may appear a denial of sexual possibilities that are in me if only I could throw off the chains of my repressive past and let them out. The term "homophobia" was first coined to refer to people's denial of a homosexual possibility in at least a good number of us, if not in everyone, and more generally to the denial of the culture of (especially male) homoeroticism that some quite reasonably suggest was at the origin of all erotic culture.

What homophobia has to do with one's opinion on marriage and family is a whole other question, I won't try to figure now. Suffice to note that the assumption implicit in the alleged crime of homophobia, i.e. that we are irrationally fearful of certain natural human desires, makes me wonder what the very concept of homophobia, or phobias more generally, have to do with the policing mentality: "Your professed desire is good/bad; you know it's in you, or at least in human nature, why don't you just admit it or at least celebrate it for others".

The essence of policing is in stopping and winning confession of dangerous desires. The desire for free speech lies in the powerlessness of some desire, and the possibility the powerless might have, if free to speak, to make the powerful respond to their verbal provocations. The truly powerful don't have to talk, and it may well be in their interests not to: if you have to assert your authority, it's a sign you might not have it. A great king is mostly silent; he simply raises a finger or eyebrow and all in court will know and follow his desire. The great king shuts himself up to protect the established community from desire, from too much speech.

But what is the essence of policing and free speech in a world where everyone can do pretty much anything they desire (beyond violence or theft), except, it increasingly seems, speak freely of a desire for a world in which certain boundaries are maintained in the name of a conservative concept of freedom in society?

27 comments:

ambisinistral said...

Looks like another Free Speech vs Hate Speech issue to me.

Many years ago I read a book (I've long since forgotten the title of the book) about the passing of Prohibition. One of the interesting points the author made was that one of the reason prohibition passed was because it was so hard to argue against. Pro Prohibition folks could argue that drinking was bad, while the anti Prohibition people had to craft far more abstract arguments against it.

There is a similar dynamic with the Hate Speech/Crimes issue. Spouting venemous rhetoric, or even worse assualting somebody over their race, life-style or opinions, is clearly wrong. However, arguing that legislating against hate is not the solution, in fact might be a problem, is much harder sell. Who wants to defend hate?

For example, I don't see why killing a person because they're black is worse than killing a person to get the contents of their wallet, but how do you argue against something that will potentially keep a killer behind bars longer?

It is cases like the one cited that are the real problem with these types of laws. Cases that deal not with the crystal clear hate mongers, but ones that lie right along the line drawn in the midst of the shades of grey of life.

There is never a solution, not even a common sense standard, to those shade of grey hate crime issues. Everyone ends up erring on the side of caution. That leads to police being overly zealous and the chilling of any potentially controversial speech. That causes the line in grey to creep into ever more strident territory.

Rick Ballard said...

Ambi,

I think it's more of a "this is what happens when you don't have a 1st Amendment" problem. The rationale for the police action may revolve around a potential perceived "hate" motive but in the US no police are going to be involved on issues of public utterance.

Fascist college administrators, yes, police, no. Kind of the difference between a rowboat and a battleship - unless you work for or attend a "moral re-education center" masquearading as an educational institution.

Cops doing this in the UK make the UK anti-gun laws more understandable - they are pushing toward the point where (if it were the US) armed resistance would be contemplated if not acted upon.

David Thomson said...

This is why I adamantly believe that France moved inevitably into the direction where now it cannot save itself. It does not protect free speech as we do in this country. These fools even put Bernard Lewis on trial for his views on the Armenian massacres by the Turks. No one could publicly discuss the challenge of assimilating the Muslim immigrants without being charged with racism. There is now a good possibility that Great Britain is similarly doomed.

Syl said...

What ambi, Rick, and David said.

As for homophobia itself, I don't understand it and think a lot of arguments against gays and lesbians are rationalizations. I'm not sure I accept that there is a hidden tendency in all of us that makes us afraid. I think it just as likely to be the opposite and it's not fear but a yuk factor because of strangeness.

I also feel very strongly that most people have not been exposed enough to the majority of gays and lesbians who are ordinary people. The loud and exhibitionist in-your-face types get the most press.

I guess I was lucky. I didn't even know there was such a thing until my first apartment in New York. 20 Christopher St. in the West Village. :) Safest place in Manhattan for a single woman at the time. My Dad found the apt for me. A subtle way of educating his daughter while keeping her safe when she left the nest.

terrye said...

BAck in my hippie days I worked at a woman's book store in Bloomington In near campus.

That was an eye opener for a girl from Oklahoma.

But the truth is these kinds of laws scare me a whole lot more than gay people or gay people adopting.

Like the man said, I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will fight to death for your right to say it.

chuck said...

The essence of policing is in stopping and winning confession of dangerous desires.

Oh, come now. The essence of policing is stopping dangerous actions and preventing theft while removing the perps from the streets. Desires, ha; religious figures, PC politicians, and shrinks may worry about desires, sane folks worry about behaviour.

MeaninglessHotAir said...

It was the year 2005 and the Thought Police were finally in control.

Peter UK said...

The essence of policing is gettin a result.Real criminals are hard to catch,they won't turn up for the trial,they don't pay fines,sentencing is derisary.On the other hand much of the middle classes have been criminalised,they have fixed abodes,drivimng licences,they turn up in court,pay thier fines,all in all a good result.
The policecan make as much of a meal over someone carrying a lockblade knife as a burgler beating up an old lady for her pension,Guess who will do the longest sentence the man carrying the penknife he has always carried or the career criminal.
It has become an armed for of social services,The rot sets in at the top with Strategic Command Course run By the University Criminology Department at Bramshill.
To get on a policman has to satisfy his boss,when that boss is concerned with,exclusion,racism,homophobia the the only way up the ladder is satisfying the boss,
Moss senior officers are graduates rather than thief takers and the have bought to new policing hook line and sinker.Gramsci would be pleased.

chuck said...

PeterUK,

Moss [most] senior officers are graduates rather than thief takers...

I have come to the sorrowful conclusion that everything touched by universities turns to shit. Although, in defense of universities, I think it is merely a corollary of the observation that everything touched by the left turns to shit. The famous brown touch, so to speak.

Luther McLeod said...

Great points PeterUK. And are not these the folks who always take the brunt of social change, at least as practiced by the commie's among us. I am sad for England.

Chuck, the "brown touch", sad as well.

But, as said above, Free Speech, is the anchor, without that we shall aimlessly drift to a shore not known.

Rick Ballard said...

Is Free Speech the answer? Or a sufficient number of people who understand that the First Amendment will fall soon after the Second?

Convince enough people that nothing is worth fighting for and they give up their freedom rather easily. That's the true poison of the Left. "Nothing is worth fighting for, so you don't mind if I take this, do you?"

David Thomson said...

“I have come to the sorrowful conclusion that everything touched by universities turns to shit.”

The subjective aspect of the soft science degree programs has much to do with this. In the hard sciences, 2+2=4, and that’s the end of it. It matters not a whit whether you are an atheist, Catholic, or a follower of Ludwig von Mises. I often describe Harvard University as something of an intellectual whore house. Am I saying that its professional academics and their students are mentally inferior? Of course not. Harvard generally gets the cream of the crop. These individuals are truly among the most gifted. Then what is the problem? Someone who want to work hard and earn top honors is often tempted to wet their finger and find out which way the wind is blowing. This is human nature. They end up surrendering to the prevailing zeitgeist.

Buddy Larsen said...

Aren't the hate crime laws about federalizing another state-right? I mean, among other things of course.

Instapundit links some discussion on the theme of usurpation and redefining, and some cogent commentary from Terrye and Jamie Irons among others on RogerSimon's "Tookie" thread.

Luther McLeod said...

Of course not, free speech alone is not the answer, it is only one of many freedoms that far too many are willing to sacrifice in an attempt to meet the criteria of the PC and 'one worlders' ideal world. It began many years ago, when there were truly many injustices in the world. The thing is, is that since that time, there are no credits given anymore, no credits for the changes that have taken place, no credits given for more people living in freedom and not suffering from a lack of true want, 'food, clothing, shelter,' than at any time in the past history of the world. Shit, I'm preaching to the choir.

There are just too many distraction's for most to appreciate the overall progress of freedom in the world over the last 2500 years. It is jealously and guilt that lead so many to hate this country. Jealously because we do lead the way forward, and the world doesn't want to admit it. And guilt, because, through a fortuitous set of circumstances, we are the beacon, and they don't want to admit that either.

Sorry for the wordiness, but I do love my T&T's on occasion.

truepeers said...

The essence of policing is in stopping and winning confession of dangerous desires.

-yes, I didn't word that one very well. But I was thinking when I wrote it about a police state where people are policed against their desires, as in Maoist re-education. And if the expression of "homophobia" has become a crime, isn't this indeed a case of policing our speech which is but a reflection of our desires, e.g. for a certain kind of society?

Syl, i think you are right that the yuk factor is key to understanding people's response to various forms of sexuality. There may be some natural basis for this (though tied up with culture). But the more explicitly cultural factor is equally important. Prescription of homosexuality was something of great importance in early, priestly, Jewish culture, as reflected in the Bible. I imagine this was for them a question of how certain desires should not be allowed to impose themselves on, or compromise, structures of power, ritual equality, and family life.

Recently in Canada, the hate speech law was amended to make it illegal not just to promote hatred against ethnic, religious, or racial groups, but also against a given sexual orientation. This led many Christians to fear the Bible would be banned as hate speech.

That doesn't seem likely, yet it's clear that the Old Testament doesn't look favorably on homosexuality. Our culture has evolved out of this Biblical tradition. So why shouldn't people be allowed to see rightness in it and to speak their minds accordingly?

Well, many would say that Judeo-Christian religion can be hateful, including many who profess that religion and seek to liberalize it. But of course to say this in certain ways is to indulge in an irrational hatred of a religion and the people who profess it. We soon discover that the liberal state, in worshipping its methods, and not a vision of the good, has some deep contradictions in it. No social system can last long on methods or processes alone, with no one publicly professing and freely fighting for visions of the good.
"The 'secular state' is a liberal state, but it is neither opposed to religion nor does it fancy itself the referee of religion. It is liberal because it knows that it is temporary, not because it imagines itself to be neutral." - Douglas Farrow

David Thomson said...

“The thing is, is that since that time, there are no credits given anymore, no credits for the changes that have taken place, no credits given for more people living in freedom and not suffering from a lack of true want, 'food, clothing, shelter,' than at any time in the past history of the world.”

Some of the blame belongs to the well meaning John Rawls. Thinkers like him emphasize the importance of equality. This is a no-win situation because inequality is intrinsically unavoidable. No matter how wealthy the overall society becomes, there will always be a lower class. Somebody has to wash the toilets and mow the lawns. Once we worry about Bill Gates being worth some fifty billion dollars we are royally screwed. No longer do we care that the poorest among us have plenty to eat and own color televisions---the only thing that matters is that Gates is far wealthier than the rest of us.

Buddy Larsen said...

"social justice" is flat-out the biggest most destructive oxymoron in the history of political language.

It is absolutely impossible to give-and-take to a 100% mean, in a "just" way. and the proof is in what it does to the "beneficiaries", who are de-linked from nature and made to be helpless in it.

And worst of all, robbed of the human-nature trait of responding to incentive, many under such a state become just slightly less humane, just a tad monstrous. Savez-vous?

Buddy Larsen said...

In other words, if our cherished vision is of humanity moving toward the light, and as Luther says, getting there, really, in terms of the basic quality of life, what to make of the 20th century's great Red Retrograde Maneuver?

Is it merely an artifact of the join-up of masscomm with opportunity and politicians who have nothing in them but drive?

IOW, plain old shitty luck, so far, here and there?

clarice said...

If you look at British libel/slander law (or Greek, for that matter) you will be astonished at how far apart we are from most of even Western Europe on such a fundamental thing.(I mention Greece because I recall reading of a European writer who was fighting extradition--I think from Holland-- to Greece where a poem of his was considered blasphemy and under EU rules the extradition was permitted.)

Or, take a peek at the Oriana Fallaci trial.

The difference makes an abomination like this one possible--but hate crimes are a small part of the problem,just more evidence that free speech is far more circumscribed there than it is here.

Luther McLeod said...

"if our cherished vision is of humanity moving toward the light"

Well Buddy, that is the question, isn't it? What is our vision? Do we have one? Maybe more importantly, do we need one? How do we look at it, day to day, or eon to eon. I scare myself when I look too far into the future.

Buddy Larsen said...

I think the Biblical seven generations--from 1914--will play out before Europe can trust again.

Buddy Larsen said...

Should we even try to look into the future? That's another question. Maybe it's an overstep, maybe it leads us to feeling always like we're "on the wrong path"--as if we could even begin to see the unintended cosequences, and the Newtonian push-backs.

Luther McLeod said...

I always thought "Be here Now" was good advice ;-)

Buddy Larsen said...

That's a 10-4, Luther! Take care of the small shit, and the big shit will take care of itself. And of the small shit, don't sweat it too much--it's just the small shit.
;-)

Luther McLeod said...

You got it Buddy.

Truepeers, apologies for the digressions.

Manana

Peter UK said...

Some information concerning the Bramshill Strategic Command Course.Run in partnership with Cambridge University Department of Criminology.Quote The educational input there is very much focused on research.....research skills and the wider area of criminology,looking at social exclusion,racism,that sort of thing.
..a company director..not messing about chasing criminals all day".
Cambridge ,is of course famous for its contribution to the Cold War,Philby,Blount,Burgess and McLean.
Gramsci would be proud of the new boys.
This is the end result

truepeers said...

Peter, I don't think that's the link you intended, but interesting nonetheless:

Worse still, this led to collusion with government. Under the cosh of government targets, the police had to show results. So they concentrated on offences such as speeding which would produce the maximum results for the minimum effort.

As a result, police officers became increasingly politicised. They became paralysed by fear of giving offence to minorities, and adopted New Labour shibboleths such as a preoccupation with hate crime, domestic violence against women or gay rights. Instead of standing up to successive governments and telling them to get their tanks off their lawn, senior officers meekly did their bidding and too often turned themselves into New Labour mouthpieces.