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Monday, May 28, 2012

"I hate that being anti-racist seems to entail being anti-liberty"

Comments on a generally difficult-to-read article, When Did Bigotry Get So Needy? (this is what happens when you write when upset):

method: Equating racist imagery and language with pornography and restricting children's access to it is an interesting idea. It doesn't seem unreasonable at first glance to have a legal protection for children (although the US Supreme Court has ruled that there can't be a similar protection for video games). The problem is that it's relatively easy to establish that something is sexually obscene (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miller_test), whereas if you apply a similar kind of standard to racism you have to prove that something is patently racist (across community standards) without having "serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value". But racists are, unfortunately, generally trying to say or express something.

This isn't just a philosophical point. Freedom of speech matters because it protects unpopular speech. Every person who says "we can come together as a society and decide what is racist/obscene/unacceptable" should think about what would happen if the social consensus changed about what is racist/obscene/acceptable. The best way to achieve better outcomes in society is to change people's minds, not try to command culture to change through legislation.

lorobird: Really. And how exactly do you propose to change people's minds, if you can't challenge the mainstream, normative, cultural hegemonic discourse? How on earth are we supposed to fight against pervasive racist/classist/sexist/transphobic/etc norms, if we can't even use LAWS which are supposed to protect PEOPLE (most of all children) from being tokenized and attacked?

These cultural products promote and perpetuate a hateful culture. They can be distributed, but they must be restricted (if anything, put a disclaimer at the front and say: "This is seriously dehumanizing shit, beware").

method: I'm in favor of fighting racism through culture, not laws. Why? Because you won' t be able to get a simple consensus on what is "dehumanizing shit" or "what perpetuates a hateful culture" without opening up a whole regime of censorship. And censorship regimes are ultimately systems of control that can be used by whatever political party is in power.

I don't understand how people can go on about "mainstream, normative, cultural hegemonic discourse" without realizing that in a democracy it's the majority (i.e., the mainstream) that will end up defining what is acceptable speech. Do you really trust the government or the majority of your fellow citizens that much?

There are sketches on Chapelle's Show that could easily be considered to be "perpetuating a hateful culture". Others see them as being amazing works of cultural commentary. Who do you trust to make these determinations? Congress? The current Supreme Court? A future supreme court with a couple more conservative appointees? Is it that hard to just leave freedom of speech alone, and fight cultural battles on the field of culture?...

Liberal anti-racists might like the idea of mandatory warnings put on Lou Dobbs or Glenn Beck books, but would be screaming censorship just as loudly if similar warnings were put on [insert polemical figure from the left here]...

in the US, where you already have conservatives protesting against "intellectual discrimination", "war on Christmas", etc., etc. it's just a terrible idea to start categorizing ideas and images as "racially offensive" the way that pornographic images are categorized as obscene. Because as satisfying as it might be to force racists to have special introductions to their works (written by whom? The government? The academy?) it WILL go both ways. Would you accept a mandatory context-providing introduction to "The Autobiography of Malcolm X"?...

I'm making a distinction between legal and social means of fighting racism. Legal means don't actually end racism. They just make the racists go underground, talk in code and develop a sense of being suppressed ("if they're trying to shut me up I must be right"). Plus they're dangerous, because legal tools can be repurposed to go after other groups. I don't see it as a simple thing to "protect ourselves" by regulating speech. I see it as ultimately ineffective and self-defeating and dangerous because it violates a higher principle.

I hate that being anti-racist seems to entail being anti-liberty.


Naturally, one comment: "Maybe it's a good idea that isn't feasible right now--kinda like, y'know, a non-racist society."
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