Kindly Inquisitors, Revisited

Twenty years on, the case for restricting speech in the name of tolerance is weaker than ever.

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Most of us are also not Galileos or Einsteins, or Sakharovs or Kings. The good news is that most of us don't need to be. We need only a few Kamenys-plus a system that is very good at testing and rejecting bad hypotheses and at bringing forward better ones. As gay people stepped forward, liberal science engaged. The old anti-gay dogmas came under critical scrutiny as never before. "Homosexuals molest and recruit children"; "homosexuals cannot be happy"; "homosexuals are really heterosexuals"; "homosexuality is unknown in nature": The canards collapsed with astonishing speed.

What took place was not just empirical learning but also moral learning. How can it be wicked to love? How can it be noble to lie? How can it be compassionate to reject your own children? How can it be kind to harass and taunt? How can it be fair to harp on one Biblical injunction when so many others are ignored? How can it be just to penalize what does no demonstrable harm? Gay people were asking straight people to test their values against logic, against compassion, against life. Gradually, then rapidly, the criticism had its effect.

You cannot be gay in America today and doubt that moral learning is real and that the open society fosters it. And so, 20 years on, I feel more confident than ever that the answer to bias and prejudice is pluralism, not purism. The answer, that is, is not to try to legislate bias and prejudice out of existence or to drive them underground, but to pit biases and prejudices against each other and make them fight in the open. That is how, in the crucible of rational criticism, superstition and moral error are burned away.

I believe the hope of living in a world free of discrimination and prejudice is a utopian pipe dream, and is as anti-human and dangerous as most other utopian pipe dreams. The quest to stamp out discrimination or bigotry or racism wherever it appears is a quest to force all opinion into a single template. I reject the premise-not just the methods-of the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which calls on signatory countries to prohibit "all dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred." In my view, if minorities know what is good for us, we should at every turn support pluralism, with all its social messiness and personal hurt. Politicians and activists, however well intentioned, who would shelter us from criticism and debate offer false comfort.

History shows that, over time and probably today more than ever, the more open the intellectual environment, the better minorities will do. It is just about that simple. So here is a reply to advocates of hate-speech regulation who wonder if, today, it really serves any purpose to let people go around touting The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The answer is yes, it does. We cannot fight hate and fraud without seeing them and debunking them. John Stuart Mill, writing in On Liberty in 1859, was right. "Wrong opinions and practices gradually yield to fact and argument: but facts and arguments, to produce any effect on the mind, must be brought before it."

Today I fear that many people on my side of the gay-equality question are forgetting our debt to the system that freed us. Some gay people-not all, not even most, but quite a few-want to expunge discriminatory views. "Discrimination is discrimination and bigotry is bigotry," they say, "and they are intolerable whether or not they happen to be someone's religion or moral creed."

Here is not the place for an examination of the proper balance between, say, religious liberty and anti-discrimination rules. It is a place, perhaps, for a plea to those of us in the gay-rights movement-and in other minority-rights movements-who now find ourselves in the cultural ascendency, with public majorities and public morality (strange to say it!) on our side. We should be the last people on the planet to demand that anyone be silenced.

Partly the reasons are strategic. Robust intellectual exchange serves our interest. Our greatest enemy is not irrational hate, which is pretty uncommon. It is rational hate, hate premised upon falsehood. (If you believe homosexuality poses a threat to your children, you will hate it.) The main way we eliminate hate is not to legislate or inveigh against it, but to replace it-with knowledge, empirical and ethical. That was how Frank Kameny and a few other people, without numbers or law or public sympathy on their side, turned hate on its head. They had arguments, and they had the right to make them.

And partly the reasons are moral. Gay people have lived in a world where we were forced, day in and day out, to betray our consciences and shut our mouths in the name of public morality. Not so long ago, everybody thought we were wrong. Now our duty is to protect others' freedom to be wrong, the better to ensure society's odds of being right. Of course, we can and should correct the falsehoods we hear and, once they are debunked, deny them the standing of knowledge in textbooks and professions; but we equally have the responsibility to defend their expression as opinion in the public square.

Finding the proper balance is not easy and isn't supposed to be. If a Catholic adoption agency wants to refuse placements to same-sex couples, we will have to argue about where to draw lines. What I am urging is a general proposition: Minorities are the point of the spear defending liberal science. We are the first to be targeted with vile words and ideas, but we are also the leading beneficiaries of a system which puts up with them. The open society is sometimes a cross we bear, but it is also a sword we wield, and we are defenseless without it.

We ought to remember what Frank Kameny never forgot: For politically weak minorities, the best and often only way to effect wholesale change in the world of politics is by effecting change in the world of ideas. Our position as beneficiaries of the open society requires us to serve as guardians of it. Playing that role, not seeking government protections or hauling our adversaries before star chambers, is the greater source of our dignity.

Frank Kameny, an irascible man with a capacious conscience, had it right. In more than 50 years of activism, he never called for silencing or punishing those he disagreed with, but he never cut them any argumentative slack, either. In his spirit, I hope that when gay people-and non-gay people-encounter hateful or discriminatory opinions, we respond not by trying to silence or punish them but by trying to correct them.

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    Heard him on Penn's Sunday School telling the story of Frank Kameny, one of the original gay activists, well worth listening to.

    Also we get to hear Rauch defend his "keep the government in marriage," position against an admittedly outmatched Penn Jillette. While I agree with Jillette that government should just get the fuck out, I really enjoyed hearing Rauch make his point.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    "Unlike most workplaces, universities are at the heart of intellectual life, and so the bureaucratization of speech controls there is more disturbing."

    Bollocks - most normal people spend at most a few years at a university, and their interest is generally in a marketable degree and/or drinking themselves into a stupor, not sitting around in the Agora debating the great issues.

    In contrast, people spend a majority of their lives in the workplace, and though workplaces in general have never been free speech zones, the govt is encouraging employers to be more repressive than before - and then the private sector gets blamed for the censorship, leading to more calls for govt intervention. Employers who want a freewheeling work atmosphere will have to think twice lest they later be found to have allowed a "hostile environment."

    "the very people who should have been most protective of intellectual freedom"

    As applied to academics, this is bollocks. They defended their own speech, and the speech of people they sympathized with. When it came to speech they *didn't* like - look at the behavior of German professors and students under Weimar, and this in the country which invented "academic freedom." In the great and glorious Sixties, the profs looked the other way as a minority of students trashed their institutions, including shouting down conservative speakers, which still happens today.

  • mtrueman||

    I agree with a lot of this. I too am puzzled that when freedom of speech in the work place is discussed, it is almost certainly about the academic workplace which compared to the daily workplace that most of us inhabit is a bastion of freedom. When most workers punch the clock, they routinely alienate their rights of speech, not to mention the indignity of submitting to requests to produce urine samples etc.

    The 60's was a time of youthful rebellion and iconoclasm. It's obviously going to affect colleges. For greater influence, look at the army. 60's militancy also brought an end to the conscripted military.

  • OneOut||

    I thought the word was "bullocks" ? A condensation of bull cocks ?

  • Tagalog||

    Ballocks and bullocks are two different things.

  • ReasonableS||

    I had someone in this forum state they wished I would kill myself and that I would take my family with me into death. It wasn't a death threat, but it was very hateful. No one challenged his hateful speech except for me. If we want to keep speech as free as possible even hate speech we need to challenge it when it occurs. There has to be social consequences to hate speech otherwise when the hate speech if followed by violence there will be a growing pressure to create legal consequences and that puts control over speech with the government and not with the people.

    Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences speech. My opinions are not common in this forum and I have to face the consequences that stating unpopular opinions brings. Why shouldn't people who promote hate or violence in their speech not have to face their consequences? If you view me as your enemy and feel comfortable telling me that I am an idiot or of low moral character, why aren't you willing to challenge your friends when they go overboard and promote hate or violence?

  • Azathoth!!||

    Here, try this--

    Sticks and stones may break my bones,
    But names can never hurt me.

    Now grow the fuck up.

  • OneOut||

    Bingo ! We have a winner.

  • OneOut||

    If there are consequences to their speech they will have to face them. If there are no consequences they will not.

    Obviously there are no consequences to wishing for an anonymous username on the internet to die.

    Have you tried therapy ?

  • Acosmist||

    Hate speech is protected. So fuck straight off.

  • ReasonableS||

    Very few of you who responded to my post added anything of substance. You just engaged in personal attacks. Shouldn't the response to my freedom of thought be criticism of my thoughts and not personal attacks? Shouldn't your response to "hate" speech be criticism of that speech? I am not trying to stop hate speech I am trying to encourage criticism of it just as attempts to criminalize hate speech is criticized. I am not complaining about the existence of hate speech, but rather the lack of critical response to it.

    If you want to avoid criminal consequence of hate speech then social consequences is a step in that direction.

  • Beezard||

    In the current environment social criticism of "hate speech" is really quite abundant.

    Creating a climate of fear and training other humans to immediate attack or disregard someone else's speech or ideas because they don't conform to a fashionable premeditated socio-political world view often indoctrinated from the top down is more along the lines of intellectual terrorism than organic social change.

    It's not necessarily the way to convince any one of anything. It's usually not convincing its brow beating.

  • mtrueman||

    I am tempted to see this as when a door of freedom opening on one side of the house, another door on the other side comes slamming shut. We beg the government to foster inclusivity with minorities, and when they comply, the rest of us find our lives just a little more impoverished. In this case we find our rights to say hateful things about gays curtailed.

  • grey||

    Why do I cringe when I read a liberty or right and then the word, however? What follows usually takes everything...I mean everything away from the initial assertion of rights.

  • mtrueman||

    "What follows usually takes everything...I mean everything"

    But it's not everything. The advances made by minorities like gays are very real and concrete. The set backs, like the hate speech restrictions, are also real, and I see them as linked. With rights, necessarily come responsibilities, and when we rely on government to guarantee rights, they will inevitably impose responsibilities.

  • mememine69||

    Climate change believers are like Rob Ford; they never even knew what the consensus was everybody was agreeing on.

    We are climate change deniers because we know science has NEVER agreed it WILL be a crisis with a consensus of nothing beyond "could be" a crisis so what gives YOU the right say it WILL? You remaining believers cannot say a crisis will happen, only could.

    You MUST respect the word of science that after 30 years of intensive CO2 research has NEVER said or agreed any crisis WILL happen or is "inevitable" or "eventual".

    If "maybe" is good enough for you to condemn your own children and billions of others to a catastrophic climate crisis that only YOU is saying will happen, you don’t love the planet you just hate humanity itself.

    Only news editors, you doomers and politicians are saying a crisis will happen, science has NEVER said it WILL. Stop your needless CO2 panic and fear mongering before history calls 30 years of this Reefer Madness of climate blame a pure war crime.

    The only crisis you remaining believers have to worry about is how your grand kids will explain to their kids how you condemned them with such sickening childish glee and at the mere grunt of a headline to the worst crisis imaginable; a climate crisis.

  • Jimbo BTR||

    Here in Australia we have a number of different varieties of climate-change doomers (catastrophists is a more accurate term but doesn't roll off the tongue as nicely).

    There are the "sea-changer's", who move to be closer to the ocean and then blame "climate change" when a storm wrecks their houses.

    There are "tree-changer's", who move out to the country to be closer to nature and then blame "climate-change" when a bush-fire razes their houses.

    Then there are "river-sider's", who pay large sums to have a water-front view and then blame "climate-change" when the river floods their homes.

    Plus we have all the usual left-wing nutbags you find elsewhere. It's just that those above are often otherwise normal people.

  • Jimbo BTR||


    Storms, fires and floods have always occurred. The real change is that more people are living in areas that are prone to these events. When they do occur, the damage is greater and affects more people. On top of that, you have 24 hour news coverage of these events so, people who are otherwise unaffected are more aware of them than ever.

    These things plus a high level of scientific illiteracy and a low level of critical thinking among the general populace have conspired to give doomers a veneer of respectability, which will only be stripped away when the average person realizes how much it's going to cost them personally when governments pursue policies based on such foolishness.

    When rises in the cost of utilities outstrips the rate of inflation by significant margins for a few years, people will suddenly find that not being able to afford to light, heat or cool their houses now means a lot more to them than what "might" happen in a hundred years time.

    At that point, if they also find out that the "developing" world has no intention of stopping or even slowing down its modernization and that this will more than offset any cuts to emissions the "first" world makes, then the game is truly up. The great AGW scam will have run its course and the doomers will have to find another game to play.

  • sheila124||

    my best friend's ex-wife makes $74 an hour on the laptop. She has been out of work for five months but last month her pay was $21054 just working on the laptop for a few hours. explanation..........................


  • Beezard||

    Mr. Humphries on "Are you being served?" had more to do with relaxing anti-gay sentiments and smoothing the way for gay rights than a thousand college professors and their quasi-Maoist attempts at creating a climate of fear around saying certain words or expressing certain ideas.

  • Tagalog||

    "(L)iberal science?" Is that anything like "Jewish science?"


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