Free Speech

Nadine Strossen (Former ACLU President), Jonathan Haidt (The Coddling of the American Mind), and Me on "Cancel Culture"


I very much enjoyed this hour-long conversation, organized by the Pacific Legal Foundation, and I hope you do, too.

A bit more about the other two panelists, adapted from the PLF's description:

Professor Nadine Strossen is the John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law, Emerita at New York Law School. She is also a civil rights activist, author, and former president of the ACLU. The National Law Journal named Professor Strossen as one of America's 100 most influential lawyers. Her most recent book is Hate: Why We Should Resist it with Free Speech, Not Censorship.

Professor Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist at New York University's Stern School of Business. He is well known for his pioneering research into morality and how it varies across cultures and political orientations. Professor Haidt co-founded Heterodox Academy, a network of more than four thousand professors advancing viewpoint diversity in academia. He is also the author of three best-selling books, The Happiness Hypothesis, The Righteous Mind, and, with Greg Lukianoff, The Coddling of the American Mind.

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  1. Is there going to be a transcript? It sounds like something I might want to read, rather than sitting at the computer with the sound turned up high enough to get past my tinnitus.

    1. Me too. I’m also dealing with bandwidth and text is more reliable.

  2. The right sends a professor who engages in partisan censorship to complain about ‘cancel culture?’

    No wonder conservatives have lost the culture war.

    1. It’s horrible how you were cancelled. Think of the valuable insights we could be getting if you could speak your mind freely!

  3. Could Nadine Strossen even get an internship with today’s ACLU?

    1. I think the was only a token Republican even back when she was a prominent member. I remember the recruiting letters I got from them, and it was VERY clear they had no interest in civil libertarians who weren’t left-wing joinint.

      1. Which explains why these days, when the Left is openly contemptuous of civil liberties, the ACLU has reoriented accordingly.

        1. I wonder if them standing up for Nazis marching, or government funding upended crosses in urine were really about freedom of speech purity, or just kicking the relatively conservative general population in the nads.

          I have a tough time believing they’d be on board with Nazis marching nowadays, or the National Endowment for the Arts paying for the defiling of Muslim icons “because it’s a good thing they be forced to see this kind of statement”.

          Correct answer: people should be free, and government money should not be used to deliberately defile sacred symbols.

  4. Can anyone point to an instance of cancel culture targeting Burkean conservatives, Eishenhower conservatives, main street conservatives, neoconservatives, Wall Street conservatives, conservative economists, or, really, any conservatives at all except movement conservatives? If not, I suggest that maybe resentment of so-called cancel culture is better judged as the reaction of a group of targeters who expected to target with impunity, but were annoyed to find themselves targeted back.

    1. Let’s try an experiment: Invite someone to campus to defend the proposition that the federal government should publicly acknowledge God, or that appointing Brennan and Warren to the Supreme Court were the two mistakes Eisenhower made in his administration – things which Eisenhower believed.

      Or invite someone to defend the proposition that the Civil Rights Act (at least as administered in practice) unjustly infringes on economic freedom – something some conservative economists believe.

      Or invite a neoconservative to champion Israel and vigorously denounce the Palestinians.

      Or invite someone to defend main street views such as that women shouldn’t be considered men and vice versa, that same-sex marriage is wrong, etc.

      1. Or for that matter, invite someone to defend Eisenhower’s “Operation Wetback” –

        1. What would be really fun would be to have someone recommend an anticommunist loyalty program for federal employees, modeled after what Eisenhower had.

          1. nb – I’ve realized that Eisenhower may have been more extreme that I’m willing to go right now, but certainly people should be able to defend Eisenhower’s positions and policies, right?

            1. Finally, have someone come and defend Eisenhower’s policies re government employment of gay people.

      2. Not that I think you’re wrong, but such mental experiments only prove what you think, they don’t inform you about the reality outside your head.

        It’s no different in that regard to the left thinking Trump was a dictator because they could easily imagine him doing dictator type things, like refusing to leave office peacefully.

        1. It’s no different in that regard to the left thinking Trump was a dictator because they could easily imagine him doing dictator type things, like refusing to leave office peacefully.

          Yeah, it was totally nutso crazy to think he might try to incite a mob to kidnap and/or kill members of Congress to prevent them from formally declaring his opponent the winner.

          1. Why yes, it is nutso to think that.

          2. “mob to kidnap and/or kill members of Congress”

            Fake news. Sad to see a libertarian swallow prosecutor.

            “A U.S. Department of Justice official on Friday walked back a federal claim that Capitol rioters “intended capture and assassinate elected officials.”
            “Washington’s acting U.S. Attorney, Michael Sherwin, said in a telephone briefing, “There is no direct evidence at this point of kill-capture teams and assassination.”

            1. Meant to say:

              Sad to see a libertarian swallow prosecutor spin so easily.

            2. You don’t need a kill-and-capture team to make it pretty clear the mob was about minutes away from some kill and capture action.

              There is plenty of interviews with the people in the Capitol to that effect. As well as subsequent journalism about the social media of some of those who went into the Capitol.

              1. I’m quite a bit older than you – old enough to have lived through the 60’s. But, if you can, transport yourself back in time to those troubled days. Would you have viewed the Weathermen as a valid threat? They certainly wanted to take over and establish re-education camps for the wrong-thinkers. They bombed the capitol, inter alia.

                At the time, they were viewed as an annoyance. And yet, they seemed like a more credible threat than our horned shaman. Not a credible threat, mind you, just more credible than him.

                I think Bill Ayers is a little nutty, but he is not (from link above) “I am able to perceive multiple different frequencies of light beyond my five senses and it allows me to see into these other higher dimensions” nutty.

                So explain to me why the weathermen were all just fun and games, and the 6Jan riot was the greatest threat to the republic since Gettysburg.

                1. The Weathermen? The ones that made bombs?

                  Yeah, I would have! Dunno if they targeted Congress while it was in session and certifying Nixon or Johnson though, vs. just like police stations and the like. I don’t hold those two things equal.

                  I think you are taking a far too utilitarian view of this. Our justice system is not purely utilitarian – even doomed murder plots are still punishable.
                  Similarly, Trump’s inciting a mob to overturn an election he doesn’t like is worth serious sanction.

                  I also think you are underplaying the threat. By all accounts if things had been a minute different, or security not been quite as clever, we would have had something a lot more serious. Not threatening to our republic, and maybe not deadly, but extremely bad news.

                  1. Fair enough. People assess risk differently.

                    (I’m just finishing a book called ‘Locust’, about the now-extinct Rocky Mountain Locust. The entomologist author went to some Rocky Mtn glaciers looking for frozen specimens, of which there are sometimes great numbers from when a swarm got caught in a storm. Anyway, he describes the trips as expeditions walking on the razor edge of danger. I’ve been to some of those same glaciers, and I thought they were fun easy hikes :-). Viva la… )

                    1. Thought about this a bit, and I think part of it is the times. Vietnam, assassinations, the Cold War…the world is a lot safer now. And thus we have a lower threshold of risk acceptance.

                      I think this also speaks some to the worldwide risk assessment about COVID.

                    2. “Cold War…the world is a lot safer now”

                      I dunno about that at all, in a war sense.

                      “And thus we have a lower threshold of risk acceptance.”

                      I agree the world is a lot safer in another sense, and it predates the cold war. In my parent’s generation, losing up to 50% of kids to childhood diseases was normal. That changed abruptly. If you think about the psychology of that, plus the routine adult deaths to appendicitis, yadda, yadda, all of a sudden letting your kid walk to school alone, go trick or treating, etc, doesn’t seem to be so risky. Once the childhood diseases were more or less conquered, then cars looked dangerous, so we did seat belts, air bags, yadda, then on to the next hazard. Whatever the biggest risk you face seems yuuuuge, even if in absolute terms it is minuscule.

                  2. The Weathermen? The ones that made bombs?

                    Yeah, I would have! Dunno if they targeted Congress while it was in session and certifying Nixon or Johnson though, vs. just like police stations and the like. I don’t hold those two things equal.

                    I don’t think that’s the primary distinction. The primary distinction is that that the Weathermen didn’t have the support of a large segment of the population including half of one of the two major parties.

              2. They shot one perp, and had spare ammo. I’m thinking they could easily have killed a dozen if they’d needed to.

        2. “such mental experiments only prove what you think, they don’t inform you about the reality outside your head”

          No, I suggested experiments to be carried out in reality.

          Let those who scoff at the idea of cancel culture (eg, on campus) go right ahead and issue the invitations I suggested, just to prove how exaggerated the whole thing is. Then we’ll see if it’s all in my head or not.

          1. Who today, other than a “movement conservative,” would advocate for Eisenhower’s policies on internal security and homosexuality?

            Or defend the Eisenhower administration’s overthrow of the Arbenz government in Guatemala?

            Or praise John Foster Dulles as a foreign-policy genius?

            I think some people simply have this impression of Eisenhower as a genial, grandfatherly figure who must have been a nice liberal guy because National Review denounced him.

            See what happens today who, for example, support the enforcement of the immigration laws, or oppose “gay marriage,” and I think you’ll get an idea of how actual “Eisenhower conservatives” would get treated – the Eisenhower conservatives are more “extreme” even than the people who got banned.

      3. Cal, calm down. Do you see what you did? You imagined, “somebody”—somebody not a movement conservative, but some other kind of conservative—willing to fly missions against high-priority movement conservative targets. But you omitted the name.

        Now try to name a notable academic Burkean conservative who you can imagine doing that. Work your way down my list of conservative types. Who among them would do it? Your best bet would be neocons on Israel issues. I’ll give you that one. But still, find me a name—some conservative not already in the movement conservative fold, and already on the attack.

        Turns out movement conservatism does a lot of targeting. It’s a movement which lives to target. Cal had no trouble delivering a targeting list. Naturally, targets shoot back. That’s all, “cancel culture,” amounts to. Defensive fire.

        I don’t see shooting back after you get targeted as some kind of major threat to freedom of expression, academic freedom, or any other kind of freedom. More the reverse. You want it to stop? Stop attacking.

        1. I wish I knew what you were referring to, or what these “movement conservatives” have done, making it necessary to “fight back” against them.

          I don’t know which examples of “cancelling” you would find acceptable counterexamples to your claims. Charles Murray, I suppose, is a “movement conservative.” Perhaps you’d classify that Polonius, Professor Blackman, as a movement conservative on immigration despite his support for Congress allowing more immigration (just not the President unilaterally, which got him branded a hater).

          Maybe you could review the “disinvitation database” (though I wish they wouldn’t count commencement speakers) and see how many are leftists, how many are rightists, and how many of the rightists are movement conservatives who wore short skirts or otherwise had it coming.

          Again, I challenge your use of “Eisenhower conservative” – I discussed things which the actual Eisenhower supported, things which often go beyond what even your hated “movement conservatives” advocate today.

          1. Indeed, Reagan wasn’t an “Eisenhower conservative” because he was OK with public employees (school teachers no less) being gay.

    2. Is JK Rowling a movement conservative?

    3. Who gives a shit what kind of conservatives (or liberals) are being cancelled? The issue is why should people be cancelled at all over minor speech infractions? Or Wrongthink?

      Today a woman got fired from a NY literary agency because she had a Parler account. She didn’t post anything inflammatory on it. Just having an account on the wrong app is enough.

      It’s not just, it’s not right, it’s not fair. I know we’re not to expect those things out of life, but those are things we’re supposed to hope for. Apparently you don’t.

  5. This discussion by four free speech advocates is excellent, although they spent much of the time commiserating.

    It would be even better if they advocated specific actions by individuals, attorneys and legislators to protect free speech from the left wing cancel culture and Big Tech.

  6. Was disappointed Nadine Strassen claimed Mark Zuckerberg posed a greater threat to free speech than Donald Trump (but didn’t cite any threat posed by Trump, which I’m not aware of).

    1. If the Donald posed no threat, (And I agree he didn’t.) then it’s quite easy for Zuckerberg to pose a greater threat: Any positive number would be greater than zero.

    1. (So Kirkland can get to the part which interests him)

  7. Here is an example for Mr. Lathrop of cancel culture coming for an academic:

    Is he a “movement conservative” who was out attacking others and just getting his own back?

  8. Here’s a member of the student government at the Rochester Institute of Technology, facing possible impeachment for supporting campus cops wearing “thin blue line” masks, as well as for daring to agree with President Obama about the fatherhood crisis in the black community.

    Another “movement conservative”?

    1. More to the point, who was he attacking?

      (And I found this story while looking for something unrelated)

  9. I support cancel culture. Turnover cost 175% of salary. The woke employer suffers a hefty fine for cancelling.

    Then cancel culture should visit all neo-Marxists. Purge all responsible positions in government, academia and corporations of all neo-Marxists. Defund and de-privilege all entities that are woke. Seize the assets of woke corporations in civil forfeitures for the crimes committed in their locations.

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