Today In "Speech Is Not Tyranny": We Ask Kirk Cameron "U Mad, Bro?"

Culture, Politics & Current Events

You know I've said it before. In fact, it's one of my favorite themes: speech is not tyranny. That is to say, if you act like a dick, and people treat you like a dick, that's not censorship, even if awesome-under-most-circumstances folks like Clint Eastwood think that it is.

Today's example: Kirk Cameron, who used to star on a sitcom. Kirk, who is now chiefly known for saying such things, says that homosexuality is "unnatural. I think that it's – it's detrimental, and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization."

So far, so banal. But that's not all. Faced with predictable criticism — it seems like some people don't like the suggestion that they or their friends or loved ones are unnatural and destructive of civilization — Kirk mewled.

Kirk Cameron, who has drawn gales of criticism for comments against homosexuality made to Piers Morgan on CNN on Friday, spoke his mind again Tuesday, calling on those demanding tolerance from him to exhibit tolerance of their own.

"I should be able to express moral views on social issues," he told ABC News via email, "especially those that have been the underpinning of Western civilization for 2,000 years — without being slandered, accused of hate speech, and told from those who preach 'tolerance' that I need to either bend my beliefs to their moral standards or be silent when I'm in the public square."

He called for learning how to debate such issues "with greater love and respect."

Well, no, Kirk. That's the marketplace of ideas. If you want to call people unnatural, they may respond sharply. You don't have a right to be free from that. Nobody with a principled or coherent view of free speech thinks that you should.

I could go off on an epic rant at Kirk, since "your criticism of my speech is tyranny!" is one of my bugaboos, but John Scalzi has already done an excellent job of it.

The "poor me, I should be able to articulate controversial views without being attacked" argument is insipid, and is part of an incoherent and self-contradictory view of freedom of expression. In effect, it elevates the right of the first speaker above the right of everyone who follows, which is nonsensical. There's a perfectly good argument to be made that angry and insulting responses to speech like Kirk's is counterproductive or less persuasive than calm discourse, but that's an issue for the marketplace of ideas, which will value the speech accordingly.

Also — and this is not so much a free speech point, but a for-the-love-of-God-have-some-self-respect point — if I said "Christianity is unnatural, detrimental, and destructive to society," and then got all butthurt when someone threw some elbows in response, I would be a whiny loser worthy of general derision. Like Kirk.

[Note: I haven't all of the responses to Kirk's "unnatural" comments, so I don't know whether some people suggested he should be censored by the state. Anyone who suggested that is a censorious jackass and should be called out and opposed. Think it's unlikely? Think again. There are censors on both sides of the aisle.]

Last 5 posts by Ken White

39 Comments

39 Comments

  1. DJB  •  Mar 11, 2012 @10:33 am

    John writes an excellent article, but then he includes a link to growing pains second season on Amazon. I understand that if people follow that link and then make a purchase he will receive a portion of the proceeds, but why reward kirk with the same? He will also make money off of people buying DVDs. We we voice our oppinon with our pocket book more effectively than we do with our speech, or as citizens united pointed out successfuly, our pocket book is an extension of our speech.

  2. Ken  •  Mar 11, 2012 @10:43 am

    I can't tell if you are being ironic or not. If not: I think Scalzi's link is ironic and the chance of anyone using it to buy, given Scalzi's readership, is low.

  3. BL1Y  •  Mar 11, 2012 @10:43 am

    I think it's important to distinguish two different ways of reading "I should be able to express my views without being slandered, accused of hate speech, etc."

    The first is "No one should be allowed to criticize me," which is the reading I think you rightly criticize.

    The second is "It'd sure be nice if people responded in a way that is intelligent and furthers discourse rather than attempts to stifle it." It's not trying to take away your freedom to criticize, just expressing disappointment that your criticism is so poorly conceived.

    I can't say which it was that Kirk meant, but I could see someone saying that labels of hate speech and the like are bad because they tend to abruptly end what could otherwise have been a meaningful discussion. In that situation the claim isn't that your speech is tyranny, but that it's just unproductive.

  4. BL1Y  •  Mar 11, 2012 @10:47 am

    DJB: The Growing Pains link on John's site doesn't contain an Amazon Associates code, so it doesn't look like he'll get a referral commission on it.

  5. SPQR  •  Mar 11, 2012 @10:54 am

    I suspect that Kirk's actual participation on the DVD sales is low to nonexistent. And frankly, I'm tired of people calling for boycotts of companies or shows based on an individuals' own speech.

    The TV show "Growing Pains" is not about Kirk Cameron's views of morality.

  6. starskeptic  •  Mar 11, 2012 @11:18 am

    The "invisible boot" of the marketplace of ideas…

  7. Ariel  •  Mar 11, 2012 @11:48 am

    BL1Y,

    The late Sidney Hook used the phrase "epithet of abuse" (that does not apply to "snort my taint" or "censorious asshat") to describe how terms which once had meaning easily understood, such as racist, have been twisted into hot irons used only to brand and silence. The screams of pain easily ignored since it's just a screaming racist.

  8. EH  •  Mar 11, 2012 @11:54 am

    The TV show "Growing Pains" is not about Kirk Cameron's views of morality.

    At least for the first few seasons, right?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Growing_Pains_(TV_series)#Production

  9. anarchic teapot  •  Mar 11, 2012 @11:55 am

    @BL1Y As far as I can tell, Cameron's reaction is more "I was speaking God's Truth and I think it's hate speech when people don't agree with me". This last attitude is extremely prevalent among the homophobic, who often don't perceive themselves as homophobic and fail to understand that statements like "I don't mind gays, but I think what they do is disgusting" are perceived as hurtful and demeaning by people who get a lot of that sort of thing, day in, day out, a constant drop of antagonistic ignorance.

    I could launch into a long rant about the effects that insults – in the wide sense of the term – have on people, and their capacity to cope with daily life. I've just finished a the first part of a training course which focussed on that precise problem (I'm one of a team of education volunteers who visit schools in an attempt to reduce bullying and hate speech).

    What Cameron seems to be getting, basically, is a dose of his own medicine. He doesn't like it, which is perfectly normal. However, unlike the people he's been insulting recently, he can (theoretically) change by getting educated.

  10. EH  •  Mar 11, 2012 @11:56 am

    The second is "It'd sure be nice if people responded in a way that is intelligent and furthers discourse rather than attempts to stifle it." It's not trying to take away your freedom to criticize, just expressing disappointment that your criticism is so poorly conceived.

    In other words, "don't take that tone with me." He's complaining that people aren't responding to his words in the form he prefers.

  11. Scott Jacobs  •  Mar 11, 2012 @12:06 pm

    If Kirk doesn't want to be insulted, maybe he could try not being a fuckwit. That might work for him better than what he's been doing.

  12. C. S. P. Schofield  •  Mar 11, 2012 @12:25 pm

    While agreeing with the general drift of Ken's argument, I note that since "Hate Speech" is pretty much by definition tied to "Hate Crimes" and the whole "Punish them for having wrong thoughts, not for doing wrong things" bit, an accusation that somebody's opinion is "Hate Speech" is a declaration that it is beyond the pale and somebody ought to censor it.

  13. Squillo  •  Mar 11, 2012 @1:08 pm

    Last I checked, the right to free speech didn't include the right to be free from criticism.

    If you can't take the disco, you should get out of the gay bar, Kirk. Or words to that effect.

  14. anarchic teapot  •  Mar 11, 2012 @1:36 pm

    C. S. P. Schofield
    'Hate speech' is speech that fosters or encourages hate. It doesn't have to be expressed in a virulent manner.

  15. Rick H.  •  Mar 11, 2012 @3:10 pm

    "'Hate speech' is speech that fosters or encourages hate. It doesn't have to be expressed in a virulent manner."

    If that's so, then judging by its effect on me, your definition is hate speech.

  16. C. S. P. Schofield  •  Mar 11, 2012 @3:28 pm

    anarchic teapot,

    Hateful speech is one thing. "Hate Speech" is a social construct built on the (highly questionable) concept of "Hate Crimes". It is a buzzword, used by certain kinds of political activists to denote speech that they feel does not qualify for First Amendment protections.

    So, what I am saying is that if Kirk Cameron's expresses opinions have been called "Hate Speech" in so many words, then he has been threatened, at least by inference, with censorship.

    "Hate Speech", BTW, is the popular excuse that College administrations use for stifling student expressions of which they disapprove.

    Doesn't mean that Cameron isn't a jerk.

  17. David A  •  Mar 11, 2012 @3:46 pm

    Even after reading the linked article, I find myself struggling to grasp Ken's point: Cameron's position is not that anyone ought not to be allowed to disagree with him, nor that his detractors have broken a law or ought to be punished. That position is rather his detractors'. They are the ones that ought to be subject to Popehat's usual lampooning; as stated above, "hate speech" is the cry of censors.
    Cameron's position furthermore is not even that he should not be subject to disagreement; rather, he makes the excellent point that his critics are violating the solitary rule of their own moral code! He quite appropriately leaves it to his censors to determine how they ought therefore to act.
    Ken is straying unfortunately close to claiming, "Cameron ought not to be allowed to criticize his opponents!—because I disagree with him."

  18. SPQR  •  Mar 11, 2012 @5:13 pm

    EH, amazingly the Wikipedia entry you linked didn't refute my point. You can imagine my shock.

  19. Scott Jacobs  •  Mar 11, 2012 @5:34 pm

    David, I think – though Ken can correct me if I am wrong – that his position is more akin to " Cameron ought not to be allowed to criticize his opponents if he's going to be a whiny little bitch when they react to his stupidity."

  20. Ken  •  Mar 11, 2012 @6:06 pm

    If you're going to posit that accusing someone of "hate speech" carries an unspoken threat of government action against the person, then I think you also have to accept that Cameron saying that people are "slandering" him carries an unspoken threat to sue them.

    Ken is straying unfortunately close to claiming, "Cameron ought not to be allowed to criticize his opponents!—because I disagree with him."

    No even minimally rational reading of my words suggests that I think that Kirk Cameron ought not be permitted to be a whiny little bitch.

    Now, if I had used Kirk Cameron's own language — if I had said "I should be able to call Kirk Cameron a bigot, without him accusing me of slander" — then you might have something.

  21. Xenocles  •  Mar 11, 2012 @6:52 pm

    Should have just told him to go have a banana.

  22. C. S. P. Schofield  •  Mar 11, 2012 @6:52 pm

    Ken,

    I'm not- quite – going that far. What I AM saying is that (as David A. points out) "Hate Speech" is the cry of those who think that hateful speech isn't protected by the First Amendment and will soon demand that somebody shut up the object of their ire.

    Kirk Cameron has revealed himself to be a narrow minded twit. What – after all – is so goddamned wonderful about "natural" behaviour? As Great Apes, our "natural" behaviour would probably be to make nightly nests in trees and pick fleas off each-other. Trade is unnatural. Monogamy – to judge by the other Great Apes – is unnatural.

    But the charge of "hate speech" is the precursor to an attempt to silence, and should be derided as such. A big fat target like this fool, and the best that these idiots can do is call it "hate speech" and imply that he should be silenced? That's pathetic. But then so much of the rhetoric of the establishment Left IS pathetic; the more so when (as now) they should be able to put up an easy and effective argument. But they are unused to having to argue, and have to a great extent forgotten how, which is a pity. There are issues where (I believe, anyway) they are in the right (as much as anybody is; there are always quibbles), and they can no longer hold their own against trite attacks by bigots.

  23. BL1Y  •  Mar 11, 2012 @10:05 pm

    There's a world of difference between saying "I ought to be free from criticism" and "Critics should respond to the merits of the ideas, rather than trying to close the discussion."

    Technically, "We don't want you in the market place of ideas" is an idea that exists within the marketplace of ideas, but we can see how it's different from other ideas, the same as voting to impose tyranny is different from other democratic elections.

  24. anarchic teapot  •  Mar 12, 2012 @4:29 am

    This isn't really the place for this kind of argument, but:

    the (highly questionable) concept of "Hate Crimes"

    I looked up the term "hate crime" to ensure that the US definition was the same as the rest of the world's. It is.
    hate crimes (also known as bias-motivated crimes) occur when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her perceived membership in a certain social group, usually defined by racial group, religion, sexual orientation, disability, class, ethnicity, nationality, age, sex, gender identity, social status or political affiliation
    By "highly questionable", are you claiming that these attacks, usually aggravating factors to an already-defined crime, do not exist?

    I would also remind you that those who object to terms like "hate speech" may genuinely be unaware of the harm their words may be wreaking on the psyche of the vulnerable (both attackers and attacked), but that does not mlake the harm any less real.

  25. gclason  •  Mar 12, 2012 @4:45 am

    Can we please forbid people to talk about what has gone on for 2000 years of western history until after they actually pick up a history book? Cameron is an ignorant jackass. People who are going to ponfificate about history should be required to actually know something about it, don't you think?

  26. C. S. P. Schofield  •  Mar 12, 2012 @6:06 am

    anarchic teapot,

    I consider the concept of "hate crimes" questionable because it is based on punishing people for what they think rather than what they do. Even setting aside issues of bias (and those issues are huge), they amount to punishing people for thinking wrong thoughts. Frankly, I believe that anybody comfortable with that idea hasn't thought about it enough.

    If you don't think that knuckle-draggers who spray-paint filth on synagogs are punished enough, make the punishment for defacing property harsher. Punishing them for the content of their graffiti violates the first amendment. Punishing a murderer who shouted racial epithets for what he said is also a violation of the first amendment. Try the sonofabitch for murdeer and can his ass for killing, but leave his language alone.

    "Hate Crimes"="Thought Crimes", and the State had no business punishing people for wrong thought.

  27. Arclight  •  Mar 12, 2012 @7:47 am

    Just my 2 cents, but it looks to me like he was telling people not to be hypocrites. Don't tell him he must be tolerant of your position because you can't accept his.

    If you're going to use your celebrity status to preach an ideological viewpoint on a national stage, you're going to get push back no matter which side of an issue you're on. It feels to me like he understands and accepts that. He just wants the "tolerant" crowd to stop screaming that his viewpoint is unacceptable. Without more information than I can immediately find in the links here, I may be misreading the situation but I don't see anything to be upset over free speech.

  28. Antonin I. Pribetic  •  Mar 12, 2012 @8:02 am

    I thought Twitter was the marketplace of ideas.

  29. anarchic teapot  •  Mar 12, 2012 @8:10 am

    @C. S. P. Schofield
    I don't think you've quite got the concept of "hate" crime/speech. I agree the terms 'hate' is emotive, but I assure you it has nothing to do with thought crime. It is an aggravating factor in bullying and other forms of harrassment, which is why you should always be damn careful what you say.

    The problem with – in this context – homophobic remarks is that gay people are routinely subjected to bullying, disparaging comments and other forms of browbeating. It is not a trivial matter: the suicide rate amongst youngsters who have been bullied, especially on suspicion of being gay, is high enough to be considered a public health problem. In the case of someone like Cameron, who I consider to be merely daft and ignorant, his thoughtless remarks may have serious consequences.

  30. BL1Y  •  Mar 12, 2012 @8:33 am

    Men have been 4x more likely to commit suicide for a long time, but no one is trying to shut down Women's Studies departments on the grounds of public health concerns.

  31. Turk  •  Mar 12, 2012 @10:20 am

    I think his point is one of hypocrisy, in that those who preach tolerance have stooped to hate speech and slander as rebuttal. He might not have made his argument in the most artful way, but it does seemed to be tucked in there.

  32. Ken  •  Mar 12, 2012 @10:24 am

    What does he mean by "slander"?

  33. johnson85  •  Mar 12, 2012 @10:28 am

    This post seems a little off. Cameron's statements may be a little bit whiny, but I don't read him as saying "your criticism of my speech is tyranny." You can call him out on essentially asking people to be civil while calling homosexuals "unnatural", which can certainly be viewed as uncivil. But I don't read anything in his statement to imply that he intends or desires to censor people, unless it's the claim that he has been slandered, but I suspect that there are a lot of people that have responded with statements that could fairly be classified as slander, even if they're in the minority.

    I think you jumped the shark on this post. Whatever objectionable actions Cameron has taken part in, they don't seem to include what you're accusing him of.

  34. Ken  •  Mar 12, 2012 @10:33 am

    But I don't read anything in his statement to imply that he intends or desires to censor people

    And I don't read anything in my post as saying that he does. I read it as saying that he is suggesting there is something tyrannical or censorious about the marketplace of ideas, as demonstrated by his "I should be able to . . ." language.

    I think you jumped the shark on this post.

    1. I should be able to write whatever I want without people telling me that I have jumped the shark.

    2. Regular readers will tell you that I jumped the shark YEARS ago.

  35. Jess  •  Mar 12, 2012 @8:25 pm

    Well Ken, given the literal definition of "jumping the shark" as an evolution when a brand, design, or creative effort moves beyond the essential qualities that initially defined its success, beyond relevance or recovery – I may not agree with you entirely. Your blog, I would argue, is not at that point yet. Although clearly you've long blown past the whole censorship asshat milepost. Good for you!

  36. bw1  •  Mar 13, 2012 @10:31 am

    "There's a perfectly good argument to be made that angry and insulting responses to speech like Kirk's is counterproductive or less persuasive than calm discourse, but that's an issue for the marketplace of ideas, which will value the speech accordingly."

    From your excerpt, that seems to be the argument he was making, or nearly so. Unless you did a lousy job of excerpting to make your point, he never implicated free speech as a component of the issue. He appears to be making the ETHICAL, NOT LEGAL argument that his expectation of a reasoned response, respectful and tolerant of his difference of opinion, is not unreasonable. Advocating for a more civil level of discourse on the part of one's opponents is not a call for them to be silenced nor an accusation of censorship.

  37. Ken  •  Mar 13, 2012 @10:34 am

    It's a matter of interpretation. I interpret "I should be able to say x without other people saying y" to be making a classic you're-chilling-my-speech-by-speaking argument.

  38. Ken  •  Mar 13, 2012 @10:56 am

    By the way, some sources offer a slightly expanded version of his comments that, to my ear, make the criticism-is-like-censorship point a little more clearly:

    “I believe that freedom of speech and freedom of religion go hand-in-hand in America,” he continues. “I should be able to express moral views on social issues – especially those that have been the underpinning of Western civilization for 2,000 years – without being slandered, accused of hate speech and told from those who preach ‘tolerance’ that I need to either bend my beliefs to their moral standards or be silent when I’m in the public square.

  39. bw1  •  Mar 14, 2012 @8:18 pm

    "t's a matter of interpretation. I interpret "I should be able to say x without other people saying y" to be making a classic you're-chilling-my-speech-by-speaking argument."

    You're cherry picking – a more accurate paraphrase would be "without people WHO TOUT TOLERANCE saying y" where y is antithetical to tolerance. Not only does he not, even in the expanded excerpt, call for state action, but he uses the word "should," not "must" This is a call for civility, not censorship. Death threats. namecalling, ad hominems and the like are not civil.

    I get the whole criticism-is-not-censorship thing, but sometimes you fail to apply it bilaterally. Compare Cameron's response to the criticism to which he's responding. He used MUCH milder language than his critics did, and never once called for government intervention. Can you rule out his critics making such calls? No? Then why are you pointing the finger at him?

    Maybe Cameron doesn't say it as well as Marc Randazza did recently:

    "gathering people of like mind to use their collective economic power to force Limbaugh off the air. This is constitutionally tolerable, but morally wrong. If you disagree with someone who is on stage, it is wrong to stand up and yell to drown out his voice. This improperly interferes with your fellow citizens' right to receive information…..Drowning out his voice by organized bullying is no way to pay tribute to our most cherished liberty. It may be your right to do so, but it doesn't make it the right thing to do…..my commitment to free expression requires me to engage his ideas, to parry them and to let my beliefs stand on their own — without using the government OR OTHER IMPROPER MEANS to tip the scales."

    Is Randazza admonition to "play fair" in the marketplace of ideas chilling the speech of would be boycotters of Rush's sponsors?

    I'm really fond of your repeatedly pointing out that speech is not tyranny, but on this one, I think you're reading more into it than is there because of your feelings about the root issue of the controversy.