The Freedom Not To Participate
Nobody expects speech to be rational. Most people agree that speech ought to be protected even if it is irrational or offense.
Moreover, people don't seem to expect speech to be rational.
But for some odd reason, folks expect our reactions to speech to be rational and logical, instead of personal and idiosyncratic, like speech itself.
We see it in debates about whether it makes sense to boycott Chick-Fil-A for supporting anti-gay causes. Doug Mataconis writes a perfectly logical and sensible post about why such boycotts are irrational. But to me this is no more persuasive than arguing that it's irrational for Chick-Fil-A to engage in anti-gay advocacy in the first place. A Chick-Fil-A sandwich would taste like ashes in my mouth at this point because I'd feel like I'm supporting something I despise if I bought it. Is that an irrational reaction? Perhaps. But why should my reaction be held to a higher standard than the speech I am reacting to? As long as I'm not a thuggish mayor calling for official censorship, why not chalk up my reaction to a form of more speech and move on? Why should my gesture in response to Chick-Fil-A's speech be evaluated differently than the speech itself?
Or take Jim Hines. Mr. Hines is a fantasy author. He was scheduled to participate in an "Ask Me Anything" thread about his new book at a fantasy subReddit. But then he heard about a chilling and creepy thread at Reddit calling for men to talk about their experience being rapists. So he cancelled. In the comments on his thread, and in the a fantasy subriddit thread about the matter, some Redditors are complaining about this. Some display a rather swollen sense of entitlement to Mr. Hines' participation. They argue that Reddit is a huge community and it is irrational to react to one subgroup of it based on the actions of another subgroup, they argue that some real live womenz think that the discussion might be useful, and they argue that what he is doing is an affront to free expression because he said he wouldn't be doing the Ask Me Anything as long as Reddit hosted threads like that. Some argue he is censoring them by not speaking at a place that creeps him out. (The latter argument is similar to the one posed by readers who feel entitled to act any way they want here, in my living room, because they feel that their free speech rights give them positive rights to make me do things, not just negative rights to protect them from the government.)
But why should Mr. Hines be judged by a different standard than anyone on Reddit? His decision about where to write is an expression of his beliefs. His criticism of other speech is free expression. Respect for freedom of expression should lead us to condemn him if he calls for the government to censor Reddit, but it makes no sense whatsoever to condemn him on free expression grounds if he throws up his hands and says "this place is freaking sick and I want nothing to do with it." That's expression as legitimate as the "yo rapists what's up" thread. One component of freedom of expression is freedom of association. Association, negative and positive, is a powerful vehicle for expression, whether it's deciding not to associate with Chick-Fil-A or deciding not to associate with Reddit.
Is it rational to avoid one subReddit for the behavior of people on some other thread on some other thread at Reddit? Maybe not. Is it rational to avoid a local franchisee's Chick-Fil-A shop based on the donations of the corporation and the expression of the corporation's leaders? Maybe not. But our reactions to speech are no more rational than the speech itself, and it's odd to expect otherwise. Boycotting Chick-Fil-A might not change anything, but for that matter blogging and tweeting and posting angry Facebook updates might not change anything either, and nobody seems to question those as vehicles for self-expression.
I listen to Wagner, even though his views were vile. But I can't read Orson Scott Card any more because I find his views vile. Irrational? Maybe. But I'll express my feelings the way I like. Deal with it. Or boycott me, if it satisfies your desire to express yourself.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- Texas Court Makes Upskirts Mandatory, Outlaws Kittens, Hates Your Mother - September 21st, 2014
- American Spectator Surrenders To Vexatious Litigant and Domestic Terrorist Brett Kimberlin - September 20th, 2014
- A Grumble: United States Courts Website Misinforms About Free Speech - September 18th, 2014
- Follow-Up: U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks Gets Free Speech Right This Time - September 12th, 2014
- The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strained, But It May Have A Litmus Test - September 11th, 2014