Let me preface this by saying that I have no fundamental quarrel with encouraging Europeans to shut the fuck up.
However, I don't think it should be a government-run affair. I think it should be an individual effort, just like good Republicans think that children should be prevented from starving to death, dying of exposure, or succumbing to various diseases by dint of the donate-your-change boxes at the 7-11.
Hence, I am appalled by the recent UN General Assembly exhortation to censorship as reported by Volokh here and here. It's full of the hand-wringing language that always accompanies efforts to suppress speech. Ultimately, it's just a request — it urges "States to take resolute action to prohibit the dissemination of racist and xenophobic ideas and material aimed at any religion or its followers that constitute incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence" — but it's a first step that concerns me. Given the UN's pathetic behavior in the Dutch cartoon matter, this seems to be a trend.
I'm concerned and disgusted for two reasons. First, laws banning "discriminatory" speech are inherently vague and subject to political abuse. One need look no further than Canada's recent experience, which both Patrick and I have linked to, to see that. Second, the entire premise of restricting speech to protect minority groups is foolish and ignorant of history. The rationale is typically that free speech norms have a cost paid disproportionately by minority groups. Even accepting that as true, it does not rationally follow that broad exceptions to free speech norms are the solution. In fact, it is completely irrational to conclude that exceptions to free speech will be applied any differently. Once again, experience bears this out — when favorite free-speech whipping-boy Canada embarked on its Dworkin-MacKinnon experiment in pornography policing, it was gay porn shops that immediately took the brunt of the enforcement. And only people who were willfully ignorant or completely blinded by cannon were surprised.
Free speech exceptions will always be applied to the detriment of disfavored and powerless groups — if not immediately, than eventually. Some European minorities fear an Anglo backlash against immigration and the spread of non-European cultures. If they truly have that fear, then pushing for laws that permit punishment of unpopular speech is just about the stupidest thing they could do. If the backlash comes, they're going to find themselves jailed for criticizing it.
I therefore encourage the UN to cease being ineffectual and foolish in this realm and go back to being ineffectual and foolish in other realms in which it has greater expertise.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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