Feb 15·edited Feb 15Liked by Jonathan Marks, Shikha Dalmia

I also am thankful that FIRE is doing the work of opposing political suppressions of free speech, and I agree that the comparison to McCarthyism isn't warranted. Being born in 1944, I have some personal experience of suppression of free speech and freedom more generally. My parents divorced, and both remarried. When I was 6-7 years old we had to move out of the city where we lived, because my sister and I were told by other kids that their parents said they couldn't play with us because our parents were divorced. Our parents got hold of our school records and changed them so it appeared that our stepmother was our birth mother. Our parents were agnostics, so they took us to the Unitarian Church so others would think they believed in God. If my Dad's religious views, which he held quietly and never made a big deal about, had been known it would have prevented him from being a Boy Scout commissioner, a role where he earned the highest volunteer award, the Silver Beaver, because of the excellent work he did. I could go on, but this is just a bit about how deeply McCarthyism reached into the society in a way that is not reflected in America today in my experience.

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Wow, thanks for sharing this.

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Feb 15Liked by Jonathan Marks

Just imagine if social media was around during the McCarthy era. There is a deep connection between the dominant antisocial media and the attempts to suppress free speech.

Self-censorship is a form of prudence. "Cast not your pearls before swine." But social media platforms compel us to cast what few pearls we have right into the pig trough. The whole algorithmic ecosystem is geared to recirculate resentment, recrimination and revenge. We could do with more self-censorship not less.

The whole concept of freedom of speech ("Parrhesia" Greek: παρρησία) is rooted in candid speech and speaking freely. It implies not only freedom of speech, but the obligation to speak the TRUTH for the common good, even at personal risk.

Note: Rights are not an end in themselves and every right entails obligation. In the case of free speech the obligation is to tell the truth "for the common good" not to amass clicks, likes, shares, followers and solidifying your brand.

With the willingness to speak the truth comes the danger that the truth will not be accepted exposing us to personal risk ranging from being "cancelled" to being killed. So one should probably self censor unless the need of the commonwealth or the truth is worth the personal risks.

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There is no test, such as "truth", for free speech because "the truth" is almost always not absolute and well known.

The ENTIRE point of free speech is to allow that debate, about what is truthful, to be debated.

Who decides this TRUTH that you speak of? And why them? (I know, your "experts decide ..., what a joke that is)

Science for example - is always up for debate. Einstein is allowed (and encouraged) to say that Newton is wrong. And I am allowed to say that climate alarmism is 99% a political ploy to get power for leftists.

You don't get to decide what "the truth" is, and then censor the people you don't like.

Your team doesn't either.

Nobody does.

It just doesn't matter how arrogant and self-righteous leftists are about always being right.

Leftist's near religious conviction that they are always right - actually does not mean they are.

In most things - nobody is right. The truth is unknown, and claims to own the truth are first signs of a fascist or a socialist.

Face it. You don't like social media because it allows ideas that you don't like to be expressed.

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First, I don't have a team. And actually I (personally) am a free speech and free market absolutist.

I don't believe anyone should preemptively censor anyone. But I do believe that SELF-CENSORSHIP is virtue and not a problem.

And in a free market I am not obligated to listen to all the drivel that gets circulated on social media (antisocial media?) platforms whatever the source. In this the political left and right are equally offensive to me.

Free speech is the obligation to tell the truth and is conditioned upon actually knowing the truth.

It is possible to be wrong about what is true and still speak with good faith.

If you don't know the truth than it is better to keep silent and listen.

And that is also why while I write I use my actual name and don't hide behind a pseudonym. I am the author of my words and I take responsibility for what I say.

Free speech is not a shield to protect ignorant and irresponsible people from suffering the consequences of their ignorance and irresponsibility. (see Ayn Rand)

Einstein and other physicists can debate Newtonian physics BUT YOU and I not so much.

Scientists and experts look at the preponderance of factual evidence that they have at any given moment. The facts change as more evidence is acquired. Deciding who is most right or most wrong is decided by professional peer-reviewed panels who look over the methods and data used. Not by Betty in Daytona who thinks Ivermectin can cure COVID.

Free speaking "I've done my own research" Average Joe's opinion really isn't required. Dr. Google isn't anybody's friend.

I haven't seen that the right is any less inclined to manipulate evidence in order to get and keep power any differently than you claim the left is doing.

Climate denial is every bit as much a political ploy as climate alarmism.

Which brings me to your last misapprehension. I am not a leftist. I don't believe humans are capable of progress. Human progress is the greatest human delusion.

While it is a good thing to reduce greenhouse emissions as an end in itself, and I choose to reduce, reuse and recycle as much as I can personally, I am pretty sure that nothing is going to avert the climate disaster that is coming. We are a hundred years too late and and several trillion dollars short. Perhaps the best outcome for the planet would be a mass extinction allowing the most adaptable species to survive and repopulate the earth.

A subject you didn't mention as a leftist political preoccupation is gun control. The right and left both exploit that issue for political power, too.

There are 1.2 guns for every man, woman, child and baby in America. Americans own almost half of all the civilian guns in the world. Gun control is at this point impossible. That boat left decades ago. Mass shootings can't be stopped all we can do is adapt to our environment.

Finally I don't like social media because of what it is by nature and I could care less about the ideas that are expressed. Like I say it is a free market and I am making my choice.

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Feb 18·edited Feb 18

There is a real arrogance to people who claim to know "the truth". About anything.

As I said before, nobody knows the truth, and the entire point of having a brain is being allowed to question what others believe is the truth.

And credentialism is almost as bad an idea as your "truth" metric for being allowed to speak. I have a Ph.D. (in Engineering) from Stanford and I don't believe that only credentialed "experts" should be the only people allowed to speak on science (even though I would be one of the few to qualify). It would not be just grossly arrogant, but logically flawed. Ideas stand on their own and have nothing to do with the messenger. The ideas of a patent clerk (Einstein) are just as good as those of a full Professor. History (even in the last few years) is replete with experts being wildly wrong. You have to be a real sheep to believe "experts". Please use your own brain.

I live and profit (as a professor myself) by peer-review, and I promise you that it is a gigantic farce. A patina of "self-governance" that is a joke. Peer-review is what it sounds like, it is about who you know. 90% of even scientific publications are pure useless junk. At a minimum.

You need to listen more, and make weak excuses to silence others (about a magic "truth") an awful lot less.

Or just become a leftist where your intolerance of others ideas, and blind follower mentality, will be welcomed with open arms.

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Apparently you missed my point.

I am a free speech ABSOLUTIST.

That means I do not believe in suppressing ANYONE'S speech.

The obligation to tell the "truth" is an obligation for the speaker himself and not imposed by some outside agency. It is immoral to lie, deceive or mislead. It is a matter of ethics.

So the rest of what you are saying has nothing to do with my original post.


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I agree that FIRE and Lukianoff have a tendency to emphasize a few cases that get repeated ad nauseum (do we really need to hear about Joshua Katz yet again?) and may not be very representative of higher education as a whole. This can be annoying and open them up to charges of exaggeration. FIRE also would benefit from cleaning up some of its data and being more rigorous in its methodology for things like surveys.

That said, somewhat questionable statistics and surveys seem to be a common feature in higher education, so FIRE is not alone there and in many ways just catching up to what other pressure groups and activists have done so far.

I also don't think that this post is considering the other possibility that the Scholars Under Fire database and other public cancellation stories are actually *underreporting* the true rate of discipline and punishment for wrongthink. There's a lot of opportunity for shady activity and quiet cancellations happening behind closed doors via the various Title IX, DEI, and other internal mechanisms for quashing dissent and meting out punishment. I think it's quite likely that there's a lot more happening that, for various reasons, does not reach the public, much less gets media attention. Hence the curious overrepresentation of incidents at Ivy League schools in these kinds of databases--that is what gets the clicks.

Furthermore, there are some truly egregious systematic policies out there that are more Alien and Sedition Act than McCarthyism. The California Community College system's embrace of politicized DEI mandates is likely to affect a lot more instructors and students than shenanigans at some Ivy League. The widespread extent of DEI statements as ideological filters in hiring and promotion are far more systematic and dangerous to academic freedom than just one or two prominent acts of cancellation. If you simply filter out people before they can even enter a profession, then there's little need for show trials and cancellations.

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Feb 17·edited Feb 17

Anybody can quibble about the details of statistics, but Lukianoff's comparison to McCarthyism still very much stands.

In addition, that was just one piece of evidence among many, an aside to the main point of Lukianoff's article. The actual point of the article was about leftists denying a real problem exists, because it is their team doing it. This article just adds to that pile of evidence as it desperately tries and fails to poke holes in Lukianoff's thesis that leftists have a real problem on their hands . Leftist denial and obfuscation of the problem (such as this article) is his entire point..


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You seem to be suggesting that factual accuracy is not important. Handwaving away demonstrable errors in Lukianoff's case as a "quibble about the details of statistics," when those details are the very support Lukianoff relied on to cement his thesis, is completely unserious.

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I am suggesting that whether the firings are 1/2 or 2x the McCarthy era is a purposefully silly distraction.

This article focuses on one out of 11 pieces of evidence. In a fallacious attempt to discredit the other 91% of the thesis.

And proves even that 9% is basically accurate. Any measure of social phenomena like firings is always going to have error bars of 100%. The order of magnitude (within a factor of 10) is all that matters to make this one (out of 11) points. 50% or 2x are both in the error bars.

Are you arguing that half as bad as McCarthyism is acceptable?

Are you arguing that if you quibble about 9% of the evidence, then you have proven the other 91% to be erroneous?


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I'm making the reasonable claim that it makes a significant difference whether the data allow us to say "this is not as bad as McCarthyism" as opposed to "this is worse than McCarthyism."

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In making a comparative damage assessment, one should note that the time of McCarthy, people were fired for supporting totalitarian dictatorships. Nowadays, people are fired for standing up against totalitarian enemies of racial equality and freedom.

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It's an irritatingly consistent problem with FIRE, that their level of alarm is always and only, well, "everything's on fire".

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Feb 17·edited Feb 17

And it is an irritating problem with leftists that they keep denying that free speech is on fire, even when given the vast amounts of evidence in Lukianoff's article (and elsewhere).

Would it be possible to refute even one single piece of that data and evidence that was carefully provided by Lukianoff, rather than spewing the typical one-liner leftist ad hominem?

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