Conservatives love to navel-gaze…. (More)

“The way certain topics restrict speech as a public good”

For example, at the New York Times, NYU professor Ulrich Baer offers a reasoned argument for why campuses should exclude some would-be speakers:

[Philosopher Jean-François] Lyotard shifted attention away from the content of free speech to the way certain topics restrict speech as a public good. Some things are unmentionable and undebatable, but not because they offend the sensibilities of the sheltered young. Some topics, such as claims that some human beings are by definition inferior to others, or illegal or unworthy of legal standing, are not open to debate because such people cannot debate them on the same terms.

The recent student demonstrations at Auburn against Spencer’s visit – as well as protests on other campuses against Charles Murray, Milo Yiannopoulos and others – should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people, rather than censorship. Liberal free-speech advocates rush to point out that the views of these individuals must be heard first to be rejected. But this is not the case. Universities invite speakers not chiefly to present otherwise unavailable discoveries, but to present to the public views they have presented elsewhere. When those views invalidate the humanity of some people, they restrict speech as a public good.

In such cases there is no inherent value to be gained from debating them in public. In today’s age, we also have a simple solution that should appease all those concerned that students are insufficiently exposed to controversial views. It is called the internet, where all kinds of offensive expression flourish unfettered on a vast platform available to nearly all.

In other words, a white male giving a speech promoting white male supremacy – in a culture where white males have a wildly disproportionate share of wealth and influence – reinforces existing structural discrimination. And because white males have a disproportionate share of wealth and influence, it’s not enough to blithely claim the solution is for women and people of color to give their own speeches in rebuttal.

Indeed, one of that white male speaker’s implicit goals is to neutralize such rebuttals. His whole schtick is that white men are superior so their desires and opinions must take precedence. Conversely, women and people of color are inferior so their desires and opinions should be ignored.

And if women and people of color – and white men who disagree with that hogwash – stand up and say “No, we refuse to ‘debate’ whether white men are superior” … along comes someone like the National Review’s Wesley Smith with this tripe:

These are dangerous times for free speech in the increasingly less free Western world. In Europe and Canada, one can be fined or jailed for expressing views that those in power find odious or “oppressive.” Here in the USA, we see such authoritarian speech suppression increasingly embraced on college campuses. But in the New York Times?

Note how Smith cleverly conflates refusing to invite a speaker to a college campus … and “fined or jailed for expressing views that those in power find odious or ‘oppressive’.” Because of course those are exactly the same. He continues:

Thus, speech that supposedly demeans those whom the speech suppressors deem to have been marginalized should be squelched. Hence, those refusing to accept that, say, Caitlyn Jenner is now a “she,” not only can be – but should be – forcibly shut up.

Note again how refusing to invite a speaker to a college campus is being “forcibly shut up.” Never mind that Smith’s hypothetical speaker would doubtless support laws that allow cops to use real physical force to keep Jenner from using the ‘wrong’ public restroom. Cops body-searching and arresting trans people at public restrooms is “just common sense” and “public safety.” Telling a white guy he can’t give a paid speech on a college campus is oppression.

If Smith ever gets his head out of his navel …

“There are any number of ways to expose the fallacy of this claim”

… he’ll probably stick it back in to rage against this brilliant Bloomberg column by Barry Ritholtz:

You are not poor; income inequality is a myth; the middle class is doing just fine.

That seems to be the message coming from numerous right-leaning think tanks, websites and authors.

I was reminded of this yet again over the weekend when I saw another attempt at telling the poor how lucky they are to be alive today. The title of the piece in question says it all: “You Are Richer than John D. Rockefeller.” Note that last time out, the poor were told they were richer than France’s Louis XIV, debunked by us here; our previous debunking of the richer-than-Rockefeller meme is here.

There are any number of ways to expose the fallacy of this claim, but I really want to focus on one of them: the role of luck in personal success or failure.

He first notes that any meaningful measure of wealth is relative, rather than absolute over distance and time. Telling an impoverished family in Detroit they should stop complaining because their plight isn’t as bleak as a starving village in sub-Saharan Africa – or an upper-class family from the 18th century – isn’t “putting things in perspective.” It’s merely dismissive.

Ritholtz continues:

Next, if we do indulge in one of these time-travel thought experiments, we must acknowledge that time is bi-directional. Thus, the richer-than-Rockefeller argument implies that the wealthiest people today should be willing to switch places with a poor person a century or two in the future, when presumably we will all live longer, healthier, happier lives with technology we can’t even imagine today – and on and on. It is a most dubious proposition.

But back to luck. This may be the biggest philosophical difference between the right-leaning think tanks and more rational, evidence-based outlooks less dependent upon a rigid belief system.

As Michael J. Mauboussin, head of global financial strategies at Credit Suisse, explains in “The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing,” skill and luck are “hopelessly entangled.” Everyone possesses different levels of skill, and we are all subject to outcomes that are based on luck. We also are not very good at distinguishing between the two. How large a role chance plays in determining outcomes may be variable but it is also significant. Once we acknowledge how much of our individual success or failure can be at the mercy of random fortune, it changes the usual assignment of causation and blame.

In other words, this has big ramifications for those who believe we live in a meritocracy.

You should read his entire essay. Then imagine Smith and other wingnuts howling in hyper-defensive rage when their oh-so-superior skills are maligned by the mere suggestion that they’ve been lucky. Such heresy must be shouted down. If you don’t believe me, post a comment to that effect at the National Review and see what happens.

You’ll be sneezing for days to clear out the navel lint.

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Photo Credit: Nombril

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Good day and good nuts