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E-Pluribus | June 16, 2022
The Speech Police - literally; are the kids alright? at least some of them seem to be; and how is mental illness related to an identity-obsessed culture?
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Billy Binion: He Was Targeted by Police for His Political Speech. Now, He's Suing.
Tuesday’s Around Twitter included a Billy Binion thread on a disturbing abuse of power story from East Cleveland. Binion has written up the story for Reason about how a 74-year old man was harassed by local government officials for supporting the wrong mayoral candidate.
In August of 2021, approximately eight East Cleveland Police Department officers descended on the home of William Fambrough. His alleged infraction: a parking violation.
Or so they said. But Fambrough's story is much more insidious than that. It involves some serious alleged First Amendment transgressions—carried out by the government, not Fambrough.
The 74-year-old East Cleveland man had the audacity last year to promote a challenger to Brandon L. King, East Cleveland's mayor. Fambrough used his step van—something he'd employed many times during the course of his long-running political advocacy—to instead campaign for Juanita Gowdy, an East Cleveland city councilor who had a reputation for criticizing both King and law enforcement. Fambrough's media company produced advertisements for Gowdy, and he displayed Gowdy's likeness on his van while driving around playing recorded endorsements from East Clevelanders.
[ . . . ]
Prior to Fambrough's court appearance, Assistant Law Director Heather McCollough, who serves as both prosecutor for East Cleveland and counsel for Mayor King, also said the quiet part out loud. After citing that Fambrough had "made complaints about the police department," filed "public records requests," and asked about election ordinances, McCollough told Fambrough's attorney that Fambrough needed to "stand down" if he hoped to achieve any sort of peaceful resolution.
He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was told that such an ending may not come to him again if he did not "mind his own business."
The problem for McCollough is that none of the complaints she outlined are remotely criminal. On the contrary, they are the epitome of First Amendment-protected speech, allowing citizens to hold the government accountable without fear of reprisal for doing just that.
Read it all.
Matt Major and Jacob L Mackey: The Kids Are Alright
Concerns abound these days over the apparent illiberal attitudes of college students, but Matt Major and Occidental College college Jacob Mackey writing at Persuasion assure us that all is not lost. Mackey and Major say that their experiences at Occidental show that in the right forum, today’s students are ready and willing to speak and listen to a broad range of views without curling up into a ball and seeking a safe space.
In 2021, we opened a student chapter of Persuasion at Occidental—a club where students could discuss ideas openly and honestly, in a spirit of charity and good faith. “Free and fair discourse” is the core principle of the club. The principle sounds attractive. Who, after all, doesn’t want to be heard? But it quickly becomes less attractive when we have to apply it to those whose ideas we abhor. It risks devolving into “free speech for me, but not for thee.” Therefore, the club follows Frederick Douglass’s dictum: “Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist.” Truly open conversation, and indeed individual autonomy, is impeded if the right for everyone to speak freely is not protected and upheld.
[ . . . ]
Another meeting we held, moderated by Braver Angels/ACTA, discussed the question, “Is restorative justice a viable model to address grievances?” Again, opinions diverged and emotions ran high during the debate. All of us felt a vested interest in arguing for our beliefs. Some of us personally carried the weight of questions of justice and forgiveness, originating as we do from places (Latin America, Eastern Europe, etc.) where these questions are palpably present in everyday life, in light of the various atrocities with which our histories are peppered.
And yet, none of the participating students hesitated to answer the proposed question honestly, no one got “canceled,” and no one demeaned anyone else as a bad person for the views they expressed, however contentious. Instead, students appeared to learn from those whose views differed from their own, and they evinced not merely mutual respect but mutual affection. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that open and well-argued disagreement over pressing issues engenders deeper insight and understanding. Moreover, the exercise, when carried out in good faith, seems to strengthen affective bonds of community.
Read it all here.
Eric Kaufmann: Progressivism, Sexuality, and Mental Illness
The alphabet does not contain enough letters to adequately catalog the explosion of gender identities in recent years. At Quillette, Eric Kaufmann explores the intersection of progressive gender ideology and mental health issues, another area that has seen a correlative if not causational explosion of its own.
The progressive account—that LGBT identification is like left-handedness, that persecution explains mental illness, and that rising toleration leads to more people coming out—cannot account for the patterns in my data. A more parsimonious explanation is that left-liberal culture, especially among young people, inclines people to identify as both LGBT and as having a mental health problem.
This could stem from a partly heritable psychological disposition of high openness and neuroticism with low conscientiousness, as some research suggests. Another possibility is that a culture which celebrates divergence and transgression may be nudging those with intermittent same-sex attraction to label themselves LGBT, or inclining people with occasional melancholy to say they are depressed.
More seriously, it may be that modern culture is, as Boston University’s Liah Greenfeld suggests, anomic. That is, by breaking down established identity roles, narratives, and boundaries, it introduces dissonance, indeterminacy, and choice, increasing the rates of identity crisis and, by extension, psychological distress. The rise in mental health problems, she argues, is worse in the West than elsewhere in the world, reflecting the cultural specificity of mental illness. Her analysis takes a Durkheimian approach, which focuses on how a loss of communal regulation of desires and identities can produce higher suicide levels as the mind becomes unmoored from social givens in the external world.
Read the whole thing.
Via Heterodox Academy, Jacob Mchangama on the tendency of power to corrupt, even when it comes to free speech attitudes:
Glenn Greenwald with an observation on the “flexibility of the rules of liberal discourse”:
And finally, presented without comment… except for Peter Boghossian’s comment, the State Department’s new Office of Diversity and Inclusion: