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E-Pluribus | September 1, 2023
The true power of free expression; non-toxic masculinity; and book "banning" versus curating.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Angel Eduardo: Tolerating Intolerance: The Free Speech Paradox
Must fighting for free speech involve fighting to preserve the rights of those who, given their druthers, would take yours away? Writing at Quillette, Angel Eduardo answers with an emphatic, Yes. In the long run, Eduardo argues, everyone benefits from knowing the views of both friend and foe, the better to support or oppose them effectively.
The philosopher Karl Popper may be best known for his “paradox of tolerance,” a term that comes from a footnote in his book The Open Society and Its Enemies. The paradox states that a society that tolerates intolerance can eventually succumb to it, and as a result intolerance of intolerance—even resisting it by force—may be necessary for self-preservation. The paradox is often used to justify hate speech laws and other forms of censorship, based on the rationale that there must be limits to what a tolerant society can accept if it is to survive.
Proponents of free speech sometimes face a similar paradox: we must defend speech that calls on us to suppress “unpopular” views. Some are concerned that if you protect people’s right to voice their support for censorship, you are thereby undermining free speech and sowing the seeds of its own undoing. But this apparent contradiction is illusory, because the true power of free expression is revealed even in defenses of speech advocating against it.
[ . . . ]
[T]hough [the Center for Countering Digital Hate’s (CCDH)] stance is at odds with the principle of free speech, allowing CCDH to freely voice their opposition puts the group on the radar of all those who defend free expression. Knowing what people believe is critical if we want to oppose them effectively.
This idea is encapsulated in what Greg Lukianoff calls the “Pure Information Theory” of freedom of speech: it is both instructive and valuable to know who believes what—no matter how misguided or factually incorrect that belief may be. “Both for scientific reasons and for our success as a democratic republic,” Lukianoff writes, “we need to know more, not less about the ideas in our fellow humans’ heads.”
Perhaps most importantly, we should defend the CCDH’s right to call for censorship because it is crucial to be consistent in our support for free speech. As Noam Chomsky has put it, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” We must hold fast to our principles even when it is most difficult to do so, and that means that we must even defend the free expression of those who are opposed to the idea of free speech itself.
Read the whole thing.
Caitlin Flanagan: In Praise of Heroic Masculinity
“Snips and snails and puppy dog tails” versus “sugar and spice and everything nice” clearly overgeneralizes differences in the sexes, but at The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan writes that we are simply fooling ourselves into acting as though the differences are not real. Since the physical speed, size, and strength advantage men in general hold over women can have devastating consequences when combined with the male penchant for violence, Flanagan argues boys and men must be encouraged to channel those advantages for good rather than suppress what they are by nature.
Over the past several years, The New York Times has located signs of the brave fight against toxic masculinity in the television series Ted Lasso, in a production of the 19th-century opera Der Freischütz, and in a collage made in less than an hour. “White Lotus Didn’t Care About Toxic Masculinity After All,” wrote a disappointed Michelle Goldberg, as though someone had snatched away her bag of Good & Plenties.
Notably, however, the Times has not referred to toxic masculinity in its coverage of the Gilgo Beach murders. Nor does the term appear in an article headlined “Professor Charged in Scheme to Lure Women to New York and Rape Them,” nor in one about the abduction of a 13-year-old in which the suspect has been charged with kidnapping and transporting a minor across state lines for criminal and sexual purposes.
Why don’t these qualify as toxic masculinity? One suspects it is because murder, rape, and kidnapping are serious, and “toxic masculinity”—as we now use the term—is trivial. Still, I use it in this essay, because in its grammar we find something instructive. If the noun masculinity can be modified by the adjective toxic, then there must exist its opposite, which can be revealed by a different adjective. What is it?
The opposite of toxic masculinity is heroic masculinity. It’s all around us; you depend on it for your safety, as I do. It is almost entirely taken for granted, even reviled, until trouble comes and it is ungratefully demanded by the very people who usually decry it.
Neither toxic nor heroic masculinity has anything to do with our current ideas about the mutability of gender, or “gender essentialism.” They have to do only with one obdurate fact that exists far beyond the shores of theory and stands on the bedrock of rude truth: Men (as a group and to a significant extent) are larger, faster, and stronger than women. This cannot be disputed, and it cannot be understood as some irrelevancy, because it comes with an obvious moral question that each man must answer for himself: Will he use his strength to dominate the weak, or to protect them?
Read it all.
Bridgette Exman: This Summer, I Became the Book-Banning Monster of Iowa
Conservative pushback nationwide against sexual content and gender-related instruction in public schools has some school and library personnel feeling caught in the middle. In the New York Times, Bridgette Exman, an assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction in Iowa, explains where this leaves those responsible for making the decisions: often targeted from both sides in the debate.
Iowa’s “parental rights bill,” signed into law at the end of May and made effective July 1, put public schoolteachers and administrators in an untenable position and recently thrust my own district in north-central Iowa into notoriety.
The law mandates that school libraries may only contain “age-appropriate” books free of any “[graphic*] descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act” as defined by Iowa Code. In a particularly draconian move, the law holds individual teachers and school librarians accountable for violations.
[ . . . ]
Our district serves about 3,500 students with nine school libraries and hundreds of classroom libraries. While our school library collections are digitally cataloged and searchable, a typical classroom library, which our district believes is also covered by the new law, is a different story. It is likely to be a collection of books that came with the classroom itself, with others donated and still more purchased by the teacher at garage sales and used bookstores to ensure a robust collection that improves the odds that every student will have the life-affirming experience of falling in love with a book.
Even though I have read, enjoyed and taught many of these books as a former English teacher, I cringe at having to judge them based on these new legal requirements. I read these books for the reasons we all read — for joy and to experience the world through someone else’s eyes, not in search of a description of sex.
[ . . . ]
There are no winners in the game of censorship. I was simply seeking to mitigate the damage of a destructive law and perhaps channel the energy of the public outcry to address the real issue here — this misguided legislation — and the fact that our students still won’t have access at school to culturally relevant works.
[ . . . ]
We all live our roles as teachers and school leaders very publicly. Each of us brings her own values, histories and belief systems to her work. We became educators because we believe in public education. I wholeheartedly believe in the transformational power of books and open access to information. I do not shirk from the public accountability of my job, but it was deeply hurtful to hear messages left on my assistant’s voice mail calling me a Nazi, a communist pig, an idiot and a danger to society.
*Editor’s note: The original author omitted the word “graphic” from the quotation of the Iowa law’s text.
Read it all here.
Here’s Steve McGuire quoting University of Pennsylvania professor Jonathan Zimmerman on how the left gave up the free speech mantle to the right:
Where does protecting minors end and free speech infringement begin? The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression says Texas got to the line and crossed it:
And finally, Roger Stone is now a reluctant bipartisan conspiracy theorist, accusing Georgia governor Brian Kemp of stealing his own election over Democrat Stacey Abrams. He never wanted to believe it!