Saturday Links 7-Jul-2018: Free Speech and power, Tribal nations, Imperceptibly changing minds, flying electric spiders

1. Free Speech is a signal showing who has power. On June 20 Wendy Kaminer, former board member of the ACLU, accused the ACLU of backing away from their longstanding defense of free speech. She based this on a leaked internal ACLU memo, which, to be fair, tries to have it both ways. First saying “As human rights, these rights extend to all, even to the most repugnant speakers—including white supremacists—and pursuant to ACLU policy, we will continue our longstanding practice of representing such groups.” Then flip-flopping to say the ACLU should take into account “the extent to which the speech may assist in advancing the goals of white supremacists or others whose views are contrary to our values.”

Later on June 30 Adam Liptak wrote in the New York Times How Conservatives Weaponized the First Amendment. So of course conservatives tried to take the ACLU and the NY Times to task, for example here and here.

But I think this kerfuffle misses the bigger picture. In particular see how Liptak’s piece favorably quotes Catharine A. MacKinnon: “Once a defense of the powerless, the First Amendment over the last hundred years has mainly become a weapon of the powerful. Legally, what was, toward the beginning of the 20th century, a shield for radicals, artists and activists, socialists and pacifists, the excluded and the dispossessed, has become a sword for authoritarians, racists and misogynists, Nazis and Klansmen, pornographers and corporations buying elections.” This is true and reveals perhaps more than intended. MacKinnon is exactly correct — free speech is about protecting those without power. But this is a tell. Yes, those with power want to suppress the speech of those they find offensive. But now boomers who were once “radicals, artists and activists, socialists and pacifists” have ascended the ranks of power. They want to suppress those they detest, even if that detest is deserved. The politics of free speech are eternal. Power hates it. And by showing their hate, those in power expose it, whether cultural or financial, just so.

2. The Tribal Mind and the Nation State. Some good points by Jonah Goldberg on international cosmopolitanism. Made me realize when an internationalist tribe arises, for whatever reason, it needs an enemy to coalesce. Like all tribes. Hence an internationalist tribe induces a nationalist tribe as backlash. In particular I liked this bit:

It seems to me that the only current contender for anything like a global tribe requiring anything like global solidarity would be a resurgent old religion or some kind of new one. But even then, one reason I think a global sense of ethical or tribal solidarity is very difficult to achieve is that one of the key ingredients of tribal solidarity is opposition to an “other.” Global religions still define themselves — in practical terms — as opposed to some other religious view or group. Johnson’s point about cosmopolitanism is a good one, but it overlooks the fact that many of the cosmopolitans, or “globalists,” very much act like a tribe pitted against what they consider to be the populist rubes beneath them. As Ross Douthat notes, the cosmopolitans are a tribe, too.

3. Denmark enacts laws for ghetto immigrants. People in the US are riled up about immigrants. But in the end America has always been one of the most immigrant friendly societies. Which I expect (or at least hope) will continue. So perhaps it’s better to grade everyone on a curve. Thus it’s sad, but not too surprising to learn:

When Rokhaia Naassan gives birth in the coming days, she and her baby boy will enter a new category in the eyes of Danish law. Because she lives in a low-income immigrant neighborhood described by the government as a “ghetto,” Rokhaia will be what the Danish newspapers call a “ghetto parent” and he will be a “ghetto child.”

Starting at the age of 1, “ghetto children” must be separated from their families for at least 25 hours a week, not including nap time, for mandatory instruction in “Danish values,” including the traditions of Christmas and Easter, and Danish language. Noncompliance could result in a stoppage of welfare payments. Other Danish citizens are free to choose whether to enroll children in preschool up to the age of six.

4. Imperceptibly changing your mind one step at a time. Using the great novelist Thomas Mann as a example, an excellent essay by Corey Robin, on how views shift imperceptibly over time to match your current group. Here’s one bit: “As the climate of opinion changed during the war, he changed with it. And then at the onset of the Cold War, he changed again. But watching how his positions changed—within a very short period of time—without him even realizing it, without him even remembering what he had said, a mere three years prior, was eerie and unsettling. And heart-breaking, as I said.”

5. Real versus hypothetical trolley problems. New paper showing what people say they’ll do about the trolley problem is different than what they really do. Turns out people are more consequentialist than they claim. Paper: Of Mice, Men, and Trolleys: Hypothetical Judgment Versus Real-Life Behavior in Trolley-Style Moral Dilemmas. Or if you prefer the short version, news article.

6. Flying electric spiders. Let’s finish with this fun piece by Ed Yong on how spiders balloon (float/fly) using static electricity.
image source wikipedia


Categorized as Link post

By Nathan Taylor

I blog at on tech trends and the near future. I'm on twitter as @ntaylor963.

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