Holbo: 'This Maxim Is Patently, Grossly Inadequate for Governing a Blog Comment Box... Let Alone... Public Reason & a Public Sphere'—Noted
John Holbo: '[The Harpers letter says:] "The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other" https://twitter.com/jholbo1/status/1280678001395372032. Some thoughts on 2nd-best solutions: This maxim is patently, grossly inadequate for governing a blog comment box... let alone a social media platform, let alone Public Reason and a Public Sphere. Ideally, we would live in a world in which this would be an ideal rule to follow. Ideally, the world contains no trolls, bots, bad faith actors—or few enough they can be dealt with retail not wholesale in the Marketplace of Ideas. In a world in which everyone were exchanging more or less in open-faced good faith, this rule would be good. In our actual world, however, it is not good. No, not really, sadly. Hence a dilemma. Insisting on the rule might seem to pull us towards that better world. Be the ideal discourse change you want to see! On the other hand—here is 2nd best wisdom—there is no guarantee that things fit for the best of all possible worlds also best suit ours...
...If you set this high bar and then—predictably—fail to clear it (you block people on Twitter rather than debating them ad nauseum, even though they are obviously trolls) you open yourself up to criticism of hypocrisy. Maybe things go backwards as a result. But there isn't really an obvious, simple 2nd best rule for our 2nd best world. It's easy-and therefore very proper!-to point out cases in which people and things and ideas have been 'cancelled' when they clearly should have been tolerated/debated. Not easy to articulate a stable norm about this, even a rule-of-thumb. One of the main obstacles is the discourse ethics of partisanship. Partisanship is not bad faith, but partisanship is, to some degree, a thing that should be damped in debate. The whole point of arguing is to consider changing your mind, via trying to change others' minds. So, ideally, partisans should-not disarm, that isn't it-but observe exacting dueling protocols when entering the debate arena. But this is hard to articulate and enforce.
Here's another problem. Nazis are bad. In a politically liberal world in which there are only a few Nazis, you can argue with them. It's like a vaccine. You are inoculating the discourse by injecting it with small amounts of moribund evil, to build antibodies. Unfortunately, it is a fallacy that, if vaccines are good, virulent diseases must be good, too. R's whine that they get called 'evil', but they support a President who tweets out 'White Power' and they are, no kidding, working to dismantle or hobble democracy. Why are leftists 'cancelling' right-wing ideas? Because the center of gravity of conservative thinking in the Republican party has lurched rightward. The R party really is laying its bets on securing minority white rule by manipulation of anti-democratic levers of power.
This is within the 'rules of the game', because the game was to some degree designed to be anti-democratic. But it is not something they are arguing for openly and honestly. It's not clear it's a good idea arguing with them as-if they were good faith actors about this. Future historians will debate 'cancel culture in the 2020's'. I hope they will be sensible enough rightly to identify as its main, root cause: breaches of norms of commitment to liberalism and democracy by the American right. 'Unless and until conservatism crawls out of its deplorable basket there isn't much realistic prospect of normalizing its tenets as non-deplorable, in discourse terms.' It is not reasonable to ask the left to pretend things stand otherwise than they do.
Another nexus of dispute is things like trans rights. I don't want to get into the whole JK Rowling thing. On the one hand, people ought to be more open to more perspectives on these things. Life is mysterious and strange and needs many perspectives on it. On the other hand, it isn't really reasonable to ask people to open themselves up to—to render themselves incapable of having reasonable discussions in the face of—bad faith attacks. I believe Rowling is arguing in good faith, even if I don't agree with what she is saying. But the pressure to 'cancel' that sort of thing does not seem to me to be due, primarily, to intolerance on the left. Rather, the problem is that MOST arguments and arguers on Rowling's side (but not her) are in bad faith. So it's hard to debate Rowling in good faith without polluting the discourse, absolutely, by letting a lot of bad faith sewage seep in.
If you want a world in which a good faith argument is possible between Rowling and her critics (which I do!) work to bring about a world in which there is less bad-faith arguing from the right on trans rights. Let me be very specific about that. The bad faith arguments all have the same form. They are what I call 'downstream worries' arguments. If 'trans rights are human rights' we have pronoun trouble, or need new norms for bathrooms or women's sports or in womens' shelters. Or philosophical ideas about the metaphysics of gender will be problematized. All this is true and some of it may get bumpy. But there's really no point arguing about it without a high baseline of initial acceptance of trans rights. If trans rights are human rights, how are we going to run sports/use pronouns? But the bad faith arguers are not willing to debate the antecedent honestly. They have a sense they'll lose, and they are right. So they fuss about bathrooms to pollute discourse with issues that can only be reasonably discussed after we accept something they don't, but aren't willing to argue about honestly. There is no reason to put up with the debate being rendered nonsensical.
It's fine to 'cancel' those who monkey wrench liberal discourse, rather than engage in honest debate. Unfortunately, that means those who are adjacent to bad faith actors, but in good faith, get cancelled-by-association. That's unfortunate but hard to rule out, with a rule. So I can't agree with the letter of the letter, although I do wholeheartedly agree with the spirit of the letter. So, in spirit, I sign the letter. In the best of all possible worlds. But not, like, with the letters of my name in a 2nd best world. (Is that right?)...
.#cognition #noted #publicsphere #2020-07-07