Free Speech and Hate Speech

There’s a thoughtful discussion in a recent New York Review of Books entitled “Free Speech and the Menace of Hysteria.”  Though he passes by without comment the title’s term  that associates the womb with a mind out of control (groan), Jeremy Waldron does provide an interesting review of a book by Anthony Lewis, Freedom for the Thought That We Hate.  A later comment by Perry Link summarizes a point Waldron argues for:

In his excellent essay “Free Speech and the Menace of Hysteria” [NYR, May 29], Jeremy Waldron shows how, in the United States over the last two hundred years, the state came to be viewed as sufficiently stable that it “did not need the support of the law against the puny denunciations of the citizenry.” To subject the state to “free trade in ideas” is by now seen as carrying little risk and as having considerable advantages for democratic rule. Next, Professor Waldron argues that the case is not parallel for vulnerable minorities—such as, in our society today, Muslims from Asia or Latinos in the Southwest. Here the hate speech that might appear in the marketplace can bring grievous and irreparable harm, and perhaps should be restricted by law.

Link also argues that there is a serious problem about who employs the restraint.  I hope both the article and the comment are  available electronically.  It could be used to set  up a good discussion.

49 thoughts on “Free Speech and Hate Speech

  1. I think we have to be careful not to let cultural relativism trickle into this discussion. A lot of the “hate speech” laws are used increasingly to stifle criticism, which is in clear contrast to the idea behind free speech. Apparently, there are some forces at play that think that any type of speech that offends them should be curtailed. That’s how we ended up with the violence against the cartoons published in the Danish paper. And that’s how two Canadian journalists ended up in court.

    While I think that there is speech that is abusive, I don’t think that most of the hate speech laws adequately protect against misuse. Plus, unlike in abusive relationships, I can switch channels and just not listen to what Fox News talks about (most of which I find offensive). In other words, there are other ways to protect myself from hate speech than to silence the hater.

    However, we need to remember what we’re trying to do: we are trying to protect minorities not from speech but from action. The key, then, is to figure out the mechanism of how speech turns into action (or inaction). Instead of silencing people, we need to work on changing their minds (or at least that of their followers who might not be as deluded).

    One interesting point I learned yesterday (if memory is correct, here), the people who will suffer first from curtailing freedom of speech are those minorities we purport to protect with hate crime legislation. The right to say what’s on our minds is especially important when we speak against majority views.

  2. Clearly, this is an important topic and it’s by far a topic with an easy, clear-cut answer…

    I think the key is to step back and ask what are we trying to protect from? I don’t think that speech outside of intimate relationships can be harmful. What I am concerned about when I hear about hate speech is that it will be followed by action. Matthew Shepard was murdered because someone had been steeped in anti-gay rhetoric. He was not murdered by the words, though. Some person had to take the next step. The Phelps family are a stark example of offensive speech. Yet, I think that the answer is not to ban them from funerals but to do what veterans on bikes are doing: Form a human blockade between the picketers and the mourners. Hate speech is not going away by criminalizing it. A better way might be to teach critical thinking – to talk about why the Phelps family has a right to picked, why that is offensive to at least some people, and how to respond (for example).

    (Now, I want to add that I am not nearly as clear on all these points as I make them sound… I’d rather send the Phelps family to the moon than have to put up with them. I am not at all certain that speech cannot hurt – having experienced verbal abuse myself. But I also see a lot of danger in legal actions against hate speech, which can quickly turn into censorship, which doesn’t do anybody any good…)

  3. Thanks, Rachel, for you thoughtful observations.

    I’m not sure what we count as hate speech is always separate from action. It’s pretty clear that many of us pretty automatically pick up each each others emotions and actions, and hate speech can involve both. Just watching others row (perhaps practicing for a race), for example, affects us cardio-vascularly, and that is a sign of how the sight of action can activate the basic motor program for that action in us. Similarly, expressions of vile hatred will stir up hatred in many of us. The reactions are automatic and come with the neurophysiology.

    It’s illegal in at least some places, for example, to shout fire and start running. You’ll get a riot, probably itself deadly, almost right away. It isn’t clear how we could stop one such reaction, still less all such reactions. Possibly some sort of insane operation on brains would do it.

    Of course, none of this speaks to the cartoons you mentioned, and it’s not clear, is it, that everyone would have counted that hate speech? That’s certainly one problem: who decides? So I don’t want to argue for curtailing hate speech, but rather to say it may be so closely related to action it isn’t possible to severe that sort of link on any general level.

  4. I don’t like the idea of outlawing “offensive” speech at all. First, it’s been used against minorities most if at all — one of the wonders of democracy Jefferson was wary of, at times — but also because acts are the real problem. I’ve been called many names, but I think what these speech law miss is that I’ve been called these because I ventured into places where my dominant culture — white, male, hetero — wasn’t the norm. Name-calling is something I can deal with. I’m not he-man enough to pretend to be able deal with the physical alternative.

    The Phelps family are fools and easily dismissed as such — even by conservative sympathizers — through their attacks on troops. But it’s all a matter of degrees and I think you can get your average bigot to spit out just as offensive bs. I once got a Jehovah’s Witness to go on a very loud rant about how disabled people were a sign of Satan and should be put to death within a hundred yards of a disabled people hosting home. Obviously her recruiting day was over and I walked off having put my bible knowledge to what I think is good use. I think turning bigots radioactive isn’t done through the power of the State — fickle and how so questionable to me — but by engaging them and making them shed their mantle of respectability/sanity.

  5. I don’t want to defend Walldron argument; I put this up because it contained some ideas that I suspect I had never thought of, and that seems interesting..

    Here is an important part of it, from Link:

    Premise: the hate speech [against muslims and latinos] that might appear in the marketplace can bring grievous and irreparable harm.
    Conclusion: it (perhaps) should be restricted.

    I think both rebecca and counterfnord want to argue that the first premise is false, because the speech doesn’t cause the damage. I’m not really hopeful about this approach, for two reasons. (1) the cause of a cause is usually considered a cause. If I push someone and that person falls over the cliff and is killed on impact, I’m not going to get away with it by saying that it was really the fall the killed him. (2) Hate speech can be like a hard shove to action.

  6. jj, I actually agree with your point. I’m willing to attack the transition to that conclusion a

  7. (weird computer interuption)

    jj, I actually agree with your point. I’m willing to attack the transition to that conclusion at least as much as the premise. In fact, that’s exactly where I would want people (us?) to attack. To take your phrasing to task, I take exception to anyone wanting to push anyone over any cliff whatsoever. My — lame excuse for a — point being that there are different modes of speech, not all of which are verbal. Being “in” a culture gives one leeway to use phrasing that would be offensive from without, but lawmakers and judges are usually from “out” ie dominant subcultures and as such would punish innocuous put downs while letting actually hostile ones skate. I may be pessimistic on that count, but that unfortunately comes from experience — as in personal, subjective experience, no claim to authority here.

    Trying to come back to the actual topic, what’s most interesting to me is to outline exactly why some speech can be more grievous to some communities. I think the real problem lies exactly there — actually “feel” would be a better word than “think” — as if they are already in a defensive frame whereas there is no actual reason — at least none that would withstand daylight — why they should be.

    I’m still very confused about all this, even though this topic is dear to me, please forgive my… confusion. Any help most welcome…

  8. jj, I’m recovering from a major computer meltdown, so please forgive a few glitches while I’m battling unwelcome pop-ups and all, it’s all an adolescent phase I’m sure…

  9. Yes, I am not convinced that hate speech “can bring grievous and irreparable harm.” What are some examples of that? I also don’t think that it always comes with action. Your example of the cardio effects of watching people work out is interesting, yet, nobody would argue that therefore watching a sports game would be cardio exercise. So, just because hate speech stirs up hatred in some of us does not mean that there is irreparable harm.

    Please note that I am not saying that hate speech is not wrong. It is and I think as a society we should try to curtail it. I am just very concerned that curtailing it via outlawing it will backfire (and has backfired!). I suggest that a better response would be to teach critical thinking that kicks in before hate speech turns into action.

    (As an aside: I wonder why people change my name to “Rebecca”… ;-)

  10. All speech is, in some sense– even if a boring one– an act. But some forms of speech are clearly acts of great significance– the classic example is probably the act of marrying being performed by the uttering of particular words. (Austin’s the locus classicus for this stuff.) So the fact that something’s speech doesn’t mean it’s not an act, nor does it mean it’s not a significant act. Catharine MacKinnon insists that pornography is both speech and an act– and she takes it to be a very pernicious act. (She likes to draw analogies to acts like that of saying to an attack dog, “kill!”) Rae Langton’s done a lot of work to make sense of MacKinnon by using Austin on speech acts– arguing that porn is a speech act of subordination and silencing. I don’t know if anyone’s done anything similar with hate speech, but the move would seem to be available.

    The truth is, I tend toward the anti-restriction side myself. But I don’t think a sharp distinction between speech and acts is the best way to support it.

  11. Rachel, my apologies about your name! I too often confuse names that begin with the same letter.

  12. I don’t find it hard to believe that hate speech can cause grievous harm, and maybe even irreparable harm.
    There may be good reason to doubt that one could be affected in a lasting way by a single, decontextualized (?), and isolated derogatory remark or insult. But it doesn’t seem at all implausible that one could be affected in a lasting way if she has grown up in a society that breeds some degree of contempt for people like her, contempt that produces, is produced by, and reproduced in, language. Language circulates in a cultural matrix of institutional practices, social power, interpersonal relations, and so on. Any consideration of how speech acts affect people over the long haul must take into account the cultural context in which utterances are made. I’m sure we could think of plenty of examples of how low self-esteem and self-respect (surely products of being repeatedly told that one [and others like one] are lazy, ignorant, dirty, useless, etc.) detrimentally and possibly in a lasting way affect one’s performance in school, interactions on the playground, prospects in the workplace, compatability in private settings, and so on and so forth. Rawls recognized this and that is why he specified the means for self-esteem as a primary social good.

  13. Having been in an abusive relationship, I do know how hurtful words can be even if they are not followed by a fist. Jender, thank you for pointing out how the distinction between speech and acts might not be as clear cut as I wanted it to be; might not even be there… I think that’s where Shelley’s argument comes in as well (although I think you’re referring to much more “subtle” speech, more pervasive and less obvious). I’ve been musing lately how much language does affect us – cultural changes can be precipitated with it (for example, the establishment of the separate sphere ideology was largely through discourse). And certainly Hitler is a good example of effective rhetoric…

    However, I am still very uncomfortable with restricting free speech. Do we have any data on whether this is actually working? Interesting, posing this question, I realized that I am not even sure what the goal of restricting hate speech is. Is it that we don’t have to listen to something that makes us uncomfortable? Is it that we’re not exposed to a cultural matrix of hate? Do we think we can prevent the next Hitler this way (I think that would be rather naive…)?

    (JJ – No worries about the name! It reminded me of a professor who kept mixing the two R’s up: Rachel and Rebecca. At some point, we decided to get real clever and swap our nametags… Surprisingly, he never mixed us up again ;-)

  14. Thanks, Rachel!

    I’ve thought that the problem Waldron was addressing was more about making a group of people the subject of hatred and perhaps vicious acts.

    I mentioned somewhere on this blog a caller to a right wing radio show that I heard. The caller was worried about the threat to the country posed by having most of the gas stations in the hands of Muslims. The whole gas thing is getting quite emotional here in the States and I don’t know what a whole campaign to get Muslims out of the gas business would do, but I can easily imagine it’s getting pretty ugly.

    As I think about this, of course, I’m thinking that there are lots of cases in this country when groups got together to kill members of other groups. Ugh!

  15. Very interesting thread so far, for me at least. Setting aside my misgivings about enforcement of any such statute, I’m having a hard time coming up with a definition for “hate speech”. So far I’m far too close to a I-know-it-when-I-hear-it non definition and I think a clear one would help me wrap my mind around the pros and cons of banning such. “Verbalized prejudice” sounds good, but I think that’s still too broad. Any ideas?

  16. Google can be helpful and it gives us Wikipedia as the first source for “hate speech”

    Hate speech is a term for speech intended to degrade, intimidate, or incite violence or prejudicial action against a person or group of people based on their race, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, language ability, moral or political views, socioeconomic class, occupation or appearance (such as height, weight, and hair color), mental capacity and any other distinction-liability. The term covers written as well as oral communication and some forms of behaviors in a public setting.

  17. Thanks jj, but I think that’s still too wide a brush for my agreeing to trust the majority with that kind of policing. On second thought my problem with that wikipedia definition is actually the opposite: I’m quite comfortable with the “degrade, intimidate or incite violence or prejudicial action”, but the laundry list after that makes me feel very uneasy. Isn’t the will to harm enough? I don’t want to draw lines as to who is an acceptable target, that’s what bothering me. Because saying who is not is just the same as saying who is in my book.

    Anyway, that’s food for thought, this topic has been taxing the old brain cells — mine, that is — and I’ll just have to think over that some more.

    Thanks for the reply jj, I’m so grateful for someone like you to spend — or maybe waste — time educating someone like me. I only have my willingness to learn to give back, but I really wanted to express my appreciation. Shout out to you! That’s probably not appropriate phrasing, but it comes from the heart and I hope you take it as kindly as it is meant.

  18. Counterfnord, I agree; I don’t have confidence in our ability to police it in a just fashion.

    And you are indeed kind. But teaching is seldom one-way, so my sense is that you are a teacher here yourself. Truly.

  19. I think this thread has had a distinctively “american” flavour to it and has bordered on the ethnocentric. If one thinks only in terms of negative freedom and individual rights and liberties, then one is bound to conclude that government could not and should not attempt to provide protection from hate speech or other forms of group-directed subordination and discrimination. Indeed, the doctrine of individual rights is pretty much antithetical to the idea of “hate speech” which relies on a notion of “group rights” and the promotion of them by government and other institutional and social entities (positive freedom) to ensure that disadvantaged groups enjoy the opportunities, social resources, and so on that other more advantaged groups take for granted. Examples abound of instruments (many of which have been more or less successful) designed by national and international bodies with the express aim of protecting and promoting the rights of members of disenfranchised groups, though the US is by no means an exemplar in this regard. That said, I would like to note that it is not surprising (at least to me) that the link provided in the initial comment in this thread was to an article in a publication entitled (wait for it) “American Thinker”. But I did find it surprising that the article would be used to support an argument for the protection of minorities, given the racist stereotyping produced in the article (“If a Muslim is offended by a cartoon Mohammad, wouldn’t he be offended by actresses writhing in simulated ecstasy who are not covered by burquas?) It should not be assumed that all Muslims, or even all Muslim men, expect or require Muslim women to wear burquas.

  20. Hi
    I think I am coming in quite late but I can take many examples just from my life where hate speech has turned into both action and inaction that have both been irreparably damaging and in a few cases deadly.
    First there are the social workers, many of whom spew hate speech against the poor even though they would not have jobs without us. They say to each other, oh these lazy useless people they dont deserve anything why do they think they have a right to complain about how they live, i can take you to a few counties in Ohio where you will hear that ALOT. Then they call the next waiting and refuse everything they can, not caring if you are working 2 jobs and cant pay for heat or if someone is sick and cannot get medicine. ALso here is something else to think about, they say these things to mothers while their children are standing there watching the speech dehumanize their mom, I know that on more than one occasion we left and went without food because my mom thought that since she was working 2 underpaid jobs it was much more damaging for me to listen to that than to go without.
    Another example, at mixed economic schools, where middle class and poor kids are together you will hear the middle class parents talking loudly about the ids who are poor and about their families, when i was in first grade i stodd there while a little girl asked her mom to invite me over and the response was that that family lives dirty they have roaches they leave food out how many times do i have to tell you to stay away from them, not knowing what i was getting into i walked over to her at the age of 6 and asked her where all this food she thinks we left out was cuz when we had food we sure ate it right away since we were always hungry and that my mom scrubbed the house with bleach water everynight after her second job, the middle class kids took on the hate speech of their parents and would terrorize us whenever they could, beat us up, break our glasses that cost 2 weeks salary, never get into trouble.
    The the worst i have seen, both in real life and on TV, the cops talk horribly about our neighborhoods, hate us, arrest us when we come out but wont come in to help even though they are paid by our taxes too. So 2 years ago my little cousin was murdered at the age of 15, the cops were standing there saying how it doesnt matter if another one is dead, one less on welfare and laughed in front of my family, never really investigated STILL. This year 2 more of my teenage cousins were murdered in the same neighborhood, same response from the cops even though the first was tesifying to the grand jury about heroin and child prostitution that she and another of my cousins were forced into, the 15 year old was murdered 3 days after she got away and agreed to testify, the brother of the other cousin was murdered this year, oddly while the same man was in town, the hate speech of the cops goes on, saying dont care if our kids are murdered, in front of us that it is ridiculous that they have to come out for it.
    I am obviously not there now having finally been the 1st ever to get out, when i called they were willing to talkk to me until i got into town and they remembered who i was.
    Much of the middle class is full of this kind of speech and most of the time it is socially rewardedwhen they sit and talkk about how we belong where they force us to be by their refusal to give a living wage and people suffer and die as a result.

  21. I Love Fanon: Thanks for your willingness to share those horrendous and important examples. The literature on this is far too narrow in what it considers. Your examples do make it utterly clear just how much speech can harm.

  22. Shelley: It’s interesting that you seem to imply that supporting the right to free speech is American and (therefore?) ethnocentric (and I assume when you write “American” you refer to the US). This is an easy way to dismiss such a difficult issue.

    What is ethnocentric about pointing out that restricting hate speech might end up hurting those very people we’re trying to protect? I am very much struggling with trying to reconcile wanting to protect people from “hate speech” and wanting to ensure “freedom of speech.” Hate speech is wrong but I think outlawing it is the wrong approach. It does not work – Nazis are still around spreading their filth; anti-semitic tv stations just figure out different ways to broadcast etc.

    You write that “examples abound of instruments (many of which have been more or less successful).” Could you point out some that work and how that working has been assessed?

    I provided the link to the American Thinker article because they were reporting on two Canadian reports who have gotten in trouble with the Human Rights Commission in Canada. It was not used to “support an argument for the protection of minorities,” as you claim. I wanted to give an example of how protecting people from hate speech can have some rather disturbing consequences. If I had spent a bit more time searching, I might have found other examples that weren’t reported in something with “American” in the title (is that supposed to discredit the argument?). And, yes, the quote you provide is inappropriate, unnecessary, and certainly prejudiced (and I cringed when I read it). Should it therefore be outlawed? Or would it be better to respond to it by pointing out what’s wrong with it, as you did? What would be more effective?

    The other link I provided was to a talk by Salman Rushdie who is probably a very good example of what happens when protecting people from hate speech is taken too far…

    It is sad that people have to be exposed to crap like the stuff ilovefanon has shared. It’s especially bad since it’s coming from people who are supposed to help the people they are dismissing. And this kind of thinking has made its way into libertarian arguments that people deserve their (outrages) salaries. But is the solution to outlaw this speech? I don’t know what the solution is except that we need to teach people that this is wrong, that we need to respect each other and that it’s totally disgusting and inappropriate for a police officer to laugh at a murder. My goal would be to protect people from this kind of crap because they are human beings, not because they are members of a certain group.

    I am afraid that outlawing hate speech is an easy way out. It masks the real issue: the existence of the hatred in the first place and our – as a society – inability to protect people from this hatred by preventing it in the first place. I think people have the right to live without having hatred hurled at them but these same people also have the right to speak their mind.

  23. Hi again, Rachel.

    It turns out that freedom of speech is recognized by the document ratified by the UN in 1948 that’s called, I think, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (You know my trouble with names.) I think it’s generally said that ‘some islamic thinkers’ regard it as a fundamentally judeo-christian document and so thereby flawed. I’m not sure if Shelley meant to recommend the curtailment of speech that goes on in some islamic countries, but there is a perspective certainly from which that is regarded as beneficial.

  24. There is an interesting perspective on this advocated by Ibn Warraq in his book “Defending the West,” in which he takes on Edward Said’s argument that – rather simplified – anything that the West does is colonialist and thus evil/bad (an article version is here). In a lot of ways, Said’s argument is a discussion stopper because it is used to imply that anything supported by the West – such as freedom of speech – must be wrong. Ibn Warraq points out that this argument is largely unfounded and that it’s dangerous to simply dismiss ideas because they’re Western. (Note: I think that the West did plenty of horrible things but this doesn’t justify dismissing everything that has ever been presented by the West, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, btw, also protects the right to security of person, which is attempted by restricting hate speech (article 3)).

    Shelley’s comment reminded me of Said’s arguments. I don’t think this problem is as easy as that: We have to carefully weigh the benefits of curtailing speech to protect minorities and remember the unintended consequences. AND we also have to weigh the benefits of allowing speech and the unintended consequences of that. It’s not simply “freedom of speech = good” and “restricting speech = bad” (or vice versa).

    But, ultimately, the proof is in the data pudding: Does restricting “hate speech” work? Are there other ways of increasing respect for other human beings and reducing hate? Do they work? By “work” I mean: does the approach reduce crime – other than speech – against minorities and do these minorities feel protected/more comfortable?

  25. Hi all
    Thanks, I hate even having things lie that to say but such is life in this country. Actually I have been finding a bit more literature, of course Fanon looks at things like this in great detail but I have found some things in music literature and an amazing book that i am reading right now in slums around the world.
    I have a question where in the West might i go to find free speech and security of person, it is not in the united states, many, many of the Black panthers were hunted like rabid animals for their speeh, Tupac was arrested the same day the video for Trapped, which shows the horrors of being trapped in the ghetto, came out, his mother was in jail while she was pregnant with him for speaking against the rich, her play about her own defense in her trial is amazing, it came out over the winter. Ive been pulled over alot for the music i play becauase it is against capitalism and i have been sanctioned many many times for speaking my mind in grad school, while the other studetns are free to talk all they want about using eugenics in the ghettos as an end to poverty i am not allowed to tell them to shut up. My mother was arrested at the welfare office in front of me when i was little for speaking out against the atrocities they call housing and fired from more than a few jobs for complaining about slave wages. There are many puerto Ricans in jail right now for their speech, right now in New York, Maybe in Europe there is free speech i dont know but i do know it isnt here. Im actually examining this right now in my own work for a conference this fall and am definitely finding that how free your speech is is directly proportional to both your zip code and the amount of arbitrary green pieces of paper you own just like everything else here.
    Rachel, thanks ive not read Said but he sounds lie someone I will LOVE , i had the notion he was like Rawls and so avoided him like the plague but now I am running stright to the library tomorrow!!!

  26. ilovefanon: I didn’t try to portrait Said in a positive light… He’s making some rather flawed assumptions and, according to Ibn Warraq, most of his work is not based on reality…

    Thank you for pointing out that there is a BIG difference between the rhetoric espoused in the West that purports to support freedom of speech and security of the person – and the stark reality of the opposite!

  27. Rachel
    I know your werent trying to show him in a good light BUT what is good for some is hell for others and to me he sounds almost as wonderful as Fanon.
    Whose reality is it that his thought is flawed though, is it merely an overindulged mans or is it also flawed to those who have been forced to live the other side of overindulgence. From my situation anything that promotes the perpetuation of a system that was meant to harm many is flawed, so for me thatr leaves out anything having to do with maintaining the status quo through reform because although those who are in need may be thrown a bone or two they are still left in the cold, literally, and the overindulged continue on as they always have without regard for anyone but themselves. That is why i love Fanon so much, he is so intolerant of reform and calls for entirely new forms of economics and government, only revolution was good enough for him. He also DID something about the way the harmed are treated instead of being like Rawls, saying something needs to be done and then sitting down with his money hoard, he says he wants something to be done but wont DO anything. From what you said of Said he sounds as if he will appeal to me greatly, its all a vantage point though, if something has constently only been harmful to one of course one will want to hear no talk of its perpetuation but if someone likes it because it appeals to them or has been of great benefit to them of course they would want to hang on to it. Even though i am now overindulged, have food, heat, a nice, safe house to live in, noone else i love has those luxuries so i have to go with trying for new beginnings, anything less from me would be complete complicity in their harm.

  28. ilovefanon: Enjoy reading Said! I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t set the wrong expectations… You might, to get a perspective, also take a look at Ibn Warraq’s “Defending the West.” I think, like with everything, it’s a good idea to take a look at both sides because (assuming there are only two), usually, there is not one right way (although we humans would love there to be one!). Most of the time things are a convoluted mess, which creates cognitive dissonance that we try to resolve by taking sides. Maybe new beginnings could be a way out of that dissonance, learning from both sides, maybe taking the best from each, and leaving the rest behind. Though who decides what is “best?” Best for whom? Ah! The complications never end… ;-)

  29. Ilovefanon, reading Said always is a good idea in my book, but the man was extremely cultured and even though I think you don’t really need to get every single reference, his work is pretty deep. As in worth reading a few times over, getting more out of it each time. Please keep in mind that some of the issues/debates/events he had in mind — in my opinion — framed his response and not knowing those might leave one with a distorted view.

    I would suggest researching the man himself a little, that should give you some elements about where he speaks from, and that’s not a common standpoint to say the least. And a lot of more topical articles as well, some written in the spur of the moment, not always insightful but interesting to get a sense of his personal language. Anyway, good luck and please take what you read critically; beyond boilerplate advise it’s — to me at least — a proper tribute to the man himself.

    I sadly would advise you not to get too worked up about Europe. At least you might want to avoid France. I live there, and there’s no “freedom of speech” legal principle here; and that UN document was denounced here by a left-wing government because of what the interior minister deemed were infringements on his protection of “race purity” — in one of the most chilling moments of my adult life. About race relations, well let’s say that your account would seem par for the course right here, a bit extreme but definitely believable in a country where a racist torturer got to the runoff in the election for president. I’ve been living in “mixed” neighborhoods — though white — for so long I’m just not comfortable moving out, and I can’t help but notice the usual “random” police ID stop where I’m waved through whether I volunteer ID or not — getting annoyed stares if I do — even though every single person dark-skinned enough is stopped and/or searched.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s an escape. The silver lining is that I don’t really want there to be one. I’m not special or anything, so that means that there are a lot of people out there like me who don’t relate to these prejudices, and are actually wounded by them, even though we are not targeted. We do need you here, and we need you to lead. Just because so many times white, privileged people have talked the talk only to fail to walk the walk, and because we acknowledge that your first hand experience just beats our second hand one about what MUST be fixed, like now, in our society.

    Thanks for sharing those harrowing experiences anyway, I hope it brings some perspective here. And, again, good luck to you, I wish you can make even more of a difference around you, in my experience that’s been way better than just avoiding complicity. I think you’ve been doing that already, so just keep truckin’

  30. Counterfnord, I know you well enough by now to know you don’t mean to sound condescending. But I suspect ilovefanon knows her way around the difficult texts pretty well (if only from her name)!

  31. Yeah, I figured as much, but I’m just saying it’s often worth reading those again, once you’ve got more experience under your belt. It was very well worth the trouble for me, and I just wrote that post as addressing my younger self in the hope it would avoid some of my own mistakes. Which is offered more as an explanation than an excuse.

    I’m sorry if that came out as condescending, that was nowhere near my intent, and I thank you for pointing out that regretful lapse and giving me an opportunity to clear it up. It’s just that Said is not exactly a household name in my circles, and I’ve been burned before by recommending him to people who just didn’t have the tools available to understand him properly; not implying that I do understand him completely, actually I’m pretty sure I don’t, but having come to philosophy through Wittgenstein, that’s a familiar feeling.

    Said’s been a tricky one in my experience, one who is so interesting if you take the time to ponder it through, but I guess I am no authority as my latest read still changed my mind — again — about what he was actually saying.

    I think I was actually being condescending, in that I projected my own struggles on someone who deserves far more respect. Part of the learning process, but potentially hurting someone’s feeling is very disturbing, so:

    If Ilovefannon — or anyone else — took any offense, I can only offer a sincere apology. Any putdown was self-intended or a product of my own clumsiness, and I’d be grateful for anyone else pointing out how stupid I’ve been. That would be my best hope for fixing these flaws.

  32. Jender, thanks
    Counterfnord, Im not offended, it often happens that academics exclude me, by that I mean that I often get the feeling, or am told explicitly, that because of my background I am not really an intellectual, I am not saying that is what you did but it often occurs with me and with a few others like me.
    I came to philosophy through Sartre and Fanon, I have read every published thing I have been able to find by both of them and, of course, Beauvoir, my third love. I am quite confident of my ability to understand Said, although like everyone else worth reading I know I will have to read it a few times, I have found that most authors worth reading NEED to be read a few times. Unfortunately it may be a bit until I really can get to him, I am finishing my masters in philosophy in the fall and so am trapped reading all the horribly offensive drivel that is on the comps, since I have thus far avoided reading anything ancient i am being tortured to the fullest! I also need to memorize the hegemonic, analytic interpretations of it all since I cannot think that way no matter what i do, it is a bodily reaction. I have also fallen much in love with the work of Violette Leduc and am happily knee deep in reading La Batarde in French, it is the only way to reward myself for trudging through plato and anselm.
    Also I rarely like anyone who is liked by the herd, none of the philosophers whose work I love are even considered to be philosopers at my grad school, not Sartre, Beauvoir, Fanon, Merleauponty, none of them. I had a very rare instance of extremely great luck to randomly choose a philosophy class taught by someone who teaches these amazing thinkers, had I not taken that specific class I would still be doing something other than philsophy, like using the neuro major that was so hard to get through. Instead I read Sartre and fell in love.
    I had the impression that France would still be that way from Beauvoirs biographies, it sickens me that the same country that was the homeland of who I consider to be 2 of the best thinkers ever still has to act like that. If i came from a country that ever produced anyone of the caliber of Sartre or Beauvoir, or LeDuc for that matter I would be so very proud of that legacy. I was just thinking that maybe there was somewhere speech could be free but I guess Fanon was right about that too!
    As an aside I wasnt ever talking about race, my family is all white, I mean Tupac definately covers race in his political writings but it is mostly to show how poverty intensifies the effects of all the other isms, in this country at least most will listen to a rich black woman LONG before a poor white man. It is all about your stash & your bling and RARELY about the ability to think.
    One more thing before my long reply is over, dont ever call yourself stupid! You are very obviously not!!! There will be enough of the herd of mediocrity to do that for you, try not to take on what they think, they have NO idea about anything!!! They also get out of enough work, no reason to help them out by doing it yourself. Sartre says that the responsibility of the the intellectual is to be integrated with the masses and that then the only thing left is to not speak for yourself but to give the masses the opportunity to speak, this is all in Adieux, I have the privilege of being in both positions at the same time, but it sounds as if you do that without realizing it.

  33. Rachel
    I may be getting the wrong impression just from that title but in my line of thought almost ALL of philosophy is a criminal defense of the west, i hear it all day, about how there is something good that can be considered truly western. I think from my experience and from those whose work I study that there are only 2 side, those intentionally harming and those who are harmed. Nearly all of western culture is a defense of the atrocities carried out by the west, i have listened to them defending their murders and totures until i have thought, and hoped, that my brain would explode. As Fanon says one is either working toward ending all kinds of oppression or one is oppressing, and as he also has said anything based on harm needs to be thrown out, I absolutely have to go with him on that. I cant in good conscience read anything defending atrocities, that is why i will finish my masters without ever having read aristotle. Even if a society tries to hide its atrocities by making them status quo they are there, one is either harming or revolutionizing, there is no midground between the 2. So thanks for the heads up but the book sounds like the hate emails being thrown around right now, what about defending whiteness, what about defending the middle class, giving them their rights, as if everything is not already about their rights, as a white person if i am very quiet noone knows how horrified i am of being white, how horrifying it is to make enough money to have necessities, they also wont know that i cut my bills short so that my family can have, i cant have unless they do, it is just wrong. Ill have to pass on extra defense of the overindulged, Ive personally seen nothing good come from the west that wasnt explicitly against it, in which case Im not sure if it is considered Western because the writers are French or Latina or even white from the united states, but in the end ive seen nothing actually western that wasnt directly harmful to many in order to benefit the overingdulged, maybe i missed something but from what ive seen in 36 years there has been nothing.

  34. ilovefanon: Ibn Warraq is not defending the atrocities Western countries have committed. He is pointing out that a lot of the ideas we take for granted have originated in the West: “rationalism, self-criticism, the disinterested search for truth, the separation of church and state, the rule of law and equality under the law, freedom of thought and expression, human rights, and liberal democracy.” Either you don’t think that these ideas are Western (your last sentence seems to indicate that’s the approach you’re taking) or you think they’re no good.

    I think the most important thing that Ibn Warraq points out is that this isn’t a black and white thing: West = bad and East = good (or vice versa). Reality is more nuanced than this, there are lots of graytones. For example, you can be oppressing while you’re working toward the end of oppression: Many women in the black power movement experienced quite a bit of sexism or oppression. Almost all revolutions have been rather violent and created new forms of oppression. There are more than 2-sides since – at minimum – you have bystanders. Are they intentionally harming? No, yet they might unintentionally harming. Some of the oppressors might be victims themselves because they got sucked into their position.

    Incidentally, Ibn Warraq (which is a pen name for safety reasons-leaving Islam can be a death sentence) is of Pakistani origin. He now lives in the US. Dismissing him because you don’t like the title of his book is a bit naive, imo.

    (counterfnord: I appreciated your “warning” about Said. I’ve found that it helps me approach a book differently when I know that others have found it difficult to read… For one, if I don’t get it on the first read, I know I am not the only one ;-) And it helps to know what helped you understand him better, like researching his life. So, far from condescending, I found your post helpful but, I realize, it wasn’t directed toward me, so I might have read it differently).

  35. Rachel
    All I was saying is that most all of hegemonic philosophy is just defending the atrocities caused directly by so called rationalism, self criticism, disinterested search for truth or as i like to call it my situation is universal so let me make it yours because i said so.
    Also aside from liberalism, which is just harmful all the way around, have you ever seen a democracy or free speech or freedom of expression or a separation of church and state, human rights or equality under the law, if so let me know where & ill be right on a plane to get there!!!!
    The west has harmed and harmed, genocide after genocide in the name of liberalism, starving its children in the streets in the name of liberalism, ive never seen any ind of equality, i am equal in the eyes of dominant society to the zip code i was born in, there is no equality anywhere here thats for sure.
    In trying to defend something harmfully oppressive, and it IS intentional, one is defending harm by defending liberalism one is defending the starving of the children dwon the street, my right to food and hoarding means more than a kids right to eat, there is no way to defned that.
    In stead of defending systems that were intentionally made to hurt others i only read things that try to demolish those systems. I guess if i had ever benefitted from anything western i might have some belief in its ability to not be murderous but ive had the life ive had and seen weha i have seen so i have to say that there is no excuse for the murder and torture intentionally brought about by western greed and hoarding, let him go to the house of my 37 ytear old cousin whose teenage son was just murdered because he HAD to get a 3rd job to take classes he was denied in highschool becuase of his address, he HAD to walkk home at 2 am through that neighborhood, now he is dead, that is the result of western thought, ill take what i want and you go without, let that guy try to defend the west to my cousin while he mourns his son and then see what he has to say, i would guess not much.

  36. ilovefanon,
    Western thought is full of biases towards protecting itself and current and historic elites (as per your position), but if your not a liberal and your not in favor of any western thought what are you in favor of? If you went and asked the oppressed for a ideology it wouldn’t be any better (in fact it would probably be much worse).

    As to your wanting equality etc then you should emigrate. There are lots of English speaking countries that are significantly better on the scale that you are interested in.

  37. Thanks, GNZ, I kept asking myself the same question but couldn’t think of a good way of asking it… What’s the alternative? The critique you are expressing, ilovefanon, is using the self-criticism you are throwing down the drain with all things Western… (Self-criticism in this context means the critique of the state/government.) Also, all too often the formerly oppressed become the new oppressors after a revolution. And if they manage to avoid that, as to some extend in South Africa, the successful (albeit not perfect) reconciliation took a lot of effort, cooperation, and forgiveness.

    GNZ: What English speaking countries offer more equality? This is not a reflection of doubt about your statement – it’s reflecting my ignorance… I suspect Canada is one of them, maybe your home, New Zealand (I don’t know enough about it except that it’s supposed to be really beautiful) – any others?

  38. Let me express a concern that we not simply be dismissive of people’s comments here. I’m not sure that’s exactly what’s happened, but I think we could also look at what’s right in what Ilovefanon is saying.

  39. Rachel
    I didnt call you a a child murdering liberal. What I was saying is that if one wants to defend the west then one is also defending all the atrocities it commits every second of the day and sometimes tries to hide, as by condemning the harmed to ghettos, or blatantly throws out there, like all the racism, money hoarding, heterosexism, economic elitism, academic elitism, misogyny, ect becuase that is what western thought has led to, it is based on the slavery that aristotle was so into, in the united states the constitution is based on the thoughts about equality of a bunch of torturing slave owners, i cant see ANYTHING worth defending in any of it.
    BTW obviously you CANNONT critique the society state or government or my criticisms of the west wouldnt meet with so much calling me, one who lived in the ghetto for 33 years, naive, i am many many things but naive is not one of them.

    This society starves, freezes, tortures, all for the benefit of the middle class, if you can in good conscience defend anything that has led to that then i guess go for it, you are the one who has to live with it, in good conscience i cannot, i have lived and seen what the west has done and ive seen nothing good. I am sure there is a ghetto where you live if you are in the us, go through it and watch tghe eyes of the hungry sic kids & elderly trying to rest at night, it is hard to rest lie that. Live in northeast ohio with no furnace or a furnace and no heat and barely any food while woring 2 jobs, if you can still defend the west after that then i guess you are better than i am.

    Yall want to now what i think is right, it is socialism. Money redistributed equally, equal chances for each to have work, equal handing out of necessities, anything less is an atrocity because your chances, almost all of the time, are based on your moms bank account. I am using a mix my own and of Fanons and a few others criticism of the west here.

    The ability to criticize a society is not owned by the west, and their kind of criticism almost always means criticizing those they intentionally harm for their own benefit, as in i starve you on slave wages so that i can hoard and have too much hence you are lazy.

    I guess what i am mostly trying to say is that if you want to defend something LIVE IN IT. That would mean to defend the west one must live in its bad consequences not merely the good or one must REALLY look at what western lines of thought do and defend it to those who are intentionally harmed, really the next time a teen gets murdered in the ghetto, and for anyone is in US you wont have long to wait, and go to the funeral, LOOK at the dead young kid and LOOK in the eyes of his mother, or if it was one of the rare, the father and then defend it, it isnt roses and clothes and whatver you want to eat for most here, it is hunger, cold, death, sicness with no medical care or medicine, knowing every day when you awaken that you have NO chance of ever having everything you NEED let alone anything you want at all.

    Noone should defend something atrocious unless they have lived the atrocities, everyone freaks when anyone defend Hitler, which i would never do, but everyone freaks whenever they have to hear what goes on inthe west, they dont even have to drive through it but they want to defend it. I dont know how i could defend an atrocity that i have no idea what it is like to live through, that is why i cant defend any existent communism i know they have carried out atrocities, although i belive in socialism as socialism i have not lived the atrocities those in communist countires have lived through.
    In this country anyone with money does not have segregated housing or education or work so they can choose at any time to find out exactly how the rest live, they dont, but they could, and in my line of thought they should before they try to say it is all good.

  40. In the spirit of Jender, I’m going to request that we move off this topic. It’s going to be very hard to get anything like a consensus here.

    One more statement at most, please, from each of the participants.

  41. What? You’re going to curtail our right to free speech, jj? Sorry, I just couldn’t resist! ;-) Seriously, though, I agree with you – we’re not getting toward a consensus and probably wouldn’t even if we kept going for years. And we’re off topic anyways… So, we might as well stop.

    Thank you to all, especially ilovefanon, Shelley Tremain, and GNZ! I’ve learned a lot through our discussion – much to ponder, more to read and think about. Although I am very much tempted to add content, I’ll leave it at this…

    And good luck with finishing your masters, ilovefanon!

  42. Rachel,

    And it just gets better. I’ve had to rescue your last comment from the pile of spam that some mechanism filters out.

  43. Rachel,
    yes, actually all the first world English as a first language countries, most of all NZ and except, I suppose, South Africa (although i have not been there).

    Ilovefanon,
    thanks for explaining your position. It is good to have your perspective.

    jj,
    fair call :-)

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