OK, fair enough

There is no reason sexual harassment in the street should be any more permissible than racist language

But racist language should be permissible in the street. As should sexist, xenophobic, religious, irreligious, blasphemic and pure blind outright hatred.

It\’s called \”free speech\” you see?

Incitement to violence, no, that\’s not permissible, libel (OK, slander when in the street), no, but given those two then everyone should indeed to be free to utter whatever the hell it is that crosses whatever they might possess as synapses.

Absolutely agree that all of such is not polite, much of what is/would be said is not desirable, can often be hurtful of feelings and even lead to outrage among some of the listeners.

But none of those are reasons to ban anything by law.

You could characterise this argument as Tim Worstall arguing for idiots being free to be dickheads in public.

And yes, I am. On the basis that that\’s what free means, you see?

29 comments on “OK, fair enough

  1. Agree, but why should “Incitement to violence” be illegal? It’s just speech, after all – surely the person succumbing to the incitement is the real criminal. Or perhaps we are all too stupid to be allowed to listen to people telling us to do bad things…?

  2. dose beat me to it.

    On the basis of no evidence whatever, I suspect it is the same sort of thinking that assumes we all are too stupid to resist the blandishments of advertisers.

  3. Who thinks we’re all too stupid to resist the blandishments of advertisers?

    What’s obvious is that many people are persuaded by advertising to buy stuff they would not otherwise have bought, and not just by the information content of the adverts. Otherwise companies wouldn’t be buying advertising.

    The argument for making incitement to violence illegal is that some people will be incited to violence by it. Not everyone, but enough to make a difference to the victims of the violence.

  4. “why should “Incitement to violence” be illegal?” The wisdom of the ages shows that it’s easier to keep the peace that way, a prime requirement of living in society.

  5. I think standing outside an East End mosque yelling anti-Islamic slogans and generally dissing the Prophet might lead to violence. The words used may not, in themselves, be an incitement, but the effect would be indistinguishable.
    It would certainly be behaviour not far removed from ‘dick-headedness’.

  6. Or perhaps we are all too stupid to be allowed to listen to people telling us to do bad things…?

    In that case, you should demand the release of Charles Manson. After all, his orders to Beausoleil, Watson, Atkins n’ co. were just words. Or perhaps they were too stupid to be allowed to listen to people telling them to do bad things?

    Well – yes! They were. And so are lots of people. Which is why the criminalisation of incitement makes a lot of sense.

    I agree that racist, sexist, homophobic, phobophobic language shouldn’t be criminalised per se. Yet when it becomes a part of verbal abuse – which, whether we like it or not, can be as affecting to people as a wallop to the noggin – I’m inclined to feel that it can veer into the territory of the harm principle. When a teacher censures pupils for loudly and lengthily informing a spindly classmate that his Mother is promiscuous and could stand to lose a few kilograms I don’t think it’s a free speech issue. Perhaps that’s my bad.

  7. Who thinks we’re all too stupid to resist the blandishments of advertisers?

    Anyone who thinks advertising must be regulated for the good of the consumers.

    What’s obvious is that many people are persuaded by advertising to buy stuff they would not otherwise have bought, and not just by the information content of the adverts.

    It’s not obvious at all. The adverts may have made them aware of the availabilty of some thing they weren’t aware of.

    And anyway, so what if it does? It’s their money to do with as they please.

  8. It’s not obvious at all. The adverts may have made them aware of the availabilty of some thing they weren’t aware of.

    Well, then – we should tell the advertisers not to spend millions tailoring their commercials to appeal to our deepest prejudices. All they need is a photo of their product and a voiceover to tell us what it is. The jokes, catchphrases, models, music and celebrities are clearly redundant.

    Sorry. If you think that it’s legitimate for them to trick people into imagining that a model of car or an insurance plan is absolutely necessary that’s okay. But they are, to some extent at least, tricks. If they weren’t they wouldn’t put such massive efforts into them.

  9. With incitement, there needs to be a rigorous test, and I think that under the old Common Law, this existed. For me, if someone urges people to commit violence, the authorities need to show there is a reasonable fear that specific persons are being targeted, and are placed under threat.

    Take this example: if a person says of politicians in general that they should “all be hung from lamp-posts”, that might be a nasty or stupid thing to say, but does not, in my view, count as incitement in terms of a specific offence. If, however, the same person said that “Fred Bloggs should be hung from a lamp-post outside his home in 4, Acacia Avenue, Smallsville, and on 1 April this year”, that is sufficiently specific to count as a threat, and can be handled under existing laws about making threats against a person.

    The only other point I would make is that the issue varies depending on whether a threat is made in public or private property. In the latter case, the owners of such property are entirely entitled, in a liberal order, to say that certain types of behaviour are off-limits and people who behave in certain ways will be removed from the space concerned. That is entirely consistent, I contend, with a liberal order.

  10. ‘…politicians in general that they should “all be hung from lamp-posts”, that might be a nasty or stupid thing to say…’: oh, I don’t think so, though I’ll grants it’s a bit unselective.

  11. …trick people into imagining that a model of car or an insurance plan is absolutely necessary…

    How very fortunate we poor, gullible maroons are, then, have you and your enlightened insight to protect us from the inevitable consequences of our decisions. Certainly we, whether through indolence or stupidity, would never be able to see through such devious tactics on our own without someone to show us the way.

  12. Johnathan Pearce (#10) – doesn’t it depend on context? Saying politicians should “all be hung from lamp-posts” could be ” incitement in terms of a specific offence” if you are leading a pitchfork-wielding mob outside Parliament.

  13. Gosh it must be wonderful to have such insight into other people’s thought processes as do BenSix and PaulB.

    Doubtless the great unwashed suppose that they buy things for various complicated reasons, but these wise philosopher kings know better.

    The scales have fallen from my eyes etc.

  14. BenSix – “When a teacher censures pupils for loudly and lengthily informing a spindly classmate that his Mother is promiscuous and could stand to lose a few kilograms I don’t think it’s a free speech issue. Perhaps that’s my bad.”

    But that is an argument based on bad faith. A teacher has a special responsibility. He is in charge of young minds. He must not behave in the classroom as a lout might in the street. He would be abusing his authority if he did.

    And presumably we both know that.

    So it is irrelevant.

  15. One tries to avoid the conclusion that people who disagree with one are stupid. But what am I supposed to think about those who allege the market to be so inefficient that companies spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year on advertising which doesn’t work?

  16. Dear God. Nobody is seriously suggesting that advertising doesn’t work – only that it doesn’t work in the way you seem to think it does.

    In a marginal sense, advertising can take existing demand for a generic service or product and direct it towards a specific line.

    Fairy Liquid adverts do not create demand for washing -up liquid, they take the fact that people want clean plates and attempt to make sure that they buy Fairy Liquid rather than some other brand.

    Sometimes they succeed in this and sometimes people go for a cheaper alternative. But if everyone bought washing up machines over night, no amount of cajoling, no celebrity endorsements and no branding would make people buy a product they didn’t feel they needed.

    Insurance adverts, similarly, can persuade people who need insurance to buy it from a particular company – though they are more likely to look at price first. But people who don’t own cars do not fritter money away on car insurance.

    I’m not arguing that people make rational decisions in what they decide to buy, but only that it is almost never as simple as advertising (or political proselytising ) alone ‘forcing’ people to do things. If you don’t understand that the great mass of people do things for a variety of complicated reasons, then you demonstrate only your own pharisaism.

  17. As a child, both at home and at school, when someone tried to blame their action on someone else, they were usually told something like:

    “If so-and-so told you to jump off a cliff, would you?”

    It all boils down to personal responsibility (not a popular phrase in our current entitlement era, I know).

    If you go out and buy a widget because of the advert, ultimately it’s your choice.

    And likewise, if you someone tells you to commit an act of violence, or theft, or arson, etc. it’s your choice too.

  18. Bruce: the only thing I said about advertising is that it works. If no one is saying that it doesn’t work then you all agree with me.

    What have Pharisees got to do with it?

  19. BenSix and PaulB –

    Let’s be clear: if you propose any State-based regulation that prevents me from engaging with those with whom I wish to engage on the terms on which I wish to engage them, then you are, technically, tyrants.

    You may wrap yourselves in the cloak of moral righteousness and tell yourselves that your are looking out for the welfare of the poor and the disaffected, blah, blah, blah. But at the end of the day you are nothing more than tyrannical bastards.

  20. Paul

    Hmm , not really. The point is that it’s a typically illiberal argument to claim that a single factor is decisive in swaying people’s decisions and forming their opinions. Thus it is argued that soft-core porn and wolf-whistles are a gateway to physical harrassment, that video games cause violence or that easily available divorce causes rioting. I don’t think it’s ever that simple.

    If you are going to link cause and effect to the extent that cause is to be outlawed, then you must demonstrate that the two are inextricably linked. You have to prove that the ostensibly milder action always and only leads to the worse one. But as with advertising, so with other things – people are complicated. Supposing that everyone is so suggestible that they must be ‘protected’ from incitement to violence (as defined by the state) leads only to an ever encroaching attack on freedom of speech.

  21. Bruce: no one is arguing that it’s simple.

    Let us suppose that it can be proved that regular consumption of even the best quality heroin is associated with a significant reduction in life expectancy. Should we then take steps to discourage such consumption? Perhaps even to the extent of banning advertising the stuff?

    Let us suppose that it can be shown that incitement to violence leads to a significant increase in violent assaults. Should we then take steps to discourage such incitement? Perhaps even to the extent of making it illegal?

  22. Let us suppose that it can be proved that regular consumption of even the best quality heroin is associated with a significant reduction in life expectancy. Should we then take steps to discourage such consumption? Perhaps even to the extent of banning advertising the stuff?

    No. Who the hell are you that you should mandate maximum life expectancy? Why should you expect that everyone must expect to live out their maximum alotted years? What if I decide to live hard, die pretty (which, let’s face it, is far too long in my past to be worth considering, but let’s pretend). Is that any of your concern?

    If it is, please explain why.

  23. Bruce –

    Nobody is seriously suggesting that advertising doesn’t work…I’m not arguing that people make rational decisions in what they decide to buy…

    Funny, because that’s exactly what Phillip (who I was responding to and who appears to think that I’ve launched some kind of vendetta against advertising) claimed. As for me, I wasn’t saying that people purchase this or that on the sole basis of the emotional manipulation in adverts; only that this emotional manipulation exists. And, of course, it does.

    SMFS –

    Fair enough. It was a poor example.

  24. …only that this emotional manipulation exists. And, of course, it does.

    And so what if it does. Are the rest of us really so stupid that we cannot see that?

    Do we really need protectors to prevent us from seeing the worst of our desiderata?

  25. @PaulB: ‘One tries to avoid the conclusion that people who disagree with one are stupid.’

    …people with whom one disagrees…

  26. @Bruce, you’re absolutely right. Unfortunately it is a common fallacy among those of us real liberals who accept that markets composed of economically rational actors lead to the best utilitarian outcomes that all participants in all markets are at all times economically rational actors. This just isn’t the case. It’s not the case for all of us at some times, and some more than others.

    The philosophical question that arises is what if any degree of protection people deserve from the consequences of their economic irrationality – or rather what if any measures might be justified to prevent them making such irrational choices in the first place.

    The practical question is what restrictions be made against things like lying in advertising (perhaps claiming you sell the best wodget at the lowest price when actually you sell the worst at the highest). It would after all be economically rational for some (but not all) wodget-sellers to behave in such a manner.

  27. The market is indeed probably so inefficient that lots of companies believe advertising people who come to them saying that spending on advertising will increase profits.

    Actually one big sector – tobacco – has recognised that advertising is a cost they can do without. That’s why all the big brands are in favour of UK-style advertising bans – it saves them a huge expense and instantly shuts the market to upstart competitors. How can you sell a cigarette no one has ever heard of?

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