Preach It, Father

I feel pretty justified today. It sounds like the Pope and I are on the same page.

He said:
“One cannot offend, make war, kill in the name of one’s own religion — that is, in the name of God,” Francis said. “To kill in the name of God is an aberration.”

But then the pope began to outline what he sees as important limits on free expression. Francis began by joking that if someone were to swear against his mother, “a punch awaits him.”

Continuing more seriously, the pope said: “One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith.”

“There is a limit,” he said. “Every religion has its dignity.”
Now bear in mind that the Pope's "cannot" here is not a legal cannot, but a moral one aimed at Catholics who take his authority seriously. You have the legal freedom, but a good Christian -- the Pope is telling his flock -- wouldn't do these things. In another context, that would be a noncontroversial thing coming from a Pope, a bishop, a priest, or a nun.

The important part for me is this endorsement from the Holy Father of a reasonable amount of violence in response to intentional provocation as a natural, normal part of human morality. We talked about this in the comments to this post.

I am not sure I condemn violence against people who are doing their best to provoke it. I condemn murder, of course, but I often think we go too far in condemning all violence. If the father of a soldier forced to endure a Westboro protest at his son's funeral were to punch one of them in the nose, I'd think we should do nothing whatsoever to punish him for the action. If Westboro seeks to press charges against him, as they always do, I would think the proper response would be, "What did you expect to happen?"

This attack violates a number of my principles -- against murder, against using firearms against unarmed and weak persons, against ganging up on people, and so forth. There's plenty to condemn.

But I think maybe there is a point at which we should say, "Of course you have the right to say it, and nobody will stop you, but don't come crying to us if you get bopped in the nose for it." If we drew the line there, maybe there'd be more nose-bopping and fewer gratuitously offensive cartoons, and we'd reach a place where we were both less violent (no mass murder, and probably pretty quickly no need to nose-bop) and less indecent (fewer ugly public statements meant to insult).
We agreed, after discussion, that just when such violence is justified is a judgment call that is going to need to be subject to reasonable standards and social/legal controls. But that's true of the more serious violence we justify too: the 'stand your ground' laws justify lethal violence, subject to a whole series of legal controls and reviews by members of the community -- the police, prosecutors, juries, etc. Even where we want to craft a positive law creating a specific authorization to use force, all those modes of review are necessary to ensure it isn't misused or unreasonably applied.

The very idea is upsetting to some at Hot Air, who have bought into the line that all violence is wicked and children should be taught never to hit.
“In freedom of expression, there are limits, like in regard to my mom,” Francis continued. “If he says a swear word against my mother, he’s going to get a punch in the nose. That’s normal.”

No, it’s not “normal.” The individual moved to violence over an insult has lost control, and that’s unacceptable. It is unequivocally wrong to hit someone in the face regardless of the circumstances that led to that outburst, which is a lesson that parents around the world teach their children every day. Good luck now, mom and dad. When even the Pope says it’s “normal” to go on a violent rampage because your feelings were hurt, those opposed to this uncivilized behavior have lost the ability to appeal to moral authority.
You're missing the Pope's point, I think. First, he specifically sets aside lethal force in these cases. His chosen example is very close to mine, actually: a punch in the nose. But he isn't advocating punching people in the nose so much as he's advocating not being an ass. If everyone follows his advice, nobody will get punched in the nose. It's only when people don't follow the advice that we get to nose-bopping. But the nose-bopping is itself a natural feedback mechanism, especially if society endorses its reasonable application. It's just by endorsing standing up to people like Westboro that you get fewer of them. It's by protecting them from natural feedback that you get more.

This is a very old position, by the way: here's St. Thomas Aquinas on the subject. Should anyone ignore the Pope's introductory remarks and take to killing people, the Church also endorses the right of self-defense.

104 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is one time when Hot Air has been disingenuous about a quote. It's like they forgot all about the preamble:

"One cannot offend, make war, kill in the name of one’s own religion -- that is, in the name of God," Francis said. "To kill in the name of God is an aberration."

Some people are very quick to focus on the bit that they think proves their point, without considering a statement as a whole.

Valerie

Cass said...

I think reasonable people can differ about whether punching someone in the nose is the best response to verbal offenses :p

I can't think of a single time in my entire childhood when I ever needed to hit another child because... WORDS! I was able to resolve conflicts without doing so, and not hitting didn't mean I got picked on any more. I actually found that talking was quite effective during verbal altercations (a swift and cutting retort can often defuse all sorts of situations before they escalate to the point of fistfighting). So it worked for me. May not work for others.

I taught my sons not to hit except in extremely rare cases, and I'm not sure that was a bad position to take either. The vast majority of people in this country handle all kinds of conflicts every single day without hitting anyone.

OTOH, I spanked my kids. So obviously I don't think hitting is completely out of the question. I did it rarely, and only in certain circumstances. It wasn't necessary after they reached the age of reason, when other techniques worked better (at least for us - I don't presume to tell other parents what their kids need).

Finally, I've never bought into the idea that punching people prevents bad things from happening, any more than the threat of jail prevents crimes from being committed. There is some deterrent effect, but often the ones who need deterring most aren't 'the deterring type' :p

Literature and films are full of stories about verbal altercations escalating into physical violence that gets out of hand and only leads to even more retaliatory violence. So I don't think the deterrent effect is quite as strong or clear cut as it's often made out to be on the Internet.

Grim said...

Well, literature and films are about drama, too, so it's more useful for something to serve as a catalyst for further drama than for it to be the end of the matter.

That's not to say that it can't happen in reality, too, but my sense is that human beings are much like other animals in this regard. Young men thrown together may scuffle, like a pack of dogs or a herd of bucks, but they quickly sort out an order and get along thereafter. The knowledge that you could start an altercation by insulting someone's mother won't prevent insults to mothers, but it does reduce their incidence: you only do it when an altercation is what you want.

How often do you want one? Well, Westboro wants as many as it can get, because it makes its living off suing the people it aggrieves. It might want fewer if such people were protected by law from being sued (or jailed) for responding to the very intentional and highly offensive conduct they engage in.

But I'm with you in the sense that we need to provide a strong degree of community checks on the validity of this, as with any violence. I'm just of the opinion (as is apparently the Pope) that sometimes, if the reasons are good and the end is good, it's not always wrong to smack somebody in the nose.

Cass said...

Young men thrown together may scuffle, like a pack of dogs or a herd of bucks, but they quickly sort out an order and get along thereafter.

Sure, but on what is that order based? In some cases (your best case where some obnoxious twit mouths off hoping for a fight and finds he's bitten off more than he can chew), the outcome is good.

In other cases (the worst cast - obnoxious bully pushes others around because he can win any fistfight) the outcome is bad. "Order" is arrived at, but it's not a just order.

I think we're in basic agreement :)

FWIW, an analogy from my childhood. Neighborhood bully (boy) picks fights constantly b/c that's the only place he ever manages to prevail. Tries it with me. Had I tried to punch it out, I would have lost. Instead, I made him look foolish, then gave him a chance to save face and look magnanimous and he backed down and left me alone after that.

That was a pecking order of sorts, just one not arrived at through punching anyone on the nose. Mostly seemed to work for my boys, though being boys there were one or two situations where I think only being willing to fight would have worked :)

Texan99 said...

I often agree with the Pope, except on matters concerning politics or economics.

douglas said...

To be fair, the Pope didn't say it was right- he said it was a normal response- unsurprising. In the larger context, his point was if you want civility, you act civilly- and that's fine, except when one or both parties don't care about civility- then what recourse does his advice leave you?

Grim said...

Follow the last link in the post.

Or this one.

Dad29 said...

HotAir, Hannity, and Hewitt (along with a number of other twits) are perfectly happy to ignore the moral question in their pursuit of War Against Moslems.

There's a horrible conceit at large which will not end well.

MikeD said...

I am sorry, but depending on the Holy Father's audience, he is wrong. Free Speech is not free if it is limited. Your right to say what you like is not limited by what someone else thinks is intolerable. And any attempt by the government to limit what you may legally say (or remove protections for you based upon what you say) is wrong. You either have the right to speak your mind on any topic, free from the intrusion (either directly or indirectly) from the law, or you do not have Free Speech. Anything else is prevarication.

Grim, you say that you should have the right to strike someone (in a limited fashion) based upon their words if you find them offensive. Let me ask you, would you feel the same if someone struck your wife or son for professing a Christian faith that the listener finds offensive? I should hope not. I do not begrudge you the desire to punch someone who egregiously insults you or your family. What I find objectionable is that you believe you should be protected from the legal ramifications of your actions if you are to strike them. For if the law was to so protect you, then in fact it is stating that everybody's right to speak their mind, even the truth as they see it, is not legally protected. And it gives the listener the ultimate veto in what you or I might say. And I cannot agree with that position.

Texan99 said...

Eh--he strongly implied he himself would think it was right to go as far as a punch in the nose: a minor piece of violence not expected to result in permanent injury. Guy talk, in other words: symbolic action when words aren't vivid enough to bring the violator of important social mores back into line. If someone insulted your mother and you punched him in the nose, then went to this Pope for confession, I think we're meant to conclude that he would not be inclined to inquire too deeply into your state of contrition.

What that has to do with murdering 12 people, I'm not sure. I remain uncomfortable with the rhetorical habit of linking them, as if the connection were too obvious to need explanation. I'd say that there is a crying need to find a bright line between "punch in the nose" and "shoot the place up in order to purify the town square of infidels." If we're not capable as a society of drawing that bright line, it would be safer and easier to draw it at "no violence, only debate."

The reigning philosophy for the last several decades has been something very much like "Everything is pretty much equivalent to everything else," which makes it especially difficult for this society to make a principled stand at some point on a slippery slope. "Microaggression" is a hot new term, but the concept is not new. We've been getting there for a long time.

Anonymous said...

What that has to do with murdering 12 people, I'm not sure. I remain uncomfortable with the rhetorical habit of linking them, as if the connection were too obvious to need explanation. I'd say that there is a crying need to find a bright line between "punch in the nose" and "shoot the place up in order to purify the town square of infidels." If we're not capable as a society of drawing that bright line, it would be safer and easier to draw it at "no violence, only debate."

Bingo :p

Grim said...

Mike:

Free Speech is not free if it is limited. Your right to say what you like is not limited by what someone else thinks is intolerable. And any attempt by the government...

I think that's the point of departure. I don't think the Pope is saying that government should change the laws; he's saying that Christians (especially Catholics) ought to use their liberty in a particular way.

So your legal right to say whatever you want need not be limited. Your moral right to say whatever you want may have some additional limits.

What I find objectionable is that you believe you should be protected from the legal ramifications of your actions if you are to strike them.

That's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that the law should be changed, such that something like the old 'fighting words' doctrine comes to be a positive defense against a charge of, say, simple assault. That would work exactly as the 'stand your ground' defense works as a positive legal defense against charges of homicide.

It would still be subject to all the legal controls, just as you can't shoot someone and walk just because you claim 'stand your ground' privileges. There's a whole set of processes that go on.

If we're not capable as a society of drawing that bright line...

I don't know if America as a society is still capable of anything. But it's not that hard to do -- the classification of violence in the law is highly advanced. We could easily say "this justifies simple assault, but not assault with deadly weapon or anything more severe."

Cass said...

... it's not that hard to do -- the classification of violence in the law is highly advanced. We could easily say "this justifies simple assault, but not assault with deadly weapon or anything more severe."

I don't agree. The law is capable of many things in the abstract, but *people* are incredibly biased and seem mostly incapable of applying nuanced tests evenhandedly. So we end up with "Whatever my team does is justified, whatever the other team does is beyond the pale".

At some point, reasonable people are going to have to start thinking critically about the actual threats involved here.

Is it more likely that you'll get punched in the nose for offending someone's amour proper? Or that terrorists will bust in and shoot up the place? Or that government will inexplicably persecute you for unacceptable speech?

The problem is, on the Internet such relative probabilities are arrived at by the existence or coverage given to sensationalistic anecdotes that often are covered precisely BECAUSE they're rare (or because the writer has an agenda and is cherry picking).

Grim said...

The law is capable of many things in the abstract, but *people* are incredibly biased and seem mostly incapable of applying nuanced tests evenhandedly. So we end up with "Whatever my team does is justified, whatever the other team does is beyond the pale".

That's a general problem, though, for the justice system as a whole. I'm sure I've told you about how, just after the Rodney King trial, the Stone Mountain District Attorneys (where I was interning at the time) went through months without a conviction of any black man for any crime.

It faded after a while, because the harm being done by black criminals to the black community was such that eventually juries got past "My team!" and back to "Get these morons off the streets!" But it's a general problem of trying to apply the law, in a system with juries, in a diverse community where the sense of factionalism is very strong.

douglas said...

"Follow the last link in the post. Or this one."

That was a rhetorical question, Grim, but those links exactly.

Mike, to be fair, Grim has historically been consistent that one may need to do something legally wrong to do what is morally right, and that one must accept the legal consequences.
I also think it's important that the Pope used the example of an insult to one's mother- when that punch is delivered, there may be self interest, but you are defending the defenseless (as they are not there) and not yourself. I think he would judge more harshly your punching someone over an slight aimed at you. Of course, the problem is that then you're providing an excuse for the actions of the Charlie Hebdo terrorists, as they were also defending "the prophet" and not themselves directly (albeit there is a self interest). The critique of them then becomes their over-reach in reaction, not the reaction itself, and I think that's a problem. Now, one can argue that's not exactly what he meant, and I'd be inclined to agree, but I think that's how it's going to get heard.

Texan99 said...

What Screwtape had to say about this is that it's crucial to get the patient to identify just enough with the victims of wrongdoing to feel their pain as his own, but not quite enough to identify their enemies as his own, and therefore the proper objects of his forgiveness.

It's very dangerous to start thinking it's OK to do in revenge for someone else what it's not OK to do in revenge for ourselves. I won't try to argue that revenge is never appropriate, because even if I concede that my religion requires that conclusion, I have never succeeded in living up to that standard and therefore have no business urging it on anyone else. But I will say that whatever self-regulation keeps me from going overboard with vengeful fantasies spurred by harm to myself ought equally to govern me when the harm is to someone else.

I'm much more comfortable with the need to use violence to remove mad dogs from the street, anyway, than to achieve revenge. I'm in favor of using as much violence as it takes to keep a violent threat in check. How violence is that, in the case of people who think they need to kill infidels in order to guard their spiritual purity against evil ideas? A lot.

MikeD said...

I will still strongly disagree. I do not want the government in the business of adjudicating what is "offensive" or "hate speech". And if you are asking them to determine that a blasphemy is legal justification for simple battery, but a racial or homophobic slur justifies aggravated battery, while a slander against one's political beliefs is still protected... then we've lost. Because sure as hell, the grievance mongers will use that to bully you and me into silence. "You cannot state factually true things such as 'Islam means Submission' because that's hate speech (and can be legally punished on the spot with a beating)", "you cannot profess your Christian beliefs, because that's homophobic." Do you see? Asking for legal justifications based upon verbal incitement is asking for things exactly like this.

"But Mike, those examples are totally unreasonable!" Bullhockey. Those examples are drawn from things you can find on the internet right now. There are people that just wish they could ban Christianity because it's "hateful". And if you let them get even the slightest taste of legal justifications to use violence to shut up speech they do not like, you cannot convince me that people will not take it. And good luck finding a jury in Deerborn, Michigan that won't let someone slide for beating someone for insulting Mohammed if that becomes the law.

I think people are only thinking of their own oxen being gored (or sacred cows, as the case may be). But I assure you, if you open this door, they will knock you down running for it in order to shut you and I up.

Texan99 said...

Yup.

Tom said...

Actually, that WAS the law of the land for 2 centuries, and we didn't see what Mike predicts. "Fighting words" was still a valid defense for assault in the 1990s in at least some places, and it wouldn't surprise me if there are a few places where it still is.

I can kind of see both sides on the morality of it, but historically Mike is wrong. That's not what happened when it was the law of the land.

That said, we live in different times, and what Mike predicts may well be the result if we reinvigorate the "fighting words" defense today. Our political enemies would do that very thing if they could get away with it.

Grim said...

Tom's right.

And if you are asking them to determine that a blasphemy is legal justification for simple battery, but a racial or homophobic slur justifies aggravated battery, while a slander against one's political beliefs is still protected... then we've lost. Because sure as hell, the grievance mongers will use that to bully you and me into silence...

This already happens, only not with punches in the nose but much more serious economic harms. Say something that even sounds politically incorrect, and they'll destroy your career and do their best to make sure you never work anywhere again. That's going to cause much greater, and more lasting, harm than a bop in the nose.

Furthermore, it would realign the law somewhat with justice. Right now if you go out of your way to upset a black man, and then just when you've got him good and mad you get in his face and start shouting racial slurs, if he hits you he'll be the one the law sends to jail and you'll be the one suing him for damages. That's not justice: you're the aggressor, you're totally in the wrong, and what you were doing and saying any rational being would know would provoke a man with any sense of personal dignity or honor into a fight.

You should have to own that. The law should say what justice says, which is: "You had that coming. We're not going to punish him, nor reward you, for being an aggressive, mean-spirited ass."

MikeD said...

The "fighting words" doctrine was outlined in the 1942 case Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire. It has not been cited in a single Supreme Court case to uphold speech restrictions since. Because by its very nature, the concept of "fighting words" gives us a heckler's veto where the one willing to assault the speaker wins every time. After all, it's his fault... he was using "fighting words". And that absolutely has a chilling effect on Free Speech.

Believe me, it can be very tempting to long for the days when a scoundrel could be held accountable for his slanders with pistols at dawn. After all, the cur had only to admit his lie to spare his life... or the brave man to defend his words with his martial skills. But that's just the point, isn't it? The skilled duelist didn't have to have truth and justice on his side. Merely the fear of his lethality. Who dares speak up when he will kill any who point out his tyranny?

No, for all its flaws, I will take freedom, unencumbered by legal sanction over that.

Grim said...

Merely the fear of his lethality. Who dares speak up when he will kill any who point out his tyranny?

Traditionally, men who didn't much care if they were called cowards. It's one reason newspapermen were not much respected in the 19th century: you could challenge them to a duel, but they'd just turn you down.

Texan99 said...

" Say something that even sounds politically incorrect, and they'll destroy your career and do their best to make sure you never work anywhere again. That's going to cause much greater, and more lasting, harm than a bop in the nose."

We decided that the criminal law should intervene to punish violence, but not to punish people for deciding not to do business with you or hire you. I hope we don't change our minds about that. I'm not interested in putting the guy in jail who shouts the racial insults, but not the one who punches someone out.

Grim said...

Nobody's talking about sending people to jail for not doing business with you -- that's a straw man argument. I'm saying that every bad effect regarding freedom of speech Mike is pointing to from saying that some fighting words may justify a punch in the nose already exist. They're widespread. They just happen in terms of trying to destroy you financially, so that the physical harm will be indirect. You can starve to death because you made a remark someone didn't like, and instead of feeling bad for destroying your life, they can preen over their moral perfection.

Grim said...

Hm, "every bad effect... exist." I suppose that's not correct grammar, even though 'every effect' is multiple effects. My apologies.

Texan99 said...

I mention jail to point out the lack of moral equivalence. If we make something a crime, we're talking about jail. I'm prepared to make violence a crime. I'm not prepared to make insults a crime. Does this mean I think insults are a good idea? No, I just think they should be resolved without getting the state involved, or standing in for the state and shooting somebody. I'm not totally convinced I should even be punching someone in the nose for insulting me, I'm just not convinced that rises to a high enough level to call the cops over.

Grim said...

I'm not prepared to make violence a crime per se. I think it's often warranted, and that by going so far in trying to ban it we've put the law at odds with justice. That's unhealthy.

But we also mask a lot of violence by making the division the way we do. If you can sue someone civilly, you can seize his property. If he resists, he'll be shot. So making something a civil suit doesn't remove it from the field of violence; it just masks the violence intellectually.

By the same token, getting someone fired over a comment puts them in a position in which they will very likely suffer some violent effects on their life. They probably will not starve to death, but they may be reduced to dependence on the state. They probably will not die, but they may lose substantial amounts of property (whose seizure the state will enforce, violently if necessary).

So I don't agree that there's no moral equivalence. These things are much more connected than our mental categories suggest.

Texan99 said...

I'm not prepared to make violence a crime per se either. If it's petty enough, I'd let it slide instead of calling the police.

I'm not prepared to make any insult a crime. If the insult is serious enough that everyone you meet refuses to do business with you and you become pauperized, well, that should be a sign you crossed a line. Better figure out a way to make a living that doesn't require holding onto the good opinion of anybody in the entire world of employment or business. As long as the state isn't forbidding people to do business with you, I'd say it's between you and your potential employers or customers.

Grim said...

Better figure out a way to make a living that doesn't require holding onto the good opinion of anybody in the entire world of employment or business.

If you've got any good ideas about how to do that, I'd love to hear them. :)

Otherwise, it sounds very much like Mike's 'heckler's veto,' only it bans whole classes of speech -- not just your particular words. Legally freedom of speech still exists, but practically people have to toe the line.

Texan99 said...

It's not possible to alienate literally the entire world and still make a living. That's the point. That's what restrains people from going that far, and rightly so.

Grim said...

Well, sometimes it's better to die. Something you said earlier struck me the same way: something about not excusing people from assimilating to cultures that are managing to feed themselves. A lot of Jews tried that in Germany in the late 1800s; the slogan was 'be a Jew at home, but a German in the street.'

Maybe it works sometimes, even if it didn't work there. But it's not the right way.

Texan99 said...

Wow, I couldn't possibly reject that formulation more vehemently. The Jews were completely capable of feeding themselves; the only thing that could stop them was to make them legally ineligible to work in many ways, not to mention imprisoning and torturing them. They weren't moochers, playing on the sympathy of the dominant culture while refusing to learn its language or its ways because they thought it was unfair to ask it of them. If it had merely been a question of their failing to make a living, it wouldn't have been necessary to confiscate their property and refuse to let them leave the country--always a telling sign.

I'm not aware of any time in history when Jews showed up somewhere and expected to become permanent welfare cases generation after generation, because they were too fastidious to mix.

I don't think assimilating means renouncing your culture. It just means learning enough about the wider culture to be useful--unless you can figure out a way to make a living entirely within your isolated social group, which is fine, too. The Amish are very separate. It's not a problem.

Grim said...

It's one of the things I heard a lot about in Jerusalem. Most of the Jews -- very much most of them -- stopped being Jewish during the period. There was this rush to assimilate, to include assuming other religious beliefs or no religious beliefs. The vast majority of the Jews we ought to have today, if the Jews of the Late Middle Ages had remained Jewish, are assimilated and no longer part of that tradition. A great concern for the Jews in Israel is how many more they will lose to assimilation -- to murder, too, but the greater threat by far is assimilation.

Economics isn't that important. It's just about surviving this life. Lots of things are more important than that. If you think you have a covenant with God, surely that ought to be one of those things.

Dad29 said...

I do not want the government in the business of adjudicating what is "offensive" or "hate speech".

Nor do I, and I defend the Pope's position!

YOU should know what is "hate speech" and "offensive" and simply not say it.

It's what James Madison expected of the citizen of the US. Is that too much to ask?

Texan99 said...

Jews have not historically assimilated so they could succeed economically. While unassimilated, they have historically succeeded economically to the point of arousing the envy, murderous hatred, and looney conspiracy theories of the dominant culture. When they assimilate, it's not to make an extra buck, it's to take the targets off their backs.

Grim said...

That's the same confusion, though, isn't it? Economics is about success in the present life. So is 'taking the target off one's back.' Libertarian justifications aim at these questions -- asserting that you should assimilate in the one case, that (if you shouldn't) you might be forgiven for it in the other case.

Today Jews in France are starting to say instead, "Give us pistols." These are Macacbees. They may die in their office, but it will be only to their glory.

douglas said...

"I mention jail to point out the lack of moral equivalence. If we make something a crime, we're talking about jail. I'm prepared to make violence a crime. I'm not prepared to make insults a crime. Does this mean I think insults are a good idea? No, I just think they should be resolved without getting the state involved, or standing in for the state and shooting somebody"

Unprovoked violence, and violence out of proportion to it's instigation are, and I think we all agree, should be illegal. Thus it's not alright to shoot to death people who draw horribly insulting cartoons. I also think it's safe to say that no one here thinks insults should be considered a crime- freedom of speech. Whether or not it's the hecklers veto ultimately lies with the social mores we hold- if we allow Grim's proposal that the 'fighting words' defense should be reinstated, then it's up to a jury to decide if indeed the verbal provocation warranted the response it got, or if it did not, and the violence in question was a crime. I tend to think that it's better to leave it to the people, than to attempt to codify it strictly, as that seems impossible to do effectively.

Let's be honest- most people think if a man finds another man assaulting his daughter sexually, he's entitled to do a little more violence on the man than is required to stop the assault- we might dance around it with 'prosecutorial discretion' or some such, but that's a backwards way to the solution, isn't it?

Texan99 said...

People are never free to alienate the entire world around them and still expect to work cooperatively with those same people. If they can get along without any other people, fine--alienate away. If they can retreat to an in-group, and that in-group can feed itself, again fine--build those walls high and stay pure.

But if retreating to an in-group means they have to become welfare cases supported by the despised outsiders, I think they should reconsider. If they think their fastidious withdrawal is important enough to die over, then far be it from me to force their consciences, but I'm skeptical of the necessity. Or, at least, if someone's religion really required him to alienate himself so thoroughly from the world that he couldn't live without demanding to be subsidized by outsiders, then I would lose interest in his religion. He would still be free to die for it, of course.

"Be a Jew at home, and a German in the street" strikes me as pretty good advice, as long as "being German" means co-existing in a reasonably respectful manner with one's neighbors and making an honest living with or without their help. Once "being German" means "burning Jews at the stake," it's time for fight or flight; assimilation is right out. Jews are pretty used to this by now.

Texan99 said...

". . . most people think if a man finds another man assaulting his daughter sexually, he's entitled to do a little more violence on the man than is required to stop the assault"--If what you mean is that we tolerate revenge as a motive in such an extreme case, I hear you; we do, unofficially, acknowledge that in the heat of the moment it's unfair to expect the father to control himself.

Nevertheless, I draw a very sharp line between our tolerating vengeful motives in extreme cases of violence to ourselves or our loved ones, vs. giving a pass to people who lose control of themselves over offensive language, particularly heresy. I don't care how genuinely mortified they are by the heresy. Basically I think we should combat words with words. At most, we should combat offensive words with shunning, without State involvement either in the shunning or in protecting the offender from the shunning. We should leave violence to combat actual violence, not just violent feelings.

Grim said...

"Be a Jew at home, and a German in the street" strikes me as pretty good advice...

I'm sure it does, given the structure of the Libertarian ideology, but it was a disaster for those who followed it. It meant that the children of Jews stopped being Jews at all, pretty quickly; and it didn't matter to the Nazis anyway, since they went back to grandparents in determining who had to die for being "Jewish."

"... without State involvement either in the shunning or in protecting the offender from the shunning."

You can't dodge that, since you'll let the State back up the seizure of his or her property resulting from the shunning. You don't end up with clean hands from endorsing a system that actively destroys those who manage to annoy a majority, even a very active minority. Mike's 'heckler's veto' is exactly what's going on here. They'll have to submit to the zeitgeist, or they'll be destroyed.

Texan99 said...

I reject the idea that Jews can't remain Jews by behaving respectfully to their German neighbors in the street. They may find it more difficult to hew to their religion if they mix a great deal among people who don't share it, but that's a different matter.

". . . you'll let the State back up the seizure of his or her property resulting from the shunning"--I'm sure I've never said anything so irrational. People are free to refrain from speaking to us or doing business with us, and I think we ought not to authorize the State to force them to reconsider. That doesn't mean they can steal our property and leave us no legal recourse. One has to find other people, whom one hasn't offended, to do business with, obviously, or learn to like the hermit's life.

Grim said...

One has another option, which is Jephthah's. Locke made a lot of him.

But do you mean to say that you don't endorse the state's assistance in seizing private assets? Say you get fired for having made a politically incorrect comment. Soon, you must pay taxes on your home and landed property. The state is not interested in your claim that you can't pay them today, since you lost your job due to political correctness.

Don't you endorse the idea that the police should have the right to evict you, when the state sells your land and home at auction on the courthouse steps?

Grim said...

I reject the idea that Jews can't remain Jews by behaving respectfully to their German neighbors in the street.

Nobody was talking about behaving respectfully. We were talking about assimilating -- about "being a German in the street." That's about denying anything about yourself that differs from other Germans; about ceasing to be a Jew, except in the secret places of your home.

Now Jesus seems to advocate something like this in Matthew 6. But I wonder if he meant that we should simply accept customs that defy God, in the street, and are justified afterwards by what we do in our most secret places.

Texan99 said...

If I don't pay my debts, I will be subject to having my assets seized to satisfy my creditors. It doesn't matter why I can't pay my debts. It's not my creditor's problem that I got myself in financial difficulty by being deeply offensive to people I hoped would continue to engage in profitable financial arrangements with me, but who were entirely free to say they'd had it, and found other partners more to their liking.

Nor do I ever have the right to force the people I've offended to continue to do business with me, on the argument that I'm going to suffer considerable financial inconvenience if they don't.

Neither of these things is remotely like theft, state-assisted or otherwise. When people don't give you things you to which had no right to begin with, they are not stealing from you.

Grim said...

Property taxes aren't quite like debts, though. The state says you owe them because... the state says you owe them. It's not a market relationship.

But the issue is your being deeply offensive. Is this a heckler's veto, or not? It seems that it is, since it can cause you to lose everything -- and be shot if you resist its seizure, by agents of the state. So Mike's theoretical objection is our actual reality, every day, if we don't toe the line of the hecklers.

Texan99 said...

"Nobody was talking about behaving respectfully." But that's exactly what I was talking about: living respectfully among Germans in the street, as that's the only meaning I know to give to "being German in the street." I also said that if "being German" started to mean something insupportable, there was no choice but fight or flight--certainly I didn't advocate assimilation in that case.

What exactly do you think the Jews were being required to do, that forced them to stop being Jewish "in the street"? What would happen to them if they didn't do it? I would need some flesh put on the bones of the idea of "denying anything about yourself that differs from other Germans." When Jews talked of "being German in the street," I don't understand them to have meant that they abjured their religion, married Gentiles, and took to attending Mass. That would be "being German" at home as well as in the street. Are we talking about public language or dress? A willingness to converse with Gentiles?

Grim said...

Well, one thing they were talking about was not appearing Jewish in the street. This is hard to understand, I realize. I didn't get it myself until going to Israel, where somehow everyone immediately knew I was not a Jew. I wasn't sure how they knew. I asked about it. The best answer I got was this:

"You carry yourself like someone who is accustomed to dominate."

Well, that's true as far as it goes. But I'm not sure it's dispositive. Yishai, mentioned recently, is a gun-toting paratrooper Rabbi. He's pretty much dominating wherever he goes. But somehow there's something more.

You don't dress as Orthodox. You don't dress as Conservative. You don't dress in any way that conveys Judaism. You don't show public respect for the customs of Jews, or acknowledgement that you are aware of those customs. You move, in other words, without any sense that there is anything Jewish about you.

Now of course I do all that, because there isn't anything Jewish about me. Somehow it conveys. Israeli security pinned me within a few seconds of exiting the plane, and interrogated me very closely about my business in Israel -- as well as checking my passport to see where else I had been.

The point, I think, is that your kids pick up on this. Is being a Jew something you are committed to so that you do it no matter who likes it or not? Or is it something you hide, shamefully, in the house? If it is the latter, they'll tend to assimilate so they can be like their friends. That's how Jews bled away most of their kin in the modern age: by trying not to offend.

Texan99 said...

"Property taxes aren't quite like debts, though." No indeed. For one thing, the State isn't entitled to impose or not impose property taxes on me on the basis of whether I've offended with my speech. I owe them, and it's up to me to figure out how to pay them. That probably will require making myself less than intolerably offensive to enough people that I can enter into cooperative activities with them that will permit me to earn a living. That's an obligation I will always face, unless I plan to forage for nuts and roots alone in the woods.

Does a heckler's veto mean that someone can abhor my company because of something I said? Of course he can. Does that mean that I'll inevitably see all my assets seized while the State stands by unmoved? No one has to do business with me. If I find that no one will do business with me because I've offended absolutely everybody, I'm likely to be abjectly poor. I may starve. It's probably time to light out for the Territories. In any case, the State didn't put me in that jam.

It's incumbent on me to find a useful place in my neighbors' lives. They do not owe me a living. If I'm a jerk to them, they not only may but frankly should go find someone else to cooperate with, and leave me to find my brothers in spirit, if there are any.

Texan99 said...

"That's how Jews bled away most of their kin in the modern age: by trying not to offend."

I've lived and worked among Jews all my life until quite recently. What you describe is something I've never seen. Their religion and culture seem to be going very strong, even though very few felt it necessary to wear distinctive clothing in public. They appeared to have no difficulty being committed to Judaism while handling the usual challenges of supporting their families in a non-sequestered existence. That's not to say they never felt any conflict between their own tradition and the Gentile world, but they were if anything more successful than most people I know in preserving an ancient and somewhat separate culture. It's remarkable, really, after thousands of years in exile. Not many cultures have ever pulled it off. More often a separate culture either blends in or isolates itself, and few truly isolated cultures escape pauperization. It's not impossible in principal, but in practice it almost never happens without heavy subsidies from guilt-ridden outsiders.

Texan99 said...

In "principle," I meant, of course. A very non-favorite error.

Grim said...

It's incumbent on me to find a useful place in my neighbors' lives. They do not owe me a living. If I'm a jerk to them, they not only may but frankly should go find someone else to cooperate with, and leave me to find my brothers in spirit, if there are any.

That's very well phrased. But sometimes we die because we speak the truth, not because we are jerks; and then the right thing to do is die. Getting along is often sinful; it's often the worst thing you can do.

I've lived and worked among Jews all my life until quite recently. What you describe is something I've never seen. Their religion and culture seem to be going very strong...

Indeed, they do seem so here. Georgia is much the same.

What I have learned, of late, is that America -- and Southern America perhaps especially -- is a special case. Most of the world has not gone that way, and the modern age has been a disaster for Jews if you look at overall retention as the standard. There are vastly fewer Jews today than there should be, and assimilation more even than the Holocaust explains it.

Texan99 said...

OK, let's say we look at it my from point of view instead of that of my neighbors. I wasn't a jerk, I was on the side of the angels. My neighbors were the jerks for not recognizing that I was right. I should stand firm and refuse to compromise my principles. It doesn't change anything I said: it's still not my neighbors' job to do business with me. Presumably they're equally convinced that they're right. If they ever decide otherwise, they'll probably start trading with me and I can stop being a pauper. If not, I'll starve in glorious isolated virtue.

I'm skeptical, of course, because it seems unlikely to me that I'm in a world in which literally no one will team up with me and trade stuff so that we both have more to eat, just because I'm so right and everyone else is so wrong. Chances are, it would be a good idea for me to take stock of why I'm universally intolerable, and why I can't seem to find any like-minded communities no matter where I look. It's just conceivable that my real problem is I need to get over myself.

And while I chew it over, it's still not the State's problem to fix.

As for Jews and American regions, my experience is pretty nationwide, though concentrated somewhat in New York, Texas, and the West Coast. I'm not sure I believe that the size of the Jewish population can be explained more readily by assimilation than by the Holocaust. The Jewish population recovered amazingly from the Holocaust, in a way that few cultures could have done. It's true that they have increased their numbers and prosperity with particular vigor in the U.S., but hardly surprising, given the American aversion to State-sponsored religious exclusiveness. I doubt the Founding Fathers cared much about protecting Jews, but in protecting Presbyterians from Baptists and vice versa, they automatically made considerable room for Jews, too.

Tom said...

And that's where the Founders went wrong! Those danged Presbyterians!!

Ahem.

Leaving the state out of it, a heckler's veto can be exercised many ways, including getting someone fired. If I offend someone, I would much rather they punch me in the nose than get me fired, and I would be more likely to stay quiet if my job were on the line rather than if all I risked was a punching. It's far more effective.

Tom said...

MikeD, a quote from the Chaplinsky case you mention:

There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or "fighting words" those that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.

— Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 1942

The court may have only formally defined it in 1942, but they were recognizing the common assumption from the beginning of the republic. Beyond that, we used to allow dueling, and the Founders never suggested that even it gave a heckler's veto.

In addition, while the Court has narrowed the interpretation of what constitutes fighting words since then, the doctrine was upheld by the USSC at least 5 times after Chaplinsky.

I am still convinced that Grim's position was normal for the US up until about 20 years ago, and it may still be in some communities. We simply didn't see any significant impact on freedom of speech from that condition.

And, again, you may be right about the future. We do live in a different society today.

Texan99 said...

"If I offend someone, I would much rather they punch me in the nose than get me fired"--If only we got to control how other people react to our offending them! Normally, though, the most we can do is prevent them from using theft or violence in retaliation, or from dragging the State into the quarrel.

I've never managed, or even tried, to get someone fired for offending me with words. But if I relate an offensive interaction to someone and he's offended enough as well, he may decide he'd rather not work with the offender, either. I can live with that; it could happen to me, too. People base their willingness to work with others on all kinds of personal interactions. I don't get to decide for them.

Grim said...

I'm skeptical, of course, because it seems unlikely to me that I'm in a world in which literally no one will team up with me and trade stuff so that we both have more to eat, just because I'm so right and everyone else is so wrong.

Well, if we're talking about an isolated atomic individual, that may well be true. It's not all that rare for small communities, though, to suffer from severe prejudice. That's the point of the example of Jews in the 19th century: so many of them assimilated in order to prosper and stop suffering from prejudice.

I'm not sure I believe that the size of the Jewish population can be explained more readily by assimilation than by the Holocaust.

I think the classic work on the subject is Jewish Assimilation in Modern Times, ed. B. Vago. If it's a topic that interests you, you could probably run it down.

Grim said...

Beyond that, we used to allow dueling, and the Founders never suggested that even it gave a heckler's veto.

It is characteristic of American dueling that it was almost always done with pistols, as opposed to European dueling that was often with swords. This was favored, according to the famous version of the Code Duello published in South Carolina, because of its democratic effects: it eliminated both strength and skill to a large degree. So, since you had to let your opponent take a shot at you too, you'd have to be a pretty brave heckler. :)

Tom said...

If only we got to control how other people react to our offending them! Normally, though, the most we can do is prevent them from using theft or violence in retaliation, or from dragging the State into the quarrel.

Yes, but why? If I would rather you punch me than get me fired, why would I want to prevent you from punching me but allow you to get me fired? That's irrational.

Also, my point was addressing the alleged "heckler's veto." If we are concerned about it, then getting someone fired is more damaging than punching them in the nose and is therefore the greater heckler's veto. If we get rid of the fighting words defense because it enables a heckler's veto, we should also get rid of people's ability to get us fired with words. If, however, we don't want to get rid of people's ability to get us fired with words, then we lose the reason to get rid of the fighting words defense.

Texan99 said...

Jews are among the most successful people in the world financially. When they assimilate, they may be trying to avoid pogroms, but they don't do it because it's the only way to make a buck. For many centuries, they've made surprising piles of bucks in the face of incredible discrimination, which their host states tolerated for a while before periodically confiscating their riches and expelling them. It's really hard for me to see that as a pattern of assimilating for the sake of bling. Not that I'd criticize them for assimilating if that's what it took to stay off the dole, but it hasn't typically been necessary for them. Instead, they consistently find themselves the target of conspiracy theories perpetrated by cultures all around them who can't figure out the secret of their success and bitterly resent them for it.

Nor can I see evidence the Jews are dying out. The worldwide Jewish population was about 11.3MM in 1900. It increased to 15.4MM just before the Holocaust really got going, then dropped severely, but had recovered to 12.6MM by 1970, and is 13.4MM today. The population in Europe never recovered from the Holocaust; it was 9MM in 1900 and 3.3MM in 1970, but is only 1.5MM today. Conversely, Israel now has 5.4MM Jews, up from 2.6MM in 1970. The only other large concentration is in the U.S., with 5.3MM, a slight drop from 1970's 5.4MM. Again, I'm not seeing a population that's dying out, either from the horrible effects of the Holocaust or from assimilation into dominant cultures. I can't name another culture that's maintained its identify so successfully for so long, particularly in the face of sustained deadly attacks.

I'm not sure where you're going with the point about the unfairness of prejudice. You probably already know that I'm not a fan of pogroms. Nevertheless, if an individual or a group tries to persuade me that it's hopelessly and permanently impoverished because the whole world is unfairly offended by it for no reason at all, I'm going to be skeptical. There is behavior that simply doesn't work well, and not because 100% of the rest of the world is mistaken about how hard it is to get anything going with the people who behave that way. To be that insular and unpopular and prickly is a strategy that only works if you and your tribe can make a living without interacting with any outsiders. Rare talent.

Texan99 said...

"Yes, but why? If I would rather you punch me than get me fired, why would I want to prevent you from punching me but allow you to get me fired? That's irrational."

It's not about what you want. The person who is offended gets to decide how he will react. I totally understand why you would have a preference, but you're not in charge of his behavior. If he wants to shun you, you don't have the option to say "I insist that you punch me, then continue hanging out with me."

Grim said...

Jews are among the most successful people in the world financially. When they assimilate, they may be trying to avoid pogroms, but they don't do it because it's the only way to make a buck. For many centuries, they've made surprising piles of bucks...

Well, yes and no. There are certain Jews for whom that was true; but in Eastern Europe and Russia, Jews lived in much of the worst poverty those regions had to offer. They were shut out of opportunity, education, and professions by law in many places, by custom in others (including, in America, certain Ivy League schools).

I'm not sure where you're going with the point about the unfairness of prejudice.

Ah, yes, I see. I was objecting, in general, to the prioritizing of economics over morality. People who believe they have a special relationship with God, for example, but let it go to avoid prejudices that they otherwise can't avoid. It's easy to understand why they might, but it would be better to organize a world in which they didn't have to do so (as we have done in America, to some degree).

So too with other moral beliefs. We shouldn't say that you should give up what you think is a moral truth in order to get along better with those in a position to enrich you or impoverish you. We should order society so that morality has the priority, and economics serves.

Grim said...

...you don't have the option to say "I insist that you punch me, then continue hanging out with me."

Which is too bad, because that often works out really well. Lots of male friendships began with a fistfight. :)

Texan99 said...

You seem to believe Jews assimilate in order to get better stuff, and you worry that it means they're compromising their morals. I think Jews get stuff just fine without giving up their identity, so no issue of compromising their morals arises.

It's possible to worry that some other group somewhere might have to compromise its morals to get stuff. I'm skeptical that a group that consistently, egregiously, and permanently can't address its own material needs is really suffering the injustice of the world insisting that it compromise its morality. I'm not aware of a moral tradition that's inconsistent with being able to find some way to meet a culture's material needs, beyond strictly local and temporary insanities. By the time a culture is in its 3d or 4th generation and still can't get it together, I'm looking at the culture, not its neighbors, for the explanation.

Texan99 said...

"Which is too bad, because that often works out really well. Lots of male friendships began with a fistfight." Yes, yours and Tom's preference for a fistfight to resolve the offense might be by far the best choice. Your offended adversary might be making a terrible choice. He might be making all kinds of choices in his life that are questionable, and he might be much happier if he let you make them all for him.

Alas, such is not the way of life. It's possible that the most you can do is try to persuade him to your point of view. Of course, you can also conclude he's an awful schmuck, decline to have anything further to do with him, and convince your friends of the same. I would support you in any of the many methods you might use to resolve the quarrel that began when he was offended, as long as you didn't (1) resort to theft or violence or (2) drag the State into it.

Grim said...

Why are you supporting me? In Tom's example, I was the one that gave sufficient offense to justify punching me (or getting me fired).

I just think Tom is right that I'd rather have the fight, given the options. If the law is going to allow the worse heckler's veto, it might as well allow the lesser one.

Texan99 said...

I'm neither supporting nor opposing your preference for a punch in the nose. When it's your decision, if that's what you'd prefer to receive, who am I to argue? My only point is that, when it's the other guy who's offended, your preference, Tom's preference, and my preference is not the important one.

Tom said...

Let's go back to this:

"If I offend someone, I would much rather they punch me in the nose than get me fired"--If only we got to control how other people react to our offending them! Normally, though, the most we can do is prevent them from using theft or violence in retaliation, or from dragging the State into the quarrel.

Your two sentences here seem to contradict each other. Where you say that we can prevent them from using theft or violence, you acknowledge that in fact we can control how people react to us, to a certain extent, by passing laws. And that's what I thought we were discussing: What should the law be?

Now, if we forget about what the law should be and just look at reality, you are right when you say we can't control another's reaction. However, in that case, we can't even prevent them from reacting with violence or theft or getting the state involved. They can react in those ways as well.

So I'm kind of confused about which discussion we're having.

Tom said...

Also: I would support you in any of the many methods you might use to resolve the quarrel that began when he was offended, as long as you didn't (1) resort to theft or violence or (2) drag the State into it.

Why is that? Why is very limited violence (a punch in the nose) unacceptable in a private matter, but getting someone fired for a private matter acceptable? That's what I'm trying to see. Or are you just expressing your own personal preference and not what you think the law should be?

Texan99 said...

I'm guilty of using the word "can" loosely. Yes, I am in favor of social constructs that limit people's behavior. My particular preference along those lines is to delegate to the State the authority to intervene when people resort to fraud, theft, or violence, but otherwise to let informal private customs and institutions do their thing. So sometimes when I say we "can't" do something, I really should be saying "we mustn't," or "we can't, consistent with the system I'm advocating."

But in this case, it's literally that we can't. We have no power to force someone to be reconciled with us after we've offended him. We can wish that if we offered him a chance to discharge his anger by popping us in the nose, he'd take us up on it, but we can't make him. If he prefers to withdraw from social and business intercourse with us, what are we really going to be able to do to stop him?

Could we prevent him from talking dirt about us and influencing our co-workers and/or bosses to eject us from the workplace? Yes, that's within our power, but a terrible idea, if the dirt is true. (I'm OK with legal recourse for defamation.) We can and do force people to hire and continue to work with people they'd prefer never again to have anything to do with, but it doesn't work well. There's no real substitute for letting people work out arrangements that are mutually and genuinely satisfactory.

The guy who feels offended may find that, when he complains to his co-workers and/or his boss, they identify him as the problem and side with me instead. Which is fine with me, too. They may think we're both being unutterably petty and say "a plague on both your houses." It happens. One way or another, they're eventually going to get away from us or make us uncomfortable enough to get away from them. I wouldn't intervene in that process. If I thought someone was being ostracized unfairly, I might jump ship with him and give him all the good press I could.

But just as I wouldn't ask the State to intervene to solve a matter of nonviolent offense, I also wouldn't try to pretend that the offense hadn't happened or that it didn't have consequences. The consequences are palpable.

Texan99 said...

I'm expressing my view of what the law should be, which also is my personal preference. That is, it's my personal preference for what the law should be. My personal preference for resolving a dispute involving myself and another person might be very different, and if the other party to the dispute agreed, I wouldn't care what the law had to say.

Why do I believe the best rule is to restrain people from using violence (beyond, perhaps, petty violence) and theft/fraud, but not from voluntarily disassociating with people they think are jerks and encouraging others to do the same? One way to say it is that I think people should be free to associate or not associate according to their own judgment, but I don't think people should be free to impose their wills on each other by violence, fraud, or theft. That may be a bit tautological. Why do I think it's legitimate to draw the line there? That may be a rock-bottom conviction about values that I can't really explain. I believe a society will be tolerable if the State uses force to restrain force, and I suppose I include fraud and theft in force because they are inconsistent with free, voluntary associations on mutually satisfactory terms. I sharply distinguish between imposing a person's (or the State's) will by force and letting people suffer the consequences of their neighbors' withdrawal of support and interaction. It's the difference between invading someone's autonomy and disappointing his hope or expectation that we'll give him something. Those seem to me to be on opposite sides of an important divide, especially when it comes to State power.

I get very different answers to these dilemmas when I factor in what duty I may owe to an individual. These are rules for strangers, not family or loved ones. I draw a sharp distinction there, too. To the extent that I manage to include more and more people in my list of loved ones, which I conceive it is my religious duty to do, more and more people will come within my own system and not just the formal system of the State. But for the most part, I consider it up to myself and perhaps my spiritual leaders to decide where to draw that line. I don't acknowledge the State's right to set it, except in the case of my helpless dependents. Pure communism under my own "roof," and a different system outside, starting with intimates regarding whom I don't keep score, casual acquaintances regarding whom I may be more or less generous, and gradually becoming a more impersonal way of dealing with total strangers.

Texan99 said...

Maybe another way to say this is:

When two people are dealing with each other, my highest value is that both should be satisfied with the terms, and if not, whoever is dissatisfied should be free to walk away. Fraud, theft, and violence break that standard by violating the concept of voluntary terms, so in those extraordinary circumstances, although I'm always reluctant to grant power to a State, I'm willing to pay that price in order to enlist the State's aid in preventing someone from overriding someone else's will.

I understand that every time the State intervenes, someone's will is being overridden. Nevertheless, it's an important distinction for me that the State should be overriding the will of the guy who was trying to override someone else's will to start with. In my system, that's the bad guy. The bad guy was trying to prevent the other guy from withdrawing when he was dissatisfied. Unless both are satisfied, either should be free to walk. If Jim walks and Bob is disappointed, Bob has to live with it. If Jim tries to walk and Bob tries to stop him by force, I'll step in to help Jim, and Bob has to live with it. It's the way I see ideal relations between free people, which is the only kind of relations I'm interested in tolerating.

Grim said...

"When two people deal with each other, my highest value is..."

That's a very interesting way of digging out your first principles. Good for you.

I think my highest value is that people should deal with each other honorably. That may not always mean they both end up satisfied with the exchange: sometimes honor requires things that are difficult or unpleasant, as many duties cannot be made mutually pleasant exchanges.

My concern here is that the law ends up protecting the dishonorable and punishing the honorable in many cases. That's unacceptable to me. It's what I mean when I say that I think the law is often out of order with justice in these cases: protecting a dishonorable figure such as the Westboro leadership, even rewarding them by awarding them damages when their horrible behavior successfully provokes someone.

Texan99 said...

You must pardon me if I'm not keen on living in a world in which the State has the power to force me to do whatever you consider honorable. My system at least has the advantage of being tailorable to any two people and their preferences for how to interact.

I think I'm much more interested in freedom than you are. Honor is a wonderful thing when we're applying standards to ourselves, but not so great when we're dictating to others.

Grim said...

You say you're interested in freedom and against state regulation, but you're the one advocating for a stricter set of laws. You'd be freer under my suggestion.

All I ask is that the state not actively punish the honorable and reward the vicious.

Texan99 said...

Hmm. I would have only laws that interfere in fraud, theft, or violence, and no others, but as you see it I want stricter laws than you? Actually, I'm leaving out an important set of laws: civil laws to enforce voluntary contracts.

It's possible I have completely misunderstood what you mean by not letting the state actively punish the honorable or reward the vicious. It seems to have to do with using the law to enforce duties. I think we've discovered that we have little common ground on the subject of duties. I wouldn't enjoy, for instance, being an employer under the concept of duties you've often outlined for employers, especially if you could enforce your view by the power of the State. I suspect we have little overlap on the subject of the duties of women. We don't agree on the duties of merchants. I acknowledge few automatic duties other than to helpless dependents; I consider all other duties voluntarily assumed, a matter of each person's conscience and his God, and his willingness to pledge his word. All I would wish to see happen to people who don't fulfill my concept of their duties is that they do without my approval and perhaps my personal, social, and commercial interaction. I would grant them the same respect, if I don't live up to their concept of my duties.

Well, it wouldn't be the first time we discovered our views were utterly incompatible. Good thing we're only using words with each other! I haven't got to fight to keep you at bay; I can simply disagree and, as long as you remain interested, argue. There's a freedom right there.

Grim said...

The only change to the law I have posited here is to create a positive defense for simple assault in response to certain kinds of provocations, giving as the paradigm the Westboro Baptist Church invading the funeral of a servicemember and provoking his father into a response.

What I mean by the law punishing the honorable and protecting the vicious is just this kind of thing: the servicemember was honorable, and is not protected even at his funeral; his family, who raised him in such a manner as to choose to serve, is honorable and is undefended in their hour of grief. The father, if he is provoked by the insult to his son and his family, is acting honorably in being aggrieved. He will be arrested, charged with a crime, possibly jailed or fined, and subject to damages from civil suits as well.

The Westboro picketers are vicious, but they are protected by the sate. They profit off the provocation they created, in which they were the aggressors, from the civil suit damages.

So the law is out of order with what it means to be honorable. The law is wholly on the side of the aggressor, and its force is used only to restrain the aggrieved.

That is what I mean. I seek only to restrain the power of the state by the creation of this positive defense, so that the law will no longer protect the vicious and punish the just.

Grim said...

As for the general question of whether you would enjoy living in a world such as I would prefer, you may be imagining it in a very different way than I would. I suspect I would run the world much like I run my Hall: I've never sought to impose anything on you at all, but give you free rein to do as you wish. That, in spite of our very significant disagreements on many core values!

I have a very narrow set of rules that I enforce here, chiefly against personal attacks between members of our fellowship (and that mostly because there is no good to come from fighting on the internet). The state, were it my state, would quickly be less dangerous to its citizens. Not less dangerous to its enemies abroad, though: but within the circle, I look for friendship rather than force to maintain order. And friendship is a bond of honor.

Texan99 said...

Sorting through what you said, I think you'd allow a defense of extreme provocation if a deeply offended person committed a simple assault. As I've said, I'd go as far as agreeing with you in the case of a simple punch in the nose; if the assault goes beyond that, well, motive does count, and if I were the lawgiver, I'd go light on the offender in light of the circumstances, but I don't believe any nonphysical affront justifies really violent damage in retaliation. That's not because I excuse the affront, but because I believe we won't have much of a civilization if we don't use other tools to combat the affront--such as shunning. Pretty severe shunning, in that case. The Westboro guy probably should at least have to leave the state to find decent employment afterwards, because most people should instinctively turn their backs on him, and he'll have to go find a fresh start somewhere. It's possible we don't disagree about this part; I couldn't tell.

If there's a more general principle that the law must not punish honor or reward vice, I don't know what you're trying to propose.

There's no doubt that I'm imagining the world you'd create in very different terms from you. We've established that over the course of many, many discussions: our visions are mutually unrecognizable. I also realize you've never tried to impose anything on me in real life; these are theoretical discussions, and you could never have any actual power over me beyond free persuasion; I'm not accusing you of anything. So if I respond with horror to what I consider to be the likely effects of your hypothetical societies, I do know you propose them with the best of intentions, and with a sincere belief that you understand how I would experience them. All I can do is say how I really would experience them. You are free to conclude I'm mistaken! It's all hypothetical. We can't resolve it.

Grim said...

Well, it will have to remain theoretical: in real life, I've never sought authority over anyone. I have had to exercise authority over my son, ex officio as his father, and he tells me I'm a horrible monster. But he smiles when he says it. :)

Texan99 said...

All the more reason not to build up too many imaginary worlds in which the State would indirectly impose your will on others any more than strictly necessary! If it doesn't come naturally to you in your life, there's a reason for that--an instinct that's worth listening to.

Grim said...

I haven't any such worlds. My fantasy worlds involve the state largely ceasing to exist. :) I'm almost an anarchist, except that I realize there are a few core functions that really are indispensable. What I'm advocating for here is one more cessation of state power, because I think it would be more just than the order we have now. As I've explained, I think the order we have now punishes the just and protects the wicked. The right way to proceed is not for the state to enforce my will instead, but for it to recognize an area of freedom that it is currently suppressing. That would be via a positive defense, i.e., the state would recognize that it doesn't have the legitimate power to send people to jail in this area.

Texan99 said...

Excellent -- no laws forcing employers to pay minimum wage, forcing merchants to sell at fixed prices in emergencies, and so on? I may have misunderstood many of your proposals to date. Were you only talking about aspirational goals, which businessmen would be free to make up their own minds about?

Grim said...

I endorse minimum wages only because of the welfare state; if you can undo the welfare state, you can have your way on minimum wages too. At the moment I believe (as Elise does) that there is no chance of doing that. My concern is that having the one without the other means using political power to push market costs on people who don't benefit from the transaction: as a taxpayer, I don't get anything out of paying for the employee's non-starvation. The employer does, as they don't have to hire new workers and retrain them constantly because the old ones were dying off. Thus, they should be the ones paying the freight. Minimum wage laws mean they have to carry the weight for the benefits they accrue from non-starving workers. But that's contingent on the taxpayer being on the hook for non-starvation.

As far as profiteering in natural disasters, I think it's immoral in the extreme. If we look to friendship inside the circle, this is a violation of it. These are our neighbors who have been struck by an act of God, and instead of treating them that way we'd be treating them as an opportunity for profit. We'd be extracting their last wealth, using death and disease as our leverage against them. This is wrong, and I view people who do it as no better than looters, and deserving the same treatment. There are a few necessary areas for the state, as I said, and war and natural disaster (to include epidemic disease) are the two most obvious.

Texan99 said...

Right, but the question was whether these were situations in which you felt authorized to impose your will, or have the State impose its will on your behalf. There are lots of situations about which we have moral opinions. I've been talking about using non-State control methods to address them, like shunning, and I've been distinguishing those methods from the use of force. I thought we disagreed on this, and that I'd use shunning where you'd use force. Then you said something to make me think I might have misunderstood. I guess I didn't misunderstand.

That was the source of my remark about strictly limiting the situations in which you'd impose your will on others by force. For me it's all-important whether you resist an action by withdrawing cooperation, or by applying force. I'm not sure you draw the same distinction; both are unpleasant, and one doesn't seem that different from the other to you. But to me that distinction is the core principle.

Grim said...

In the case of looting profiteers, I'd prefer a solution exactly like the Westboro solution.

But no, I don't draw the same distinction. I think force is neutral morally; the question is whether you are pursuing a just end justly, not whether or not you do so cooperatively or forcefully. If you withdraw cooperation but refuse to use force in a way that permits a horrendous injustice, you are morally guilty.

As Chesterton said, "When God put man in a garden He girt him with a sword," and Jesus tells us to buy a sword if we have to sell our coat. You're meant to use the sword. You just are meant to use it justly.

Texan99 said...

Right, that's what I thought was the big difference: you don't make the same distinction I do. I think it's at the root of why we can almost never agree. You're talking about whether something offends your conscience, and aren't deeply concerned with which kind of social discipline might be brought to bear on it. For me, the question whether it offends my conscience is only the first step. What I'm entitled to do about it is a separate and very difficult step.

So we talk past each other a lot, when I'm on the subject of what disciplinary tools are legitimately available, and you're on the subject of whether the underlying behavior is offensive. We may not even disagree sometimes about whether the underlying behavior is offensive, but because we're talking apples and oranges, we just talk past each other endlessly.

To make matters worse, though, we also have almost no point of agreement on the duties of employers and merchants.

Grim said...

It's not that I'm not concerned with legitimacy of tools. We talk about areas where I think the state is out of line in using force fairly often: militarization of police, for example. But the use of force doesn't trouble me per se; what troubles me is whether you are pursuing a just end justly. That's a two-step process: the end has to be just, and the means have to be just.

I think there are many cases where bringing lethal force to bear is out of line, and some (fewer) cases where bringing violent force to bear is out of line. But my standard is not that force per se is suspect; rather, I adhere to the old just war tradition in military force, and to an honor-based notion in policing (whereby the honor the police are due arises from the fact that they take risks to protect others, and therefore should assume some risks in order to ensure they don't use excessive force).

As for employers, I have two demands that you don't seem to have. I want employers to be Americans first and merchants second, and thus to seek to do business in a way that enriches and empowers America and Americans first and foremost. And I want them to do business in a way that pays their own costs instead of pushing them on the taxpayers. That means I'm much happier than you to endorse a protectionist order -- repaying them for their loyalty with favorable tariffs, for example. It also means I'm not likely to approve of things that destroy our national wealth and power and enrich, say, China.

Grim said...

Actually, as regards legitimacy of tools, we had this discussion from the other side recently. I was advocating a specific principle for the use of lethal force -- by citizens, by police, by soldiers -- such that whatever the end, the means had to be justified accordingly. If you weren't acting to prevent imminent death or grievous bodily harm, lethal force wasn't justified.

So it's not that I'm unconcerned with legitimate tools. I just have more traditional standards.

Texan99 said...

Of course I don't think you're unconcerned with the legitimacy of tools, but you think force is morally neutral and I think the exact opposite. So naturally we're going to be at cross-purposes when discussing it. For you, force would have to be of a special type to raise serious concerns. For me, the mere fact that it's force is a serious concern, because it's inconsistent with the free and voluntary relations between human beings that I think are the source of everything good in human society. A possibility of free interaction between two mutually respectful people is lost forever, by my lights. Is it sometimes necessary? Sure. So is amputation, but it's to be avoided if at all possible, because nothing will ever be the same.

I'm not convinced there's such a thing as nonviolent force. Of course there are gradations of force, though; some merely override a will more or less temporarily, while others cause serious damage or death.

And yes, when it comes to employers and merchants, as I say, we have very little common ground about what demands to make. We've discussed it round and round, and probably will never come close to agreeing. We're particularly far apart in our ideas about what kinds of things increase overall prosperity, so we tend to be a little exasperated with each other, as if each thought the other were somehow deliberately advocating a policy that clearly would lead to waste or impoverishment--an obvious error. It's so hard to remember that another person can have such different notions of what leads to waste or impoverishment. But that's just irritability talking. We both know the other doesn't really want to destroy prosperity.

Tom said...

Tex, thank you for a very thoughtful reply. I need to think about that.

Texan99 said...

I have been thinking about it a lot, too, and it occurs to me that I am most uncomfortable with overriding someone's will or invading his autonomy without consent. That's my most central view of the worst mistake between people. Other people--Grim would be among them, I think--are more concerned with wrongfully withholding a loving or honorable service, also a critically important idea. Somehow the "leaving alone" and "lovingly tending to" parts of human society have to get their due attention. The State is a tool that human societies often resort to for these two somewhat opposed needs, and the question for me is when it's a more effective than harmful tool. Is the State a better tool for preserving autonomy than for requiring loving service? It's not an easy question. I always get tripped up by the balance between autonomy and intimacy.

Anyway, that's what I was trying to get at when I said I was more interested than Grim in freedom, while I take him to be more interested than I in duty. That's not to say that I wouldn't do well to pay some attention to stirring up my sense of duty from its natural rather lukewarm and passive state. Of course, it's also a defensible position that it's a common error to underestimate the evils of overriding someone else's will or invading his autonomy.

MikeD said...

I leave for a weekend and this happens? 91 comments? Wow.

Trying to catch up. Most of the discussion seems to have been revolving around the idea that if I offend someone, they can organize a boycott such that I no longer have a way of making a living and I find myself destitute, so wouldn't it be better if I could instead be punished by a simple assault.

Are you serious? I mean this... do you actually believe that:
a) granting someone the right to assert "he offended me" in a case of assault is a splendid plan that will never result in anything other than positive outcomes (completely ignoring the fact that there's a world of examples where someone is killed by a single [un]lucky punch)?
b) granting that defense means that no one would ever after be able to mount a boycott of someone who offends them such that they are left destitute? I mean... are we going to make it illegal to boycott someone who offends us? Are you to have the government force us to patronize their business regardless of how we feel about them? Seriously?
c) that ANYONE has so offended the entire community (not just locally, but such that there is nowhere they can go) to the point that they were utterly unable to work and make a living? This sounds like a problem that has not existed since perhaps the colonial era. So we're putting in place a solution for a problem that simply does not exist.
d) that if we CAN find someone who is so utterly offensive that no one anywhere is willing to let them work... that such a person should work? Who do you propose we force to hire them? Because that's the only alternative in the case of someone who is that offensive. If no one else is willing to pay for their labor, then all that is left is to force someone to pay for their labor.

Grim, I respect you as I respect few people in this world. But you are utterly wrong on this. A punch to the nose being winked at by the law is a solution that sounds good when you assume that you're the offended party. But imagine that you are not. Sure, if a stranger punched you for something you said, I'm sure you could take it stoically enough, and possibly even apologize if you truly had meant no offense. But what if you did not personally feel that your comment was deserving of such an assault and you swung back (engaging in what is commonly considered a "fight"). At this point, both you and your attacker are to be jailed and charged with assault (or perhaps affray). Either way, your personal freedom and the welfare of your family is now in the hands of a jury who will either decide that what you had said did rise to the level of "egregious insult" in which case you were unjustified to strike him back, or if he was over the line in which case you were rightfully defending yourself. Now imagine that this does not happen in Georgia, but in some city like Boston, or New York.

Or perhaps imagine if your wife said something that offended a stranger, and he punches her. Will you be willing to dispassionately consider whether someone else could reasonably judge if what she said was "offensive"? Or would you defend her? I know for a fact that if anyone strikes my wife, I couldn't be so even handed. But, if 12 people determine that "yes, that was offensive" then he could get away with it. Would that strike you (no pun intended) as "justice"?

MikeD said...

And something else has also occurred to me. During the course of this discussion, every assumption (including mine) is that this is all spontaneous reaction on the street. I.e. I say something, you react. But that's hardly ever the case anymore. It certainly wasn't in the case of the Charlie Hebdo attack. Does your theory of "stand your ground" style defense include if I post an article or blog that offends someone? Is everyone who reads it and is offended entitled to travel to Georgia and punch me in the nose? Even if they're coming from California? That's quite a bit of premeditation, and hardly a "heat of the moment, no time to appeal for assistance" event the way the "stand your ground" laws work. And what if community standards are different where the reader/listener is? What is unlikely to get you punched in Dahlonega, GA might get you a beating in Dearborn, MI. Do we have the assault perpetrator tried in their own community, or where they assaulted the "offender"?

All this just convinces me more deeply that asking the government (or the community) to approve or disapprove of speech is asking for trouble. I'm much more comfortable asserting the position that you do not ever have the right to harm the person or property of anyone else, regardless of the words spoken, save in defense of the person or property of yourself or someone else. It may mean that I have to swallow my anger at someone for a mortal insult (yes, even one directed at my mother), but I think that is far superior that relying on the government's judgment as to what is "acceptable" for me to say or write.

Grim said...

Mike,

I think you're departing from the example far enough that it's no longer the same example. The example is the Westboro Baptist Church, which is aggressively, intentionally and egregiously offensive to a family at a very tragic moment, when the ordinary rational person's emotional state is going to be distraught and sensitive.

The suggestion is that the standard ought to be structurally the same as applied to lethal force, which means that immediacy is a requirement. In lethal force we speak of 'imminent death or grievous bodily harm.' So no, not two weeks later, after I've had time to drive from here to New York or whatever. It's an immediate provocation.

Now, I think that if this case happened, no jury in America would convict the father for punching the Westboro advocate. Assume for a minute I'm right about that: that any jury in America would simply refuse to convict him for assault.

If that's the case, then effectively the law already is that this case is legitimate violence, because the laws against it cannot be applied. If the People are the source of the legitimacy of a law, and if the assumption is correct that no jury would convict, the people have endorsed a moral and legal code in which this will be treated as legitimate and acceptable behavior.

If that's right, the law should really reflect the actual principles that the American people hold. Jury nullification is great -- I'm a big fan of juries constraining elite control of the law. But it's better if the law is just to begin with.

Grim said...

If that's right, then the real question is how to structure the law to avoid the bad examples you can come up with. It's not whether this principle ought to be the law of the American people, but a technical question about how to structure the law so the principle is applied well and not badly.

Texan99 said...

Then you need another principle for how to apply it well and not badly.

Grim said...

I'm open to the idea that a formulation I came up with on the fly during a blog discussion may not be completely perfect. :)

MikeD said...

So, given that this is a matter of immediacy, and not due to be brought up as a valid defense to assault if the "offense" was of a written nature, then do you believe that if someone were to assault a military recruiter in Berkeley, CA because they found it "offensive", that so long as a local jury forgave them, that would make it ok? Or that if a black man is assaulted in Birmingham for cat calling a white woman, that would be just fine? After all... it was offensive, and if a local jury approves the assault, well then we should just be ok with that.

I understand that you want this principle to apply to the WBC fools. But as emotionally rewarding as that may be, we cannot create laws that only apply to "groups we don't like". That's not how equal protection under the law works. Either the law applies equally, independent of viewpoint, or it is unjust and against the founding principles of American jurisprudence. And ultimately, Free Speech was never intended to only protect popular speech. That does not, and has never required protection. The only speech that ever requires protection is that which is unpopular. It is simply not credible to think that the Founding Fathers wanted to carve out a special protection for speech that everyone found acceptable. That's just not logical.

Grim said...

It's not that a jury refuses to convict, it's that any jury would -- or almost any. At that point, you're talking about a value that the American people hold. The law should reflect our values, and jury nullification is one of the democratically valid forms of making sure it at least does not trample them.

The other cases you draw are distinct precisely in being controversial. The point about the juries is that it isn't controversial.

Texan99 said...

You're describing a society with homogeneous values. I question whether we have one of those. I think we have homogeneity on a few core beliefs--or at least we did--which is why we can muddle through--but few values that all American people hold.

I'll grant you that, if you were to look for a core principle so self-evident and so universally held in the U.S. that no jury could possible disagree, "Don't spew vile hatred at the grieving family at funerals" would be right up there. But the fact that Westboro members live among us at all shows us that this view is not universal. And that's before you get to the considerable number of people who despise the speech but still consider violence out of bounds as a response to it.

In any case, if the idea that non-violence can morally/legally be met with violence is limited to Westboro facts, it's a pretty exotic animal that tells us little about public policy in general. I'd deal with this horrific boundary case in a different way: I'd say freedom of speech is to protect argument about ideas. There are times and places so inappropriate for argument of any kind, regardless of its content, that we can demand silence or at least adherence to a strict regulation. A funeral is one of those places, but it's not the only one. We apply the same standard to Supreme Court hearings, which are less important.

Texan99 said...

You know what else? All I can remember about the jerks from Westboro is that their mamas brung them up so horribly that they thought it was OK to spew bile at bereft families at military funerals. I remember that it had something to do with homosexuality, but for the life of me I can't remember if they were furious that it exists, or furious that it's discriminated against. That's how effective their message was, because of their disgusting methods. They are now anathema to almost 100% of everyone who's ever heard of them, and will find it difficult to locate an attentive audience in future. I believe that's the right disinfectant to use against their peculiar brand of disgusting behavior and speech.

Grim said...

What they really seem to believe is that it's easier to make a living by suing people than by working. The affront is calculated to provoke responses that they can use to sue people.

They're kind of like the Temple of Satan out in Orange County, which keeps trolling the Christian community there. Except those people really are non-violent -- I think what Westboro does is a form of aggression that transgresses the moral border between violence and nonviolence. The Temple of Satan people are just having fun being trolls. They claim to worship Satan in order to demand 'equal time' to distribute Satanic activity books if Christians get to distribute Bibles, but nobody thinks they really do.

Of course, it could be that Satan prefers to work that way!

MikeD said...

It's not that a jury refuses to convict, it's that any jury would -- or almost any. At that point, you're talking about a value that the American people hold. The law should reflect our values, and jury nullification is one of the democratically valid forms of making sure it at least does not trample them.

Given that you can only put someone in front of a single jury if they're charged with a crime, I'm unsure what kind of test you would use in order to ensure that only those who assaulted someone ANY jury would find offensive would mount a successful defense. Seems to be a strange law you're trying to write that is remarkably short on definitive borders (i.e. the clear bright line that makes a law unambiguous and not open to stretching in exactly the way I suspect/fear any such law would be).

Additionally, jury nullification is already an option in the event of a jury trial currently. If the WBC folks pushed a grieving father to the point of assault and the jury decides to nullify, there's not a lot of things the prosecutor can do about that already.

Grim said...

So, I'm borrowing the argument from Lord Patrick Devlin, who made it in one of his essays on democratic legitimacy of laws. His point is that a law that no jury (or almost no jury) will enforce is invalid. He notes that generally elites hate this idea.

This gives the common man, when sitting in the jury box, a sort of veto upon the enforcement of morals…. it makes the jury a constitutional organ for determining what amounts to immorality and when the law should be enforced…. What I want to discuss immediately is the reaction that many philosophers and academic lawyers have to the doctrine I have just outlined. They dislike it very much…. the rational judgment of men who have studied moral questions and pondered long on what the answers ought to be, will be blown aside as by a gust of popular morality compounded of all the irrational prejudices and emotions of the street.
-Patrick Devlin, The Enforcement of Morals, p. 91.

Now his example was the 'Romeo and Juliet' defense to statutory rape charges. He said that this defense is structured in such a way as to be extremely difficult to prove, and that it should generally be expected to fail because of that. Instead, it almost always succeeded. Nearly any jury who was given a version of that defense would 'understand' the facts of the case in such a way that it applied.

His argument is that the statute itself should therefore change, because there's no reason to try people who are doing something that society thinks is morally appropriate. It's not just a waste of resources, it's a bad law: it is a failure of the test of legitimacy in a democracy if the people of your country will simply refuse to enforce the law as it is written.