Know Your Enemy – Charlie Hebdo and The Freedom of Speech
By Duncan Whitmore
In previous essays posted on this blog, I have often pointed out that opponents of private property (and of capitalism specifically) believe, incorrectly, that to advocate for a free society is to crave an orgy of individualism, greed and selfishness in which each person grabs as many riches for himself as possible while leaving those less fortunate to starve.
Empirically, of course, we know that private property orders have solved the problems of poverty and hunger more than any other socioeconomic alternative, for the reason that the wealth accumulated by the rich takes the form of capital goods that produce more and more consumer goods at lower and lower prices for ordinary people. In other words, even if someone wanted to accumulate as much wealth as possible for himself his only avenue of doing so is to serve the needs of others.
That aside, however, the theoretical error of the anti-capitalists is to confuse permissibility on the one hand with promotion on the other. Yes, capitalism and freedom give you the right to be selfish and greedy, but they do not demand that you be so – you are just as free to give away all of your wealth as you are to accumulate as much of it for yourself as possible. Thus, libertarians are advocating only for your right to choose your actions. They are not stating that any conceivable action within your range of options is necessarily a good and beautiful thing, nor should anything you do be immune from criticism simply because it is peaceful and voluntary.
For instance, a libertarian would say that a person should have the legal right to smoke three packets of cigarettes a day. But he is not saying that a person should smoke three packets of cigarettes a day, nor that such a heavy volume of smoking is a wise and beneficial choice. True enough, there will be libertarians who, out of either naivety or a personal commitment to libertinism, do indeed reason in such a fashion, seeing nothing morally wrong with any possible choice one may make so long as it does not breach the non-aggression principle. Libertarianism itself, however, entails no such advocacy – it is the foundation upon which wider moral problems should be solved, not the final word. Continue reading
The “Big Tech” Problem
By Duncan Whitmore
“The legislature, were it possible that its deliberations could be always directed, not by the clamorous importunity of partial interests, but by an extensive view of the general good, ought, upon this very account, perhaps, to be particularly careful, neither to establish any new monopolies of this kind, nor to extend further those which are already established. Every such regulation introduces some degree of real disorder into the constitution of the state, which it will be difficult afterwards to cure without occasioning another disorder.”
– Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations
The debate over the power of social media giants such as Twitter and Facebook has intensified this past week when both platforms attempted to restrict the distribution of reports concerning allegations of corruption made against Democrat Presidential nominee Joe Biden. The precise details are unimportant; suffice it to say that the reports are likely to prove damaging to the Biden campaign if disseminated widely amongst the electorate. Both Twitter and Facebook restricted the sharing of the New York Post’s story on the matter, while the White House Press Secretary was locked out of her Twitter account. All of this, of course, takes place against the backdrop of “cancel culture” and the censorship of information (even from authoritative sources) that challenges the official narrative of lockdown and restriction in response to COVID-19.
Although, in this particular instance, the social media companies may end up succumbing to the “Streisand Effect” – the phenomenon whereby any attempt to ban or censor information increases its allure and, thus, leads to a greater degree of exposure overall – those on the right have responded in at least one of two ways to this latest betrayal of the apparent leftist bias that pervades Silicon Valley. Continue reading
Online Harms – A Bill of Rights for the Censor
8th April 2019
Perhaps the most overlooked effect of the Brexit Crisis is that new legislation of any kind in Britain has dwindled from a flood to a trickle. Since new laws and bad laws amount to much the same, this is to be celebrated. For this reason alone, I might hope for the crisis to continue at full tilt until at least 2022. It will not, but the respite has been welcome.
Something particularly nasty that will now have to wait its turn in a long queue is any Bill inspired by the Online Harms White Paper published on the 8th April 2019. This proposes that Internet sites should be fined or blocked if they fail to tackle “online harms,” such as terrorist propaganda and child abuse. To achieve this end, here are the suggested means: Continue reading
Sean Gabb is one of the UK’s leading libertarians. In his new article “State Censorship Corporate Censorship” he argues that even though the UK and US protect “speech about alleged matters of public fact,” these protections are inadequate and eroding. Though no fan of Alex Jones, Sean Gabb says that “his being swept from large areas of the Internet is worrying.”
Perhaps the biggest threat to free speech, Gabb suggests, is corporate censorship. And while some libertarians join the apologists for censorship who argue that private corporations such as YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, and Google have the right to censor anyone they want, Sean Gabb disagrees. He argues persuasively that limited liability corporations are not private, but quasi-governmental entities, and should therefore be required to follow the same norms of free speech and transparency as the government does.
I agree, but I think Sean Gabb doesn’t go far enough. It’s obvious that these internet fora are today’s equivalent of the “town square.” OBVIOUSLY they must respect the First Amendment and other free speech norms and protections! Additionally, they are monopolies, which are supposed to be illegal under American law. If they don’t want to be seized by the government and either broken up or run as public utilities, they need to rigorously respect content neutrality and honor—not censor—controversial speech.
Peter Tatchell and the Total State
13th January 2018
I have some respect for Peter Tatchell. He campaigned against the anti-homosexual laws before this was a safe thing to do. He has shown courage on other issues. This being said, I am troubled by his latest set of recommendations. Writing on the 8th January 2018 for The Friends of Europe blog, he declares that “equal rights are not enough.” It is not enough for people to be treated equally before the law. It is also necessary for children to be brainwashed into agreeing with him. He says:
To combat intolerance and bullying, education against all prejudice – including racism, misogyny, disablism, xenophobia, ageism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia – should be a stand-alone compulsory subject in every school. Equality and diversity lessons should start from the first year of primary level onwards, with no opt-outs for private or faith schools and no right for parents to withdraw their children.
…. These lessons should be subject to annual examination, ensuring that both pupils and teachers take these lessons seriously; otherwise they won’t. A pupil’s equality grades should be recorded and declared when applying for higher education and jobs, as it is in the interests of everyone to have universities and workplaces without prejudice.
To see what Peter means, let us take a number of issues: Continue reading
State Censorship, Corporate Censorship:
A Libertarian View
6th September 2017
Every age we have so far known has been one of censorship. This is not to say that opinion has been equally constrained in all times and places. Sometimes, as in the Soviet Union, it has been oppressive and omnipresent – even extending to an imposition of orthodoxy on the natural sciences. More often, it has been focussed on perceived criticisms of the established political and religious order. Sometimes, dissent has been permitted among the intellectual classes – especially when expressed in a language unknown to the people at large, and only punished when communicated to the people at large. Sometimes, a diversity of political orders has limited any particular censorship to an area of just a few square hundreds of miles. Sometimes it has been limited by a general belief in the right of free expression. But I can think of no time or place where publication has been absolutely unconstrained. Continue reading