Limits on Free Speech?


Judith Butler is Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of California at Berkeley and a member of the Berkeley Faculty Association and the AAUP.  The following is the slightly edited text of remarks she delivered December 4 at a forum sponsored by the Berkeley Academic Senate, “Perspectives on Freedom of Expression on Campus.” 

[UPDATE: A question mark, mistakenly omitted from the original post, has been added to the title at the author’s request.]

Thank you for this opportunity to pose some questions that might prove useful for our discussion today.  In most courses dedicated to the study of constitutional principles, it makes sense to start with cases that produce a problem for the law.  What if we also start by identifying a set of quandaries not because this is a law school course, but rather because one reason the applicability of the First Amendment is not always clearly understood is precisely because it is sometimes found to be in conflict with other constitutional principles or legal statutes.  In such cases, it becomes possible to ask why one constitutional principle takes precedence over another, or to ask whether there are some rather abiding dilemmas in the law that demand a certain kind of judgment.  We can more easily claim what the law is than how best to judge in light of the law in any given case.  And if we are part of a larger public trying to make sense of a First Amendment claim as it comes into conflict with other constitutional principles, or other basic values, then knowing what the law is does not immediately tell us how best to form a judgment of the situation at hand.

I put the issue this way not to relativize the First Amendment, but only to note that its importance sometimes only becomes clear to us when it comes into a clash with other basic values.  For instance, we can state that all ideas may be expressed, and that any curtailment on the expression of ideas is constitutionally unacceptable, as [Berkeley Law] Dean [Erwin] Chemerinsky asks us to do.  We can agree on that in principle at the same time that we might find that certain forms of expression are ambiguous: are they, in fact, expressive activity?  Are they forms of harm?  Are they verbal threats?  There is no way around the fact that we have to form an interpretation of what we mean by expressive activity if we want to identify expressive activity with confidence and make good on our claim that all expressive activity is permissible.

We have perhaps all tired of the Milo Yiannapoulos lecture invitation that was issued by College Republicans last year (Spring, 2017).  I joined a faculty letter calling for the cancellation of that talk, and I asked that the reference to hate speech be struck from the letter.  To my surprise, it remained, and so too did my signature. The problem I had with his planned talk was not that he was expressing conservative ideas; the problem was that he brought cameras into his lecture hall on several occasions, and projected images of members of his audience on a screen against their will and then proceeded to shame and berate people for being fat or for being trans or, indeed, for being ugly in his view. Yiannopoulos had posted a photo of Adelaide Kramer, a trans student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, on the backdrop screen of his lecture and then not only jeered at her, but encouraged others to do the same.  Perhaps shaming and berating someone against his or her will, however offensive, is protected speech as long as it does not constitute a physical threat to the person shamed and berated.  But it surely does constitute harassment of the kind that all faculty and student instructors know about through the obligatory training we take in compliance with Title IX (or what is now left of Title IX).  I will take up that point in a moment.

There are at least two noteworthy dimensions of this story.  One has to do with the use of cameras or “trigger cams” that project images of audience members against their will and the direct appeal to those watching or present to mock, harass, or troll that person and to flood that person’s email with insult.  This is a question: is it right to say that the First Amendment comes into conflict with anti-harassment protocols that we learned ought to be honored in the classroom and in all forms of social interaction with students.  And further, how does the invocation of the First Amendment also go against the core values of the university, ones that are time and again invoked to encourage us to engage in thoughtful conversation about controversial issues?

Let me take each of these issues separately, and then make a final remark.  The projection of the image of Adelaide Kramer was not done with her consent, and the appeal to audience members and those watching online to flood the email, expose personal information, and invade privacy seemed to many of us a problem.  What do we call what happened to Adelaide Kramer at Milwaukee, the trans student who found her image projected on the wall during the event, and then witnessed “in frozen terror” – her words –  as the speaker incited the audience to harass her. So I use the word “harassment” and so, too, did President Mone of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  Maybe we shrug our shoulders and say that this is expressive activity, but surely it crosses the line between expressive activity and threat; and that line was crossed in a new way – and is crossed all the time now in new ways – because of the way technology is now used to incite people to engage in cyber-bullying that did not exist before.  So the legal vocabulary we have for distinguishing expressive activity from actual threats, or an incitement to engage in illegal activity – those latter two are not protected as expressive freedoms under the First Amendment – changes when new technologies, or new uses of technology, produce new possibilities for incitement, harassment, and the commission of illegal activities.  We have to come up with new understandings of all those terms which are widely acknowledged as unprotected speech.  I am not sure which conservative viewpoints were being expressed at that moment: I could try to find propositional form for those actions, but would I then be generously and speculatively reconstructing those actions as the expressions of ideas, and so drawing attention away from this very specific form of targeting that included screening the image without consent, verbal incitement to harass that person, and calls to invade that person’s privacy?

One reason why in meeting with College Republicans, I and some other signatories of that letter asked whether their group could not invite someone with the same viewpoints but who would neither threaten to expose members of the audience against their will through the trigger cam nor incite harassment against targeted members of the audience or the campus community.  Although all the signatories opposed the conservative ideas, only some of us opposed the talk on the basis of the ideas expressed, noting the fascism, the racism, the transphobia, even the homophobia – I will return to these.  One distinguishing feature of this case, however – and one reason nobody circulated a petition against Ben Shapiro – was the use of invasive visual technology in conjunction with explicit calls to invade privacy.  Some of us asked both the student group and the administration to make sure that this technology would not be used by stipulating it as a condition of the contract.  Our suggestions were not taken up as far as I know.  Given that the university can honor the principle of speech and still regulate the time, place, and manner of the expressive activity in question, can we perhaps understand this form of technology as part of the “manner” and so subject to regulation?  Or is it the case that this form of targeting and incitement moves us out of the domain of expressive activity altogether and into a consideration of harms and/or illegal activities?

It seemed at that time on this campus that the only possible way to cancel a speech contracted by a student group is to show that matters of public safety are paramount.  Public safety relates to conditions of security on campus, but does that rubric really cover forms of incitement and targeting of the kind I have briefly mentioned?  Of course, once it was understood that only a threat to security would stop the speech, some people opposed to the speech endeavored to produce precisely such a threat.  That threat had to begin to materialize – that is, fires burning and buildings smashed – before it could be decided with clarity that a manifest threat to public security was taking place. Those of us who oppose violent tactics then asked whether we have to wait for violence to start before shutting down such an event?  If we know that the violence is planned, and that it is coming, as many of us did, and as many of us communicated, why was it that only with the onset of violence did the administration gain a justification to act?  For those who wish to shut down such talks, they now know that violence is the most effective means.  If we have to wait for the community to be imperiled, either, say, by the violence of white nationalists or their opposition, then are we not requiring that violence in order to gain the justification to cancel an event widely predicted to become violent.

Dean Erwin Chemerinsky reminded us earlier this Fall of the accepted exceptions to free speech.  And incitement is one of them.  Some advocates of the First Amendment – and I consider myself to be an advocate – worried that the Berkeley faculty who had signed the petition had lost touch with key constitutional principles championed by the Free Speech Movement of 1964-65.  But I want to suggest first that we have a real and substantial debate before us now over what constitutes expressive activity and its limits in part because the character of expressive activity has changed with new technology, but, secondly, we have a problem as a community since we are taught that no student should ever be treated in the way that Adelaide Kramer was treated at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  When we take our mandatory anti-harassment course online, we learn about Title IX requirements, and so we learn about the conditions under which every student has an equal access to education, and how sexual harassment in particular can produce a hostile climate that undermines a student’s ability to complete an educational program. But we learn more, namely, that quid pro quo is unacceptable, and that it is our obligation to produce a classroom environment and a mode of engaging with students that does not involve discriminatory behavior of any kind.  Although a congressional statute, Title IX is not only compatible with the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, but claimants are since 2009 entitled to pursue claims under both provisions.  I say this because the 14th Amendment obligates us to oppose all forms of discrimination and to maintain an educational institution that embodies those values in its word and in its deed.

The “Principles of Community” adopted by the University of California at Berkeley include, as you know, a commitment to “sustaining a safe, caring and human environment,” an affirmation of the link between diversity and excellence, and the dignity of all individuals.  So what happens when by honoring freedom of expression we permit an attack on the dignity of some individuals and groups on campus?  It would seem that if we place the First Amendment above all other constitutional mandates, then it is merely considered unfortunate that the dignity of those individuals was attacked, and it is accepted to be the price we must pay for free speech.  And if forms of harassment occur that would be disciplined were they to happen in the classroom or between any two members of the UC Berkeley community, and they are not disciplined or proscribed because, as public speech, they are protected by the First Amendment, how then are we to understand the difference between the norms that govern members of the community and those that are binding on individuals invited to speak to that community?  We move from one framework of legality to another, and the effect on the mind is shocking and disconcerting.  And it is not just that local norms and rules clash with constitutional ones, since equal treatment is a constitutional protection as well.  The “clash” between these two principles can only take place if we consider harassment and incitement to be protected speech, which, I believe, they should not be.  But much depends on the terms we bring to bear on identifying expressive activity and its limits.

If the commitment to free speech provisions under the First Amendment takes precedence over Title IX, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Berkeley Principles of Community, then I suppose we are being asked to understand that we will, in the name of freedom of speech, willingly allow our environment to be suffused with hatred, threats, and violence, that we will see the values we teach and to which we adhere destroyed by our commitment to free speech or, rather, to a very specific – possibly overbroad – interpretation of what constitutes expressive activity protected by that constitutional principle.  Of course, if we admit that free speech is one founding principle, and that there are other founding principles as well, or those that have become historically clear to us as slavery was abolished and discrimination outlawed, we are then obligated to engage in the practice of judgment that allows us to sort these conflicting and imperative demands.

Indeed, in a world of changing technology where incitement and harassment take on new forms, we are faced with hard cases, real dilemmas, the need for concrete interpretation of cases and outcomes, and informed judgments.  If we are free speech absolutists, then free speech not only takes precedence over every other constitutional principle, and some argue that every other constitutional principle will be regarded as structurally dependent on the First Amendment.  That is one view – a kind of domino theory – but surely not the only one.  If free speech is not the only constitutional right we are obligated to defend, then we are surely in another sort of quandary, figuring out how best to defend rights that sometimes do clash with one another, and where the clash takes new forms in different moments of history when new expressive technologies force us to reconsider the meaning of expressive freedom.  If free speech does take precedence over every other constitutional principle and every other community principle, then perhaps we should no longer claim to be weighing or balancing competing principles or values.  We should perhaps frankly admit that we have agreed in advance to have our community sundered, racial and sexual minorities demeaned, the dignity of trans people denied, that we are, in effect, willing to be wrecked by this principle of free speech, considered more important than any other value.  If so, we should be honest about the bargain we have made: we are willing to be broken by that principle, and that, yes, our commitments to dignity, equality, and non-violence will be, for better or worse, secondary.  Is that how we want it to be?  Is that how we must be?

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55 thoughts on “Limits on Free Speech?

  1. Let’s just be clear here, Judith Butler’s only qualification is a PhD in philosophy, nothing else. Nothing in biology, psychology, history, or law. She claims to be a “gender theorist”, a title that means nothing, and she’s a professor in “comparative literature”, which seems to only vaguely be about literature and more uses literature as a backdoor to talk about social sciences. To the constitution, she’s a layman, and any layman could rightly debate her. Okay, now that the ethos is dissolved, let’s take a look at a few quotes, paragraph by paragraph.

    “…[Milo] brought cameras into his lecture hall on several occasions, and projected images of members of his audience on a screen against their will and then proceeded to shame and berate people for being fat or for being trans or, indeed, for being ugly in his view.” The implication here is that he shows audience members on the big screen during his talks and berates them, this doesn’t happen. He does film his audience and show close-ups audience members on YouTube, but not so in an unflattering way of any kind, and they know full well they are being filmed. The images he actually shows on screen are from the news, internet, etc where they are freely available and they are used to criticize people for their disgraceful actions, not their looks. Sure, he insults them, but it’s just a bit of fun, NOT harassment or incitement, and not the main focus.

    “…how does the invocation of the First Amendment also go against the core values of the university, ones that are time and again invoked to encourage us to engage in thoughtful conversation about controversial issues?” It is exactly the First Amendment that allows thoughtful conversation about controversial issues. How is that contradictory?

    The paragraph about Adelaide Kramer is too long to quote, but here’s the response: It’s not true. I’m not sure where she’s getting her information, but there was no “incitement” to anything of any kind. Kramer allowed his face to be put on the news WITH consent, for everyone in Milwaukee to see, and Milo used it for criticism of a system that allows any man to put on a dress and trespass in a female locker room to watch them undress without penalty. What about all those girls? Does their privacy matter?

    “…noting the fascism, the racism, the transphobia, even the homophobia” Fascism. FASCISM. So she’s against fascism? Shutting down speech ISN’T fascism? How is this not hypocritical?

    More talk of Kramer here. Not worth going into since it relies on her “incitement” description of that event being accurate, which it isn’t, so I’m going to skip.

    It’s getting harder to read this. The next paragraph basically argues that it should be easier to get events shut down on the basis that Milo and Milo ilk lectures are just as dangerous (if not more) as the violent protests of their opposition. This is still assuming her “incitement” description is accurate, which again it is not, so not worth going into. However, it is disturbing, that she says she’s anti-violence, but she seems to see violence as an acceptable means to stop speech if no other means are available. Why is stopping speech so important?

    Honestly the next paragraph is more of the same. She brings up Title IX again, so I’ll say now that the purpose of Title IX is ensure equality of opportunity based on sex, race, etc. Insults, criticism, and even bullying do not stop people from getting jobs, getting an education, voting, etc, and should be irrelevant to Title IX. Additionally, if there are contradictions between Title IX and the First Amendment, perhaps it is Title IX that is flawed.

    See last three. She’s just repeating assumed conclusions.

    “…we are being asked to understand that we will, in the name of freedom of speech, willingly allow our environment to be suffused with hatred, threats, and violence…” Violence isn’t protected by the First Amendment. Perhaps she’s referring to that reactive violence from earlier? If that’s the case, why is the problem still the speech, and not the anti-speech violence?

    One more from the same paragraph: “…if we admit that free speech is one founding principle, and that there are other founding principles as well, or those that have become historically clear to us as slavery was abolished and discrimination outlawed…” This is a good one because it actually argues against her. Neither slavery nor discrimination was a founding principle. Quite the opposite, the founding principles of freedom and equality were the basis to abolish slavery and discrimination. This is a common argument against the Second Amendment, to which it is incredibly shallow, but to the First it actually refutes itself.

    “That is one view – a kind of domino theory – but surely not the only one.” It’s ironic that she says this… “We should perhaps frankly admit that we have agreed in advance to have our community sundered, racial and sexual minorities demeaned, the dignity of trans people denied, that we are, in effect, willing to be wrecked by this principle of free speech, considered more important than any other value. If so, we should be honest about the bargain we have made: we are willing to be broken by that principle, and that, yes, our commitments to dignity, equality, and non-violence will be, for better or worse, secondary.” because her entire basis for the article, her justification for the idea of limiting free speech, is a domino theory. A theory that a society that for 241 years has used the open discourse of ideas to improve itself, will see that open discourse run it into the ground, and transform it into a sort of dystopian “freedom cult”. Why now? Why the current year?

    Free speech is designed to prevent violence, always has been, so why is it such a violent issue now? There is real violence, where does it come from?

    Seems perfectly clear to me. Pseudo intellectuals like Judith Butler have put the idea in students heads that speech is dangerous, and as such, can be responded to with violence. Look at the riots at these events and see the real actors. Every bit of violence at these events stems from individuals looking to shut down speech. We have 235 some odd years of cultural growth to show from freedom of speech, and only a few years of mass violence to show from trying to shut it down. Her arguments are entirely based on a hysterical supposition that is not supported by evidence in the slightest.

    So tell me, since discussing getting rid of free speech requires free speech to discuss, when do you have to stop talking?

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    • Your personal opinion (ad hominem attack) of Judith Butler is duly noted. You say that what she said happened in one specific instance did not happen, implying that you were in attendance at the specific event – although you speak in generalities. Where I truly come to suspect your intentions is where you say “Sure, he insults them, but it’s just a bit of fun, NOT harassment or incitement, and not the main focus.” Anyone who believes that insulting people is “fun” loses my respect immediately. How can it possibly be “fun” for the person being insulted? Referring to Adelaide as “he” knocks you down once again. Speaking about men putting on dresses further damages any credibility I had attempted to grant you.
      You continue to demonstrate lack of rational understanding with these queries “Shutting down speech ISN’T fascism? How is this not hypocritical?” If you had comprehended the points Butler clearly laid out, you would know the answer to these questions as well as this one: “Why is stopping speech so important?”
      Your defence of insults, criticism, and bullying compromises your position completely, as does your lack of understand with regard to Butler’s points re: abolition of slavery. She never stated or implied that “slavery […] was a founding principle, as you try to argue.
      I do agree that open discourse and consideration of opposing ideas has real value in our continuing evolution as a species. I am quite certain that Butler also believes this to be the case. It seems that you have decided that you lack common ground with her and are not inclined to seek any; moreover, you do not see the truth in her words due to your own prejudices.

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      • So sorry, but I don’t think it was ad hominem at all. A personal opinion, perhaps, but only one based on a close reading of the texts and the videos.

        Free speech must be absolute. Anything else allows people like you to pull wisps of ideas out of the air to disqualify thoughts and shut down voices.

        • Freedom of speech is not freedom from social consequences and it never was. What you are asking for is not freedom of speech but tyranny of association, the idea that you have the right to force others to allow you into their spaces.

        • “So sorry, but I don’t think it was ad hominem at all.”

          I mean, it’s a large comment. I suggest you read it before coming to defend it. There are a number of fallacious arguments in it, on top of the ad hominem. The fool tries to discredit the author’s credentials, displaying clearly that they have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to education in general, much less philosophy or any of the other fields they mention but likely don’t know the first thing about aside from what they’ve seen in youtube videos. You defend an internet charlatan.

          “A personal opinion, perhaps, but only one based on a close reading of the texts and the videos.”

          Nah, his or her interpretation seems utterly nonsensical, given what the article actually says. The article clearly lays out a call for an informed conversation on the topic, and rightly points out that free speech isn’t necessarily the only right worth considering (a point being made in the context of the conversation that is being advocated for), which is so unmistakably reasonable as to be uninteresting and obvious; it’s common sense. What exactly seems ridiculous about such an idea, to you?

          Well, anyway, no, the maker of the initial comment clearly did not read the text closely or even seem to follow the author’s basic reasoning. They seem like the kind of keyboard warrior who thinks they’ve heard every argument out there, so they skim the text, find what they need to convince themselves they get what’s being said, and then work to discredit the author first so that those cheering for them (e.g. you) don’t pay attention to how poor their understanding of the article really is.

          “Free speech must be absolute.”

          Nah. But, to you, that means colleges should not have a say in what goes on on their own premises? If so, then that’s absurd. People have the right to say whatever they want, but that doesn’t mean they should expect to be listened to, or to be welcomed everywhere they want to speak, or even be allowed on the premises to speak, if it’s not their own property and they don’t get permission (insofar as they need it). And that’s not even getting into the meat of the issue of this particular speaker’s history of incitement and harassment.

          Also, just to point something out in case this isn’t clear: this is a university, not some public park where you walk your dog. They have rules and regs, and if someone wants to come to the campus and speak, they have to follow said rules and regs. Couldn’t be simpler. This isn’t even a free speech issue, it’s a university guidelines issue. I don’t have a right to hang out in your house just because I want to be there to call you names, because it’s your house and you aren’t going to tolerate that kind of nonsense. I don’t have the right to hang out in a police station and verbally harass officers just because I feel I can. It’s the same idea with respect to how the universities are handling pathetic trolls like Milo.

          Or, at least it would be, if dummies crying “but what about muh free speech” had any sense of the actual issues. Instead, as the author points out, such dummies are basically validating the violent behavior that get’s universities to cancel such speaking events. But of course, that doesn’t reflect as badly on the university as it does on the ‘but muh free speech’ crowd, given that they are basically ignoring intellectual discourse and any other ideas beyond their own in order to complain “but what about muh marketplace of ideas?” when they themselves are the ones flooding it with trash.

          “Anything else allows people like you to pull wisps of ideas out of the air to disqualify thoughts and shut down voices.”

          Except the opposite is going on here. This article is full of genuinely important content and you come along and just say “nah, free speech (whatever I mean by that) just has gotta be absolute, duhhh”. The only one seeking to shut down thoughtful discourse on the subject here is you and others like you who have no reasonable basis for disagreement nor any sense of self awareness.

          • “I mean, it’s a large comment. I suggest you read it before coming to defend it. There are a number of fallacious arguments in it, on top of the ad hominem. The fool tries to discredit the author’s credentials, displaying clearly that they have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to education in general, much less philosophy or any of the other fields they mention but likely don’t know the first thing about aside from what they’ve seen in youtube videos. You defend an internet charlatan.”

            If you can show that Judith Butler has a law degree AND that Dean Chemerinsky does not, then sure she has some “credentials.” Yet, the fact is one of these individuals is a lawyer with expertise on the first amendment (not Butler) and the other one is not (Butler). She’s a literature professor wading into a legal argument which she does not seem to know much about, as her opinion shows little knowledge of first amendment case law.

      • Why do you consider someone pointing out that a comparative literature professor is not a lawyer and thus not an expert on the constitution and the first amendment, as an ad hominem attack? She is not speaking from an area of expertise and is instead giving her opinion, which if one consults the law on the first amendment does not seem to be very informed by such case law.

    • There are several questions to ask, for example because [Milo] at one time focuses on Kramer? What is the goal of opening the camera and focusing on a trans person? Nothing indicates that there has been a prior opening of Milo to Kramer to take her as an example for something specific and then let go to continue with the general theme, simeplre focused on it and encourages to be harassed insistently.

      There is another thing, which any citizen can demand and claim for the matters that he believes necessary to do so. It is not necessary to have phd to do it, and in fact you can go to the social sciences to claim without being trained in the whole spectrum of social sciences, no person trained in social sciences is trained in everything that the spectrum of social sciences implies and not for that reason should deny them that they can express with total property matters related to them.

      It is clear that the issue is not Butler against the system, that is very clear. That you start by disparaging Butler’s voice for his “scant” academic training, lets see that he wants to personalize the debate against her. So it should be considered that its exhaustive paragraph for parrofo disquisición if not a way to generate a fensive against it instead of focusing on the general theme of debate that the Limits on Free Speech and “Perspectives on Freedom of Expression on Campus . ”

      It is necessary that you review your way of debating a bit because it is important that the discussions remain within the scope of what is reasonable and not take them to the scope of the bastracto because surely on your part we would have to put up with the moment you think that the non-demonstration of existence does not imply that its non-existence can not be assumed from a critical point of knowledge, although vague, for you it could be valid.

      Here the point is to focus and as I said in another comment I made, it is the exercise of coexistence in common spaces and the way in which Milo aims to objectify Kramer, a matter that claramnete is unacceptable because it reduces a person to its mere characteristics aesthetic and superficial is to completely banish the argument that Butler has exposed, on the one hand and on the other, to pretend that the important thing is not in the defense of the criterion of a freedom of speech and respect towards the people who integrate the audiences regardless of their sexual identity, gender, etc.

      • Was this event where Milo spoke open to the public (non-college students)?
        Are we to believe that the person who was made fun of did not know that Milo is provocative?
        If someone attends a comedy show and the comedian mocks them or otherwise makes fun of them is the rest of the audience surprised?
        When someone attended a show put on by ‘Gallagher’ and sat in the front row did they have an expectation to not get any bits of fruit on them?

        Also, IMO Butler does not merely care about protecting people from mocking or ridicule, Butler cares about politics. Is this not so? And not that it matters when concerning free speech, but do all individual human beings deserve to be treated without special privileges on college campuses, or do some individuals deserve special privileges?

  2. Whatever else we can say about Milo’s talk, it contained neither true threats nor incitement as a matter of law. He mocked people; but mockery is protected speech. To Butler’s ultimate question: yes, the first amendment takes precedence over people’s feelings.

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    • But as she clearly stated when mere mockery happens “in-house,” but he went beyond that at UW-Milwaukee: he asked for continued, real-world harassment of Adelaide Kramer- that is the difference. If you would like to argue about simple mockery “in-house” i.e. within the venue and without pictures, fine, but the minute Milo threw her picture on a screen and asked the audience to harass her outside the venue, he stepped outside of this “protected” speech and into harassment.

      • The video is online. Watch it and you will see that not once did Yiannopoulos call for any harassment outside of the venue.

        It’s also worth noting that the trans student’s photo was taken from a still from the local news, as she had gone to the news to complain about not being aloud to use the bathroom.

        Far from being an anonymous student who Yiannopoulos ‘outed’, her story (and photo) was already in the public domain with her permission, and the mockery that Yiannopoulos directed at her (which lasts about 20 seconds) was directly tied to her claim to be able to use certain bathrooms.

        It’s unfortunate that Butler has misrepresented (and lied) about what happened. I’m no fan of Yiannopoulos, but if you’re going to use his antics as some yardstick to measure the limits of free speech, at least properly represent what he is doing.

  3. Many of the beliefs that Judith Butler holds dear began as apostasy, and the authorities often clamped down hard on attempts to espouse them. But the first amendment was there to help pry open the door.

    Now Butler wants to slam shut that door on the presumption that today’s woke philosophers have got everything figured out. Who needs diversity of thought when you know what’s right and wrong?

    But their may come a time, Ms Butler, when you need that door opened again, and you may find it sealed shut with your own nails.

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  4. It is absolutely infuriating that this is what higher education has come to.

    Not a vital institution designed to bolster inquiry and intellectual vigor but a shrinking, thug-like cowardice that seeks to protect perpetual children from the ideas and words of those who are not indoctrinated in the exact same way.

    Whining intellectual invalids who define every idea that does not agree lockstep with their own as intrinsically harmful, hateful, etc. How can adults long out of their diapers be this much cry babies?

    Absolutely shameful and pathetic. Know that it is your like that has turned me from someone who identified herself with the left to someone who has renounced it as FAR beneath her.

    And your hypocrisy will NEVER be evident to you until someone gains the power to disapprove of and silence your ideas. So for your edification, I hope that situation finds you soon.

    Until then, consider:

    How would you make the rules for everybody if your opponent got to choose whether they were the in-crowd or the out-crowd?

    You and your ilk are in power. You get to make the rules. But that won’t always be the case. In your time in power, did you institute and argue for the infrastructure that will be used to oppress YOU later when you fall from power?

    I never thought that the appeal of authoritarianism would migrate comfortably to the left. Boy was I wrong.

    • Yea, I’m sure trans students were never exposed to the idea that bigots think that they’re evil perverts who only do it because they want to rape women and all of that other ridiculous crap.

  5. When Judith Butler says, “We have perhaps all tired of the Milo Yiannapoulos lecture invitation . . . I joined a faculty letter calling for the cancellation of that talk . . .” She has already said everything she has to say on this subject. She discloses here that she thinks freedom of speech should be limited. It is astonishing that an academic of her standing is incapable of understanding that freedom is indivisible and worrying that she should seriously imagine that she is competent to decide for others what they may or may not hear.

    • There’s no such thing as an absolute principles in Law. Or a right that is absolute in relation to other rights. That’s Law’s theory 101.

      Every right has limits and law changes with time, circumstances and also technology changes the way we see law and his limits. Putting a limit to free speech is necessary to preserved it., because free speech is not in a vacuum, is in relation with a whole legal system,rules and guiding principles that helps to seeks justice.

      • I made no reference to legal issues. I pointed out that the writer of this article has unconsciously revealed at the outset, by her actions, that she wishes to place restrictions on other people’s freedom to speak their mind. You obviously agree with her because you say, “Putting a limit to free speech is necessary to preserved it”. I think it was Voltaire who pointed out that this is the excuse offered throughout history by all those who seek to limit the freedoms of others.

        • The real thing is applying an amendment requires not only the appeal to tradition because sometimes tradition as a resource in the interpretation and application of the law is also not unlimited: sometimes traditions breaks the bona fide principle and the social goodness principle in law.

          Specialy the use that Milo and other alt-righters had use of Freedom of speech. If your argument against Butler and what I wrote earlier is a no true scottman fallacy that also appeals to authority, it means that I don’t think that we’re going to understand each other.

    • Getting your invitation cancelled isn’t a violation of your first amendment rights.

      By that logic the fact that I can’t go up on the stage of CPAC and rant about bigoted evangelicals for hours on end and call for the harassment of randos in the crowd is a violation of my rights.

      • You may or may not be legally right in saying that being no-platformed is not a violation of constitutional rights (although I would like to hear what the supreme court has to say on the matter).

        But the question I’m commenting on is not whether it is a violation of legal rights. The question I’m commenting on is does no-platforming deny freedom of speech? I say it does. The argument that no-one is entitled to a platform is a straw man.

        The students wish to hear Mr X who has highly controversial views and is outspoken about them. Many people distrust and dislike Mr X because of his views. Some of them (including Butler in this case) decide to deny the students wish to hear these controversial views. In no platforming Mr X.

        Whether they (including Butler) realise it or not, and whether they acknowledge it or not, they are deciding that Mr X’s views are unacceptable and that the students are incapable of hearing Mr X’s view and deciding for themselves whether they agree with them or not.

        • Butler made it expilicitly clear that while she didn’t agree with Mr X’s views, it was the way he expressed them through forms of targetted harrassment, bordering on illegal behaviour, that removed his right to a platform. The rest of the debate centres on the validity of that claim: Mr X abuses other people’s rights in the pursuit of his own ‘free speech’. Stick to that, Richard Hamilton, and your criticism will have some validity.

          • There s no such offence as “bordering on illegal behaviour”. Either his behaviour was illegal, in which case there are remedies in law, or it wasn’t in which case, this is simply Butler’s (and your) excuse for wishing to prevent views with which you disagree being published. Stick to that, Dreamtyger, and you won’t keep making the same fundamental mistake as Butler in attemptng to disguise your wish to curtail the freedom of others to express views with which you disagree.

  6. It is quite interesting that Judith Butler did not bring up the vicious efforts of the Israel lobby to forcefully shut down Palestinian voices on University of California campuses! Judith Butler is on the Academic Advisory Council of Jewish Voices for Peace. I know that she has been in the fight with Zionists trying to shut down speech about Palestine. And yet here she is, arguing that the universities should shut down speech. Is this utter hypocrisy or is there a thread that ties it all together.
    “We should not forget why John Dewey, Arthur Lovejoy, and Edwin Seligman, the founders of the AAUP, sought to protect academic freedom – to ensure that academics could act as a check on the tyranny of public opinion. Furthermore, academics are free to address issues of public concern, as are all American citizens. Indeed, Dewey, Lovejoy, and Seligman recognized that university boards had become the major threats to academic freedom. The 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure states:

    Lay governing boards are competent to judge concerning charges of habitual neglect of assigned duties, on the part of individual teachers, and concerning charges of grave moral delinquency. But in matters of opinion, and of the utterance of opinion, such boards cannot intervene without destroying, to the extent of their intervention, the essential nature of a university – without converting it from a place dedicated to openness of mind, in which the conclusions expressed are the tested conclusions of trained scholars, into a place barred against the access of new light, and precommitted to the opinions or prejudices of men who have not been set apart or expressly trained for the scholars duties.”
    Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor, Univ. of CaliforniaBerkeley

    Are the Universities turning into the training ground for the Gulags in America’s future?

  7. Why is that when people speak about freedom of speech no one talks about the limits that are built into the freedom of speech…? You can’t yell FIRE in a crowded theater when there isn’t a fire and create a stampede that threatens lives… Want to see the limits of free speech outside the university…? Try talking about bombs or terrorism as you go through airport security see how far your freedom of speech will get you…

    But freedom of speech isn’t the freedom to say something and walk away… Again try talking about bombs or terrorism on the line for airport security… Technically you can talk about terrorism and bombs on the line at airport security but doing so comes at a price… What price…? TSA pulls you off the line and detains you and questions you and goes through your bags – and this is the price for your freedom of speech for speaking about terrorism and bombs on an airport security line…

    There are limit to freedom fo speech and repercussions to that speech… Try being a Black male pulled over by a cop for no reason and telling the cop to ‘fuck off’ – that’s freedom of speech but the consequences of that freedom of speech come with cops arresting you on trumped on charges that will eventually get thrown out of court at the least – to the cop feeling “threatened by speech” and justified in killing you… If a cop can feel ‘threatened by speech’ and kill unarmed citizens because they feel ‘threatened by speech’ then where is the freedom of speech in that shit-uation…? Or is that the price for freedom of speech…?

    Personally i think Milo should always be allowed to talk… but i also feel that he should be made to pay for his freedom of speech with the consequences that follow… If Milo is using his freedom of speech to threaten Adelaide Kramer what price should Milo pay for those threats…? Freedom of speech costs something… the same people who go on and on about how ‘freedom isn’t free’ seem to have excluded freedom of speech from that idea…

    If people think that freedom of speech doesn’t come at a cost then ask Colin Kapernick what it cost him… He didn’t even say a word… he simply expressed himself in a gesture… And yes i understand that the NFL is a private organization that the First Amendment doesn’t cover but it still stands as an example of the limits of freedom of speech or in the case of Colin Kapernick the freedom of expression…

    i think allowing Milo to speak freely is a good thing… It allows me to separate the wheat from the chaff… i get to see who aligns themselves with his brand of ideology… i get to know where i stand with the people who support him… i also get to see who is standing beside me in opposing that ideology… As a person of color i prefer people like Milo who are open about who they are and what they believe… i prefer them over the people who believe what Milo believes and smile at me while they hold their ideological cards close to the vest… People like Milo in a very strange way do a lot of heavy lifting for people of color, the LGBTQ community, immigrant communities, and everyone else he threatens with his speech by helping us figure out who our real enemies are…

      • Yeah if anyone told a cop to ‘fuck off’ there would be a price to pay but if you were a Black man the chances of paying for that ‘free speech’ with your life are exponentially greater…

      • You’re right – yelling “Fire” in a theater is protected speech but if people get trampled hurt or killed in the process of trying to get out of the theater and there was no fire then you’ll be held responsible for the actions your protected free speech caused… in other words you’re free speech has a price… My point is free speech comes at a price…

        • Hello Vagabond. You’re completely right – free speech does come at a price. The point that many of us are making here is that denying free speech also comes at a price. But whereas the antisocial consequences of free speech have remedies at law (the person yelling “fire” can be sued or charged with a felony) the antisocial consequences of denying people freedom of speech have no remedy – that’s why it’s called tyranny.

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  14. It seems to me that any and all fears that speech will do “harm”, needs to be broken down to understand what kind of harm is meant. Both physical harm – or threats including other forms of harm – that are purposefully directed toward a person or persons, AND damage to property that takes place during any public event, is already covered under the law in modern societies (at least it is in my country of Canada). Furthermore, if there are not clear internal penalties in place as a part of institutional policy (and communicated as such) for this kind of violence by a student, and strictly enforced – any injured party can independently initiate such a complaint with the police. And if there is no satisfactory response from that agency, there is a further avenue available to appeal directly through the court system, with legal aid available for any citizen without the means to pay. I think it should be mandatory that any student taking part in this kind of taboo activity should be immediately suspended from their program of study pending an investigation, and consideration given to expulsion following a finding of guilt. The responsibility to monitor events and to follow through with such appropriate actions would ideally belong to tenured staff of the institution in co-operation with student association representatives. I would think that any particular speaker using language that is not a direct threat but is simply offensive to any listener, will be checked by the opposition in the audience, when the proper debate moderation is assumed to be in place. These are challenging times, but democracies have an infrastructure in place to respond, and to improve on our responses. We just need to trust, use and support our existing systems.

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  18. I agree with the position against Butler expressed throughout this presentation but I find problematic the starting point used to defend a trans person is not attacked under the excuse of freedom of expression. I mean, what I mean by mentioning the problematic term, is that the way in which Butler goes to defend a transgender person from an attack due to his sexual identity is not clear to many people and in some cases it is something intricate and complex to understand.

    What I want to express is that the mediatic way of safeguarding and preventing a trans person from being taken as an object to exemplify a universal does not convince me that it is an effective way to tell the diverse people that they are being protected at all costs and but it seems that it is necessary to go to an academic rigor to say why a trans person should not be attacked in his personal integrity and tranquility as an assistant.

    It seems that the message of who used the trans girl as an example, is to send a clear message: -any non-heterosexual person can be taken as an example to explain what is different. This is the problematic because this point has not been understood and from this same show that the exhibitor is putting at risk the integrity of a person.

    Especially because it is going to speech acts to justify whether to allow or not to be used as an object a person. Personally I think the issue is that sometimes this type of situation is considered as events that must pass through certain conceptual scrutiny leaving aside the most important. I must say that as far as possible I avoid direct confrontations and nevertheless I think it is important to know how to give them at the right time.

    One way that I think it important to begin to assume is that assertively should not miss those moments when clearly a person develops an offensive scheme against someone and then show it as a necessary action in defense of some constitutional right.

    In short, if I had witnessed a situation I think it is best to consider that a person should not be used as an example because that is to take it for an object and assume that that person could universalize issues that the same exhibitor does not know, attitude that is by itself highly irresponsible, cowardly and unjustifiable. That is precisely what the speaker did to activate a camera and focus it on a person and then use it as an example with an entire audience, is an attitude that should not be allowed or excused or protected.

    That the use of technological tools to express the freedom of teaching or speech has its obvious limits when using a person and objectifying. That the exhibitor treats a person as if it were an object is reprehensible and deserves an immediate cancellation of what it intends to do. Because it is not about the law, but rather about maintaining a respectful and dialoguing coexistence. It is not excusable to expose a person before an audience and that person becomes an attack target.

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  22. There is a reason why Freedom of Speech was placed in the First Amendment and enjoys a “preferred position.” I suggest the writer stick to comparative literature.

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