A Comment I Posted On “What Would JT Do?”

Last week JT posted An Open Letter To The Defenders Of Phil Robertson, which bothered me enough that I posted the following:

So I’m the person you are insisting doesn’t exist – a completely pro-gay atheist who voted against Proposition 8 and thinks supporting gay marriage is a no-brainer, but who is also kind of horrified at Phil Robertson being fired for his comments.

You are 100% correct that freedom-of-speech only binds the government and does not constrain private actors from punishing people whose speech they don’t like.

But let’s compare and contrast. Freedom of religion *also* only binds the government and does not constraint private actors from punishing people whose religion they don’t like. If someone wants to picket a mosque while waving signs about how all Muslims are dirty terrorists who are going to Hell, Constitutional freedom of religion is a-ok with that. Heck, Constitutional freedom-of-religion is okay with Christian-owned businesses refusing to hire atheist employees or serve atheist customers – it’s only more recent anti-discrimination laws that prevent that.

Point is, there’s a big gap between “constitutional freedom of religion” and “the level of religious tolerance that is necessary to have a remotely civil society.” Some of that gap can be filled in by laws, but a lot of it can’t be. It’s supposed to be filled in by basic human decency and understanding of the principles that made freedom of religion a good idea to begin with.

I think the same is true of freedom of speech. Constitutional freedom-of-speech is a necessary but not sufficient condition to have a “marketplace of ideas” and avoid de facto censorship. But people also have to understand that the correct response to “idea I disagree with” is “counterargument”, not “find some way to punish or financially ruin the person who expresses it.” If you respond with counterargument, then there’s a debate and eventually the people with better ideas win (as is very clearly happening right now with gay marriage). If there’s a norm of trying to punish the people with opposing views, then it doesn’t really matter whether you’re doing it with threats of political oppression, of financial ruin, or of social ostracism, the end result is the same – the group with the most money and popularity wins, any disagreeing ideas never get expressed.

Atheists may one day be the group with the most money and popularity, but that day isn’t today and right now it’s neither moral nor in our self-interest to encourage using greater resources to steamroll opponents. It’s certainly not in gay people’s self-interest either. Why shouldn’t companies owned by Christians fire all gay people on the grounds that they are promoting sin? Right now it’s bcause we have a mutual truce in which we agree businesses should employ people based on their skills and merit rather than to reward their political allies and punish their political opponents. Once you undermine that, gay people are in a pretty precarious position.

So I would turn your own hypothetical scenario in Part 2 of your post back on you. Suppose Robertson had indeed, been a gay rights supporter – or a gay person! – who said on national news he thought everyone should stand up for gay rights. But his company was going for the fundie demographic and decided to fire him for his statement. Would you be so quick to attack everyone who was disappointed in this action, so eager to stand up for the right of companies to fire anyone they disagree with?

I’m an atheist blogger and I work at a Catholic hospital. Employer tolerance for dissenting opinions is *personal* for me. I’m disappointed in the tone of this post and I hope you reconsider.

I can’t tell how many other people have made similar points because none of the three browsers on my computer can successfully load Patheos’ nightmarish comment system more than once in a blue moon. But I hope some other Patheos atheists are saying the same. And I have huge respect for the few voices on the lefty blogosphere, like Ampersand, who have spoken out in favor of restraint.

CORRECTION: Mr. Robertson was suspended rather than fired, and has since been reinstated.

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59 Responses to A Comment I Posted On “What Would JT Do?”

  1. Jai says:

    This seems to ignore the importance of where a given opinion lies in the Overton Window. Opinions sufficiently to the far edge of the Overton Window are generally considered to be outside of the truce, _especially_ when those opinions fall into the set of things considered bigoted (e.g. unjustified negative judgements about large groups of people).

    Denouncing people for their sexuality was firmly within the safe portion of the Overton Window up until a few years ago – now it’s rapidly approaching “White Supremacist” in terms of social acceptability. It’s not there yet, but there’s some line between “I do not share your religious views” and “I believe that you are an inferior person because of the color of your skin” where opinions lose the social protections of acceptability, and “non-heterosexuality and its practitioners are morally inferior” is crossing the line as we watch.

    • Jai says:

      (For evidence, please see the Republican Party’s treatment of gay marriage in 2004 and 2012)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m pretty sure I don’t care about the Overton Window for these sorts of situations. Also, if an opinion held by ~50% of Americans becomes outside the Overton Window, that is suspicious and dangerous.

  2. Douglas Knight says:

    I am unsure how to handle celebrities. I think this is very different from your employer objecting to this blog or someone boycotting Robertson’s duck calls. In giving an interview, Phil Robertson was advertising his show. He expressed his opinions because he thought that they would resonate with his audience (or to get coverage by those who disagree…) The Dixie Chicks definitely wanted to send different messages to different audiences. It’s a pity people care about celebrity beliefs, but they do.

    On the other hand, people attacking Robertson are reinforcing and reaffirming our caring about celebrity beliefs.

    I suppose it is possible that the purpose of celebrity interviews is not to resonate with the audience, but to explore diversity, but a century of Hollywood moral contracts argues against that.

    I’m also not sure about celebrity pundits. Is it more or less sensible to care about their beliefs? They are hired for their beliefs, so why not fired? But non-celebrity pundits are another matter. Attacking Richwine’s work at AEI by attacking his thesis was quite destructive of the marketplace of ideas.

    • Randy M says:

      “He expressed his opinions because he thought that they would resonate with his audience (or to get coverage by those who disagree…)”

      Are you sure? He seems like the kind of guy who says what he thinks regardless of its resonance.

      • Cyan says:

        He seems like the kind of guy who says what he thinks regardless of its resonance.

        He does seem that way, doesn’t he? That’s on purpose.

        • Randy M says:

          That doesn’t seem relevant.

        • CaptainBooshi says:

          Randy M, the point of that link is that his entire personality appears to be a fabrication, so the impression you have of him is all part of his act, and that the fact of the matter (assuming the link is true) is that everything he says and does is because it would resonate a certain way with his audience.

        • Randy M says:

          Clearly that is the point it is trying to make.

          I think it fails, because it addresses nothing of substance, and also does not even mention the person we were talking about!

  3. houseboatonstyx says:

    I see two sliding scales here. The Overton Window seems easily influenced by moneyed interests and shallow emotionalistic thinkers. A more objective scale, perhaps orthogonal, is, to what extent is the employer the only game in town? And what, if anything, do the employee’s opinions have to do with his job?

    For example, if an unorthodox passenger cannot be refused seating on the only airline that serves the town — maybe a specialized mechanic who repairs the plane should not be fired for his unorthodox beliefs either.

  4. Gunlord says:

    I agree with most of this post, Scott, to the extent I might link it when arguing with a few of my more ‘energetic’ lefty acquaintances.

    Even so, I wouldn’t be too hasty in holding L’Affaire Phil Robertson as an example of how the ‘marketplace of ideas’ has declined. From what I’ve heard, A&E has reinstated him. He’s gonna be back on TV soon enough, not at all worse for the wear. In fact, considering how much support he’s gotten from the religious-righters who love him, things probably worked out well for him…

    And A&E, if his fans tune in to his show so they can support “one of their own.” In this instance, I have to wonder if both Robertson’s detractors and his supporters are being played. As the old saying goes, the only bad publicity is no publicity. An executive at A&E who wanted to drum up excitement over his reality TV program could have done worse than make a big deal out of an actor saying homophobic stuff, suspending him for a week, and then putting him back on. That would certainly get more people interested in watching and boost ratings.

    Of course, such an explanation would likely disappoint both lefties and righties eager for a cause to fight over. Corporate mercenary greed just isn’t very exciting, but that’s life, I suppose. T_T

    • Cyan says:

      To figure out a strange plot, look at what happens, then ask who benefits.

      — Rational!Malfoy adage

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      In fact, considering how much support he’s gotten from the religious-righters who love him, things probably worked out well for him…

      Yes. Imagine a show and actor whose current fans mostly like or accept such views. By the publicity from this blow-up, he attracts new fans who share those views but hadn’t heard of the show before. Some lukewarm fans — or opponents — may start watching again at least for a while, out of curiosity; their money and hits are just as good as anyone’s.

      On the other side, how many current or likely fans will his offensive comments alienate, longterm? Much less loss than gain here, I bet.

  5. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    While I agree with you I’m interested in whether it is even possible for a society to be say very pro-gay yet also tolerant of Phil Robertson’s opinions. I’m inclined to think not – I think the Overton Window tends to be narrow on social matters.

    For example, now with feminism it is no longer possible to suggest that women staying at home raising children is a good thing or that women should be kept out of certain professions.

    And with regards to race – it is no longer possible to suggest that blacks are less intelligent than whites (let alone suggest that said difference is 50% genetic).

    Any suggestions on how to widen the window? Or whether widening the window is a good idea?

    • fubarobfusco says:

      Hmm. You’ve just done three “impossible” things in one comment.

      • Alexander Stanislaw says:

        Alright, in the interest of being uber-precise – change that to “it is far outside of the Overton window and will result in severe consequences such as losing your job to say _insert statement_ in public, moreover any attempt to clarify or provide evidence for said statement will result in increasingly harsh ad hominems rather than an engagement of the issue”. Luckily the rationalist blog Overton window is quite a bit wider than the public one.

        But you already knew that and are dodging the issue in the interest of getting in a cheap shot at me who you perceive to be the “enemy”. I’m beginning to understand Konkvistador’s frustration.

        • Viliam Búr says:

          This deserves a better analysis; I just don’t feel qualified to do it. I would like to know whether this frustration is symetrical for all directions away from the “official opinion”, or if it is in one direction only. In other words, whether it is an inevitable frustration of not being the political mainstream, or a weapon used by one specific group.

          I feel it only in one direction, but that’s obviously because I am only in one direction; that per se proves nothing. If I tried to imagine analogical opinions in the opposite direction, I am afraid I would only come up with strawmans.

          We would need a good definition of what exactly are we trying to measure. Opinions that can be okay when expressed among friends, but get you fired if you are an important person and say them on TV? Perhaps we could start by collecting a list of “things that got someone fired for saying them”, preferably using some method to avoid selection bias, and then we could classify the items on this list.

          But perhaps we could start by simply asking whether there are any examples in some other direction. Was anyone in the West fired in recent 20 years for saying publicly that… all men are rapists; women who stay at home are somehow inferior; white people are somehow worse than black people; men should be prevented from doing some things that women are allowed to do; …? (Feel free to add your own examples.) I am not aware of it, but that might just be my selective attention.

        • Charlie says:

          Interesting idea Viliam. Some quick googling turned up Adria Richards as the first example. But then, one could make the argument that the news media simply haven’t hired the anarchists and the radical feminists, so they can’t fire them.

          Americans have been getting more Republican about guns and taxes recently, but I bet the frequency of people being fired about their position on guns is too small to draw conclusions from – social properties like being a racist or having a rainbow bumper sticker get people much more emotional. Haha, googling about bumper stickers is a goldmine of people saying they were fired over liberal bumper stickers.

    • Some of the cities were pro-gay long before everywhere else, weren’t they?

      The easiest way for a society to do both is for the pro-gays to be in one place, the anti-gays to be in a different place, and for those two places not to meddle in each other’s business. The problem is that certain groups, coming from certain identifiable geographical areas, think it’s their business to meddle in everyone else’s. I never see West Monroe, Louisiana trying to tell New England what to do, but I see a lot of the reverse. The most relevant example here is Josh Barro’s article about the Robertson thing, which was titled There Are Two Americas And One Is Better Than The Other.

      • anodognosic says:

        “I never see West Monroe, Louisiana trying to tell New England what to do…”

        Really? They might speak through different channels, but there are many, many people who supposedly speak for “small town Americans”, expressing socially and religiously conservative views, through radio, TV, web and print. These kinds of views largely dominate talk radio. There is an entire news network generally dedicated to this segment of the population. Your comment plays on the common talking point that the so-called “urban elites” think they know what’s best for everyone else, but there is a symmetrical sanctimony coming from “small town America”.

        (Both are between quotation marks because both sides are constructed by the media for the purposes of pandering to their respective segments. That’s the beauty of the marketplace of ideas–there’s always someone selling what you want to buy.)

        • Randy M says:

          Make sure you use the same meaning for “tell what to do.” Sometimes that refers to mere advice, others various forms of social or political coercion. I don’t think a society where everyone refrains from ever stating that some lifestyles are superior (be it on matters of health, safety, relationships, sexuality, or whatever) is either desireable or realistic.

    • Andy says:

      it is no longer possible to suggest that women staying at home raising children is a good thing

      I would dispute this. I’ve heard exactly that sentiment, in a more subtle, nuanced form, from self-described Third Wave feminists – not that it is objectively better for a woman, any woman, to stay home raising children, but that it is better for one partner to stay home raising children, but that this depends on individual family situations. Essentially, that if it works for your family, then it’s a good idea. Granted, these aren’t leading feminist bloggers I heard this from, just very feminist college students, but I think they’re the ones who’ll help set the Overton window in the future. I think the Overton Window is a hell of a lot broader if you stop talking about people as Platonic Forms and start talking about them as individuals. Dialogue about sex and gender gets very strange and low-quality, to my mind, when people talk about men and women as if all men or all women are the same, and traditionalists are prone to this. But it’s certainly not just a traditionalist position – much of the conversation around rape culture and womens’ perceptions of safety hinges on the ways people see each other as Platonic Forms – every man becomes potentially dangerous regardless of whether they are dangerous or not.

      • Alexander Stanislaw says:

        I stand corrected. Maybe the Overton window can be fairly wide on gender issues because there much variation among women and men.

        The Overton window on LGBT issues seems to be narrower though. The two statements: “For some women, staying at home might be a good idea” and “For some women, pursuing their careers first might be a good idea” are entirely compatible so they can coexist.

        But the two statements: “gay sex is evil and will lead to child rape and bestiality” and “Gay relationships are awesome and nothing to be ashamed of” are not compatible. Once one view becomes the dominant one the other one is no longer within the Overton window.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I think you may have an overly restrictive view of the Overton Window. It can hold mutually incompatible views just fine. For example, “Abortion should be banned” and “Abortion shouldn’t be banned” are both well within the Overton Window.

        • Alexander Stanislaw says:

          Well sure two views can be opposites and still be within the Overton Window, and I’m still trying to figure out the conditions under which that can happen. Does that only happen with controversial issues in which the population is somewhat evenly divided? Can almost everyone agree on view X, yet still be tolerant of view ~X? If 95% of people believed that abortion should be allowed, I don’t think that the opposite view would be tolerated.

          Trying to find a counter-example: I would guess that almost all Americans are okay with factory farming – yet the position that factory farming should be banned might be within the Overton Window.

  6. Patrick says:

    Normally I would be supportive of your position. But in this specific case, Robertson is employed to be is a reality TV star. It is explicitly his job description to merge his private and public persona. The statements Robertson makes off the official camera of his TV show, but in front of other cameras and microphones, are literally and explicitly part of the product he, and A&E, are selling.

    The line between the workplace and the private sphere does not exist in this situation.

  7. I personally don’t give a damn about Duck Dynasty (and didn’t know what it was before this controversy). I went to see Ender’s Game, and probably would have even if I’d known for a fact that doing so would put money in Orson Scott Card’s pocket (which as I understand it didn’t). Ditto renting Mel Gibson movies from Netflix.

    But I have to wonder, Scott: would you be saying the same thing if Robertson had gotten fired for saying, “Hitler had the right idea, gassing all the Jews”? Or “You know this country’s going down hill when a nigger gets into the Oval Office illegally?”

    If not, we’re no longer arguing about principle. Just where to draw the line.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Good question. I don’t feel like I can legitimately predict my own hypothetical response given that I’ve backed myself into a corner where I have to say I’d allow it to be consistent/non-hypocritical, but from here in my corner, it certainly feels like I would be okay with that.

      (possibly less okay with the second one since part of the problem is not just the idea he’s expressing but the way he chooses to express it. I’m pretty happy with turning against people for deliberately trying to offend others.)

      • Paul Torek says:

        Most of John Stuart Mill’s reasons for tolerance toward stupid ideas apply to private individuals as well as states. Only by letting a hundred opinions bloom can we find the truth. Which is why I agree with Scott on the Duck Dynast. But once an opinion has been thoroughly aired and found crazy – Holocaust denial for example – I don’t see a problem with a private actor like a TV network “banning” that opinion. (The state is still a different story, where censorship presents special dangers.)

        On homosexuality, the airing of opinions is just warming (heating) up. It needs more time. As Scott said in another comment, the disappearance from the Overton Window of a view held by ~50%, is a problem in its own right.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          “But once an opinion has been thoroughly aired and found crazy – Holocaust denial for example – I don’t see a problem with a private actor like a TV network “banning” that opinion. ”

          I agree in principle. In practice, I think everyone is going to have a self-serving idea of which ideas have ‘been thoroughly aired and found crazy’.

          Now I’m wondering what I would think if, say, A&E ran a documentary presenting ‘evidence’ that the Holocaust didn’t happen. I feel like I would be totally in favor of boycotting them, but now I’m genuinely not sure where the line is between my position above and my position here. A company broadcasting a TV show is different from a random guy stating something, but I’m not sure why.

        • Charlie says:

          Scott: Consequentialism, maybe? I mean, if we have freedom of speech because it has good consequences, then there are consequences for which you should no longer have freedom of speech. The ol’ fire in a crowded theater ruling, but closer to the dividing line.

        • Steven Flaeck says:

          Scott, I think the problem with a Holocaust denying television program is fairly particular to the medium. When I think of an A&E-type documentary, I imagine no-name creators and commentators. It stops being obvious that I’m listening to another person, speaking through others, and starts seeming like I’m listening to a sample from consensus.

          Whatever Phil Robertson says to GQ or whoever else, it will never seem like a consensus. It will always be “something Phil Robertson said”. The documentary case can, instead, give the illusion of consensus unless someone involved is quite notable for their views and prominent in the program.

          I think that’s the problem: whether the message is delivered in a way which “cheats”, givin it more credibility, even from mostly rational, skeptical people, than it really deserves.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Now I’m wondering what I would think if, say, A&E ran a documentary presenting ‘evidence’ that the Holocaust didn’t happen. [….] A company broadcasting a TV show is different from a random guy stating something, but I’m not sure why.

          There’s also the difference between opinions and claims of fact. Claims that the Holocaust, the Moon Landing, etc, happened are claims about physical objects and events at a particular time and place, which can be supported or refuted by physical evidence, first hand accounts, etc; they are questions of fact. Claims about sin, shame, etc etc are questions of opinion.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            This is true, but I would hate to say that freedom of speech – either the real Constitutional variety or the shaky spiritual variety – doesn’t cover claims of fact. That seems both bad in and of itself, and likely to result in “facts” encroaching further and further onto opinion.

        • Randy M says:

          I don’t think there’s an easy distinction between fact and opinion in many cases, because it comes down to people opinions about where the preponderance of evidence lies, or their opinions about how words should be defined. Or, of course, some people lie and mislead, but we are assuming we can’t determine that well enough to avoid silencing actual differences of opinion if we try to silence the liars, I think.

        • >But once an opinion has been thoroughly aired and found crazy – Holocaust denial for example – I don’t see a problem with a private actor like a TV network “banning” that opinion.

          HBD has been thoroughly aired and found to be crazy. Do you support banning public discussion in that case?

          >(The state is still a different story, where censorship presents special dangers.)

          Is it? Why? AFAICT, the media is indistinguishable from the state. The only difference I can think of is that the state would have a harder time pushing punishment for crimethink because so many people will reflexively resist anything the state does.

        • Paul Torek says:

          Human biodiversity is a multifaceted subject, on many facets of which, data is still pouring in. Holocaust evidence has mostly been available for many decades.

          The state is just plain more powerful than A&E, Fox News, or CBS. By a large margin.

    • Max says:

      “We’re no longer arguing about principle. Just where to draw the line.”

      In my mind, where to draw the line _is_ the main question, and I am puzzled by Scott’s insistence on that he “doesn’t care” about Overton window in “these sorts of situations”. US supposedly draws wider boundaries than many countries in western Europe, but it seems that we are nearing the situation where the state-drawn boundaries are still reasonably wide while social boundaries are narrowing – or worse, the window is splitting into two windows with decreasing overlap.

    • JRM says:

      I don’t think these are quite the same.

      The Duck Dynasty guy is selling this persona (whether real or not) and his views are a part of that. Calling for social sanctions and afterlife sanctions is not the same as calling for extermination and using deliberately offensive language.

      I don’t think Robertson should have been suspended, and I would support more vigorous sanctions against your hypotheticals. (I am for gay marriage, and I don’t see it as a close issue.)

      Nonetheless, I absolutely agree that this is a line-drawing exercise.

      I don’t think this is hypocritical – the call to burn Scott and you and me in a lake of fire for all eternity seems rather uncharitable, but while the Duck Dynasty folks seem to be for that, it would be wrong to shut them down for that now. That’s what they sold the show as.

      When Mike Tyson’s one-man show contains profanity, misogyny, violence, race, crime… you had Mike Tyson do a one-man show. If you want to fire Mike Tyson for using coarse language and talking fondly of a problematic lifestyle, well, you shouldn’t have expected Martha Stewart as a producer or a viewer.

      That’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.

  8. Matthew says:

    I think this entire contretemps was manufactured to drive up viewership among the more retrograde segments of the population. Note that Robertson is back on the air.

    Relevant: (make sure to click through the slides using the “next” button)

    • Andy says:

      Manufactured outrage isn’t just for liberals, and American conservative groups are masters at using it to drum up fundraising, and to sell products. I used to be subscribed to a conservative e-mail list, and I was amazed at the ways that politically tinged messages were being used to sell products from gold coins to stocks.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Wouldn’t surprise me, but even if the event was manufactured, it still reveals important and (to me) surprising information about people’s beliefs regarding freedom of speech.

    • Just to be clear, the segments of the population you are referring to are better described as “trailing” than “retrograde”.

      Are conservatives more or less homophobic than they were 50 years ago?

  9. Kerry says:

    It seems to me the point of fired from what is important. He hasn’t been blacklisted from employment in any industry; he’s been removed from a position on a reality TV show on one channel, a position that involves the channel giving him a significant platform for his view – much more visibility for his speech than most of the rest of us get. The channel has taken away that platform and therefore his job, because the nature of the position (reality show star) is that job and platform are inseparable.

    I could see an argument that it would have been better for the channel to have kept him in employment but without a platform, so he’s still earning a living, but I don’t think I agree with it.

    Fundamentally I just disagree with you that paying someone to share their views on your airspace; discovering they have view you don’t want on your airspace; going “you know what, I don’t want these views on my airspace” and not paying them and giving them your airspace to share their views any more is “punishing” them.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      A somewhat more clear example is punishing Paula Deen by getting her cookware taken out of some stores. Another problem with the punishment approach is that it tends to the Red Queen’s protocol: “Punishment first, trial later.” In fact, a bank robber stuck a gun in her face, and later in private she used a bad word to describe him. She was never even accused of using bad language in public, much less on her show.

      Headlines said “TV hostess fired for using racist language” — which generated an outcry against all her products. By the time the truth got its boots on, the punishment had been accomplished, and people were set in the belief that she must have done something to deserve it.

      • Kerry says:

        I think that’s a mischaracterisation. It’s not just “a bad word”, it’s a racist epithet, and she didn’t only use it to her husband, she said she has used it since then. Also, I think the plantation-themed wedding with black staff members has gotten equal play in the reporting; it’s not true that the truth getting its boots on meant it turned out she didn’t have a history of using racist language after all.

  10. Pingback: Inviting Someone to Debate a Person, Not an Ideology

  11. Eli says:

    The phrase “the correct response to ‘idea I disagree with'” has no well-defined referent. Rather, context determines the correct way to respond to ideas that you disagree with, and there are many contexts in which the correct response involves punishment (perhaps as well as counterargument, perhaps in lieu of it).

    Granted, this JT individual may have a naive, overly simplistic idea about how this sort of thing should work. But, Scott, your ideas are – at best – only marginally less naive and simplistic, and you should know better.

    • Eli says:

      …also, you should really issue a correction: Robertson wasn’t fired. He was suspended, and he’s since been reinstated. (In fact, he was reinstated before you published this post.) See e.g.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think you’re demanding more philosophical rigor than ordinary speech needs to support. “This is an incorrect response to that action” doesn’t seem any shakier than “That bigot is a bad person” or “This law will be bad for the country”, the first of which requires a morality and the second of which requires an axiology that the proponents are very unlikely to have fleshed out. In all these cases you’re drawing partially from an expected shared ground with your interlocutor and partially from arguments you are going to make. And I do then make those arguments – saying that freedom of speech is important because we want a marketplace of ideas that allows true ideas to flourish, bad ideas to be quashed, and does not discriminate against unpopular groups of people.

      I will add the correction about Mr. Robertson.

      • Eli says:

        Ah, to the contrary: I think that you’re accepting a much lower standard of philosophical rigor than ordinary speech needs to support. Even if you think that you’re just using some words in a loose, colloquial way, they must still have some literal meaning – or else why are you bothering to use them at all?

        So say, for the sake of argument, that your assertion about “the correct” response is really just a colloquial way of getting to the stuff about a marketplace of ideas. Does it follow that you don’t need to back that up with philosophical rigor? Not hardly. For example, and to piggyback off of another comment, it seems fairly obvious that this Robertson character was hired because of his personality. His personality, in other words, is the good or service that A&E takes itself to be acquiring in exchange for his salary. Why, then, do the norms of the marketplace not allow A&E to withdraw their support upon discovering that it’s purchased a defective product? Last time I checked, it goes against every tenet of the market to suggest that one must continue to pay for a service that one doesn’t like. But even if I’m wrong about that, the overall point remains: you can’t very well just shrug off philosophical rigor just because you’re trying to make a point.

        Very similarly, you do a pretty poor job of rigorously responding to JT’s actual writing (rather ironically, given your penchant for philosophical charity). He never proposes “a norm of trying to punish the people with opposing views,” yet that’s the position against which you contrast your own point of view. So are you now going to tell me that, because you’re just engaged in “ordinary speech,” you don’t need to accurately depict your opponent’s position before you criticize it? Just how far does this go, exactly?

        I mean, sure – there are unstated premises all over the place when people have conversations, not least of all when they have “ordinary language” conversations. But since when does that excuse poor logical reasoning or underhanded rhetorical tricks?

  12. Hey, thank you very much for the very kind shout-out. 🙂

  13. A hermit says:

    Robertson was never threatened with anything like “financial ruin…” He has a contract with A&E and they took a moment to reconsider that in light of his vulgar, hateful comments. In the end he and his show and A&E got a whole bunch of free publicity.

  14. Douglas Knight says:

    What really bothers me are “secondary boycotts.” Not people saying: “I don’t like Robertson, so I’m not going to watch his show,” but people boycotting A&E or the show’s advertisers. (Not that I think it happened in this example.)

  15. hazemyth says:

    As far as the employer/employee relationships goes, Robertson falls into a special category wherein his value to his employer derives from his celebrity. His interview with GQ wasn’t simply an example of private speech. He was being interviewed as the star of his show and that interview consciously shaped his public image. Insofar as that image is the commodity in which he trades, his speech directly impacts his job. If it makes his persona non-salable, or simply the sort of commodity in which A&E doesn’t want to traffic, it’s not unreasonable for them to dispense with him. If your career specifically depends on your public popularity, it may be inconvenient but it’s unavoidable that you will impact your career if you make yourself unpopular.

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