I’m seeing an absolute deluge of comments online rehashing the general theme of: “You free speech activists sure seem to discard your principles when it’s convenient.” And It’d like to take a moment to dissect that.
Before I get too far into these weeds, I want to make a distinction: I think the cleanest comparison between the left and the right on this issue would be the left’s protection of Randa Jarrar from firing, and a situation where the right protected someone who had invoked the ire of the left—let’s assume a Nazi. I don’t think there’s a large contingent of people lining up to say that employers should retain people who are openly anti-Semitic. There might be some, but I feel this would be the exception as opposed to the rule, and that these people would be warping the principle of free speech to things they shouldn’t. This means that almost by nature, the people saying variations of “You free speech activists sure seem to discard your principles when it’s convenient.” are almost certainly comparing apples to oranges.
But I think that those people don’t really understand the distinction that makes that true. Following that… Cast Iron Pot, meet Stainless Steel Kettle. It would be great if just for once progressives actually lived up to their own ideals. If they believe, as they’ve been telling us for years now, that free speech has consequences, and they believe that this case is actually synonymous to all the other cases that they think prove the abject hypocrisy of the right, then by all means point out that hypocrisy, but do so in a way that doesn’t protect Jarrar… Because you’re admitting what she did wasn’t protected. Look, there’s a possibility that someone in any situation might be able to define a difference between two situations that you might not see. They might be wrong, but there could be at least a semblance of internal consistency, even if it’s flawed… If you think that this is the kind of situation that the free speechers would normally be defending but aren’t for partisan reasons, while simultaneously defending what you admit you would normally not specifically for partisan reasons, then you don’t even have the fig leaf of internal consistency and should hide your head in a sack.
The principle of free speech doesn’t make someone free from consequences, the people I’m interacting with would tell me in every other situation this issue has come up. Talk about projection re: discarding principles! They’re probably confusing “consequence” with “prevention”. Free speech covers the right to speak, and the right to hear what someone else has to say, but it doesn’t mean that once you’ve said things, your employer cannot fire you, it doesn’t mean that your friends must remain your friends, that people cannot criticize your speech, or mock you for it. Although because of the First Amendment, in America unlike… say… the UK… whatever you say won’t have you end up in jail (I’m thinking Markus Meecham).
Because we’re talking about a State school, the First Amendment actually does give her a little more protection than the average employee, but the First Amendment and tenure are not suicide pacts. There are specific tests to determine whether the professor was acting as an employee or as a citizen. Randa could not be fired merely for saying some variation of the theme “Ding Dong The Witch is Dead”, as distasteful as that is, on Twitter, because the government, even while happening to be an employer, cannot punish speech made outside the scope of an employment. The problem for Randa is twofold: One…. She tied some of her tweets to her employment, which is stupid in the extreme. And two: She directed harassment to the school’s crisis hotline. I think Jack is being overly kind here…. even if she wasn’t aware the phone number was the crisis hotline, she still knew that number wasn’t hers, and that SOMEONE would most probably be left bearing the brunt of her fallout. Either of those things individually would probably satisfy the legal tests to determine that the relationship between Randa and the government was more appropriately seen as employee/employer than citizen/government, and together the case is just stronger.
That’s the legal case… The principles question though…. Is the call for Randa to be fired materially different from calling for boycotts, de-platforming, and advertiser withdrawals? It’s amazingly easy to draw a distinction between the de-platforming movements and Randa. Randa is being punished for speaking, progressives are attempting to de-platform in order to prevent someone from speaking, and other people from hearing. But is there a distinction between calling for someone to be fired for gleefully celebrating the death of a person for purely partisan reasons and calling for the boycott of companies that have said something an individual deems offensive, or writing advertisers of those companies to have them pull their support?
I think that a distinction has to be made between punishing companies and individuals. Action against organizations should happen for organizational behavior, or behavior reasonably tied to that organization. Hannity failing to disclose the conflict of interest towards someone he featured on his program is Fox’s problem, The CEO of Chic-fil-A privately donating to a Prop-8 organization is the CEO’s problem.
But is a boycott of Fox News in the case above a free speech issue? Is there a material distinction between calling for Randa to be fired and calling for an organised boycott of Fox? I’m struggling with this perhaps more than I should be. What do you all think?