Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

FYI-FTR: “But, that’s CENSORSHIP!”


It seems that, in the interests of more responsible and responsive, on-issue commentary here at UD and elsewhere in the context of debates over design theory (cf. concerns here and here), participants in discussions in and around UD need to clarify some matters, especially the difference between fair comment dissent and defamation and that between acting to stop disruptive and enabling behaviour and censorship. All this, in the context of free and democratic societies that duly balance rights, freedoms and responsibilities — the difference between liberty and licence.

First, defamation is not fair-comment free speech.

Madeleine Flanagan of M and M blog in New Zealand writes, helpfully (and as already cited in correction but it seems ignored):

>> . . . defamatory speech is insidious, causes harm, hurts; intuitively it just feels wrong to say that one is morally justified in spreading harmful falsehoods about a person and is not required to account for the wrongs done, because of their right to free speech.

After discussions with Matt about this I have decided that I prefer the following argument:

1] Freedom of Expression exists to allow people to freely express their opinions and impart information without fear of legal penalty.

2] Defamation is expression imparted to another that lowers the standing of a person in the eyes of their peers and is not true and is not honest opinion which is genuinely held [–> that is one knows or SHOULD know and do better].(I am ignoring the third defence, privilege).

3] A person who expresses defamation is not engaging in Freedom of Expression as where there is no truth or honest opinion then a person is neither attempting to inform another or attempting to express their opinion.

4] The basis for this is that to attempt to inform someone is to attempt to increase that person’s repertoire of true beliefs’ and to impart an opinion is to express what one honestly believes to be the case.

5] Therefore, the freedom that the right to Freedom of Expression protects is all speech that is true or honestly held to be true by the speaker.

That is much better.

Defamatory speech is not free speech therefore legal sanctions against it are entirely appropriate in both legal and moral senses.

Two blogs have recently been found to have published defamation of me, the nature of which was described as “extremely serious” by a Court of Law. The above demonstrates why I feel I was perfectly justified in seeking the removal of the defamatory material, one by Court Order, one by private request. John Stuart Mill, the UN Charter, Milton, Common Law, to point to a few, have agreed for centuries that defining Freedom of Speech to be all speech that is not Defamation is just in all mediums. Defamatory speech being restricted or punished by law, offline or online, poses no threat to anyone. >> [Why Defamatory Speech is not Free Speech, June 22, 2013.]

She is right. And those who produce, promote, host, publish or circulate defamation are guilty of moral harm, long before the matter becomes legal action. It is high time that the sort of defamation I have had to expose here and here ceases to be a major rhetorical device and apparent first resort  of objectors to design thought, design thinkers and design supporters.

Second, given that any thing that excludes abusive disruptive commentary or enabling behaviour for such is immediately swarmed down with accusatory cries of censorship (all the while blatant cases such as what has been done to prof Hedin at Ball State University pass without comment in too many quarters [but thankfully some on the other side have rallied to the defence of academic freedom]), we need to clarify what is and what is not censorship. Again, I clip:

>> Let me provide you with a legal dictionary definition . . .  one that was always a simple Google search away and thus well within your responsibility to provide FAIR comment in light of due diligence as a reasonably intelligent and educated person:


The suppression or proscription of speech or writing that is deemed obscene, indecent, or unduly controversial . . . . [West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008]

Notice, first of all censorship is an act of power from those with capacity to actually suppress information, it applies to those able to suppress communication in a community or institutional context, i.e. if one has no power to effectively suppress dissemination of a view, one cannot censor, no more than can one fly by flapping one’s arms. One may refuse to entertain or promote or enable promotion of a view, but one is not censoring it if one has not got the power to see to it that it is severely hampered from spreading when fairly expressed.

Secondly, obscenity not being relevant, censorship is about suppression on disagreement, not an action in defence of civility in the teeth of defamation. Defamation is not protected speech. And that holds whether or not someone actually believes the defamatory claims to be true. Once it is reasonably accessible that demeaning or credibly harmful claims are not well warranted, a reasonable person has a duty of care to fairness to deem them false and not to be spread. Otherwise s/he is a party to slander.

Third, if there is reasonable opportunity for fair comment [such as with the equivalent to a traditional letters to the editor system], and ideas are not blocked for merely being controversial, one is not censoring.

Defamation, repeat, is not protected speech . . . .

Finally, the now all too common talking point of irresponsibly accusing of censorship used against defence of civility in discussion . . .  is itself an irresponsible and unwarranted false accusation. (How I wish that we could have an actual discussion on merits, instead of one in an atmosphere tainted by the sort of tactics I am objecting to. Those tactics on your side . . .  are so widespread and so across the board on issues that it is quite evident that there is a pattern of abuse of institutional power and influence to demean and marginalise those who beg to differ with the evolutionary materialist secular humanist cultural agenda.)

False and irresponsible accusations of nazism, treasonous conspiracies to impose totalitarianism and declarations that classes of targetted people are “enemies of humanity” have no proper part in a civil discussion of serious issues. Period. Mutual basic respect being a condition of civil discussion.

Let me put it this way, if you are irritated by silly insults, how would you respond to being falsely deemed an enemy of humanity and a member of a fraudulent conspiracy to subvert science in a context in which these were taken as a matter of course?

Those who make and those who enable irresponsible and damaging false accusations show themselves to be rude, bigoted, disrespectful and inciting of hate. Uncivil, in short.

And if left to itself such incivility will dominate discussion, undermining the fabric of civility that is a requisite of civilisation itself. Where, our civilisation is already in enough trouble, and civility is indeed being undermined on all hands. So much so that I am more and more inclined to the view that in publication on the web, a reversion to the old fashioned “letters to the editor” approach, where responses from the public under rights of reply and fair comment are subject to editing and legal vetting as regards potential defamation, before publication, is justified.>>

Again, we see a saddening twisting of language to enable a loaded, false accusation intended to demean and to harm.

But, plainly, to be able to censor, one must first have power to block or severely hinder circulation of an idea. Then, one must abuse such power by suppressing information on mere disagreement, rather than response to defamation or the like and/or disciplinary action in response to specifically disruptive behaviour that undermines the ability to discuss ideas freely, responsibly and fairly.

That this improper cry of “censorship” is a routine resort against any attempt to defend civility in the face of determined disruptive and defamatory behaviour, speaks volumes and none of it to the good of those who cry censorship without proper warrant, without doing the basic homework of checking a good dictionary first and pondering what it means.

It is high time that such irresponsible behaviour ceases, and it is high time that reasonable and responsible people refuse to go along with defamatory and disruptive behaviour or enabling of such under the false colours of freedom of expression. If our civilisation is to restore the civility that is a critical condition of its survival, much less thriving. There being ample opportunity to discuss these matters in and around UD, comments will be disabled for this FYI-FTR thread, given the already over-polarised environment.  END