Friday, March 9, 2012

Vegan potlucks and free speech

I've written before about campaigns to punish something for positions they hold or things they've said. I've said they are in opposition to the spirit of free speech when used as an excuse to silence someones. I've also given them a limited defense when used to disqualify someone from an institutional position out of concern for their competence. I'm concerned this may be special pleading on my part, but I am trying to make an important distinction. This is a gray issue.

Members of the left are currently campaigning to pull Rush Limbaugh from the air, and are using his latest blowout as an excuse. This involves people boycotting companies they would never purchase from in the first place unless they stop sponsoring the program.

Their usual defense is, it's my right of free speech to tell these companies what I think, and as a customer, I can refuse to support a company for any reason I want. Both of these points are true, but miss the point.

These campaigns to yank the platform from a private speaker are not in the spirit of free speech. Just as voting for a candidate who promises to become a dictator if elected would not be in the spirit of democracy, using free speech to block other people from hearing a controversial speaker is not in the spirit of free speech.

It's what Bill O'Reilly was talking about when he said a campaign to fire Ellen DeGeneres as spokeswoman for JC Penney department stores because she's gay "isn't in the spirit of America" despite being a perfectly legal action under American law.

The same thing was true when the conservative Florida Family Association used identical tactics to get Lowes to pull sponsorship from the show All-American Muslim because they didn't want a show portraying Muslims as good Americans on the air.

But my political opponents will say that in both those cases, the campaign's were wrong and bigoted. In Limbaugh's case, he truly was saying something offensive. He was, but the people who jumped on these platform yanking campaigns were just being opportunistic to strike at someone they didn't like.

I've had to go to the Huffington Post to find other people who agree with me:

Democrats in Congress, attacking the conservative talk show host, claim to be outraged, shocked and offended. But, like Claude Rains in the movie Casablanca ("I'm shocked! Shocked to find gambling going on here!"), they are actually delighted! delighted! at Limbaugh's failure of self-censorship, and not remotely surprised by the sentiments so revealed. For liberals in Washington, Limbaugh's gaffe is like a warm, sunny day in February.
That was Peter Scheer. In a post titled "Rush Limbaugh's Advertiser Desertion Feels Good, But Why Doesn't It Feel Right?" Scott Mendelson wrote:
I have to admit that it's a little disarming -- scary, even -- to see the blinding speed and brutal effectiveness with which this activism took place. It feels good because I happen to be on the same side of the political (and moral) fence as the activists. But what happens next time we get targeted... again?
The issue here is what I call the "vegan potluck" approach to controversy. Vegans will only eat vegan food, and the rest of the public can eat vegan food as well, but vegans can't eat normal food. Even if only one percent of the pot-luckers are vegan, organizers striving to avoid controversy can make all the food vegan-friendly. The problem is that most vegan food tastes awful, and a lot of people will have a miserable meal.

Vegan potlucks cater to the hypersensitive and that's what tolerating these tactics lead to. But what is the defense for platform yanking? The only thing that I believe will work is an arms race of boycotts

About a month ago the Komen Foundation tried to commit the unspeakable act of not giving money to Planned Parenthood, which was mischaracterized as opposing Planned Parenthood and not simply taking a neutral stance. This action was reversed after a boycott and media campaign.

Unless we want businesses to be held hostage by whining, the best option is to whine back. I don't think conservatives will ever be able to muster the fake outrage of the left, but both sides have a lot of experience with it. The secondary pretend-boycott does not have to be larger than the first, it just has to be big enough to tip the scales back to where they were.


  1. I honestly think you're trying to delude yourself recently. First, the Komen issue was one where a conservative person was put in charge and things suddenly changed. And did they change consistently? No, because other groups under investigation - the reason Komen pretended they were pulling funding - were still receiving funding. Second, you mention Planned Parenthood in the paragraph immediately preceding the one where you act like conservatives don't muster a whole shitload of fake outrage. In fact, if we go back a few more paragraphs, we see that whole Muslim show incident. Or, hey, let's look at, I don't know, contraceptives? Or ground-zero Mosques? Or artist/rapper Common? Or President Obama not saying "God" in a speech? Or everything Santorum has said? Or Obama hugging a Harvard professor? Or Obama having a "bombastic" minister? Or the First Lady pushing for fitness? Or Obama saying we aren't a Christian nation? If I was more willing to watch FOX Noise, I could more easily go on for another few thousand words.

    Stop pretending like the right is filled with any degree of rationality. You're on the side of religious zealots who agree with blind patriotism and things that sound manly.

  2. You should read the paragraph in question. I said plain as day that both sides have plenty of experience, and then you angrily agreed with me.

  3. You should read the clause in question where you claimed the right is notably better than the left. The evidence says otherwise - especially when the left has legitimate reasons to be angry, such as when a popular radio host says women should not have a certain amount of sex.

  4. I'll go back and listen again, but I don't recall that being what he said. All of the sudden we are back to trying to derive deep meaning from the usage of a single word, a single time.

    You had me going for a while, that whole needing "evidence" thing when making a claim. I'm sure I've heard you use the word slut before, should people come to the same conclusion about you?

    And I'm not seeing where he has said the right are any kind of better. What he said was the right will never be as effective at politically motivated outrage as the left is. That doesn't have anything to do with one party being "better", as in better behaved, it's just simply a statement regarding effectiveness.

    By all means, continue being outraged.

  5. The topic of outrage authenticity doesn't interest me much, but I wanted to note that free speech is not dependent on having a daily 3 hour national megaphone.