Inequality in the Market for Speech

There’s a lot of talk of free speech in contemporary American discourse in general and at Harvard Law School in particular. Despite all this talk, very little is said by way of explaining what it would mean for speech to be free. There is a deep-seated—sometimes healthy, sometimes not—distrust of speech regulation, both institutional and social in this country (much of which is notably absent in peer countries, like Canada). This distrust is rooted, quite clearly, in the tradition of political liberalism. Even today people appeal to the Millian notion of a marketplace of ideas. In this market, the answer for speech that is bad, for example, clearly false or offensive, is not regulation, but rather competition against other ideas on the open market. In this competition, the good ideas, given enough time and advocacy, win out by appealing to our reason and better judgment.

But that is where the discussion of the market for speech typically begins and ends. Here I want to explore the market analogy more fully, asking what follows from a more developed look at the market for speech. As it turns out, the analogy does provide some useful insights, but perhaps not the insights those who invoke it have in mind. First, I map some ways in which both economic markets and speech markets are already heavily regulated by institutions. Second, I explore some of the ways actors within these markets intervene to shape them. Finally, I argue that systemic inequalities in both markets allow seemingly neutral laissez-faire rules unacceptable if the ultimate goal is fair competition.

Continue reading “Inequality in the Market for Speech”

The Self-Defeating Argument for Hillary Clinton

I have seen a certain type of argument made recently by supporters of Hillary Clinton. The argument goes something like this: because of aggressive, ambient sexism in general, and Sec. Clinton’s decades of high-profile public life and service in particular, she has faced extreme challenges that no other mainstream candidate (and particularly not Bernie Sanders) has faced. No woman, it is argued, could be an unkempt, ranting socialist from Vermont and have the level of success that Sen. Sanders has had. And on the flip side, anyone with the sort of experience Sec. Clinton has, who has faced the unfair sexist barrage she has, would have had to have made similar political compromises. Thus, it goes, to fault Sec. Clinton for her ideological impurity, or for unpopular decisions, or for supporting regressive policies is to participate in a sexist system. The charitable interpretation of this charge is that Sec. Clinton’s perceived faults qua progressive candidate for President are themselves the direct result of a sexist political system that constrains women in a way that it does not constrain men. Perhaps it is taking the argument too far to impose on its proponent a further step that, as a result, supporting Clinton is some kind of affirmative feminist act, but I have gotten that sense from some recitations of the argument. Continue reading “The Self-Defeating Argument for Hillary Clinton”

#HLSUntaped: White Privilege: This Both Is and Is Not About You

I understand and empathize with the frustration that Bill Barlow is apparently feeling right now. It is hard, I know, to be told that you benefit from a system of racial privilege that may seem far removed from your own individual actions or life story. It is harder still to be told that your actions or words shore up white supremacy, a phrase that invokes burning crosses and white hoods. But let me make a genuine plea in the face of that frustration: listen to your colleagues of color, and try to understand what you’re being told.

When someone tells you that you are exhibiting white privilege or supporting white supremacy, you have been criticized, true, but the person who told you this has given you an opportunity to become a better ally and an active participant in struggle. They let you know that, from their perspective, your actions are incongruent with what they hope are your shared values of anti-racism. Ignore that perspective at your own peril because doing so puts you in the position of missing out on something vital to the way you live your life from that moment forward. You are on notice that you are not doing and being the best person and ally you can. Continue reading #HLSUntaped: White Privilege: This Both Is and Is Not About You

In Response to Bill Barlow’s “Fascism at Yale”: Who’s Being Coddled Here?

This article was submitted by the author as a response to Bill Barlow’s recent op-ed, “Fascism at Yale.”

“What does it require for a subperson to assert himself or herself politically? To begin with, it means simply, or not so simply, claiming the moral status of personhood. So it means challenging the white-constructed ontology that has deemed one a ‘body-impolitic,’ an entity not entitled to assert personhood in the first place. . . . One has to learn the basic self-respect that can casually be assumed by Kantian persons, those privileged by the Racial Contract, but which is denied subpersons. . . . One has to learn to trust one’s own cognitive powers, to develop one’s own concepts, insights, modes of explanation, overarching theories, and to oppose the epistemic hegemony of conceptual frameworks designed in part to thwart and suppress the exploration of such matters; one has to think against the grain.” – Charles Mills, The Racial Contract 118 – 19 (1997)

It is in Mills’ tradition of political assertion that we should read unrest on campuses today. Students are demanding recognition of their claims to knowledge about their own social experiences and broader structures of oppression, but beyond that they are demanding justice (which is not to suggest the two are distinct). Across the country and world, students are agitating for change. Whether it’s Mizzou, Yale, or Capetown. And somewhere in the bowels of the White Dude Thinkpiece Establishment, Jonathan Haidt, Greg Lukianoff, Conor Friedersdorf, and others sit and wonder where it all went wrong. Kids these days can’t take the heat of intellectual challenge, asking to be coddled on campus, and it’s hurting them psychologically. This is part of Haidt and Lukianoff’s conclusion in the “Coddling of the American Mind,” approvingly cited by Friedersdorf in his latest dismissive commentary on student activism at Yale. This view seems to be getting a lot of uptake in the media and among a wide swathe of diverse sorts of (mostly) white people—young, Ivy-League white people; old puffy white people; white people who would be happy to explain why you’re wrong and they’re right.

But who’s really being coddled here? Continue reading “In Response to Bill Barlow’s “Fascism at Yale”: Who’s Being Coddled Here?”