Friday, January 22, 2016

Trigger Warning

I LOVE this cover.  SO awesome.
Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech?  by Mick Hume

It's a book on free speech issues, so you know I've got to read it, but this time it's by a British guy!  Mick Hume is the editor of Spiked, writes newspaper columns, and is a Marxist which I don't really get but OK.  The back cover says he "was described as Britain's only libertarian Marxist newspaper columnist" so that makes it really confusing.  And here is his free speech opinion.

It's kind of a screed and definitely a polemic.  Hume is not happy and he's going to let you know it.  It gets a bit repetitive at times.  And, even from my "free speech is pretty much a religious tenet with me" perspective, I think he goes a bit too far.  I agreed with a lot of it, though, and there's some great analysis in there.  It's very worth reading; not as necessary as Kindly Inquisitors (I'd like every citizen to read that by age 19, please), but an important addition to the free speech library.

Hume's British/European perspective is really interesting to read.  He starts off with the Charlie Hebdo murders and dubs people who wish to limit speech "reverse-Voltaires."  There is just generally more about Euro concerns, so it's fascinating.

The boring chapter, to me, was the one about sports.  Largely because I really don't care about sports, and I especially don't care about Manchester football or whatever, but Hume's actual point isn't bad.  Then I just plain disagreed with him when he said that Twitter shouldn't do anything to trolls; we should all just learn to ignore them.  While I do think that trolls are better ignored than fussed over, Twitter is a private company with a perfect right to set rules about what is and is not acceptable, and the fact is that normal people tend to leave online fora when things get more abusive than is comfortable.  Most people can only ignore so much.

But right after that there is a fabulous chapter about Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes' far-overused line about "there is no right to shout 'Fire' in a crowded theater."  Hume complains about the constant use of this mis-quotation (they always leave out the 'falsely' bit) as if it applies to anything at all--and he also points out that Holmes changed his mind about the case and the ruling was struck down in 1969.
Underneath all the legalese, the fire-in-a-theatre argument has often been an expression of elitist disdain for the masses.  It rests upon the assumption that many people are ignorant and suggestible enough for a word out of place to start a riot, just as being told a theatre was on fire might start a stampede for the exits.
There is also quite a lot about Holocaust denial, which is a much bigger issue in Europe than the US.  Several European countries have made Holocaust denial an actual crime, and not just Germany.  To my mind, this gives more power than necessary to the silly people in the Holocaust denial business.  Hume argues that while the Holocaust is important, it is not dogma; we can discuss and argue about it.  It's a very interesting section on something I don't hear much about.

Hume makes a lot of good points that are worth thinking about and discussing.  Overall I liked Trigger Warning pretty well, and I recommend it.


cleopatra said...

Wow, where do you find these gems? Of course, my library doesn't have this book or Kindly Inquisitors. Grrrr! I will shelve it for future reading.

Jean said...

Ask your library to purchase Kindly Inquisitors; any public library ought to have it. (Says Jean, putting on her librarian hat) Hm...I think I found this through FIRE's blog, and purchased it for work; I buy most free speech titles.

jrleek said...

Well, I'm still curious about what a "Libertarian Marxist" is. Did you figure it out?

Jean said...

No. I do not see how those two things go together, and he does not explain.

cleopatra said...

I wish you were the librarian at our library. I will suggest it for purchase and see what happens. I couldn't even buy it and donate it because if they don't ALREADY have it catalogued, they won't accept it. How that helps with getting new interesting books into the library system, I can't figure out. In fact, I've taken to calling them an entertainment centre instead of a library, but that's another story. :-P

Jean said...

Donations are tricky for a library, because people don't just want to give interesting books; they also want to donate books that massively promote some agenda or other. Libraries want to provide multiple viewpoints, but they want to exercise control over the selection process too. If they accept your donation of Kindly Inquisitors, then the Answers in Genesis people will come along with 20 books to donate (instead of the 2 that would be appropriate for a medium-sized public library). The library will then be accused of censorship because it doesn't want 20 books on that topic, and it will become a media event. Then the Hare Krishnas will donate 25 books of commentary, and pretty soon either the library is overflowing with agenda books, or it's constantly in trouble. That rule sounds like their method of exercising control over the selection process.

cleopatra said...

But they do buy those kind of books .... and then they don't have classics. But I'll pm you so as not to clog your comments. :-)

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

Yeah, I always think the people who want everyone to ignore twitter trolls should take a minute to be a lady writing about feminism on the internet, and see if that changes their opinions. From what I've read, it's nonstop abuse, from oodles of different accounts, some really scary stuff. Blech.

I love reading about free speech and case studies -- the case of Holocaust denial is particularly interesting to me -- but I'd probably stick with something a bit more academic, less polemic? If I could. I really REALLY want to read a book about that huge UK trial where a Holocaust denier sued an author and her publisher (Penguin, I think) for libel for calling him a Holocaust denier in her book. It got to the question of free speech both in the arena of Holocaust denial and the libel laws in Britain (which are insanely -- in my opinion -- favorable to the libelee). So I think it'd be pretty interesting to read about.

Jean said...

Oh yes, Ithink Hume talks a little bit about that case. Not all that much, though. I wonder if there's a good book on it; maybe only published in the UK. I agree with you that the libel laws over there are insane! And yet their tabloids are traditionally more savage than ours.