Christopher Hitchens made an insightful comment on free speech. He suggested to his audience to accept offensive free speech (even Holocaust deniers) because, at the very least it will force you to think about why and how you know what you know. This is personal advice that is useful, if sometimes painful to endure.

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Mar 14Liked by Ken White

Hi Mr. Popehat,

May I call you Mr. Popehat? I've had a rough day with failed banks and all but, suddenly, I want to laugh again (and cry a bit). Thank you for a reality check that so many people need.

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Mar 15Liked by Ken White

I’m not sure I agree with all the particulars of your argument, but I am much impressed by the way that you suggest that all the involved parties have behaved so badly and so greatly deserve your contempt that the whole situation is pushing you into becoming the biological equivalent of a malign artificial intelligence out of a Harlan Ellison short story.

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ESH. I wasn't aware of this incident (amazing how much less I hear about culture war topics after leaving Twitter) but it does indeed sound grim. Excellent writing though!

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"This is relentlessly grim. Nobody in this story makes me optimistic about America."

Nope. There are very clear good guys and bad guys here.

The protesters at least have the right intentions: defeat right-wing fascism.

True, they should think more creatively about their tactics. There are much better ways to weaken the power of a bully than by giving the bully an easy way to play victim. The best response is utter mockery, and Judge Duncan provides them plenty to work with. They could have held a mock trial accusing him of gross incompetence on the bench. They could have dressed like Trump and yelled "You're fired!" They could have done anything to accentuate his basic weakness: he's an unqualified troll who was appointed by a crook.

But they missed their chance. They fed the troll. It's not so difficult to understand: fascists make people afraid for their lives, and fear causes anger.

But the protesters at least have honorable intentions. They are literally trying to protect the lives of vulnerable people who are under attack by sadistic bullies. They are literally trying to protect democracy from a fascist power grab.

There are a lot of good guys in America. But nowadays not a single one of them is on the Right. Let's stop pretending otherwise.

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Excellent as usual. One quibble on behalf of platonic dialogue: you write, "Stanford students set out to protest the deliberately provocative invitation of Judge Duncan. They started great, modeling the variety of means available to them. They put up fliers denouncing Judge Duncan and FedSoc, they led a vigorous protest in the halls, they arrived at the speech with suitably blunt signs about Judge Duncan. Now, critics will fault them for even this, tone-policing their messages or suggesting that they ought to just sit down and have a Platonic dialogue with Judge Duncan or portraying the FedSoc members as victims of callout culture and shunning. That’s all bullshit. The protesting students’ rights and interests are neither inferior to nor superior to the interests of the FedSoc and Judge Duncan. Policing the civility of the response to speech and not speech itself is incoherent nonsense." Doesn't this conflate the separate questions of whether the Stanford law students have a right to use any tone that they like (Yes!) and whether it is good or desirable that they do so? I'd say without intending any bullshit that, insofar as the Stanford Law students are intent on vanquishing Trumpists, of all people, choosing to fight on the terrain of moral shaming, scathing tone and shock jock rhetoric is shortsighted! I'll defend the *right* of Stanford protesters to put up "Fuck You" posters all they want, but I'll also lament that law school students are engaging in a mode where Andrew Dice Clay would vanquish them all.

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Mar 14·edited Mar 14

Ok, I'm struggling with this same topic. A member of our county school board had lunch with middle school students. He wore a tee shirt that displayed under the banner History of American Defiance an array of rifles, from the 1700s up to an assault rifle.

School policy does not allow the kids to wear 'messaging 't-shirts.

I am freaked on several fronts. He's a school board member, top of the school authority, showing children that guns are what you use when you need to be defiant. While the country worries about school shootings and mental health challenges in children, he shows up in a provocative t-shirt.

But his 1st Amendment rights.... That's what he's claiming. I think he's grooming kids. Where do we draw the line?

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An excellent and well deserved roast of everyone involved Ken!

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Mar 15·edited Mar 15

"Neither is pulling the fire alarm, setting off an airhorn, or making bomb threats to stop the speech from happening."

How about "shouting fire in a crowded theater to stop the screening of 2000 Mules"?


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Great piece.

And "it" is relentlessly grim, however I'm not sure how much insight you can extrapolate from a "free speech fight" at Stanford Law School (started by FedSoc malcontents) to the rest of America.

I am optimistic about America. FedSoc and the Stanford-Tier-Associate-DEI-Deans are the ones who deserve your pessimism.

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Assuming this report is accurate, this seems almost worst than the initial protest.

"Student Activists Target Stanford Law School Dean in Revolt Over Her Apology

Jenny Martinez becomes the target of student ire for saying “I’m sorry” to besieged judge Kyle Duncan


When Martinez’s class adjourned on Monday, the protesters, dressed in black and wearing face masks that read "counter-speech is free speech," stared silently at Martinez as she exited her first-year constitutional law class at 11:00 a.m., according to five students who witnessed the episode. The student protesters, who formed a human corridor from Martinez’s classroom to the building’s exit, comprised nearly a third of the law school, the students told the Washington Free Beacon.

The majority of Martinez’s class—approximately 50 students out of the 60 enrolled—participated in the protest themselves, two students in the class said. The few who didn’t join the protesters received the same stare down as their professor as they hurried through the makeshift walk of shame."


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another Molly - I was aware of the incident, but lost track of it amidst all the other shittery happening. Thank you, Ken, for your post-mortem of the event; it helped me clarify my own reaction, and by it you did give me a little hope. Someone's paying attention; I'm glad it's you.

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Also the students weren't helping trans or progressive causes. I'm sure Stanford law students could work out that yelling and catcalling during the event wasn't going to persuade anyone else but offered a great soundbite for fox news. Not to mention the potential for biasing judges against those causes by making sure they associate them with upsetting treatment (Im sure SCOTUS has heard about this and the conservatives won't identify with the students).

Sometimes a cause needs some rude and uncivil action. But if you really care the minimum you should be expected to do is first think about whether you are helping or hurting. They could have turned all the media coverage into questions about the judge's behavior and rulings by some protesting outside and polite pointed questions but apparently they don't care enough about the cause to worry about being effective.

As someone who generally leans left on social issues that upsets me as does fact that even when vox publishes a whole article about how this could make things worse at SCOTUS (doubt it's that big an effect) no one seems to be calling out the students for doing activism badly.

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Shouldn't your first sentence say "accused murderers" not "murders"?

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Yes, nobody acted well during this event, but here's the deal. If Judge Duncan had simply come and delivered his talk to an audience that didn't heckle him. Nothing newsworthy would have happened. He wouldn't have acted in an obstreperous way in response to obstreperous students. And the DEI Dean got the first started by not only emailing the students before Duncan appeared, saying how harmful he was, but then chewed him out publicly when he asked for the heckling to stop. The students (legally, of course) posted pictures of the Federalist Society members the day before the talk. If none of that had been done, nothing newsworthy would have happened.

So who do you pin the trouble on? Slate pins it on the judge, and they're wrong. If the students hadn't tried to shut down the talk, and had the Dean not poured oil on the first twice, nothing would have happened. No, the judge didn't comport himself with gravitas, but you can at least understand his behavior. The students' and dean's behavior, however, in violation of their own university's policy, is inexcusible. And I say this with deep contempt for Judge Duncan's judicial rulings.

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Mar 15·edited Mar 15

> They demand the right not just to speak, but to control the speech of others.

And what's more, they seek to destroy the careers and connections of anyone who dares to stand up for liberal principles, as the "walk of shame" protest yesterday demonstrates: https://freebeacon.com/campus/student-activists-target-stanford-law-school-dean-in-revolt-over-her-apology/

Maybe Kyle Duncan is an culture warrior. Maybe the FedSoc members are provocateurs. I don't weep for them, I weep for the Dean who got caught in the middle and tried to stand up for what is right, and is now the target of shunning. The message from the students is clear: let us control the discourse, or else.

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