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More on Speech That Causes Harm:

On reflection, here's what may be a simpler (but less concrete and less precise) way of putting my point below:

1. Making statements that cause serious harm (for instance, because they embolden the enemy) is not itself immoral.

2. Making statements that you know will on balance cause more serious harm than good likely is at least presumptively immoral. (I'm not saying it should be legally punishable, only that it generally shouldn't be done.)

3. What are the main differences between 1 and 2?

a. Making statements that cause serious harm may be proper if you think they will on balance do more good than harm.

b. Making statements that you think will do more good than serious harm is generally not immoral (especially if your thinking isn't unreasonable), even if you prove to be mistaken.

Hiram Hover (www):
Three posts now (counting the new one above, about WWII), and they all focus on anti-war speech. If you're interested broadly in the effect of free speech on a war effort, perhaps you shouldn't start by excluding, from the outset, the question of how pro-war speech can also be harmful, and thus might raise similar concerns about its morality or prudence.

Think, for example, about a supporter of the Iraq war calling America's war effort a "crusade," or casting it as a battle between Christianity and Islam. Plenty of fodder there to embolden the enemy. But since the presumption is that a speaker who supports the war effort doesn't intend to harm it, the statement seldom draws criticism--at least from war supporters--regardless of its effects.

The point, I think, is that the "harms the war effort" criticism is a cheap and easy one for war supporters to latch onto in attempting to silence war critics, regardless of the intention or consequences of the critics' speech. And that renders much of this hair-splitting beside the point.
12.8.2005 9:40pm
anonymous coward:
War is not a special case; this logic can apply to any speech.

If morality in Jesusland were based entirely on religion, truth that might undermine religious faith--other religions, evolution, cosmology, about the historical Jesus--would be incredibly dangerous. Sure, a small elite (philosopher kings/university professors) can safely suspect Christianity is a useful myth. But it'd be incredibly dangerous to publically state what they believe to be the truth, because that would destabalize the social order.

Likewise, speaking the truth about Vietnam--American soldiers are dying and killing for no especially compelling reason--would harm the war effort, not to mention made a lot of people feel rotten. But it does have the notable virtue of being (what the speaker believes to be) the truth. That counts for quite a bit in my book.
12.9.2005 8:13am
Nobody Special:
"People could Diiiiieeeee!"
12.9.2005 8:17am
Duncan Frissell (mail):
Eugene,

Since there is an intervening act of a third party (the enemy) isn't the speaker (no matter how commie) absolved of guilt?

I liked the common law rules of negligence where you were allowed to be as stupid as you wanted (leave the unguarded bulldozer on your construction site overnight) and you weren't responsible when someone stole it and ran it through a few houses. Third-party criminal activity absolving negligence.
12.9.2005 9:07am
Medis:
It is indeed amazing how little consideration something like "the truth" is getting in Eugene's analysis. Of course, that is a common problem with "harm"-based morality: for it to be theoretically sound, we need to start with a very broad definition of "harm". But although people give lip service to this notion, in practice they often assume away any sort of "harm" they do not want to consider.

So, they end up with logically valid harm arguments in the sense that the conclusions follow from the premises. But these arguments are rarely demonstrably sound because the premises require assuming away any sort of "harm" that would lead away from the intended conclusion.
12.9.2005 10:29am
JosephSlater (mail):
I agree with EV's general four points in principle (although we can all go back and forth on how much harm anti-war speech really does, and I agree that we might also want to consider the harms of certain pro-war speech).

More broadly, what we're seeing in these threads is a combination of two things. First, many Bush supporters are finding it increasingly difficult to argue that things are Really Looking Good in Iraq. So, when faced with people that say things are Looking Pretty Bad in Iraq, Bush supporters quickly abandon arguing that point on the merits, and devolve into "but SAYING things are bad hurts our war effort." This is related to the second thing, the main "go to" play for the Repubs. in recent years is to attack critics for undermining the troops, threatening security, etc.

The first part is more interesting, because it makes one wonder if Bush supporters really think things are progressing satisfactorily in Iraq or not. Because even if not, they wouldn't say, right?
12.9.2005 11:10am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Joseph Slater

Your premise that Bush supporters are having a hard time claiming that things are getting better in Iraq is interesting.

Yes, it's hard to say it, since the left will yell and spit and sneer. That's getting worse.

It's not hard at all to believe things are getting better in Iraq, since they are. Saying so can generate the usual disgusting glottal noise some people use when facts fail them.

So, in one sense, you're right.
12.9.2005 11:32am
Medis:
It is interesting to me that there does seem to be this claim in certain circles that if fewer and fewer people are buying what the Administration is selling, it cannot possibly be that these people are rationally evaluating the Administration's message and coming to an adverse conclusion. Rather, it must be the case that they are being led astray by the "usual suspects" (Libs, Dems, the ACLU, and, worst of all, the dreaded MSM).

Among other things, this hypothesis puzzles me for a simple reason ... why would the "usual suspects" be becoming more and more potent over time if things in truth were getting better and better over time?
12.9.2005 11:44am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Medis.

I don't know that the usual suspects are getting more potent. They are certainly becoming less pleasant.

They are becoming shriller, apparently in desperation.

We won the first phase either when the statue went down or when SH got bagged.

We won the second phase then the terrs gave up on fighting and switched to indiscriminate murder--known as politics as usual in the Middle East.

The next election and the rest of it is tidying up, at some cost, but foregone, unless the usual suspects can figure out a way to promote a skedaddle, which is getting less likely all the time.
12.9.2005 1:19pm
Medis:
Richard,

Are you suggesting that public support for the war and the Administration's war conduct have not been declining?

Because that was the puzzle I was identifying: if the war is going well, and the "usual suspects" are not getting more potent, then why would public support be declining?
12.9.2005 1:28pm
Justin (mail):
I have no problem with this simple construction, except for the hypocracy, as this thinking is used to justify suppressing dissent for a war that is causing a great deal of harm, and thus "on balance cause more serious harm than good."
12.9.2005 2:00pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Medis.

I'll give you this. The usual suspects' lies do have some effect. However, the folks who are there or have been there take a different view, from which I presume the usual suspects' lies may be made clear(er). Have been, as it happens

You also miss a point. Mostly, when people like you miss a point, it's on purpose and deliberately obtuse, and you hope nobody notices. But this one you may have missed altogether. When people ask if Bush is handling the war right, the question is not asked whether we should be more aggressive, or less. There are a number of people who think we should be more aggressive. I include myself, although I force myself to remember my training and issues like amateurs talk tactics and professionals talk logistics and so on and so on and that I have always been impatient.

If I were to answer such a stupid question, I'd be stuck between being honest and saying it's not aggressive enough, thus giving you ammunition for your point, and lying and saying Bush is about right.

I can assure you that not all who think as I do remember to lie when polled. Some who think Bush is doing this wrong want far more action right now. That may be, literally, disassatisfaction with the war, but the solution to their discomfort isn't what it's proposed to be--which is cut and run and snatch a defeat from the jaws of victory so the lefties can have another famous victory over the US.
12.9.2005 2:08pm
Medis:
Richard,

Mystery Pollster had some great analysis on that very issue. See here under 12/2:

http://www.mysterypollster.com/

Basically, it is true that while there is growing dissatisfaction with how the war is going, the President's performance, and the cost of the war, and growing support for the proposition that the war was a mistake, there is no well-formed consensus over what we should do going forward.
12.9.2005 8:45pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Richard:

Polls show that a majority of the country doesn't think things are going well. Threads like this and other sources from the right that are easily accessible show that the right's response to the claim that things are going badly in Iraq is not so much to say, "oh no, things really are going well," but rather to say, "people that say things are going badly are hurting the war effort."

And you didn't answer my last question. If you genuninely believe that saying things are going badly in Iraq hurts the war effort, then you wouldn't say things were going badly even if you really thought they were, would you? So why should I or anybody believe you if you say things are going well?
12.11.2005 12:48pm