This is the second open letter (of four) to NAME.
The first is here.
The third is here.
The fourth is here.
This one deals with the embrace of censorship by the NAME leadership in the NAME maillinglist.
1. The NAME leadership conflates legal requirements for free speech with cultural attitudes regarding freedom of speech.
The NAME leadership has repeatedly emphasized that the NAME mailinglist is not a government structure and, as a private organization, the legal requirements of adhering to the Bill of Rights does not apply. NAME is legally allowed to censor speech with whim and abandon, and force speech to adhere to whatever arbitrary rules it deems amusing.
The mistake the NAME leadership makes, in my opinion, is that they generalize that because they are not legally obligated to respect personal liberties, it follows that there is no moral or cultural value associated with respecting individual rights, of which speech is one, and that, indeed, the greater good lies in ignoring those rights. Because there is no legal requirement to adhere the idea of freedom of speech, there is no moral problem with trampling individual rights. Accordingly, the NAME members act, and exist, at their sufferance.
This flips the fundamental ethical and moral basis for individual liberties – a mistake that is common among Progressives. For secular humanists, and Progressives in particular, both “good” and “rights” derive from the authority structure – the state in general, and the leadership in a group. In my first open letter, I provided a link to a video of a young college woman noting that whether or not a box contained and even or odd number of objects had no objective answer, but instead depended on the ruling of someone who had the authority to make that decision.
There are no rights that exist independent of the governing authority, and that authority can give them or take them away at their whim (unless, of course, they in turn are subject to a higher civil authority that has that power). This is in contrast to the traditional Christian/Deist interpretation of rights as viewed by the Founding Fathers, that these rights were inherent to the individual, and given by the “Creator” as part of being human. Thus, people carry these rights within themselves, independent of a governing authority. The governing authority can choose to recognize these rights, or they can choose to deny those rights, but it cannot give them or take them away. Similarly, to secular humanist/Progressives there are no “inalienable” individual rights given by the “Creator.” There is no “Creator,” and rights are assigned by those who have the authority to assign them.
This distinction is profoundly important. Of course, were a member of NAME leadership to read this, I suspect they would counter “Of course that’s not true, we believe in all sorts of rights, such as the right to abortion, the right to racial equality, etc. We simply do not believe in a right of expression.” But, in fact, I would suggest that they do not believe in “inalienable” rights, but instead to the idea that people are obligated to provide rights agreed upon by the dominant culture. They are able to pick and choose what rights they “believe” in. There may be a basis for some idea of rights — primarily based on utilitarian principles, but the rights, like the justification, tend to be collective.Open letter
The idea of “inalienable” rights described by the Founding Fathers derives specifically from a Protestant Christian view of a human’s relationship with God. To Protestants, there are no intercessors between God and man, and the rights of man are given by God. This is in contrast to the traditional Catholic view that the Church represents the intercessor (hence the importance of confession), and the Progressive view that there is no God, and thus no inherent individual rights. This denial of individual rights is inherent in almost all Marxist/Socialist/Progressive texts – whether it be Liberation Theology, classical Marxism, or National Socialism.
But even the idea that rights are God-given has limits of course. There is, as the old opinion goes, no right to shout fire in a crowded theater. The mistake NAME mistakes, however, is that because there is no right to shout fire in a crowded theater, there is no right to speak at all. More important, the traditional American view is that, because speech is an inalienable basic right, people should bend over backwards to allow speech, even if they don’t like it, and only restrict it in extremis. The NAME position is the opposite – that speech is a privilege, and speech they don’t like should be allowed only when they are legally forced to allow it.
2. Protection of free thought has to rely on culture, not law.
There are a couple of profound problems with the NAME position. The first is that sometimes it is appropriate to shout fire in a crowded theater – for instance when there is a fire. And sometimes, it is not clear to the censor when a fire is and is not there. One example, is NAME’s decision to ban me because I noted the BLM/Antifa position regarding white supremacy
The second is that legal rights can only survive when the culture supports it. The Soviet Union had protections of speech and religion in its constitution, but it was ignored by the courts – because legal interpretation can obviate clear meaning. You see this in the Progressive interpretation of the Second Amendment that “the right to bear arms” applies to the government, not the individual. Or, more recently, that the right of religious practice has no force if the government thinks it’s very important to abrogate it. As Judge Learned Hand noted in 1944, “I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts,” he said. “These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it.”
Civilization is about more than rights. It is also defined by our culture—what we value, what we pursue, and how we treat dissidents, eccentrics, and other thinkers who fall outside the Overton window. Should we shame them into silence, or pretend they don’t exist, or hope that they are banned from various platforms? While we have the right to wish for their social exile, we should not do so. A culture that rejects free expression as a value is a culture without a reliable mechanism for error-correction. We can never be certain about anything, nor can we ever predict arguments that haven’t yet been conceived, written, or uttered. Arbitrary restrictions on what can be said about some topic presumes that the matter is forever settled.
3. NAME’s new position of freedom of thought is counterproductive to science
The writer above quotes John Mill, and continues:
“when society is itself the tyrant—society collectively, over the separate individuals who compose it—its means of tyrannizing are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries.”
To those who wish to shame, silence, or otherwise suppress uncomfortable, unpalatable, or offensive ideas, what is our argument? First, as Mill points out, even those confident that their opinions are correct will benefit from hearing a novel counterargument. They will come to understand their own position more clearly. If an idea that has been accepted as truth never has to be defended, it will become what Mill called “dead dogma.” An idea no one is permitted to question, even if true, may as well be superstition. Second, history demonstrates that absolute certainty is impossible. We are fallible mammals, capable of improvement but never error-free nor certain of anything. Progress requires creativity—we conjecture some new idea and subject it to criticism. Therefore, any criterion by which we shun particular ideas is necessarily arbitrary, mechanistic, and anti-human.
Shaming rival opinions into silence is counterproductive, since dissidents do not actually change their minds they just retreat into the shadows. During the 2016 presidential election, we saw how cultural intolerance leads to preference falsification which in turn distorts our ability to discern what people really believe, which ideas are popular, and in which direction the political wind is really blowing. How many people are terrified, right now, to express their honest thoughts about Black Lives Matter, or Reddit’s recent purges? A mature adult does not attempt to banish those with opposing views, and is instead secure enough in his ideas to face counterarguments.
The NAME leadership does not want honest thoughts about how the Black Lives Matter/Antifa political and moral philosophy will affect how we practice, and the threat it represents to our intellectual independence. Quite the opposite. The NAME leadership wants to quash questions about this and establish committees to enforce political and intellectual conformity.
This is a huge mistake. The history of forensic pathology, and of medicine in general, is a history of “settled science” and consensus thought that was proven wrong. But now we are not allowed to question thoughts that the NAME leadership decides must not be questioned.
The NAME position is hypocritical. By censoring free discusion of issues, it de facto imposes the positions of the NAME leadership.
Worse, the thoughts that the NAME leadership wishes to impose by the use of tools such as censorship betray the very rules that they pretend to uphold. The hypocrisy is stunning. We are not to talk about “politics” but it’s fine to condemn non-Progressive opinions as “conspiracy theory,” because it’s just common sense to condemn it as such. Thus, certain political views are not “politics” because they are “common sense.” Similarly, I am banished because I note Paul’s statement that God is not a respecter of race because that is “religion,” yet is it perfectly acceptable to engage in ad hominem attacks on physicians by ridiculing their religious beliefs. It is fine to censor people who talk about studies that indicate that hydroxychloroquine may be effective, because the use of hydroxychloroquine has been “debunked” and there “no evidence” that it may be effective. Thus, the claim is that anybody who suggests that hydroxychloroquine may be effective is doing it because of “politics” and anybody who suggests that it is worthless is doing science and not politics. We want to have an honest discussion about race, but only as long as “honest” means certain accepted opinions.
The problem is that important scientific issues of the day are necessarily political, because they are always associated with policy decisions. When NAME censors discussion of minority or dissenting scientific opinion by labeling it “political,” it is enforcing a political position.
This trend will destroy the effectiveness of NAME.
It’s all a facade. And NAME will suffer as this becomes the norm for our organization. The leadership will become more and more biased and more and more authoritarian. Eventually, the membership will vote with its feet. The same process has destroyed the American Medical Association. Over the past 30 years, it became increasingly unfriendly towards a large segment of the medical community, embracing large government, single payer, authoritarian medicine. And the membership walked. In the 1960s over 75% of practicing physicians were members of the AMA. Now it’s around 12%. But, in fact, the leadership of the AMA doesn’t really care, because it has become a self-selected group that prefers groupthink over diversity of opinion. As dissenting members left, the percentage of remaining members that support the AMA policies increases. The AMA has purified itself, but has made a mockery of its pretense of being the “voice” of physicians in the process. As NAME continues to enforce ideological purity among its members, the same thing will happen to it. It is, unfortunately, a self-reinforcing cycle. The NAME leadership will claim some consensus that supports its rejection of diversity of thought. When people who do not agree with the edicts of the leadership leave, that consensus will be stronger among those who remain, which will in turn encourage more rejection in the name of consensus. This positive feedback loop will destroy the organization.
I strongly encourage the NAME leadership to rethink it’s embrace of censorship on the NAME mailinglist.