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November 03, 2022

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I think you are correct. I live in a rural area which has a relatively high crime rate--but not in my vicinity, so I don't worry much.

I also think that some people are hardwired to be more responsive to fear messages than other and I think that responsiveness to fear messages is a defining characteristic of people who respond positively to Faux and Republican messaging generally. I think that Republican pols know this and make up fear messages each election cycle to use until the election is over with no actual concern about the issue.

with no actual concern about the issue.

IF, and it's a huge if, they were concerned about the issue, they would be coming up with concrete plans (not just "more police" etc.) to address the issues. To the point of introducing legislation to actually do something about them.

AFACT, the only issue where anything like that happens is abortion. Which isn't so much a fear issue as an in-group/out-group issue.

I also think that some people are hardwired to be more responsive to fear messages than other and I think that responsiveness to fear messages is a defining characteristic of people who respond positively to Faux and Republican messaging generally.

I think that this helps to start a conversation of what is at work in the media strategy of the right, and it is absolutely a factor.

But I also want to tug at the term "hardwired" a bit because when this concept gets used by commentators on the right it gets glossed as a species of "human nature," to be set in opposition with progressives notions of idealistic, but unnatural ways of seeing human behavior.

What I've taken from my reading about the neurochemical lives of political ideals is that these things do assemble into habits of mind that get used and reused as subroutines for decision making, but they can be hacked and they can be altered. It's just more difficult and more time consuming to try to maintain a subroutine that is more tolerant to difference and less responsive to threat.

And a sense of powerlessness and lack of agency plays against tolerance towards fear.

I'm currently working with my students to have them produce Speculative Journalism - writing that uses the tools of science fiction to frame research about current problems and trends by centering the imagination of the reader on the future - asking what it would be like to live in a future shaped by these trends instead of viewing the future as an interruption of current life that one can opt out of.

My advice to them has been to focus on the moments and types of change that they can affect, and to try to make those moments live for their readers, tied to a sense of hope.

It's probably the most important work I've done as a teacher. I hope it actually works.

Thank you Sebastian. My takeaways are:

1. Playing the crime card is inversely proportional to the population density of where you live.
2. If you reside in a rural area and are concerned about getting murdered, it might be wise to live in sin or lead the single life.
3. Spatial considerations also apply within metropolitan areas as crime is not uniformly distributed therein. Taking into account location, population density, incomes, and race would also come into play when analyzing the "fear" of crime.

Thank you Sebastian. My takeaways are:

1. Playing the crime card is inversely proportional to the population density of where you live.
2. If you reside in a rural area and are concerned about getting murdered, it might be wise to live in sin or lead the single life.
3. Spatial considerations also apply within metropolitan areas as crime is not uniformly distributed therein. Taking into account location, population density, incomes, and race would also come into play when analyzing the "fear" of crime.

Ha, until the repetition of bobbyp's comment, I thought we were (at least temporarily) through the Great Typepad Disruption. Anyway, I just wanted to say (hopefully only once) that I think this is a particularly interesting discussion.

I would note that, urban or rural, people tend to think that the other guy lives in a high crime area. And worries lest violent folks from there (whether ANTIFA or NRA) invade his relatively safe oasis.

Beyond the per capita numbers, there is the context in which violence tends to happen. Yes, there are the occasional "random" violent crimes, including murders, often but not always associated with robbery. But most involve people who know each other at least to some degree. If you don't have a beef with anyone, you're very unlikely to be the victim of violence, even in a city with a high rate of violent crime. It doesn't seem that way, though, because the ones involving the most seemingly innocent victims get the most attention.

To your point wj, there definitely is a fear of the 'other way of life' in crime stories. I sort of feel like that is why suburbanites are most open to it--they get to fear both the cities and the countryside

Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes describes the difference between rural and urban crime poetically:
You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there.”

“Good heavens!” I cried. “Who would associate crime with these dear old homesteads?”

“They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”

“You horrify me!”

“But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser.

I live in a small rural village, and the statistical rate of crime is undefinable: there are so few major crimes that averages need to be taken over decades to yield meaningful data. When a murder happens somewhere nearby, it is discussed very thoroughly by the local newspapers, usually being a case of internecine quarrels of drug abusers and merchants. When one of them does another in, and goes away to the big house, it isn't really a case of concern for the middle class: it is something to tell to the children as a warning example. It doesn't change the bedrock of your personal safety.

This is why it is a bit difficult to understand the American fascination with the murder rate: most murders happen to the lowest socioeconomic class, and are not really a concern for anyone outside it. Getting rid of them is a humane and philanthropic concern for better social work, but nothing really personally significant for a middle-class citizen.

This is why it is a bit difficult to understand the American fascination with the murder rate: most murders happen to the lowest socioeconomic class, and are not really a concern for anyone outside it.

I am in suburban California. In the last 3 decades, I think we have had 2 homicides in my town. Both committed, a year or two apart, by the same individual. (Who, as it happens, was a police officer. Now doing time for one of them; neither were justified.) It's something that we just don't experience -- so when we read the stories of places where deaths by violence do happen, it seems so utterly alien.

I don't think that any discussion of the propagandistic use of fear and violence for political gain is complete without a link to the 2006 NRA masterpiece - Freedom In Peril

https://boingboing.net/images/NR-F8_PERILFINAL.pdf

Check out pp. 14 and 15 and the echo of that image on the back cover. Fear is indeed given a spacial dimension in all the gloriously hyperbolic art that is not caricature.

What shocks me is how little the cast of villains has changed in 16 years, and how the current spectres haunting the paranoid are just updated reskins of the spectres of 2006.

And really, this is no different from the portrayal in Dixon's The Clansman and its more famous adaptation Birth of a Nation.

Looks like we lost some of the conversation comments. Bummer.

A bit late, but just want to say that some of this strikes me as a bit off:

1. Fear operates spatially.

Only if you assume that people are somehow preternaturally aware of events within a 10-block radius. I don't see really see that myself.

I'm certainly not. The investigation of some unspeakable crime could be unfolding less than a block from where I sit at this moment, and I might well never know. Unless you're unlucky enough to witness something first hand, the most you're ever likely to notice will be a swarm of flashing blue and red lights in the mid distance, the exact purpose of which is (usually) pretty inscrutable. A sensational serial murder, mundane suicide, outrageous police shooting, cowardly domestic violence incident, negligent hit and run, or mundane drug bust, heart attack, or kitchen fire all look pretty similar from the vantage point of a gawker on the corner down the street looking at the cars and lights. And even that much will only be visible if you happen to be passing at just the right moment -- whatever happened, it's likely to be cleared away without a trace within an hour or two.

I'm sure there are some weirdos compulsively glued to police scanners, or police blotter sites, aware of every pick pocketing incident in the entire city, but that's not most people. Neighborhood rumor mills might fill in some of the blanks, but not in a very trustworthy way.

No, most people get their perception of crime in their area from exactly one place, and it rhymes with Vocal Pews.

2. How much mind share crime prevention/avoidance takes up is important and it is different in a big city. You can see it as bars on first floor windows, or the need for a doorman.

I don't know about you, but in my experience, seeing a lot of buildings with doormen is a sign you're in a "nice" neighborhood, not a bad one.

Nor do bars on windows mean much these days. They might have, once upon a time, but AFAICT, most of the bars I've seen in cities like New York or DC are forgotten vestiges from a darker period at least 20 or 30 years past. It'd be foolish to walk around today and assume there's a rash of them as an indicator of some rash of home invasions happening today. Nor do I see new ones going in -- around here, at least, they instead tend to slowly disappear as renovations occur.

I've seen similar phenomena elsewhere in the world. I spent some time in Lima, where it's common to walk down streets surrounded by imposing walls topped with barbed wire, with armed guards at the door of every building. But that was also in *good* neighborhoods. Such measures are by definition a luxury, a signalling channel even, reserved for the wealthiest districts, the ones with the *lowest* crime rates. (Not counting the white-collar or political sorts, of course, but who ever does?)

3. How much control you think you have is also a concern...Things that are out of your control are scarier.

And yet, people largely remain woefully unconcerned by, for example, the ongoing stochastic bloodbath perpetrated by automobile drivers on American streets (and sometimes sidewalks). If people were actually concerned about getting killed randomly by a stranger, that should top their list.

Instead, you yourself didn't even think to mention it. The preoccupation with "crime" is entirely wrapped up in essentially illusory concerns, all too often centered about fears of "those people". Fears negligently seeded by sensationalized "it bleeds it leads" local news, and then carefully tended to and watered by the professional fearmongers of certain national news organizations and political parties.

No, most people get their perception of crime in their area from exactly one place, and it rhymes with Vocal Pews.

The preoccupation with "crime" is entirely wrapped up in essentially illusory concerns, all too often centered about fears of "those people". Fears negligently seeded by sensationalized "it bleeds it leads" local news, and then carefully tended to and watered by the professional fearmongers of certain national news organizations and political parties.

Thanks, jack lecou, for articulating this point. You said the post struck you as a bit off -- it struck me as so off that I didn't even know how to pin down what bothered me about it. You've clarified that for me.

3. How much control you think you have is also a concern...Things that are out of your control are scarier.

And yet, people largely remain woefully unconcerned by, for example, the ongoing stochastic bloodbath perpetrated by automobile drivers on American streets (and sometimes sidewalks). If people were actually concerned about getting killed randomly by a stranger, that should top their list.

Perhaps the difference is less about how much control we think we have, and more about whether we see the damaging actions as deliberate. Pretty much nobody goes out in a car for the purpose of using said car to hurt others. Which makes it less scary than someone committing a crime.

Perhaps the difference is less about how much control we think we have, and more about whether we see the damaging actions as deliberate. Pretty much nobody goes out in a car for the purpose of using said car to hurt others. Which makes it less scary than someone committing a crime.

Perhaps, but that is not the point Sebastian made.

And also: perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

How much effort do we really need to put into trying to come up with ad hoc justifications for these irrational fears (and the parallel strand of retaliatory power fantasies that ultimately manifest in profits for gun manufacturers and prison operators)?

The bottom line is that, however the internal details of rationalization and cognitive dissonance work in people's heads, the fears are still just that: irrational.

And if we're looking for a cause, it's really no mystery where they come from, or who benefits from amplifying and perpetuating them.

“The bottom line is that, however the internal details of rationalization and cognitive dissonance work in people's heads, the fears are still just that: irrational.”

I disagree completely. The fact that they are irrational doesn’t mean we can dismiss them at all. We have to work with how people’s minds work, not how we wish they worked. We can try to nudge them toward how we wish they worked, but that involves being realistic about how they’re actually functioning.

“ Only if you assume that people are somehow preternaturally aware of events within a 10-block radius. I don't see really see that myself.”

I find this puzzling. I neither watch the news nor am in the police scanner but I’m relatively confident I know of all the murders in a 10 block radius. How? Neighbors talk. A lot. I know about minor break ins 8 blocks away, homeless people wandering around 5 blocks away, dog bites near the school, kids playing in the canyon, that weird house that might have drug dealers in it. I’m not even trying to find this stuff out. I would hear about a murder. That’s even more true in small towns. But even in very large cities if you talk to your coffee shop owner, or dry cleaner, or postal place woman, you’ll hear of serious crime in the neighborhood.

“ I don't know about you, but in my experience, seeing a lot of buildings with doormen is a sign you're in a "nice" neighborhood, not a bad one.”

Yes. And the nice part of NYC *needs* a doorman to keep people out more than is needed in your average 10-20 unit complex on the border of a medium sized city and it’s suburbs. Would you leave your laptop unattended in a busy coffee shop to go to the bathroom? In most places you could. You’d be called any idiot for trying that in NYC. In SF you’re called any idiot if you leave anything visible on your car seat when you go somewhere. Even in most big cities that is fine. That’s a difference in what you have to think about.

Re the control thing you seem to be saying that people ought to worry about other things more. But I’m saying that they do not in fact worry about other things more. They worry about intentional violence if it is around more than accidents. That appears all across the world so it probably isn’t *mostly* FoxNews. Also even relatively low crime areas in the US are fantastically higher in violence than most of our peer countries.


My thought about all of this is that people who don’t live in NYC worry a lot more about crime in NYC than people who do live in NYC.

Ditto for any urban liberal enclave.

I am deliberately not going to link because focusing on per capita numbers doesn't get to the way our brains work.

This just seems like an apology for drawing conclusions based on a lack of information.

Do you think the per capita numbers are a particularly useful way of convincing people?

Do you think most people draw their conclusions from per capita numbers?

I’m happy to note that people often don’t form conclusions rationally. What I don’t know is how to influence them without understanding what drives their thinking. Especially on issues as visceral as fear of violence.

I suspect the most important per capita numbers are those which show that even in low crime states the US is wildly violent compared to many of our peer nations.

Do you think the per capita numbers are a particularly useful way of convincing people?

I think that trying to use per capita numbers is a steep hill to climb. My sense is that, below the conscious level, people hear the raw number of crimes in a city and project that onto their own city or town. Maybe a little allowance for the population of New York being bigger, but nothing like the real ratio. (If you don't live in NewYork, it's very hard to comprehend just how many people are packed into each borough. Let alone the whole city.)

So yeah, per capita numbers are probably the right way to look at it. But whether it is crime, suicides by gun, or anything else, "per capita" just doesn't penetrate on a visceral level.

I disagree completely. The fact that they are irrational doesn’t mean we can dismiss them at all. We have to work with how people’s minds work, not how we wish they worked. We can try to nudge them toward how we wish they worked, but that involves being realistic about how they’re actually functioning.

No, we really don't. To start with, you actually can't "nudge" people's minds to how you wish they worked. Nor should we probably try if we could. For better or worse, people's brains work how they work.

Luckily, if what we actually care about is the *output* of that process, we don't need to understand or change the machinery, we just need to change the input. Cut off the fuel source. Kind of like how you don't need a PhD in thermodynamics to know what's happening when the kettle boils: you can just turn off the heat.

This is one case where intuition and research align quite well. We know exactly where most of this fear is coming from. A glaringly obvious factor that accidentally went unmentioned in your OP: If we want to reduce the level of irrational fear people exhibit, maybe we could start by at least slightly reducing the number of people on television telling them to be irrationally fearful.

Easier said than done, to be sure. But it's a target that is at least a whole lot more tractable to change via public debate and policy than altering the inner workings of our collective amygdalas would be.

...Neighbors talk. A lot...

I believe I mentioned rumor mills...and their untrustworthiness. Just because the dry cleaner shares a rumor about a burglary doesn't mean you're getting an accurate summary of the crime statistics in your 10 block radius. You're as likely to be getting exaggerated over-reports, or blissfully ignorant under-reports.

But more fundamentally, what I was rebutting was your statement that "fear operates spatially" -- the implication presumably being that there is some relationship between the number of crimes in your immediate vicinity, and the level of fear. That they're linked in at least some causal, if not entirely rational, sense.

But, even if we assume people are perfectly aware of their surroundings -- maybe especially if they are -- we can see this plainly just isn't so. Indeed, if there's any particular relationship at all, it's an inverse one.

Take your locale. Which, as described, sounds like a nice, safe one, where the neighbors have time and energy to rumor about minor break-ins halfway across town, or whisper about a homeless person(!) spotted wandering 5 blocks away.

On the other hand, take my locale. Where, were I to mention to one of my neighbors that I saw a homeless person wandering by, I suspect they'd be far less impressed. At a wild guess, responses might range from something like, "So what, I saw 4 last night," to, "Oh, was it Jim? You know, we were in the war together. Good guy. Shame what happened to him."

Needless to say, reports about the distant sighting of a homeless man, particularly a harmless one, aren't really considered salacious neighborhood gossip here. And pretty much the same shrug would accompany getting your car window smashed in, or even that sudden crack-crack-crack noise heard in the distance late last night, that might have just been a small number of really inappropriately timed fireworks, but who knows (and if anybody does know, they aren't saying).

The point being that there is obviously a wildly bivalent geographical distribution in the actual incidence of street crime and associated "unseemliness". And presumably, therefore, a similarly bivalent distribution in its perception and the "inappropriate fear" it engenders.

And yet, if you ask me whether people in your neighborhood or my neighborhood were more fearful -- in the "inappropriately afraid of violence in cities" sense that we're discussing here -- I would guess yours instantly. And I suspect the polling backs me up on that.

Remember that the subject of this post is specifically "various voters being inappropriately afraid of violence in cities". That's almost by definition a group that's not actually *in* cities, and not intimately familiar with their actual problems.

Instead it's going to be (mostly) white, suburban voters who are quite certain there's very little crime in *their* neighborhoods or towns, but equally certain that there's an absolute epidemic of horror in those *other* places.

Because AFAICT the people in my neighborhood certainly aren't "inappropriately afraid" of anything. If they're afraid at all, it's likely to be exactly the appropriate amount. And "afraid" isn't really even the right word. "Cautious", perhaps, when appropriate. They're well aware there are problems. They're angry about some of those problems, and how they've been handled. But they don't live their daily lives in fear, especially not irrational fear of, say an old man named Jim wandering by with a shopping cart.

What they especially don't do, and this is the really critical distinction, live in pants-wetting fear of imagined crime that they heard are happening in other people's neighborhoods or cities.

I doubt the same can be said of folks in your town. Or at least an awful lot of towns like it. And yet, as you say, those towns are relatively safe, crime-wise. If they're getting this fear from some "10-block radius" it's certainly not the 10-block radius around their own homes. How, exactly, do you suppose they're learning to fear out of control crime waves in the big (liberal, natch) cities? Fear, with just the right hint of ghoulish self-righteousness. Hint: it's probably not from the local dry cleaner.

Yes. And the nice part of NYC *needs* a doorman to keep people out more than is needed in your average 10-20 unit complex on the border of a medium sized city and it’s suburbs.

How do you figure?

1. You seem to be confusing the function of "door man" -- a somewhat anachronistic job which remains around primarily to help with UPS packages and flatter well-off residents -- with the function of "security guard" and/or "magnetic key-card lock". If you think a doorman is a vital or effective defense against burglars or serial killers or whatever, rather than, at best, a minor impedance to the occasional drunk/ex-boyfriend/both, it's news to me.

2. To the extent they do perform that function, defense from such things should indeed be in far more demand on the edge of cities, or in a place like, say, Crown Heights or Queens rather than a place like the Upper East Side. Similarly, there should be absolutely no need for doormen at fancy buildings in low crime jurisdictions all over the world. And yet somehow, at least in my own anecdotal experience, the distribution of doormen and crime appears to be almost precisely inverted.

I guess the obvious possibility is that doormen are simply obscenely cheap and efficient crime fighters, especially relative to police, public works, etc. If so, this is a monumental discovery, and we should IMMEDIATELY propose a public program to hire more doormen and post them all over the place.

The only OTHER possible explanation -- and it's a long shot I'll grant -- is that well-to-do people can select low crime areas to live in, and subsequently like to have their doors opened for them.

Re the control thing you seem to be saying that people ought to worry about other things more. But I’m saying that they do not in fact worry about other things more. They worry about intentional violence if it is around more than accidents. That appears all across the world so it probably isn’t *mostly* FoxNews

You were the one that said "things that are out of your control are scarier". By which logic, (the possibility of) a runaway UPS truck should be scarier than (the possibility of) a mugger waving a gun in your face. (Indeed, in a multitude of ways: you can control whether you go places where muggers hang out. Try avoiding places where UPS trucks hang out.)

Now, presented with that conundrum, the goal posts seem to have moved. From "things not in control" to "intentional violence". Fine. But that's a different argument, one that seems not particularly interchangeable with the arguments made to support the original point. E.g., my hypothetically murderous spouse would certainly have plenty of "intent" on her mind, so why am I still not worried?

What I would suggest is that go ahead and call the original "out of control" point crossed off. If you're actually going to make the "intent" case instead, go for it. It looks like it needs some fleshing out.

(Hint: I suspect the thing you're struggling to put your finger on there is the unique thrill of fear that comes from imagining a stranger, someone currently unknown to you, wants to hurt you. But I'm not sure you're going to want to follow that where it leads.

Because it can't be a specific stranger. Nobody you could name or put a face to or who you could have offended in some way. And it's not all strangers, of course, not just any random person. That would be ridiculous, because why would they want to hurt you? No. The only way it makes sense is if there's a particular type of stranger to worry about. Particularly someone who wants to hurt your type of people.

And how do you know these others want to hurt you? Why, someone like you told you they do. Now it's a scary situation. Something should be done to control it. Maybe you should hurt them first...)

They worry about intentional violence if it is around more than accidents. That appears all across the world so it probably isn’t *mostly* FoxNews

First, let's have a little chuckle at the implied notion that "FoxNews" analogs are a uniquely American phenomenon.

Ok, now that's over: don't forget I actually mentioned sensationalized "Vocal Pews" before I mentioned national networks, and of the two I expect it's both the more important and the more universal. There's something like it virtually everywhere, and they've been doing good business on sensationalized crime since at least the Ratcliff Highway Murders.

But when it comes to things like traffic violence, it's not even really a partisan issue anyway. Our views on that are conditioned by attitudes that are normalized at a national, even pan-national level.

Nevertheless: they are not universal or intrinsic. Just look back at the early twentieth century, and how people reacted when cars first appeared on their streets and killing them. There was plenty of outrage, and it had little to do with "intention". They were worried about, you know, the alarming increase in pedestrian death rates. It took a lot of lobbying and media manipulation to make those attitudes go away.

In the end, status quo bias is probably the simplest explanation. (Not that this should let the media or the AAA entirely off the hook - they're proof that the status quo can be changed.)

Actually, it occurs to me that I'm being a little uncharitable about the "control" issue.

Control is a thing. "Look both ways" is an attempt to regain some control of our fate as we cross the street. "What was she expecting, dressed like that," is an attempt to restore some illusion of control about who gets raped.

So control, or the illusion of control, is definitely a factor in how people feel about problems, or moderate their feelings about problems.

But that doesn't really track on the so-called "crime" issue.

If it were control at the center of this, then all people would need to do to put themselves back in control would be to blame any supposed crime on the victims for being in the wrong place, or flashing their money around, or "looking shootable", or whatever.

And the people who've most successfully isolated themselves -- the suburban elites -- should find this the easiest to do. They should be able to dismiss the "problem" easily.

And yet, they don't. Indeed, they're the most exercised about it.

So it's not about control. Not that kind of control, anyway.

Instead it's going to be (mostly) white, suburban voters who are quite certain there's very little crime in *their* neighborhoods or towns, but equally certain that there's an absolute epidemic of horror in those *other* places.

This reminds me of a conversation I had in the Verizon store a few months after George Floyd was killed and a lot of people went to the streets to assert that black lives do matter.

The youngish guy who waited on me (who was white, though with a vaguely hispanic look and surname) was telling me that he was about to take his girlfriend to his home town of Portland, Oregon. He shook his head in sadness and expressed some worry that basically amounted to the notion that he was going to find whole neighborhoods that were burnt-out shells.

This, because TV (and no doubt social media) had told him that that's what had happened.

Thanks yet again, jack lecou, for the effort that went into these comments.

“ I believe I mentioned rumor mills...and their untrustworthiness. Just because the dry cleaner shares a rumor about a burglary doesn't mean you're getting an accurate summary of the crime statistics in your 10 block radius. You're as likely to be getting exaggerated over-reports, or blissfully ignorant under-reports.”

But the more serious the crime the less that’s true. You are more likely to hear about every murder. You’re more likely to hear about every violent robbery *until* they happen often enough that people don’t bother to mention it, at which point a lot of people are already afraid. You don’t need inappropriate levels of local news reports for that. I’m not claiming I know about every petty crime in a 10 block radius. But I am suggesting most people know about every murder in a ten block radius. And if you are in a dense enough place *not* to hear about every murder in a ten block radius you definitely heard of at least one—which is already more than most people.

If you hear about someone shoving a person onto the subway tracks *at your station* that will cause increased fear even if the per capita rate of murder isn’t as high as 1990. That’s because you go to that station. You can remember how many times you’ve been standing at that station. That’s the spatial aspect of fear.

I don’t think your experience with people and control is the same as mine. My experience is that if their main method of soothing fears is trying to gain control over the way things interact with their lives that they become more pushed off balance when small things go in ways that they didn’t expect. They do that about things that shouldn’t even cause fear (like the door getting stuck or the salt shaker at the restaurant being empty), much less violence that actually taps into real reasons for fear.

What we are dealing with here is the amygdala hijack and fear conditioning. It's an autonomic response. It can be stimulated and conditioned for manipulative reasons. It can also be counteracted, but that requires conscious effort and cooperation. None of this part is mysterious. You can get a decent idea of the current research on the topic even without institutional access to the psych journals.

This neurochemical reaction interacts in complex ways with prior trauma. That adds a new wrinkle into dealing with the irrationality of amygdala responses.

As far as it being spatial, I think what Sebastian is describing may vary by location (ha!) and may very well be shaped strongly by a selection effect.

Suburbs and exurbs are spaces formed in response to fear and animus. They are zoned and patrolled with that implicit notion of threat at the very core of their collective identity. They are a rejection of the cosmopolitan space of the city. It's no wonder that the residents there are more strongly moved by the amygdala. The residents chose to live there for that very reason. Suburbs are spaces of control and fear. That is the main reason for their existence.

Which is why I think we need to understand and accept that this sort of fear conditioning happens, and account for it in our collective decision making, but we also need to reject the idea that this is our evolutionary destiny.

It can be resisted. We can build social worlds that help with that.

We should try to do that.

if what we actually care about is the *output* of that process, we don't need to understand or change the machinery, we just need to change the input. Cut off the fuel source.

"Just change the input"??? I'm really curious how you propose to cut off the fuel source. I can maybe see doing so with a brutal censorship program -- although even those appear, in the event, to be a lot less than totally effective.

But if there is any kind of open access to content? Too many people with an interest, least in their own minds, to destructive input. I confess that I don't understand the motivation behond those who invent fantasies for QAnon, and then proclaim them to be fact.** But it's obvious that they are out there.

** Unless you subscribe to the paranoid view, which I confess to entertaining occasionally, that the whole QAnon thing is an artifact of Russian intelligence services. In which case at least the motivation is explicable.

The context for this discussion - the elephant in the room - is that (R) partisans regularly make claims about extreme levels of crime and violence, especially in those big cities where all the liberals and “blah” people live.

In fact, rates of crime in general and violent crime in particular are historically low. Murder, specifically, went up in 2020, but is still below historical rates.

So the claims are not true. But they are made just the same, and are made for obvious reasons - to make people afraid.

I have no intention of citing per capital crime statistics to persuade people that crime rates are not on the rise. It would be a fool’s errand. I’m not unfamiliar with the thought process and belief systems that lead people to conclusions like that, because I know and interact with and am in fact related to people like that, and I am very well aware that me citing facts and figures to them is not gonna make even the tiniest dent.

I don’t engage with those folks about topics like this because they are impervious to persuasion from people like me.

Everybody - every single person - is prone to coming to conclusions that are not based on good information. We are all responsible for having the self-awareness to know when that is happening, and to make some effort to inform ourselves about reality.

Right?

There is little to nothing I can do to get people who are in the habit of filling their heads with BS to stop doing that. And I really wish folks would stop trying to make it my job to do that. It’s not something that is available to me. I wish it were. It’s not.

The “can you leave your phone unattended” line of argument was, I thought, an interesting one, but as a kind of counterpoint, I’ll note that family members who were living the dream on a rural spread outside of Eugene OR lost most of a herd of goats to a mountain lion and her cubs who had taken up residence on their property. So they kept their dogs inside and carried guns with them all the time until the county animal control guy came and dealt with it. Not a problem I run into much here in my liberal coastal enclave. Every place and every way of life has its own risks.

Obviously the fault of the 'soft on predators' policies that liberal city dwellers with no idea about true (=country) life have come up with and imposed despite e.g. bears running rampant even within cities (countless yotube clips on that). Not to forget the wild hog invasions*.
[/sarcasm]

*on a smaller scale we have that over here (Berlin, Germany). There is discussion about allowing pest control the use of bows and arrows because hunting with firearms is deemed too risky within city limits. Most people find the images of the animals walking dowen a boulevard rather funny and only get angry when the flower beds in their gardens get ruined in the night.

As an example:

Everyone in NYC lives within 10 blocks of a murder within the last year.

Is this true? No, it's not.

It took me about five minutes and a browser to fact check that.

I agree that people react strongly to violent crime. We are wired to have strong reactions to danger. That's not a bad thing. It helps keep us alive.

I also agree that there is value in keeping that in mind when engaging in any kind of discussion around violent crime. It's a disturbing topic, people's responses aren't always rational.

But you won't make any headway at all in countering the fear-mongering that is part of our current social climate without *also* citing facts. Which is to say, plain old concrete reality.

And there is also a very large group of people who are not open to persuasion, because they spend their days filling their heads with bullshit that reinforces their prejudices and resentments. No amount of thoughtful consideration or empathy from the likes of People Like Me will make even the tiniest dent in that.

Are you using the default one month setting? Because unless I missed a precinct, only the 108 had no murders in the last 12 months?

I selected crime location for the type of map, murder for the crime, and September ‘21 to September ‘22 as the time range.

Also - NYC != Manhattan

The 88th and 104 don’t return numbers at all for me so that might be zero? The white color isn’t zero murders though. Almost all the white precincts have 1-5 murders. You have to click on each precinct individually.

Hmmm weird now the 108th doesn’t show zero anymore it just shows no number. I think there’s something wrong with the phone interface I’ll have to try it on my computer to be comprehensive.

So, a couple of things.

Precincts that show no murders in the time period 9/21 - 9/22:

1, 17, 20, 63, 64, 88, 108, 111.

So there’s that. Also, not to pick nits, but the claim was “within 10 blocks”, so you really want to look at the crime location map, not the precint map.

It’s also worth nothing that a precint in NYC is somewhere between 50k and 200k people. So, the equivalent of a small city in most places. How many cities of 50-200k people have no murders in a year?

There are a lot of murders in NYC. That number has gone up over the last year or so. All of that is concerning.

And the number, even at its relatively elevated level, is historically quite low. The plain fact is that violent crime is at historically low levels in NYC and in the US overall.

That information is easily discoverable.

Your original post calls for a better discussion about the fear of violence, one that isn’t just based on numbers, but on an understanding of how people’s brains work.

What I’m saying is that I don’t see how to counter what is, basically, an irrational thought process other than through information.

It would help if we didn’t have an entire industry of propagandistic liars deliberately stoking people’s fear for their own aggrandizement. But that isn’t likely to change, because some folks value their own aggrandizement - financial and otherwise - above all other concerns.

So what do People Like Me do about all of that? What do I bring to a discussion of fear of violence that will make it better?

As far as I can tell, all I have to bring to table is reality. When someone says, for example, everyone in NYC lives within 10 blocks of a murder in the last year, I say to myself “wait, is that so?”, and I go look. And if I find it’s not so, I try to bring that to folks’ attention.

And in the case of the millions upon millions of people who believe NYC and cities like it are hellholes full of violent murderous maniacs just waiting to slaughter them as soon as they step foot in them, that information is going to fall on completely deaf ears.

Do you disagree?

Not trying to stick it you here, just expressing my frustration at the state of public conversation here in the US at this time.

I don’t think that conversation is on offer. The social climate in the US cycles between progressive impulses and reactionary authoritarian nationalism. The latter is on the ascendant at the moment, has been for a while, and as far as I can tell there’s not a lot to do other than wait for it to swing back the other way.

I appreciate, sincerely, your interest in promoting more fruitful dialogue.

How many cities of 50-200k people have no murders in a year?

Raises hand.

Admittedly, we're at the low end of that population range. On the other hand, since 2000 we have had a grand total of 2 homocides. Both, as it happens, "officer involved shootings". Same officer both times. (He is no longer here, and is awaiting trial for one of them.)

Quite possibly, we're very unusual. Still, the folks who comment here are an very, very tiny sample of the nation. But we still got one city that fits the bill.

https://www.areavibes.com/library/top-10-largest-cities-no-murders/

The interesting thing about these 10 cities is most of them could be characterized as suburbs on a medium loose definition.

Russell, my point is not that we should ignore facts. My point is that we should be guided in how think about presenting facts by the way that most people think things, not by how people good at statistics think about them.

Eg: you know how you heard that Irving got killed by a robber in the next county? New York sounds scarier because that mean people live in a ten block radius so hearing that it happened 10 blocks away is to them a lot like hearing about Irving.

Does that totally get around the spatial component? No. But it addresses the spatiall component so they can look at it.

Ugh. Supposed to be ‘that many people live in….”

Some of the cities in the 100k-200k range along the northern Front Range in Colorado have occasional years with zero murders. Some in that size range never have years without murders. The big difference is the cities in the latter group each has a cluster of inexpensive motels along a major highway. There's a fair amount of ethnic gang transit through the area that uses those motels. My city of ~175k will switch from being one of the former group to one of the latter group sometime in the next few years because they're going to annex an interstate interchange with exactly that problem.

Sebastian's list suggests a geography question: only one of the ten is east of the Mississippi, and Naperville isn't that far east of the river. That's not actually a surprise. Because of development patterns (timing largely) large suburbs are a relatively western thing. Pick suburbs based on some criteria -- zero murders, say -- then sort them from largest to smallest and the top of the list will be full of western suburban cities.

I saw a study once that picked a group of contiguous St. Louis inner suburbs that struggled to provide services. The study showed that if 15 or so of them would consolidate into a single city of 200k, they collectively had a huge surplus of mayors and city councilors, more than enough professional personnel, more than enough equipment and buildings, and an entirely adequate tax base.

Sebastian, what would be a good way for me to present information about violent crime to someone who believes it’s dramatically worse now than in recent years? Other than noting that, in fact, it’s not?

Not trying to pull your chain, just not understanding what would actually work.

Depending on where you are (and by that I mean a lot of places, even NY), violent crime is somewhat worse than in recent years, but not dramatically. You might say something like: statistically violent crimes are not really up much but post-Covid there seems to be a lot of pent up angst and anger so I bet you see a lot more situations where people are touchy toward each other. That definitely sucks because it makes you think about crime or the risk of violent reactions more than you used to.


Also there is a noticeable but not-consistent-at-least-as-far-as-I-can-see stickiness about certain opinions that is odd.

To take two examples well out of the area of violent crime:

Have you ever met the person who was good looking and popular in high school and still thinks they are 40 years later? It seems like their version of themselves got stuck.

In discussions about schools in California I regularly hear the objection that public schools in rich neighborhoods get many more resources per pupil from local property taxes that feed the inequality. That was absolutely true in the 60s and 70s, but hasn't been true since the late 70s/80s because like most of the big states, CA has aggressive school board funding equalization. CA has lots of challenges, but per pupil equalization is not one of them.

So back to the question at hand, I sort of think that if something sounds right to you it sticks and is really tough to dislodge. You have to get at why it sounded right to you first, before you can then dislodge it with facts.

Seems like crime fears are very much being used in an attempt at an amygdala hijack for political gain:

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2022/nov/25/fox-news-crime-coverage-decline-us-midterm-elections

Seems that all the focus on threat is absolutely a propaganda tactic meant to push viewers into irrational, tribal reactions.

And if the research on these amygdala vs. anterior cortex, neurological hacks is reliable, the key to countering the fear is not acknowledging it and reframing the narrative there, but rather to play Superman to the RW Batman framing. Make the viewer feel empowered and focus on what they can do to protect the vulnerable, rather than focusing on punishing the wicked.

Sebastian H - We have much the same thing in Western Washington (possibly the whole state, but I don't know for sure).

The equalization-per-pupil is a great idea, but it still fails students in depressed neighborhoods, because the parents in wealthy neighborhoods contribute great googobs of money to their schools that the state can't match, and certainly that depressed districts can't.

I know this because I got into a semi-heated discussion with a former coworker who was one of those wealthy people in a wealthy neighborhood. She'd be very proud of what her neighborhood contributed: it allowed for a lot of curriculum enhancements, not to mention extracurricular activities (which can be important in terms of getting into college as well as for their own sake).

She also didn't want her kids mixing with kids who came from less affluent areas - she said it was because she worried the not-rich kids would be resentful and try to take advantage of her kids. I saw it as just another way the wealthy isolate themselves from the non-wealthy to the point where they have no meaningful interest or stake in "the general welfare" of society.

The equalization-per-pupil is a great idea, but it still fails students in depressed neighborhoods, because the parents in wealthy neighborhoods contribute great googobs of money to their schools that the state can't match, and certainly that depressed districts can't.

In my state, the huge fails are not neighborhoods but big wide rural swaths. Overall financially, the rurals receive, the urban districts contribute mildly, and the suburban districts contribute bigly. The problem we have no solution for is, choosing an example, we haven't figured out a way to connect the best of those rural students to AP American History in an equitable fashion. Not directly, not online.

Not directly because at some point compensation is just not a substitute for teachers saying "I can't meet people I'm interested in socially without driving 100 miles." I write now and then about the professional services death spiral in the Great Plains.

Not online because, based on research I was deeply involved in almost 30 years ago, the online software and networks available are not oriented to providing the kind of social interaction that is needed. Interaction that is, IMHO, entirely possible.

If we can solve that AP problem, we're well on the way to solving the rest of the academic problems.

"Just change the input"??? I'm really curious how you propose to cut off the fuel source. I can maybe see doing so with a brutal censorship program -- although even those appear, in the event, to be a lot less than totally effective.

Well, as I said, this obviously isn't a simple finger snap. But it is likelier easier than trying to reprogram how people think.

Or, at least equivalent. Sebastian mentions "nudging" people into healthier thinking patterns, but he's not explicit about what those nudges are exactly. Assuming we're going to rule out measures like mandatory semi-annual psychotherapy checkups, or dosing mood stabilizing drugs into breakfast cereal, I can't really think of any levers by which those nudges could be applied that don't themselves involve regulating the (broadly defined) media landscape in some fashion.

That doesn't automatically mean censorship though, never mind "brutal" censorship.

Social regulation is an important factor. Calling out bad behavior when we see it. Attaching stigma to it. Supporting academics and media watchdogs who document the problems in detail, and media which develops that input into counter-programming. Ultimately those measures allow us to develop some level of social and intellectual antibodies so the misinformation can't run quite so rampant. That's not a perfect process, and it takes time, especially when the trends are running the other way, but it does work in its fashion.

I think publicly-funded media is another powerful, if imperfect, tool. We seem to lack the institutions for this is in the US at the moment, but Germany's many public broadcasters, for example, seem to be healthier, and produce at least marginally healthier outcomes.

Then there are the glaring regulatory problems/solutions which don't touch on content directly at all. The media landscape would be a hell of a lot healthier if maybe a couple fewer mergers had been approved over the decades, for example. It certainly wouldn't hurt to break a few conglomerates up, and then actual enforce competition and transparency on the business side of the media industry. Including social media.

Finally, maybe more controversially, I'm not sure I really see a problem with strengthening explicit legal barriers to spreading misinformation.

There are barriers in place if I stand up and start lying about something that damages your "reputation", but far lower barriers (if any) to standing up and systematically lying about, say, "race science", or global warming, and causing far more damage to whole classes of people or even the entire planet.

People talk about a "marketplace of ideas", but a marketplace is someplace with a lot of competition. And a healthy marketplace also requires shopkeepers and/or overseers who can regulate product quality and safety. What we have is more like a "Walmart of ideas". One with shelves full of faulty, expired products, obviously rotten fruit, and snake oil.

Oh - forgot a point:

A lot of misinformation is in fact spread and amplified by sitting politicians.

Yet legislative bodies are capable of policing their own members. They typically already regulate the speech and behavior of members, particularly on their floors, and there's nothing (AFAIK) stopping them from expanding that self-policing and adopting rules which would more strictly regulate what sitting members (or would-be members) say in campaigns and media appearances.do

Social regulation is an important factor. Calling out bad behavior when we see it. Attaching stigma to it.

This is, I believe, what has happened with homosexuals. Yes, some people's opinions changed, typically when they discovered that a couple of their personal favorite relatives were gay. But the sea change was it becoming socially unacceptable, in most of the country, to trash talk gays. Still happens in the rabid fringe. But in general, not really acceptable. So we changed behavior, even if opinions changed far less.

I can't say how we go about affecting that kind of change on other subjects (though the case of homosexuality demonstrates that it is possible). But it seems like the most feasible approach.

One trap I think we need to be careful to avoid: lecturing/pontificating about how a particular behavior is unacceptable. As we have seen, that only excites push back along the lines of: "Who the hell do you think you are, telling me what to do?" Exhortation -- not useful for this. It's going to take something a LOT subtler to get the job done.

One trap I think we need to be careful to avoid: lecturing/pontificating about how a particular behavior is unacceptable. As we have seen, that only excites push back along the lines of: "Who the hell do you think you are, telling me what to do?" Exhortation -- not useful for this. It's going to take something a LOT subtler to get the job done.

I can't decide if that sort of thing is an inevitable part of the process, or not how it works at all, but either way, I'm not sure it's relevant.

This is sometimes a long, complex process, especially with issues like racism or LGBTQ rights, and it kind of depends on where in that process you are. But I don't think there's any point where success really hinges on exactly how Uncle Charlie retorts when someone at Thanksgiving dinner tells him he's "not supposed to say that anymore" or whatever. Uncle Charlie may or may not think twice about what he says next time, but all the *other* people around the table might listen, to some degree, and by definition you've already gotten through to *someone* at that table.

The bigger problem is communicating the subtleties of the issue in the first place. Which is something I think that, for example, a lot of 90s sitcom specials fell down on. I'm not going to say they did more harm than good, but the message was often very shallow: people learned that "racism is bad" without actually learning anything about what racism was, how it works, or how it is embedded in so many aspects of our society. Which is why we end up here in the 2020s with people who insist they're not racists, because that would be bad, they just think that those cops were completely justified because, I mean, that guy looked like he might have been a violent gang member...

It's also not really Uncle Charlie we need to worry about with the crime issue, at least in my opinion. Not unless Charlie is a producer at the local news station. Because that's ultimately where the results happen: getting producers to feel so dirty about the kind of coverage causing these problems, that they just don't do it in the first place, at least mostly. Uncle Charlie can't retort to what he hasn't ever seen in the first place.

It's hard to see how that happens without first having at least some level of broader awareness in the general public as well, of course, but you don't need to worry about every Uncle Charlie either.

they just think that those cops were completely justified because, I mean, that guy looked like he might have been a violent gang member...

Hmm. That's probably not subtle enough. It would probably sound something more like "...the cops were completely justified because that guy wasn't following all their instructions to the letter. And maybe statistically this department does stop some people more than others, but that has nothing to do with *this* particular case."

But I don't think there's any point where success really hinges on exactly how Uncle Charlie retorts when someone at Thanksgiving dinner tells him he's "not supposed to say that anymore" or whatever. Uncle Charlie may or may not think twice about what he says next time, but all the *other* people around the table might listen, to some degree, and by definition you've already gotten through to *someone* at that table.

Most critically, the kids at the table a) don't just hear Uncle Charlie's opinion going unchallenged (and thus endorsed), and b) in contrast hear that saying such things isn't good. Thus we still have adults who are homophobic, and unlikely to change their view even if they learn to hold their tongues. But their kids consider that someone being gay is a total non-event.

Of course that's why we see idiocies like the "don't say gay" bill in Florida. The adults actually realize (although perhaps not consciously) that their kids may come to not share their comfortable bigotries.

And, in a sense, they are right. The law won't work, if only because even grammar schools have their own culture. And, in that culture today, someone being openly gay, or talking about how they feel about being gay, is going to keep happening. Law or no law -- only picture DeSantis coming to a junior high school and trying to explain to the kids why they shouldn't do that. Stiffling Uncle Charlie is a walk in the park by comparison.

I think publicly-funded media is another powerful, if imperfect, tool. We seem to lack the institutions for this is in the US at the moment, but Germany's many public broadcasters, for example, seem to be healthier, and produce at least marginally healthier outcomes.

Mixed bag. When private TV companies were allowed on air first in the Kohl era "quality TV" got under immense pressure because the state controlled (less independent than e.g.the BBC) broadcasters had to maintain standards (however questionable) while the private companies produced what's popular (and thus lowest common denominator). State TV had already a reputation of being watched mainly by older and in general higher educated people. The competition made it even worse since the public TV started to lower quality standards to get viewers back which did not really work but drove off even part of the old audience. The situation has slightly improved since then. But in any case the state owned media companies are not the opinion leaders. Their internet activities are limited by law thus reducing their reach even further.
That we do not have a Faux Newts equivalent is more due to lack of appeal and to legal regulations against the stuff 'normal' there.
The true filth is still in newspapers (Murdoch found himself unable to compete with the BILD there). There are no state newspapers, although some dailies are close to certain political parties and seen as their inofficial mouthpiece.
On the other hand state control of media can easily lead to formal or informal censorship and bias. Bavaria used to be notorious for de facto censoring broadcasts shared among the media companies of the West German states. It became a joke that if "broadcasting interrupted due to technical difficulties" messages appeared on the TV screen in Bavaria, it meant that certain political comedians had stepped over the line of the ruling conservative party again. Imagine what US red states would do.
In the former GDR the area around Dresden was known as Tal der Ahnungslosen (valley of the clueless) because due to geography it was out of reach of West German broadcasts. And the state youth organisation also was used to climb roofs in the night to turn antennas East or to simply tear them down, if they pointed West.

I guess these days quality state media (if it existed in the US) would find it difficult to compete with the information cesspool of the internet. The state governments would intervene (at least in the red states) and the actual targets for non-fake news would be inoculated against those to begin with (if it's on state media it must be fake unless it's agreeing with my prejudices, my pastor and the local GOP chapter. It also lacks the seal of Q approval).

I live in a thriving city, population approaching 150k, which, so far as I can tell from news reports, has a murder about one year in three.

The most recent one was last Saturday, a 17-year-old stabbed to death in a park, in what police think was a "targetted killing".

I don't have a political point here. I don't feel threatened by it, but I do feel sad.

I sort of think that if something sounds right to you it sticks and is really tough to dislodge. You have to get at why it sounded right to you first, before you can then dislodge it with facts.

Joking aside, not only does this sound right to me, I'm pretty sure it is right. But other than that, I must say I pretty much agree with what jack lecou
says, particularly (but not limited to):

Social regulation is an important factor. Calling out bad behavior when we see it. Attaching stigma to it. Supporting academics and media watchdogs who document the problems in detail, and media which develops that input into counter-programming. Ultimately those measures allow us to develop some level of social and intellectual antibodies so the misinformation can't run quite so rampant. That's not a perfect process, and it takes time, especially when the trends are running the other way, but it does work in its fashion.

I think publicly-funded media is another powerful, if imperfect, tool. We seem to lack the institutions for this is in the US at the moment, but Germany's many public broadcasters, for example, seem to be healthier, and produce at least marginally healthier outcomes.

Then there are the glaring regulatory problems/solutions which don't touch on content directly at all. The media landscape would be a hell of a lot healthier if maybe a couple fewer mergers had been approved over the decades, for example. It certainly wouldn't hurt to break a few conglomerates up, and then actual enforce competition and transparency on the business side of the media industry. Including social media.

Finally, maybe more controversially, I'm not sure I really see a problem with strengthening explicit legal barriers to spreading misinformation.

There are barriers in place if I stand up and start lying about something that damages your "reputation", but far lower barriers (if any) to standing up and systematically lying about, say, "race science", or global warming, and causing far more damage to whole classes of people or even the entire planet.

People talk about a "marketplace of ideas", but a marketplace is someplace with a lot of competition. And a healthy marketplace also requires shopkeepers and/or overseers who can regulate product quality and safety. What we have is more like a "Walmart of ideas". One with shelves full of faulty, expired products, obviously rotten fruit, and snake oil.

And the follow up:

A lot of misinformation is in fact spread and amplified by sitting politicians.

Yet legislative bodies are capable of policing their own members. They typically already regulate the speech and behavior of members, particularly on their floors, and there's nothing (AFAIK) stopping them from expanding that self-policing and adopting rules which would more strictly regulate what sitting members (or would-be members) say in campaigns and media appearances.do

Of course, taking steps to implement any of these suggestions is fantastically hard, particularly in "our" (liberal democracies' - even if teetering on the brink) systems. But starting out with the aim of doing it, as opposed to a reflexive and non-negotiable "free speech" reaction would be something.

I sort of think that if something sounds right to you it sticks and is really tough to dislodge. You have to get at why it sounded right to you first, before you can then dislodge it with facts.

Joking aside, not only does this sound right to me, I'm pretty sure it is right. Apart from that, I agree with most of what jack lecou says, particularly, but not limited to:

Social regulation is an important factor. Calling out bad behavior when we see it. Attaching stigma to it. Supporting academics and media watchdogs who document the problems in detail, and media which develops that input into counter-programming. Ultimately those measures allow us to develop some level of social and intellectual antibodies so the misinformation can't run quite so rampant. That's not a perfect process, and it takes time, especially when the trends are running the other way, but it does work in its fashion.

I think publicly-funded media is another powerful, if imperfect, tool. We seem to lack the institutions for this is in the US at the moment, but Germany's many public broadcasters, for example, seem to be healthier, and produce at least marginally healthier outcomes.

Then there are the glaring regulatory problems/solutions which don't touch on content directly at all. The media landscape would be a hell of a lot healthier if maybe a couple fewer mergers had been approved over the decades, for example. It certainly wouldn't hurt to break a few conglomerates up, and then actual enforce competition and transparency on the business side of the media industry. Including social media.

Finally, maybe more controversially, I'm not sure I really see a problem with strengthening explicit legal barriers to spreading misinformation.

There are barriers in place if I stand up and start lying about something that damages your "reputation", but far lower barriers (if any) to standing up and systematically lying about, say, "race science", or global warming, and causing far more damage to whole classes of people or even the entire planet.

People talk about a "marketplace of ideas", but a marketplace is someplace with a lot of competition. And a healthy marketplace also requires shopkeepers and/or overseers who can regulate product quality and safety. What we have is more like a "Walmart of ideas". One with shelves full of faulty, expired products, obviously rotten fruit, and snake oil.

And, of course, his follow up:

A lot of misinformation is in fact spread and amplified by sitting politicians.

Yet legislative bodies are capable of policing their own members. They typically already regulate the speech and behavior of members, particularly on their floors, and there's nothing (AFAIK) stopping them from expanding that self-policing and adopting rules which would more strictly regulate what sitting members (or would-be members) say in campaigns and media appearances.

The problem, of course, is how to implement any of these suggestions in "our" (liberal democracies' - even if teetering on the edge) systems, without reflexive and quasi-religious "free speech" reactions.

“ Finally, maybe more controversially, I'm not sure I really see a problem with strengthening explicit legal barriers to spreading misinformation.

There are barriers in place if I stand up and start lying about something that damages your "reputation", but far lower barriers (if any) to standing up and systematically lying about, say, "race science", or global warming, and causing far more damage to whole classes of people or even the entire planet.”

I am opposed to this.

Right now in many places including the US there are attempts at making the IHRA definition of antisemitism a government endorsed and in a sense “ legal” definition. But the original author of it, Kenneth Stern, is opposed to using his product in this way. He originally meant it as a tool for people to use when investigating antisemitism—the idea is that people who say A,B, or C might— key word there is “ might”— be guilty of antisemitism, but he recognizes that it would be a barrier to honest discussion and debate if codified because so many of the IHRA examples involve what people say about Israel. I’d put it more bluntly— it would be a definition that makes anti- Palestinian racism mandatory, because their basic narrative regarding the rights and wrongs of the conflict would be by definition antisemitic.

So in the real world we do have various governments trying to dictate what is or isn’t beyond the pale on this issue and wouldn’t you know it— the attempt at censorship in the name of fighting antisemitism is a racist kick in the teeth for Palestinians. And nobody should be surprised.

There are very extreme cases like advocacy for genocide where you might think such a law would be just and maybe I would agree, but then be prepared to argue why people shouldn’t be fined or jailed for defending various aspects of US foreign policy. Note that I am not even talking about the officials directly responsible for some morally noxious policy, but all those who are apologists for it. Also notice that the word “ genocide” these days is applied to a great many crimes by someone. Be prepared to argue why it is genocide when country A does X, but not genocide when country B does something similar.

Anybody who thinks they have the wisdom or the power to impose laws on what can be said on issues like this vastly overrates themselves and cannot be trusted. This applies to everyone on all parts of the spectrum. I have my own list of arguments and positions that are morally despicable and it is pretty damn long, but wouldn’t dream of outlawing them. If you believe in free speech at all it begins with free speech for people with positions you abhor, and presumably you have good reasons for your abhorrence.

Also, sometimes ( often) it is the government that spreads poisonous misinformation. That’s kind of awkward.

I don't even disagree with much you say, Donald, and (for example) I also wouldn't dream of outlawing "arguments and positions that are morally despicable". But, since you bring up the issue of antisemitism, I would wish there to be, for example, a way to outlaw the spreading of "alternative facts", like that no Jews (or other undesirables) were gassed at Auschwitz. These kinds of outright lies (and lawsuits have been fought on them e.g. David Irving v Deborah Lipstadt etc) lay the necessary groundwork for the morally despicable arguments and positions. As long as there is no limit to the lies that can be asserted, there is no limit to the way that the craziness built on them can spiral out of control.

I have no idea how it could practically be done, of course. You can pretty much prove there were gas chambers at Auschwitz, but I don't know how you can prove that Bill Gates hasn't masterminded a scheme to inject people with microchips along with the Covid vaccine.

But if a way could be found to do it, I do think there could be a distinction drawn between views, opinions etc, and facts. And I do think that if it could be done, it would be well worth doing.

since you bring up the issue of antisemitism, I would wish there to be, for example, a way to outlaw the spreading of "alternative facts", like that no Jews (or other undesirables) were gassed at Auschwitz.

Outlawing bigoted speech or despicable opinions seems like a terrible idea. Just for openers, it's seriously problematic to define either term clearly. On the other hand, it is a lot easier to outlaw speech which says things which are demonstrably false.

To play with the vaccine microchip example, if there are examinations run, and exactly zero produce an example of a microchip in a vaccine, well that's false. If someone gets up and declares that the earth is flat (not that anybody else probably cares), that too is demonstrably false. On the other hand, if someone says that building X was erected on a indigenous burial site (and thereby eliminated all trace of the site), and someone else say no it wasn't -- well good luck finding evidence either way. So, there would be some challenges defining exactly what constitutes evidence of fact or lack of evidence. But that is at least doable, if we wish to make the effort.

To play with the vaccine microchip example, if there are examinations run, and exactly zero produce an example of a microchip in a vaccine, well that's false.

Who runs the examinations? Who certifies and chooses the people who run the examinations? Who chooses them?

The whole "I'm doing my own research about Covid" crowd would laugh in your face.

For that matter, to whom do restrictions on "publishing" false information apply? Who enforces the restrictions? Who has standing to challenge violations?

It's a nightmare.

Not that Fox News and the Gish Gallop aren't also nightmares.

I've got no answers.

Who runs the examinations? Who certifies and chooses the people who run the examinations? Who chooses them?

"You say there are microchips in there? Fine. We'll go down to the vaccination clinic and get a dose.** Then you do the analysis (with me watching) and produce the microchip that you say is there."

If the particular individual says he wouldn't know a microchip if he saw one, it could be an option for him to being an assistant aling who would. But in that case, most likely the story originated elsewhere, and the individual was just repeating it. That's still a problem, but I'd put additional penalties on those who dreamed up the falsehood in the first place.

** In practice, they aren't going to be willing to wasre a dose on this. But as a general process, this is how it could be done.

All those questions show, very starkly, how problematic this is. I've got no answers either, but I sure wish something along these lines was possible, and I wonder if it is completely beyond the wit of man or woman to come up with some answers.

jack lecou's comparison with libel laws seemed a possible starting point, along with his mention that a healthy marketplace also requires shopkeepers and/or overseers who can regulate product quality and safety.

What we have here are the results of regime cleavage. It's not just a matter of having a preference for one set of facts over another. We have a rejection of the legitimacy of any source of information outside of doctrinal boundaries - largely on the basis of it having violated central tenets of said doctrine.

You cannot argue against anything if the person you are attempting to reason with has already categorically rejected the legitimacy of your grounds.

That is where we are with a significant faction of our fellow citizens.

along with his mention that a healthy marketplace also requires shopkeepers and/or overseers who can regulate product quality and safety.

Unfortunately, the current problem stems, in significant part, from a refusal to accept that someone else might have relevant expertise to be any kind of overseer. Once you reject expertise, as a concept, there's little way forward. All the rest of us can do is hope you don't make too big a mess for the rest of us before your refusal kills you off.

On Holocaust denial, I suspect if you ban it legally it just goes underground, but would be open to data refuting it. Holocaust denial is an extreme inexcusable case where the evidence is clearcut and the crime being denied is one of the worst in history, but once you let the government ban this, people start looking for other cases which are supposed to be equally obvious. Germany is not a friend of pro Palestinian activism and it is in part because they are trying to make amends for committing the worst crime in history. So they engage in censorship not just on the Holocaust, but on antizionism.

The point of the IHRA example is that this is what state control of what is legitimate is going to look like in real life, because this is happening in real life and I get the distinct impression most people don’t know about it unless they follow that issue. It is a huge issue to people who follow the I- P conflict and apparently invisible to everyone else, but there you have governments defining antisemitism in the name of fighting it. If you like censorship, there is your precedent.

I see zero reason to think anybody can be trusted with state power on this issue and no reason to think liberals will be much more trustworthy than conservatives. Even with science, I assume everyone here knows examples of where scientists were completely certain and dead wrong on some issues. It has been highly entertaining following the decades long debate over the asteroid impact theory for the dinosaur extinction— at the beginning a great many paleontologists spluttered in outrage over this absurd notion. Yes, there is expertise, but on controversial topics there generally are at least a few experts taking a minority position. The idea that you can institute a government- enforced censorship regime by relying on “ expertise” is bizarre. And even when all the real experts agree, which I suspect is rare outside of mathematics, people won’t react well to government clampdowns on wrongthought.

Climate change deniers are morns, but people should be free to make their stupid cases. If one wants to make a case for censorship on a few very very extreme cases like what happened at Auschwitz, then maybe, but such cases should be counted on the fingers on one hand with fingers left over.

Lying about massively important topics is part of human existence and was presupposed by people who first argued in favor of free speech. Nothing has changed. If anything, the stakes are lower, as arguments for free speech in the Western world came about during the Reformation period, when Catholics and various Protestant sects were persecuting each other on the grounds that wrong thought would destroy society and lead people to Hell.

Here is an example of “ experts” being wrong on a political matter.

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/10/19/hunter-biden-story-russian-disinfo-430276

I don’t care about the Biden laptop, or at least not very much, but it was fascinating to see 50 former intelligence agents saying it had the hallmarks of a Russian intelligence operation. And much of the mainstream press echoed this assessment, not wanting this Russian disinformation to influence the election. So there you have the respectable press and intelligence experts all ganging up on the New York Post, and I think Twitter or one of the social media sites got in the act, censoring the Post story but as it happens the Post was right.

So when people figure out who has expertise and assemble their panel of experts, please leave the intelligence agents off the list, as they tend to be professional liars even if their supposed expertise actually exists.

Again, very sympathetic to your point of view, Donald, and on the IHRA issue I am aware and closely connected to people on the (at least intellectual) frontline.

Lying about massively important topics is part of human existence and was presupposed by people who first argued in favor of free speech. Nothing has changed.

But I think that something very consequential has changed. Mass communication, and particularly globally available mass communication, which not only informs but enlists. The dangers (both physical, and perhaps more importantly and firstly, mental) seem to me to be of an entirely different kind, quantitatively and therefore qualitatively speaking.

"You say there are microchips in there? Fine. We'll go down to the vaccination clinic and get a dose.** Then you do the analysis (with me watching) and produce the microchip that you say is there."

If the particular individual says he wouldn't know a microchip if he saw one, it could be an option for him to being an assistant aling who would.

This is where long experience with BS claims on the old usenet sci.skeptic comes in handy.

Because the dishonest scammers are dishonest and will weasel their way around any "reasonable" tests, and refuse any "air tight" tests as "unfair for (ever-changing bogus reasons)".

On an individual level, don't waste your time on them. On a societal level, scrag 'em and let them be an example.


Also, sometimes ( often) it is the government that spreads poisonous misinformation. That’s kind of awkward.

It seems like having legal grounds for a lawsuit would be quite useful in such a case.

Because to be clear, that's what I was proposing, at least there. Not some "Federal Bureau of True Facts", but rather, something very analogous to how defamation works.

IANAL, but I believe the bar there is typically pretty high, at least in US-style laws. You can't usually just sue someone for saying something untruthful a couple times, it has to be knowing, willful, callous, etc. And then (in some states) there are SLAPP protections as well.

Even so, we've actually seen defamation law itself serve this function recently, as with Alex Jones and Sandy Hook. Or look at how careful Fox hosts are these days when they talk about election machines.

There are also other penalties if the situation is serious enough: IIRC, there's some possibility that Exxon et al. might face some (probably minor) legal consequence for decades of willful lying about global warming.

But there are limits. For example, it's not necessarily possible to take action against someone who's making more generalized -- even if equally flagrant and damaging -- accusations against entire peoples. Or for making statements that damage more than just reputations. Look at Andrew Wakefield: a proven fraud, lost his license, and continues to go around profiting off that fraud. Indeed it is Wakefield who has (unsuccessfully) attempted to employ libel laws against critics, rather than, say, parents of dead children.

So I'm just suggesting that there might be room for those existing legal mechanisms to be rationalized and expanded in logical ways. E.g., why shouldn't a group of Hispanic immigrants be allowed to try to sue Trump for calling them rapists? Why shouldn't an LGBTQ organization be allowed to go after Tucker Carlson for putting them under additional threat of stochastic violence?

I don't know. I'd like to think I'm as skeptical as anyone about using courts for this. Especially civil courts. And of course it's true that this is tied up in so many other issues: general erosion of trust in (competent) authorities, the continued evolution of mass (mis)communication technologies.

But the bottom line is still that we as a society do need to come up with *some* way to adjudicate untruths and start actually leaving them in the past. There was a brief shining moment where literacy, truth, and science seemed like they were winning, but I fear that moment is slipping away, dissolving back into noise, and rumors of monsters and witches in the forest. Simply meeting speech with more speech is plainly not sufficient to meet the threat posed by that noise. And the First Amendment cannot be a suicide pact.

I've been monitoring this discussion about the regulation of socially damaging falsehoods. I'd like to offer something (along the lines of balancing freedom with responsibility and holistic opportunity cost), but I really don't feel like I have enough of a grounding in the subject to get an idea of the alternatives already before us. The answer is, of course, research, but that ain't happening with only a week of classes left before finals.

So instead, I'll just suggest that Cass Sunstein seems like a good person to start with when trying to figure out how to navigate questions of free speech vs public interest. (Stanley Fish had some things to say, too, but that was a while ago - still probably worthwhile reading if you had the chance).

Starting with Sunstein - and responses to Sunstein - will save a lot of time spent reinventing bad wheel designs. It probably ruins a little of the fun of the sandbox game as well, but I'd always rather start from a good foundation.

What jack lecou said, especially with the excellent examples of Infowars and Andrew Wakefield, and perfectly, IMO, in his last paragraph.

One should be allowed to make an argument for anything. But I see no value, and considerable scope for harm, in being free to publish falsehoods represented as facts.

One should be allowed to make an argument for anything. But I see no value, and considerable scope for harm, in being free to publish falsehoods represented as facts.

Should one be allowed to argue against the truth of a fact that is held to be indisputably proved?

Who gets to decide what is true?

What if the Decider gets it wrong?

How likely are Americans to tolerate any limits on what they can and cannot say?

As for those who think there should be a remedy for the Alex Jones of this world, try crafting a rule so tightly that only AJ and his ilk are exposed to costly, years long litigation. What you'll find is the knife cuts both ways and the unintended consequences of trying to make our world safer by suppressing the fringe (note the contradiction in terms) will quickly spin out of control. If you think there is danger in unfettered speech but no danger in speech suppression, you are not a student of history much less an observer of modern times, see e.g. Iran, the PRC, N Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, etc.

Back to work.

PS, my new gig: www.mckinneymediation.com

Best of luck on your new gig, McKinney

I haven't had time to read all the comments, but this current thread at BJ is about the spread of (dis)information via social media. Kendzior is mentioned -- IIRC there were arguments about her here back in the day.

Should one be allowed to argue against the truth of a fact that is held to be indisputably proved?

I don't understand the question as a response to my assertion that "One should be allowed to make an argument for anything". But for the avoidance of doubt: my position is that one should be allowed to make any honest argument about anything.

Who gets to decide what is true?

Courts decide questions of fact.

Courts decide questions of fact.

Even that can get problematic when judges have zero background in things like science and engineering. Or how facts are actually determined.

Not to forget that some judges are political hacks or zealots who are not necessarily interested in the actual truth of a matter.

Even that can get problematic when judges have zero background in things like science and engineering.

I assumed "courts" would include juries in the case of dueling expert witnesses at a jury trial.

"But I think that something very consequential has changed. Mass communication, and particularly globally available mass communication, which not only informs but enlists"

I don't think the change is that consequential. In generations past massively harmful false beliefs were passed on as part of the one's cultural background--hence in the US we have spent hundreds of years as a racist society. People didn't need Twitter or Facebook to justify slavery or practice lynch law. I think there is a tendency to imagine that the major issues of the current moment are somehow worse than events in the past, but this just seems wildly implausible to me. Technology does make a difference, but in other areas--we are now able to change the global climate, and an all-out war would destroy civilization and so forth, but social media is just a different way of spreading harmful BS. People have always had extremely effective ways of doing that.

And I think part of the mainstream concern about social media isn't just about the falsehoods--some of the concern is about the fact that ordinary people can now bypass the media gatekeepers and discuss things with each other. And yes, we can end up in our own ideological bubbles. But I think that Twitter is a net positive, not that I want to spend too much time on it. But I do spend some and there are people there (mostly on the left, but not entirely) I like to read whose views I would never find in the respectable liberal newspapers or magazines. The fact that unpleasant kooks can also spread their BS is not good, but it is part of free speech and it has always been part of free speech that you have to put up with the bad stuff to get the good stuff.

If you think there is danger in unfettered speech but no danger in speech suppression, you are not a student of history much less an observer of modern times, see e.g. Iran, the PRC, N Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, etc.

I do think there is danger in unfettered speech, but I also think there is danger in speech suppression. This is a completely consistent and obvious, not to mention intellectually respectable, position. That is why this question is so difficult. The law of unintended consequences needs to be kept in mind at all times.

No time to read Donald at the moment - he deserves time and attention - later.

But for the avoidance of doubt: my position is that one should be allowed to make any honest argument about anything.

That's really key. It seems to be one of the places that disagreement hinges on.

Genuinely [i]honest[/i] argument is almost never a problem. If there's some "indisputably proved" fact, but you genuinely have new arguments or evidence to present, you're very welcome to do so.

But if you're simply rehashing an argument that has previously been made -- and presumably [i]rebutted[/i] -- well, that's not actually honest, is it? And at best, it's just a waste of everyone's time. At worst, we... One way or another, it's a problem. Depending on the context, there might be some leeway for initial honest ignorance, but only some.

By the time you're knowingly repeating the same false statement (or falsely-premised statement) the second or third time, it's not an "argument", it's just a lie. Full stop.

Yet this is the Whack-a-Lie pattern that repeats over and over, and in more and more places. Skeptics have been dealing with it for years from Creationists, Flat Earth loons, Ancient Aliens bozos, etc. But it's also been weaponized on an industrial scale for things like tobacco, global warming, and now seemingly something new every other week, at an apparently ever more rapid tempo: crime waves, COVID vaccines, elections, etc.

Courts decide questions of fact.

It's worth noting that, in part because of the above, courts often don't need to make a firm decision about facts, at least not scientific facts. They don't necessarily need to say "the theory of gravity is true", only find that argument X against gravity is flawed, and that so-and-so knew that when they went ahead and told their friend to jump off the cliff anyway.

A subtle difference, but maybe an important one.

I don't think the change is that consequential. In generations past massively harmful false beliefs were passed on as part of the one's cultural background...social media is just a different way of spreading harmful BS. People have always had extremely effective ways of doing that.

The fact that harmful beliefs previously existed doesn't necessarily rebut the idea that things have changed.

There's extremely effective ways, and then there are extremely effective ways. I think there are legitimate questions to be asked about whether the kind of scope, scale, and speed possible with social media turns it into a qualitatively different problem.

Certainly, for better and worse, it's a lot easier to find people like you. Once, you might have just been the village nutter. Now you can get on your computer and lead a movement.

That can be great if you're isolated and marginalized and need a support group. Not so great if you've got a harmful belief that you'd like to get affirmed and spread. Especially when there's a commercial or political interest looking to push some some usefully distracting argument with 'grassroots' appeal.

To my mind the danger here isn't so much that any one of these beliefs might spread quite as widely as anti-semitism or racism, but rather that the noise of so many fractured, opt-in realities will simply outweigh the signal, and true belief will no longer make any headway.

And I think part of the mainstream concern about social media isn't just about the falsehoods--some of the concern is about the fact that ordinary people can now bypass the media gatekeepers and discuss things with each other. And yes, we can end up in our own ideological bubbles.

I'm sure that's partly true. But the follow up question is: what if gatekeepers of some kind are actually a vital organ for information hygiene.

I'd also note that, in practice, "bypassing media gatekeepers" appears to often simply mean substituting a figure like Joe Rogan in their place. All of the great gatekeeping taste, none of the institutions of journalistic ethics.

There's an important distinction here too: most of the good parts of breaking down those barriers have come from genuinely creative expression: an outpouring of indie movies, fan fiction, garage music, science and how-to videos, even gaming streams.

I remain unconvinced that it's unpossible to distinguish the two. To preserve outlets for positive creativity, while simultaneously doing something to push Joe Rogan's public health advice to somewhere within a light year or two of reality.

I don't think the change is that consequential. In generations past massively harmful false beliefs were passed on as part of the one's cultural background--hence in the US we have spent hundreds of years as a racist society. People didn't need Twitter or Facebook to justify slavery or practice lynch law.

I tend to think that the change IS consequential, but that it is also not sui generis in our experience. What we have today that did not exist in the past is a means of building broadly integrated niche communities that would once have been far more isolated in size, distribution, and influence. There are far fewer geographical barriers or barriers of access in a globally networked world.

That does not mean that this is an inherently bad thing. I can think of several niche communities I belong to whose social worlds have been greatly enriched by these connections. That does not mean, however, that these new modes of free association are not going to corrode systems of social protocol that endanger the function of liberal democracies built in a less integrated world.

I think we are at a moment of inflection, and I don't know what course of action best serves the needs of our coming moment, just that our current moment is not looking good for large scale, consensus approaches to global problems.

I think there are legitimate questions to be asked about whether the kind of scope, scale, and speed possible with social media turns it into a qualitatively different problem.

Yes exactly, especially scope and scale. You can enlist an army quite quickly now, to storm the Capital or to do anything else (believe in Q springs to mind), whereas that was not possible at scale some decades ago.

I might as well just say "what jack lecou said". And I think nous @06.28 makes good points too.

A couple other half-formed thought that haven't really fit in, or I haven't had a chance to write up, in case anyone wants to dive in:

- "Not all bubbles." Bubbles are really just feedback cycles of learning and belief reinforcement, which is not always bad. In fact, that's sounds incredibly helpful. The problem is that in some bubbles, maybe most bubbles, that's a downward feedback spiral, rather than an upward one. What we need to be doing more of is strengthening the walls on the positive bubbles while finding ways to actually pop some of the negative ones.

- Education is a pretty critical bulwark here: both in terms of media literacy, and inculcating a basic background of facts and science to model the world with. Interestingly, we all accept that the provision of education, down to deciding on which facts to teach, is actually pretty explicitly a core governmental/political function, even (especially?) in areas where teaching of the truth has been eroded by Creationist school boards, anti-CRT governors and so forth.

- Capitalism, or at least the closely related fetishization of profit and wealth over every other value, has a lot to answer for here. In addition to hollowing out journalism, the brainworms are arguably doing even worse damage in institutions of higher education. (Worse because those institutions were, historically, much more isolated than journalism, which has always been fairly commercial. It's worth asking what a genuinely acommercial journalism, with less compromised institutions of inquiry and truth-seeking, might be able to accomplish.)

courts often don't need to make a firm decision about facts, at least not scientific facts. They don't necessarily need to say "the theory of gravity is true", only find that argument X against gravity is flawed, and that so-and-so knew that when they went ahead and told their friend to jump off the cliff anyway.

A subtle difference, but maybe an important one.

Not just important, but critical. Because it is vastly easier to make that case.

Capitalism, or at least the closely related fetishization of profit and wealth over every other value, has a lot to answer for here.

I appreciating you making that distinction.

Unregulated (aka toxic) capitalist is a serious problem. But capitalism with some level of regulation remains far better than any other economic system we have come up with yet. Rather than trashing the capitalists, save your fire for the libertarians, who insist on "freeing" it from regulation.

I'm sensing a sea change in the fundamental social and political fabric of the country. After my initial comment above, I came across this article:
https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2022/11/academics-are-reconsidering-the-meaning-of-free-speech.html

Which then sent me back to this thread. Here are two representative slices that seem highly problematic to me:

I've been monitoring this discussion about the regulation of socially damaging falsehoods.

The notion of regulating "socially damaging falsehoods" now seems to be a thing on the left, and more of a thing the farther left one goes. Musk's purchase of Twitters seems to be a major factor driving this discussion. Regardless, this is a full 180 degree pivot from the left I grew up with in the 60's and 70's, which hints at "free speech for me but not thee", as the left--then on the outside looking in is now institutionalizing itself. Leaving that aside, Nous refers us to Cass Sunstein, who proposes limitations on speech based on--if you can tolerate this inconsistency--an originalist concept of free speech imputed to James Madison, the sum and substance being that free speech would be limited to that speech which is necessary to promote "deliberative democracy."

Here is an excerpt from a review of Mr. Sunstein's book Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech:

"Always prescient to the collective needs of his times, Czar Sunstein has fashioned a "reasonable" theoretical framework for allowing the government to regulate and control 'expression' classified as 'unnecessary' to Madison's concern for 'deliberative democracy'. (You can almost be excused for failing to notice that 'government' will be deciding where and when such boundaries are erected.)"

A cynic might say that a leftist's deployment of Madison (a slave owner!) as a means of limiting speech is opportunist hypocrisy. Or, a cynic might say that Sunstein, and others, so strongly prefer their narrative, that Madison or any other 'port in a storm' will do as a justification for limiting speech to what is "true" with "guess who would be the arbiter of truth and not truth?".

Switching now to Jack Lecou, he writes: Interestingly, we all accept that the provision of education, down to deciding on which facts to teach, is actually pretty explicitly a core governmental/political function, even (especially?) in areas where teaching of the truth has been eroded by Creationist school boards, anti-CRT governors and so forth.

Actually, no, we do not all agree that government and politicians tell us what "facts" to teach when the "facts" you have in mind is CRT or other leftist dogma. Math and science, sure, those are empirical, objective pursuits, but gender theory and CRT are highly debatable, scientifically and historically open to question. They are only "true" in a small, very left wing corner of the universe.

Which, I suspect, is the point of the left's move toward censorship: it can't win arguments on the merits. CRT/DEI/Intersectionality have not been critically addressed and tested by anything approaching the scientific method in academia. Instead, academia excludes or suppresses dissidents and now speaks with one, uncritical voice. However, the rest of us can also read and reason. Many of us are well familiar with US and world history, the law, the Constitution and whatnot and we know BS when we see it.

Excluding dissent is what the left is all about these days, except when it's the left doing the dissenting. It's a really difficult argument to make in the US because of our widely held view of free speech as a core freedom. So, look for the progressive left to dress up it's act with concerns for safety and security and protecting minorities from oppression, blah, blah, blah while always standing for the right to "honest" disagreement, with the self-same progressive left being the arbiter of what is and is not honest.

Quite frankly, true progressives should be ashamed that we are even having this discussion. It's an embarrassment to have to defend unfettered free speech in America. Parenthetically, thanks to WJ, JanieM and Donald for pushing back.

Two final notes:

1. As someone who finished his last ever trial 2 weeks and 2 days ago, the upthread conception of what the courts do and how "facts" are determined is 100% disconnected from reality. This is the result of a lack of knowledge, which should strike at least some of you as concerning since you're building a case for speech suppression on the efficacy of a venue about which you know virtually nothing.

2. Charles 3:34 comment in the What it Means thread is worth taking to heart IMO.

Very interesting piece from NYMag, partly rehashing arguments we have had here, but adding more voices and examples. On a personal note, I was delighted by the section on (my previous obsession) the Fairness Doctrine.

Instead, let people debate and sort things out collectively. Or as Holmes put it in his 1919 Abrams descent, “The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.”
But this idea presupposes that the participants in the marketplace will operate in good faith. If they don’t, the mechanism for sorting good from bad will break down. Just as customers in a rigged commercial market are liable to be fleeced, participants in a corrupt marketplace of ideas will get duped. “The ‘marketplace of ideas’ approach does not match up very well with our current world, where we know that the truth doesn’t rise to the top,” Hasen points out. “Otherwise there wouldn’t be 65 percent of Republicans believing that the last election was stolen.”

And that failure to sort truth from lies presents its own dangers. In 1945, as a Europe freshly scoured of fascism lay in smoldering ruins, the Austrian philosopher Karl Popper described how unconstrained free speech can lead to its own extinction: “If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

Annoyingly, my access cut off straight after that excerpt, and I already have enough subscriptions, thank you. But in my opinion, as far as I got, I thought the approach fair and interesting. Did the writer come down on any side in the end?

McKinney, if you think anyone here is blithely proposing censorship of free speech, you are wrong. Speaking for myself, the original Rushdie fatwah cemented my conviction against censorship. But I do think we are operating in a very particular context, where the liars (currently) have all the weapons, and are taking advantage of what might now be anachronistic concepts (this was stated more elegantly in the piece). And their project may end, as Popper foresaw, by removing the rights of anybody who disagrees with them to have any power at all, electoral or otherwise.

Having written that, I read the rest of McKinney's comment. It's so interesting (but not surprising) that his obsession with the ideological dictatorship of "the left" led him to concentrate his argument against nous and jack lecou, particularly on the issues of CRT and gender ideology. Whereas he, and most of you, live in a country which this year saw an attempted coup which might have resulted in the end of your democracy. All based on a lie which was and is believed by a substantial proportion of your population. CRT? Gender ideology (about which, as many of you know, I mainly agree with McKinney)? An interesting emphasis, given the actual, proximate risks.

As "anti-CRT governors" are concerned, I don't think their mention was intended to advocate teaching CRT (particularly to young children). Those governors (and others in office or of influence) use CRT as a boogey man to attack curricula that include what should be uncontroversial matters of race that do not constitute the academic pursuits of a relatively small number of scholars.

It's another political football that "the right" (since we're apparently doing it this way) has latched onto to get some people worked up by tapping into whatever fear or hate makes them react to such things the way they do. Somehow this big threat to our kids was completely unknown for decades until someone figured out how to use it politically.

Were it not for "the right," I might not yet have known what it was. Thanks for keeping me woke, "the right"!

It's so interesting (but not surprising) that his obsession with the ideological dictatorship of "the left" led him to concentrate his argument against nous and jack lecou, particularly on the issues of CRT and gender ideology. Whereas he, and most of you, live in a country which this year saw an attempted coup which might have resulted in the end of your democracy. All based on a lie which was and is believed by a substantial proportion of your population.

I chose Nous and Jack as examples. I focus on the left favoring censorship because it is the left who is favoring censorship. And it isn't just isolated voices. Regardless of whether CRT is a boogey man or a real concern, suppressing speech on the topic-or any topic-should not even be a topic of discussion. But it is and it is the left bringing it up.

Leaving aside the accuracy of your characterizations of people's advocacy for suppressing speech, I'd like to know what you think is motivating it, McKinney. It seems as though you find it sinister rather than merely well intentioned but wrongheaded.

The notion of regulating "socially damaging falsehoods" now seems to be a thing on the left, and more of a thing the farther left one goes.

It should, perhaps, be noted that "socially damaging falsehoods" is precisely the charge that Putin (hardly an avatar of liberal/progressive thought) makes against those who try to speak the truth about his war in Ukraine. Similarly in China regarding covid, among other things.

In short, pretty much anybody who dislikes something the other guy says will bring the same charge. "Falsehood" being entirely, for them, a convenient label not attached to any objective test.

I focus on the left favoring censorship because it is the left who is favoring censorship.

It might be more precise to say that the left is the group currently discussing whether or how to do so. Whereas the right, at least in the US, is already enthusiastically pursuing it. See, for example, DeSantis' "Don't say gay" law, and his attempts to stifle Disney, or anyone else, who speaks up against one of his policies.

Leaving aside the accuracy of your characterizations of people's advocacy for suppressing speech, I'd like to know what you think is motivating it, McKinney. It seems as though you find it sinister rather than merely well intentioned but wrongheaded.

Well, mind-reading is not one of my strong suits. However, I do draw inferences and the direct answer to your question is "Individual motivations vary."

More specifically, the hard core progressive IMO is informed by a Foucault/Marcuse fusion that utilizes whatever policy or rhetorical device is at hand to advance the Frankfurt School's version of socialist utopia. This core is ruthless and completely unprincipled. They scare the shit out of me. A ring or two out from this circle are the hardcore, progressive true believers who really think they know for a fact what everyone of us should do and think and say and if we won't fall in line, then the consequences are on us not them because we had our chance to get right with their obviously correct worldview and chose not to. So, screw us. "Us" is everyone who doesn't buy into the Progressive narrative. I'd characterize this group as profoundly arrogant, conceited and incredibly ignorant. There is a large subset of vicious assholes within this group. Then, we have the outer rings who are progressive because they truly believe in the program. If left to themselves and were not being pushed by the inner rings, we would have ObWi circa 2008. Call the outer rings "well intentioned but, for the most part, unwilling to push back when it's the obvious and correct thing to do." There are exceptions: JanieM on this issue. Donald on this and others. WJ, who dissents more than most. But, for the most part, I don't see a lot in introspection and group self-awareness.

In the interest of equal time for the douche-baggery of conservatism, give this timely piece a read: https://www.nationalreview.com/2022/11/being-a-conservative-or-republican-has-always-been-cringey/

I chose Nous and Jack as examples. I focus on the left favoring censorship because it is the left who is favoring censorship.

I think that evidences a remarkable blindness on your part to what's going on.

I suggest you might want to first ask yourself why "the left" is turning to what you feel to be extreme measures. Like, is it your understanding that this is simply coming out of the blue, or is there perhaps an escalating series of events and actions which are motivating the salience of this discussion?

Obviously the latter is the case, and that context has to be the starting point for a discussion. There's certainly room for reasonable people to disagree on the scope of those problems, or what measures might or might not be appropriate to address them -- I'm not by any means certain myself -- but refusing to even acknowledge the context frankly doesn't strike me as arguing in good faith.

I would also note that characterizing anything and everything as "censorship" is at minimum, assuming the consequent.

It's obviously not the case that any and every encumbrance on speech constitutes "censorship". Legal restrictions on defamatory speech, threats, heck, even copyright violations are all widely accepted. As are private restrictions.

And then, electing to teach schoolchildren that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, or that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old is not "censorship" under any conceivable definition.

Whereas the right, at least in the US, is already enthusiastically pursuing it. See, for example, DeSantis' "Don't say gay" law, and his attempts to stifle Disney, or anyone else, who speaks up against one of his policies.

Regulating time, manner and place of when speech can occur is not censorship, if the regulation falls within well-defined and free speech friendly Supreme Court guidelines. We can argue about Kindergarten-3rd grade curricula all you like, but you would first need to tell me why discussing sex, sexuality or homosexuality or heterosexuality with small children is a good idea. We raised two kids. Other than wanting to know where babies came from, neither of them, nor any kid I've ever known, had an interest or even a frame of reference for discussing any of the topics the FL legislation addressed. And, if you want to advocate that free speech includes speaking to 5 five years old's in sexually explicit terms, fire away; however, good luck persuading any court or or the public at large that you have a constitutional right to do so.

I suggest you might want to first ask yourself why "the left" is turning to what you feel to be extreme measures. Like, is it your understanding that this is simply coming out of the blue, or is there perhaps an escalating series of events and actions which are motivating the salience of this discussion?

I address the "why" of it somewhat in response to HSH. However, I'm not the proponent of limiting to speech to that which is "true", you are. As the proponent, tell me factually why, in today's world, we need speech regulated (or whatever it is you think needs to be done), as opposed to any other time in our history.

We can argue about Kindergarten-3rd grade curricula all you like, but you would first need to tell me why discussing sex, sexuality or homosexuality or heterosexuality with small children is a good idea.

Not everything discussed in schools is part of the curricula. What if a kid asks why Billy has two moms? Is it unanswerable without leaving the space of good ideas?

And, if you want to advocate that free speech includes speaking to 5 five years old's in sexually explicit terms, fire away;

What in the Sam Hill are you talking about?

Remind me, who is currently purging school libraries and then getting apoplectic and crying censorship when their written down standards are imposed equally and hit their own beloved books (e.g. the Bible for meeting in essence ALL criteria on their list for removal)? If you want to see actual leftist attempts at censorship in that vein you have to look over here to Europe. Few of the classics of my childhood escape the wrath. But at least over here there are no triumphant bonfires of said books or attempts to ban their sale in regions where they have already been purged [at least one US state has this year tried to ban the sales of book titles purged from school libraries in bookshops, so kids or their parents could not get their hands on them nonetheless*. Hopfully the courts will come down on that like barge load of bricks or the lawmmakers come to their senses in time].

*It would also require the revival of the Comstock laws, so amazon does not step in. But given that it's usually the same states that also try to prevent mail order abortificents (or what is declared as such even it is isn't) that would hit two targets at once.

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