Biography

RWP was born in Manchester, in the north of England, in the late 1950s, so he is very old. He really liked the north of England, which by 1965 was hip and had three TV channels, and where he went to a coed school. His parents, for reasons best known to themselves, then yanked him away, to Belfast and then Dublin, which had one TV channel that started up at 6 pm with the Angelus (Catholic call to prayer). He also had to go to an all boys school, where he realized he really missed girls. This probably let him focus on schoolwork, though, and at age 19, after he had finished college, he set off for America, where he still resides. He has a bachelors degree in biochemistry and a Ph.D. from Harvard in biophysics, and has lived also in Mainz, Germany, Setauket NY, and Richland WA. He currently divides his time between Nebraska, Rosslyn VA, and Florida.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Some final thoughts on n-word gate

Three parting shots, and then, for the sake of Mo-hammered, Jeebus and all the prophets I haven't bothered to blaspheme, let's put this one to bed.

Mr Murphy and another student named Spenser Garrett stated their case at length in Tuesday's Daily Nebraskan. While he is less sophisticated than some of his critics, it is clear Mr. Murphy has a much more accurate understanding of the First Amendment than they. What he said at the ASUN debate was clearly protected speech, no if, ands or buts. The students made a couple of other points; first, that it is unfair that there is a double-, no let's make that a multiple-standard when it comes to speech. Some groups can use words others are forbidden to use, and more importantly, perhaps, some groups have to be far less circumspect in general about their speech than others.

And that leads to the second point, made by Mr. Garrett. White students feel they have to be far more careful what they say among members of other groups than they do in the company of other white people. Part of this is just life and human nature -- for example, few of us feel comfortable cussing in the company of our grandparents -- but part of it is a genuine perception that a significant fraction of some groups are hypersensitive, and take offense far too easily.

Now you can respond to these points in several ways. You can belittle them, make fun of them, roll your eyes, sneer, and call the students racists. Do that, but don't then turn around and claim what is needed is a dialog about race. If you do I will snark at you by name on Twitter. Those gentlemen told you their point of view. You don't have to agree with it. If you think it's easily refutable, then refute it. Convince them. Convince us. But it took some courage, in these politically correct times, for them to speak their minds, and I don't think either point can be casually dismissed.

The second parting shot is, please make a careful distinction between the social consequences of offensive speech, and the legal consequences. You are perfectly at liberty to show your displeasure at their words. Some of you already have. You can shun the speakers, denigrate them (as long as you don't defame them), label what they say an outrage. But what you cannot do is silence them, or use the power of the State to punish them. In this specific instance, the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska is a state constituted body (believe it or not), and so is bound by the 1st and 14th amendments. ASUN, in declining to impeach Mr. Murphy, probably saved itself from a lawsuit -- that is, if Mr. Murphy was inclined to pursue such.

And one final parting shot. The metaphor about fire in a crowded theater was made by Oliver Wendell Holmes, and it's relevant to a very narrow set of circumstances; circumstances where speech is false and likely to be dangerous, and cannot feasibly be countered by contrary speech. In the sense that, if you shout 'fire' in a crowded auditorium during a debate, causing a panic, it is relevant to political debates. In no other sense is it relevant. The holding in Schenk covers only cases where there is "a clear and present danger that [the words] will bring about ... substantive evils". it was later altered, in Brandenburg vs. Ohio, 1969, to a determination that the speech must "be directed to and likely to incite imminent lawless action (e.g. a riot)". Neither is pertinent here. Citing 'fire in a crowded theater', without knowing what it refers to, only marks you as a moron.

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