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Are Online Death Threats Protected Free Speech

Was Elonis rightfully jailed for his online postings?


  • Total voters
    14

Jolie

Star
Joined
Sep 16, 2014
Location
Bi-Coastal
The Supreme Court just accepted triceratops (I couldn't spell certiorari and the spell checker suggested triceratops as an alternate) on Elonis v. United States of America. This is a case where a man posted what to me are some incredibly threatening, scary things on Facebook and other social media. He ended up going to jail for three years. Now he couched his posts as "rap lyrics" or in the context of it would be illegal to say .... For those who want the actual language and the decision the Supreme Court is considering, it can be found here. One such posts was this language,

There's one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you. I'm not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts. Hurry up and die, bitch, so I can bust this nut all over your corpse from atop your shallow grave.
There are other posts. I've always been an absolute free speech kind of girl, figuring the antidote to hurtful free speech is more free speech. But I'll be honest, if someone started posting things like this directed at me, it would terrify the shit out of me and put a real crimp in my ability to enjoy life. From what I've read, this decision cuts across political lines and no one really knows how it will come down when the Supreme Court decides. Most court watchers thought the Court wouldn't accept this decision, I guess most feel the Court will affirm the decision sending this man to jail, but it could go the other way. If the Court does affirm the lower court decision sending this guy to jail, some people will want to watch their language a little closer I suspect. Curious as to how other people feel about what Elonis said and whether sending him to jail for three years was appropriate. His wife wasn't the only person he "threatened." He also directed posts at his former employers and co-workers and the FBI agent who came to investigate.
 

Esyel

Super-Earth
Joined
Oct 31, 2014
Location
East Coast

You know, Jolie?

Usually, I'm all for the Free Speech Amendment myself.

But this is going way too far.

Holy and shit. Those were the best two words that summed up how I felt about all of that.

The man definitely got what he deserved. No questions asked.

There is a very thin line drawn here, one that has been passed already I'd say.

Just reading all of that scared me. So to think about someone trying to direct words like that at me? You better believe I'd want that ... that person dealt with appropriately. Just .. wow.

Three years isn't enough. However, it's definitely better than letting him go free. It's a better verdict, yes. Not my preference, hell no. But I'd rather him be put away than allowed his freedom again.

 

DeusExMachina

Planetoid
Joined
Oct 31, 2014
With this issue you have to be incredibly careful.
Just to get this out of the way I'm a very strong advocate for freedom of expression off any kind and take a strong stance against prohibiting anything in this area.
Especially when it comes to the internet things get even more tricky due to the protection behind a wall of anonymity.
In most cases of threats (be it death, rape, assault or the like) on the internet it's just trolling and if you can't handle trolling you shouldn't be on the internet. And these things should be protected, I should be allowed to say whatever I want just as it is your right to ignore me, which the internet makes incredibly easy most of the time.

That said there is a line and that is to be drawn with credible threats. This could include threats that include personal information (I know where you live ... ) or threats by people that know you (not in all cases of this) or if there is some sort of criminal history of violence with the one making the threats.
In this particular case (from what I've read in the document) it is pretty clear that this man has issues (not as an insult but in a medical sense) and should be properly diagnosed and treated. I'm not sure throwing him into prison is the right solution but at least it is reasonably clear that his threats are credible, since he presumably has access to his victims and knows a lot of personal information about them.
This guy needs help not a prison cell. He would also probably make a great object of psychological study.

So to sum up, there is a line and it should be enforced but in a careful and vigilant way as freedom of expression is one of the most important and fundamental rights we have.
 

Tierhund

Super-Earth
Joined
Nov 30, 2014
Location
UK
I think incarceration is a broken system. Rehabilitation is the only way you can actually fix this kind of problem, if this man genuinely has a disorder or a perchant for real violence. Being in jail, will if anything, encourage violence out of him.

Not to be a broken record, but I'm wondering if he's white? I'd be really surprised, considering Free Speech also likes to protect extremists and terrorist groups (KKK, neonazis, etc). Free Speech is a very powerful privilege and right and I think it's fantastic that we have it. But I think sending a man straight to jail for posting something literary violent is a bit ridiculous, but maybe I should look into the proceedings of the court dialogue before I solidify that opinion.

Literally most of this group have probably roleplayed violent content, that involves violent dialogue. We certainly wouldn't be, nor should we, be sent to jail. If you repost lyrics that are suicidal or murdery or even rapey, you don't get a jail sentence. Or else a huge chunk of rappers, young lyricists and Robin Thicke would be in jail rn.

If this post was one of many, that indicated to a profiler and psychiatric specialist, a history of violence or deemed through examination to be a real threat to persons known or unknown, then I can understand their decision a TINY bit more, even though I don't really support it.
 

Esyel

Super-Earth
Joined
Oct 31, 2014
Location
East Coast

Tierhund,

Seriously, please reread what you just typed.

You're basically advocating for someone having posted up such graphic words towards his wife, an FBI agent, and his former co-workers.

Right now, race isn't even part of the question. It's what he did and if it was even correct or wrong.

The answer is an obvious hell no.

Those are not - in my opinion - rap lyrics. And honestly, even if it is, that's a horrible excuse to use to include words like that against all of those people.

Can you honestly say that if someone directed those same words at you, you wouldn't be the slightest bit terrified for your life?

If so, kudos.

But even for me, this is ... way too much.

Sometimes, once - unfortunately, especially in the court system - is more than enough to get you arrested. And that line was crossed.

As far as I read, those were all posted on his own whim. He knew exactly what he was doing and typing. That alone says he was sane enough to control his own actions. Worse than that, he seemed proud of his actions.

Things like that... I just can't agree on. Sorry.

 

DeusExMachina

Planetoid
Joined
Oct 31, 2014
In his defense, I don't think he was advocating for just letting him go free without any consequences. Although bringing in race was kind of an odd move admittedly.

The whole point here is that we have to make sure that there is a clear and sensible line drawn from both sides. One that protects victims of credible threats by making it possible to go after the one that makes these threats.
But also one that limits the power of enforcement of this to credible threats only. Everything else, even if we're still talking about threats, has to be protected. As long as there are no reasons to believe they are credible they should fall under free speech.
You might not like it that somebody sends you a message threatening to kill you, but as long as there is not indication that the action might follow it's free speech and you can choose to ignore it and block this person.

Another point was that the system of punishment, especially in the USA is broken on a fundamental level. For one there is still the death sentence, which is simply barbaric and unreasonable, but the more important thing is that it is not a prison system but a prison industry.
And there should never be any profit to be made from incarcerating people and keeping them in a cell for as long as possible.

It should be about rehabilitation more than about punishment and certainly never about revenge or even profit.
From what I can tell, I have looked into profiling for a while but I'm by no means an expert, I think the man in this particular case needs psychiatric help more than being locked into a tiny cell and have some greedy CEO throw away the key.
 

Tierhund

Super-Earth
Joined
Nov 30, 2014
Location
UK
I just wonder, in some states of the US the police can be a lot more lenient for white guys versus black guys. Just curious really.

@Esyel
Though I doubt just because someone is aware and lucid when they're typing, it doesn't necessarily mean they are proud, etc etc the rest of what you said (but having read it he definitely is showing signs of psychopathy and sadism). Various factors of psychological stress, neuroatypicality such as personality or mood disorders can play a role in decision-making. Blah blah blah.

You may think I am advocating for him, but I'm not. You may be experiencing that, but it is not what I am doing, and being hypothetical on a subject isn't being an apologiser or an enabler in pretty much most cases??

UPDATE: I have finally been able to access the information of the source provided by the OP, and it helps shed a lot more perspective on the issue. Be aware that I was unable to upon my first post, and that is why it is objective and hypothetical. I got a few pages into the source and it seems pretty clear to me. I can also see how race definitely shouldn't and has probably not at all come into this at all, considering the level of...well. Yunno.

This man, for sure, can be considered a potential threat to the lives of others. He seems to be of moderately high risk, because he has transitioned from 'imaginary' risk of text and pictures, to physical confrontation of attempted assault. He's clearly demonstrating a dangerous level of obsession with the persons involved in his threatening, is probably premeditating murder and going through different options to make it happen, is passive-aggressively (and my god what a bad place to post it) broadcasting his sadistic and homicidal fantasies. If he hadn't broadcasted them via social media, he most definitely might not have been apprehended before things escalated.

Though I still disagree with jailtime in many many circumstances of crime, and I still think he should be given a thorough psychological evalution, behavioural and psychological therapy and rehabilitation over those 3 years before he can be deemed stable and safe to be around the people (if his sadism is truly discriminate) that trigger that level of violence.
 

Tierhund

Super-Earth
Joined
Nov 30, 2014
Location
UK
@DeusExMachina

Completely agree! Rehabilitation is not just wet liberalism, it is economical, its pragmatic, it's humane. Incarceration is just an 'out of sight, out of mind' thing yunno. Otherwise it just breeds more fuel for crime, and in our society people can be pushed past the threat of jail as a deterrent.

More on topic, in issues such as this when someone is showing a history of violence, obsessive, disturbing and deviant behaviour and thought patterns, I think this....hmm. It's definitely a concern and he should be given thorough therapy to try to reduce this state of mind that is clearly disturbing the lives of himself and others. I think Freedom of Speech is always going to be open- but Freedom of Speech isn't 'You can say whatever you want without consequences'. Intercepting criminal behaviour before it happens is an important part of a justice system and a healthy community. If he is truly not a threat to anyone (blowing hot air and getting too high and mighty with his power to freak out other people) then this may educate him on the boundaries he has crossed and the consequences thereof. However in some cases, people like him and differing, may assume a victimised state of mind that only fuels their sense of betrayal and validates their aggression. So he should be monitored after leaving prison, to check for any instability, triggers and return to deviant behaviour patterns.

I think openly discussing these topics is hugely important, and that probably contributes to Freedom of Speech pretty well??
 
C

Chai

Guest
Let's all pretend for 5 seconds that those threats are actially rap lyrics, and that this dude is on his way to becoming the next most relevant rapper since like Tupac or even just like a Kanye / Jay Z / Eminem wannabe. Right. I am the first to say that song lyrics are part of freedom of speech because, as a musician and song writer, I know that lyrics are just poetry derived from life experiences and reactions to those experiences. They are personal, about feelings, and no one can stop you from expressing that. And admittedly, some of his lines are pretty sick. "Hurry up and die, bitch, so I can forgive you" and "Little Agent Lady stood so close / took all my strength not to make that bitch ghost" and "Even without a paycheck I'm still the main attraction" are a few that really stood out to me.

However, there's definitely a difference between agressive lyrics and straight threats. I don't care what that song is about, but threatening to shoot an elementary school, slit an FBI woman's throat, use explosives on the police, etc. are confessions put in lyrical form, and those still have maliscious intent. I mean, you can read how his 'lyrics' get progressively more disturbing, turning from what COULD be confession of feelings to threatening his wife that whatever she does 'won't stop a bullet' and that he's got enough explosives to take care of the police.

Like, I love rap lyrics that get pretty deep into issues about violence, abuse, etc. and hell yeah, I retweet lyrics worthy of retweeting, but this? Sorry, I would not hit the RT for things that are obvious threats. Last time I checked, rappers don't tend to have personal shoutouts in violent lyrics.

But, do I think he deserves jail time? Yes. Of course. Those are threats that have completely terrified his wife, and even of she cheated on him or whatever is implied through his lyrics, that's not reason to threaten to kill someone. But, it's obvious that this guy has issues. It all started after his wife left him, and just by knowing that, one could tell that he's already at an unstable place. Like those who have stated above me, it's important to assess his psychological health. He's obviously hurt, damaged, unstable, etc. and what he needs more than jail time is someone to actually help him. Counseling, rehabilitation, or something WITH the jail time. Because you know, if he doesn't get help and only jail time, it'd probably just fuel that rage for his wife even more.
 

Ivory11

Star
Joined
Sep 13, 2013
Location
Australia
Things like threats are one thing, if I contacted someone and said shit like "I know where you live, I'm gonna come and kill you" then that's a threat, which is illegal.

However pretty much everything else is fair game under free speech, you can fling insults and say shit like "I hope (something horrible) happens to you" so unless you are stating a intention to cause physical harm to someone, then it's protected under free speech, you know, freedom of opinion and all that.
 

captain_jay_conrad

Super-Earth
Joined
Aug 23, 2012
Location
Courthouse.
It's important to remember that when it comes to Free Speech issues, there are limitations to the First Amendment. The first limitation dates back to 1919 when the Court held that shouting "fire" in a crowded theater is not protected speech pursuant to the First Amendment. See Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919). In Schenck, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote the unanimous opinion of the Court. They held that the defendants handing out anti-draft leaflets could be arrested for criminally interfering with the draft process. The Court also held that whenever the speech creates a clear and present danger (to the United States Draft Board in that case), it is not protected under the First Amendment.

It's easy to see how this sort of thinking on the part of the Court could be applied to the case at hand. Mr. Elonis said some very disturbing things, some very hateful things. If he had said them in person, he'd be charged in most jurisdictions under a crime known as "terroristic threat". Still, just as the fact that those opposed to the draft could be arrested or charged with a criminal offense for passing out leaflets, I grow very concerned with any attempts to hamper free speech.

It's a delicate balancing act. I think that he should have been brought up on state terroristic threat charges. (State offenses have more flexible sentencing procedures...therefore it'd be easier to get him treatment in a facility than under the statutory sentencing guidelines at the Federal level). The Federal law used here mentions the threat of kidnapping or causing bodily harm/injury being transmitted in Interstate or Foreign Commerce. In other words, as per the statute (18 U.S.C. § 875 (c ) ), any form of writing or speaking that mentions kidnapping any person or making a threat to injure someone can be charged by this statute.

For instance, if I wrote "My father is being a bastard, I could kill him...or at least break his leg," and had said it in jest, according to the reasoning used by the appellate court, I could be charged under this statute. Granted, it may seem as if I'm stretching this, but as long as a reasonable person would foresee that my intentional statement would be interpreted by those to whom the maker communicates the statement as a serious expression of an intention to inflict bodily harm...it is a true threat. (United States v. Kosma). Therefore, the so-called "objective" standard of a reasonable person is used to measure this...not my "subjective" intent.

That raises the question of the legal fiction of a reasonable person. It doesn't go by the actual intent of the communicator. Rather it is applied to this legal fiction which is a composite of an average member of society under like circumstances, who might view it as reasonable...or not. That's a tricky argument to make, and it's dangerous when applied to Constitutional rights.

Also, just because speech is repugnant, or done for the purposes of causing fear, doesn't mean it shouldn't be afforded constitutional protections, per se. After all, in National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie, IL., 432, U.S. 43 (1977), The Supreme Court held that the town of Skokie Illinois could not prohibit the Neo Nazi Party from marching through their town, without first providing strict procedural safeguards, including immediate appellate review, and absent such review a stay of the town's blocking the marchers must be granted.

So, why did the town attempt to ban the rally? Well, Skokie Illinois was a predominantly Jewish community. Of this community, one in six was a Holocaust survivor. The Neo-Nazis sought to march through their community in response to the City of Chicago banning them from marching in their city, without providing a public-safety bond (which they did get, and then the city banned all political demonstrations in the park that the Neo-Nazis wanted to use). Consequently, the Neo-Nazis chose the Town of Skokie to retaliate against Chicago, but also to stir fear in the hearts of the local residents.

They would parade through the town, in full Nazi regalia, carrying swastikas, chanting the usual anti-Semitic death threats. But, it was still considered free speech.

From this, we can see how difficult it will be to establish a true threat through the Internet. I think that a procedural process would need to be in place to evaluate the likelihood of the threat, versus deference to the Constitution.

Don't be surprised if the Supreme Court overrules the lower Court, remanding the case to them to uphold the conviction on different grounds. The Supreme Court will only decide a case on its Constitutional merits as a "last resort". This is a long standing tradition, and has resulted in many potentially sticky "First Amendment issues" being punted back to the lower court on procedural grounds to make it not so "violative" of the Constitution...without saying that in so many words.

If they do rule on the Constitutional Issue, I expect them to create a more definitive test, focusing on Online material in particular. Then, like with any other Supreme Court case...expect the particulars to be fought over again and again, until it's refined. Either way, this is the sort of issue that shouldn't be taken lightly...which, of course, means the Supremes will most likely take it lightly.
 

DeusExMachina

Planetoid
Joined
Oct 31, 2014
I fully agree that free speech must be protected under almost any circumstance that's why I love the example with the Nazi march. I'm from Germany so anything to do with the Nazi's in any way is basically a no go around here, which is pretty strange if you view it under the freedom of expression.
After all there is a brilliant saying (I don't know by whom and I may butcher it) "I may hate what you have to say but I'll fight to the death for your right to say it."
Protecting even opinions that we don't agree with or even disgust us is the real test of our view on freedom of expression.

As to the case at hand I think it has another familiar element often to be seen in modern legal cases and legislature. The internet and how we don't really know how to handle it and enforce or interpret certain laws in its realm.
And I think we should be really careful about it, examining the possible consequences of every the we take here because the internet is one of our most important milestones and proved a complete gamechanger in global communication, society and politics. It is the free marketplace of ideas where anyone can voice their opinion and that should be protected.
 

captain_jay_conrad

Super-Earth
Joined
Aug 23, 2012
Location
Courthouse.
It's very true that the Internet presents a unique challenge for the legal system. Law, by its nature, is always slow to adapt to changes. The Internet revolution changed everything. Developments moved at such a rapid pace that the law couldn't keep up. In many ways, any legal system is somewhat medieval in its thinking. Legal systems have their basis in that time period. Germany and Italy leading the way with the first organized civil codes, and England establishing its common law system. The main difference between the systems is that under the common law system, the courts are allowed to created precedence, which can overrule a law until the legislature passes a new one. Whereas, under the Civil Law system, the legislature cannot be overruled for every citizen, only the one who challenges the statute in court. (If memory serves me correctly). I think both systems have their advantages and disadvantages.

The free exchange of ideas, through the marketplace of ideas is the greatest gift humanity possesses. It is also one that can easily be trumped by over-zealous governments. All one has to do is look at how China clamps down on Internet Service Providers and search engines. The same is true of several Middle Eastern governments. Mental illness is another factor in all of this. There was a time when the law looked upon those with mental illness as almost subhuman. Indeed, Justice Holmes, the one mentioned in my previous post, supported eugenics to prevent those suffering from mental illness from polluting the pure minded. In Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (1927), Holmes argued:

"We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, to prevent our being swamped with incompetence."

The Court upheld a statute requiring compulsory sterilization of the "unfit" for "the protection and health of the state." As we can see, the United States had some dangerous legal thinking in the early twentieth century. In that time, Mr. Elonis would have not only been imprisoned, if they deemed him "unfit of mind", they could have sterilized him too. Therefore, it's not that far of a stretch to cast a weary eye upon the forces of government. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and what may be good intentions today, could be horrible travesties tomorrow.

Now at least, we know that mental instability can be treated (to varying degrees). Treatment should be the main focus, but the law in question here is outdated. State governments have responded by updating their codes, but the Federal government has not yet. This may be the area upon which the case turns, but we shall see. The Roberts Court has surprised me on multiple different cases.

Thus, we find ourselves in the midst of one of those complex legal and moral dilemmas. How much do we risk the few to protect the many? Where do we draw the line for free speech as opposed to order and safety? I don't think we will ever have a solid answer for it. Law is a process, it must constantly be challenged, in order to maintain a balance. When the balance is lost, tyranny stands in its stead.
 

DeusExMachina

Planetoid
Joined
Oct 31, 2014
There is a lovely line (from Star Trek Next Generation, Capt. Picard to be more specific) concerning the law and justice: "There can be no justice, as long as the law is absolute."
And I totally agree with this, the current systems are very much entrenched in their age-old laws and traditions, their legislation cluttered and confusing, making understanding it incredibly difficult. For a mind looking towards the future these systems seem medieval even in concept.
I will not hide what I am here, I'm a philosophical anarchist (let the hate flow in) and as such I would be very pleased to see these systems dismantled, not by force or revolution mind you but by the ascension of a truly progressive and intelligent society, eliminating the need for all those laws.
As Thomas Paine said: "Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one;"

We are very lucky to have the internet largely untouched for now, no government hand showing itself and censoring what we do and write here. But you have to remember that the internet has some means of defending itself, groups like Anonymous, love them or hate them, have shown again and again that there is a group of people who will strike back against those threatening the internet and freedom of expression in general. They have had several successful campaigns against those who sought to limit or strangle the internet and its core ideals and have dealt out some pretty hefty blows.
 

captain_jay_conrad

Super-Earth
Joined
Aug 23, 2012
Location
Courthouse.
Your mindset is very similar to mine. I may be a lawyer by trade, but I distrust the system on nearly every level. I'm a libertarian at heart. Which I think can best be translated into a minarchist with respect to our current societies, and a hopeful anarchist in the future. In other words, I believe that the natural state is that of freedom, and that social constructs create inhibitors to that natural state of freedom. Yet, I'm also aware of the cruelty of some people. Thus, I see a need for law as of now, but my hopes would be that it could go back to a simpler system where people deal freely, and the law follows that example.

Thomas Paine had it absolutely right. The one experiment that was truly genius in the experiment of the Colonists was this notion of limited government. (I don't even mean that in the way that it gets abused today, in the typical political platitudes, but more down the lines of―if we must suffer the evil of government, the best government is that closest to the people). Coinciding with that thought is the idea that state and local governments are best able to adapt to the changing needs of society. That makes sense, in that the more local the level of government, the closer it is to the people. And, the closer a government is to the people, the more accountable it is.

I often think that's why the Capet Dynasty failed in France. (Well I mean other than the usual reasons why monarchies crumble). The monarchy and aristocracy separated themselves from so much of a degree that they were too far removed to even understand the problems faced by the citizenry. Once the French Revolution sparked, the leaders of the movement changed. Robespierre was such a strange, contradictory historical figure. He started off as an anti capital punishment lawyer, pushing for freedom of speech, press, and for the rights of man. He wound up being a monster of epic proportions. His ultimate goal with the government changed. He saw concentrating power as beneficial, of course it led to the Great Terror and purging of political dissidents.

Another example comes from your native Deutschland. Kaiser Wilhelm II inherited a uniquely open form of monarchy. Germany had one of the most progressive systems of protections for their citizens. There was universal male suffrage for the Reichstag, (as female suffrage hadn't really started to set in throughout the west yet), and even a primitive form of a social safety net. I think a lot of this had to do with the fact that Germany had only been fully united for 18 years when Wilhelm took the throne in 1888. Therefore, the various German states still had strong ties to their local populations. This would account for the differing opinions and views towards national power from say Bavaria, Saxony, and the increasingly dominant Prussia.

Under the stewardship of Otto von Bismarck, the ties were allowed to remain loose. That fostered a sense of belonging, while still supporting the traditions and natural inclinations of the former principalities. But, with the outbreak of the Great War, and the increased pressures on the leadership, the need for centralization arrived. With it, came the loss of freedom of expression. This all ties into Thomas Paine's point in that beautiful little quote you provided.

So, that same strain of tension between the natural yearning for unadulterated liberty and the also prevalent desire for security and order are still being played out. That's the central dilemma of the question with respect to free speech. Free speech is often targeted by various philosophical factions...for the very reason that it is uncomfortable. Free speech is both a thing of beauty, and a tool of absolute power. It's like a finely crafted Luger Handgun, or Mauser Rifle. Its design is exquisite, its purpose undeniably deliberate...and it carries the potential of toppling governments.

On the other hand, it can be abused to perpetrate crimes, needlessly cause harm, and to instill a sense of fear. Freedom fighters and dictators alike use both guns and speech. The question is, how do they regulate speech? Do they seek to stifle it, or do they seek to protect aspects of their society while also upholding free speech. With respect to the United States Federal government, I don't trust them when it comes to their claims of deference to speech. There's too many examples of abuse. I do hope that our Supreme Court fulfills the function it was designed for, but, like you, I long for a day when it wouldn't even be necessary.
 

DeusExMachina

Planetoid
Joined
Oct 31, 2014
Te problem I see is that we carry an insane amount of baggage with us. As someone who sees the progress of humanity, to the point where, from our limited perspective, we wouldn't even call them human anymore, as the most important goal for our future this baggage just annoys me.
Traditions, antiquated laws, religious superstition, superstitions in general and emotion based systems of morality plague our minds and societies and need quick and rational examination if we want to move forward. We could make good ground on so many issues if it weren't for these antiques of thought, a lot of them religious in nature but not exclusively to be fair.
Things like homosexual marriage or stemcell research are only issues because of religious concerns that don't hold any validity under the lens of rationality.
They might give us comfort and familiarity but I prefer progress to a the same snugly old lies and misconceptions.
And with progress like that I think a society could quickly change and rise above the need for laws, slowly getting rid of them one by one as we start to look out for each other and care for each other, doing what is best for us all, instead of acting on selfish desires.

But for now I think we are stuck with our governments and we can count ourselves lucky to at least live in modern democracies, giving us at least a chance to participate and make our voice it. It may not be perfect, but it's the best we got so far. It is as Churchill once said: "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." (to be fair I think he quoted someone else on that though)

One thing though we should be working towards, even with our form of government is reminding the politicians, no matter how rotten and corrupt they might be that they have to serve us and that we will not tolerate anything else. "People shouldn't be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.", as Alan Moore once said and I think we have to drill that into the head of anyone running for office, that we, the people, demand to be the ones whose interests are served above all else.
 

Jolie

Star
Joined
Sep 16, 2014
Location
Bi-Coastal
DeusExMachina said:
That said there is a line and that is to be drawn with credible threats. This could include threats that include personal information (I know where you live ... ) or threats by people that know you (not in all cases of this) or if there is some sort of criminal history of violence with the one making the threats.

In this particular case (from what I've read in the document) it is pretty clear that this man has issues (not as an insult but in a medical sense) and should be properly diagnosed and treated. I'm not sure throwing him into prison is the right solution but at least it is reasonably clear that his threats are credible, since he presumably has access to his victims and knows a lot of personal information about them.

This guy needs help not a prison cell. He would also probably make a great object of psychological study.

So to sum up, there is a line and it should be enforced but in a careful and vigilant way as freedom of expression is one of the most important and fundamental rights we have.
I'm comfortable with this line.
 

DeusExMachina

Planetoid
Joined
Oct 31, 2014
That might be, but who do you trust enough to enforce this line and maybe even legislate it?
A government made up of people who can't even spell the word 'internet' without having to use a dictionary and on top of that are mostly corporate tools anyway?
I don't and that's why I'm wary to draw a line and leave it to the state to enforce it, especially when it comes to freedom of speech and the free marketplace of ideas.
There is no question that there is a line to be crossed and one that we should hold ourselves and others to but I don't want to see it shifted and twisted to mean basically anything that offends someone or has an even mildly violent tone to it, even if it may be in jest.
I don't want my free speech to be censored just because there are a insignificant number of people abusing it.
 

captain_jay_conrad

Super-Earth
Joined
Aug 23, 2012
Location
Courthouse.
Deus makes an important point. Democracies and representative republics are the most egalitarian forms of government, but they are not without their faults. These forms of government share an ironic weakness. Their greatest virtue is also their Achilles's heel. Popular participation drives these governments, but when the population doesn't fully comprehend their various responsibilities, tyranny lurks in the shadows.

Of all the unalienable rights, free speech is arguably the most important. Free expression empowers the population to challenge improper governmental authority. When the government can be challenged, it may also be held accountable. However, with liberty comes responsibility. Each right is coupled with a duty, and the population has the duty to maintain their rights. I believe that the current population's lack of understanding contributes to many of the concerted efforts to abridge our fundamental rights. Lack of understanding leads to fear, and fear leads to oppression.

Yet, we still face the troubling question of who determines what speech enjoys protection, and what speech doesn't? Should such decisions be left to legislative bodies? In the United States, the Bill of Rights forbids the Legislature from enacting laws abridging free speech. Perhaps the Judiciary should be tasked with such important decisions. As my previous posts demonstrate, that's been the traditional approach. Nevertheless, it has left much to be desired.

The answer must be difficult. Free speech is the greatest right we have, and arbitrary regulation is the biggest threat it faces. The solution calls for a multifaceted approach. Local legislatures can regulate certain speech, pursuant to their police power. Both state and federal courts can overturn such regulations if they encroach upon free speech. In addition, local populations can overturn local legislatures through the referendum process. But, we encounter the same problem we started with. If the population lacks an understanding of their role in the process, the delicate balance is lost.

Tyranny is so powerful because it plays on emotions. The unwary are its greatest victims. I fear far too many average people have grown unwary today. Life has become more complicated. Educational facilities have failed to keep pace, and corruption has set in. Each of these circumstances exacerbates the original problem. Knowledge is key to finding a solution. However, expanding knowledge takes time, and for the ex-wife in this case, the issue is time sensitive.

On the other hand, knee-jerk reactions will cause more harm than good. Crisis situations lead to rapid-fire responses. Unfortunately, rapid-fire responses come with horrific and unintended consequences. Therefore, a measured and continuous process is needed. This will allow for those in eminent danger of death or bodily injury to be protected, while also maintaining safeguards against government encroachment. The analysis should be conducted on a case-by-case basis.

At the same time, we must seriously focus on improving education. There is no excuse for people to not understand their rights and responsibilities in the Twenty-first Century. What we are witnessing is an utter failure by our educational institutions to instill the basics of our fundamental rights. I don't know whether this is due to the core focus of our schools, or a lack of knowledge with respect to the different ways we all learn. Whatever the reason, it must be improved.

Liberty is only healthy when its beneficiaries understand its functions and safeguards. Everyone should know their rights, and we must do a better job of informing them. Moreover, we must reform our criminal justice system. Now that we possess a better understanding of mental illness, I'm baffled as to why a majority of American courts rely on a test developed in 1843 to determine insanity.

The McNaughton case went before the Supreme Court in 1843. The test developed by the court examines sanity on the determination of whether the accused is able to distinguish between right and wrong. Therefore, even if suffering from severe mental illness, the accused is presumed sane, unless he or she can prove that he or she was unable to distinguish between right and wrong. This test remains the standard applied by the vast majority of courts in the United States.

I believe outdated legal mechanisms cause the issue to be examined in a criminal light, as opposed to a mental health light. That, in turn, jeopardizes free speech, while the courts seek to criminalize certain forms of speech. Rather, they should address and treat the root cause of the defendant's reckless behavior. A fixed standard, or “bright line rule” is inadequate to accomplish this. I think a case-by-case analysis is necessary. Otherwise, we will criminalize free speech, and not address the underlying threat. That helps neither the victims nor the accused.
 

DeusExMachina

Planetoid
Joined
Oct 31, 2014
I'm afraid we might be facing a similar situation to my own country of Germany was between the two World Wars. In the Weimaer Republic, which in itself was not a bad system, it was a solid and well thought out democracy, the government faced the problem of people not really participating in the democratic process, coining the term 'democracy without democrats'. (Not the Democrats as one of your two parties mind you.)
This system collapsed into a very well known tyranny, leading to the bloodiest war in human history, precisely because the people didn't understand democracy and didn't fully exercise their rights and fell for parties appealing to emotion (mainly one party in the end).
Take it from me you don't want to have this happen all over again in any country on this earth.

In the USA very similar tendencies are to be seen. People don't vote or vote based on emotion not facts. Your country is surprisingly badly educated on many issues. (You have elected officials calling evolution and marriage equality 'lies straight from the pit of hell' and yes that unfortunately is a quote.)
Your people are easily led astray by arguments from ignorance and appeals to emotion, not that this is unique to the USA but it seems to be a prevalent problem there.

A better education system would go along way, not only for education about the rights and responsibilities in a democracy, but also in science, logic and reason.
The system currently employed is junk, plain and simple. Your public schools rot, sex education in some states can't even mention condoms and still relies on the 'abstinence only' model, that is statistically proven to not work with catastrophic consequences, people still doubt established science with the stupidest of arguments and you have private schools teaching utter garbage.
It needs a complete overhaul and more money. Getting rid of homeschooling and private schools that teach the christian creation myth as fact is a good start and then the public schools need to be renovated or rebuild, a nationally uniform curriculum, created by experts with the best for future generation in mind and qualified teachers, dedicated to giving the next generation the best education they can, would also go a long way.
 

captain_jay_conrad

Super-Earth
Joined
Aug 23, 2012
Location
Courthouse.
America's educational problems stem from a failed attempt at education reform dating back to the early twentieth century. John Dewey spearheaded the first major effort to modernize America's primary and secondary schools, in the late 1890's and early 1900's. Granted, the school system was in dire need of reform, but Dewey was wedded to a single philosophical school of thought. He championed a form of pragmatism.

His views on education help explain the emotional reactionarism that plagues the U.S. today. In his 1938 book, Experience and Education, he contends that schools are wholly social institutions in which the emotional development of the child is even more important than the curriculum. I agree that a child's psychological development is important, but I cannot disagree more that it should take precedence over mastering the subject matter. Unfortunately, Dewey's philosophy remains the primary impetus behind American elementary and secondary schools.

As you pointed out, this early focus on emotionalism is preyed upon by various factions which promote radical agendas that don't help the child develop a well-rounded foundation in core knowledge. Many of these institutions dabble in pseudo science, revisionist history and the like. Public schools, on the other hand, focus on social development as opposed to individual development. (Both carry significant importance and are necessary for a well rounded individual). The entire public school system is geared towards various standardized tests, (or at least they are in Texas).

Educational quotas fail to instill the fundamental knowledge base of the pupils. It also explains the great difficulty American students encounter in learning secondary languages. This system unintentionally impedes a student's development. Worse yet, it limits the amount of time instructors can give to students who develop and learn differently. Even some of our private schools, modeled on a more European method of learning, are hampered by strictly enforced government mandated time quotas.

I attended one of those private schools based on the European model. My learning style is completely auditory. So, I took longer to grasp subjects like arithmetic. Because of time constraints, I had to be tutored outside of school just to keep up. Those topics will never be my strong suit, but I got the foundational base needed to expand in university, and ultimately, law school.

There are many factors contributing to America's failing education system. None of the solutions would be easy either. Politicians despise difficult or complex solutions. Even when those solutions are the only feasible option available. All in all, it places America's youth in a very precarious position.

One of the major casualties of the Dewey educational system is the topic of Civics. I agree that math, science, and technology are important; but the condensed version of history and civics fail to instill what civil rights people naturally possess. In addition, it fails to provide students with an appreciation or understanding of why free speech is so important. That being said, I'm not trying to say that there aren't a great number of American students who develop this knowledge on their own. Rather, in general, our schools do a poor job in extrapolating the more abstract principles behind fundamental human rights.

Humanist principles are lost in a somewhat truncated focus on knowledge. Liberal Arts are superseded by science technology and math. I believe the different schools of knowledge share an equal importance. To truly reform education, students must gain a firm grasp in both, before specializing in university and, if the student so chooses, super specializing in graduate school.

Anecdotally speaking, that's the path I took in my educational career. I specialized in history with my bachelors, and super specialized in law with my juris-doctor. My great appreciation for fundamental rights didn't fully develop until law school. While history taught me the significant challenges free speech faced, (e.g., the Alien Sedition Act of 1798), I never realized how close the right came to vanishing all together. Thus, I left law school with a much greater appreciation and respect for these rights.

For me, all the above mentioned reasons explain why America and her citizens are similar to German citizens in the Wiemar era. An educational system devoted to emotionalism over logic makes us more susceptible to a charismatic charlatan. This is especially true in a moment of social upheaval. That susceptibility means that free speech is in extreme danger, and that makes me all the more wary of attempts at its regulation.

Liberty is fickle in the sense that it requires constant vigilance. Every generation will face a challenge to their fundamental rights. It's the natural course of government to compete with the independence of their people. Therefore, the protection of rights like free speech takes on special significance. If those mechanism are weakened or eroded to a point of meaningless, then the forces of tyranny and oppression gain the upper hand.

This leads me back to the abstract way that free speech is covered in condensed civic courses. The course presents free speech in a black and white aura. You either have free speech or you don't. However, history shows that when free speech is abridged, it occurs in phases. Often gray-areas are used to limit it. Emotionalism is whipped up to a state of hysterical euphoria. That, in turn, makes it easier for the government to regulate the right out of existence.

Nothing will change the fact that there are crazy people who will abuse their rights. As I've stated before, rights come with responsibilities. Nevertheless, the government will always seek opportunities to diminish the rights we have. It makes us easier to control, and control is the central focus of any and all governments. I suppose that is why government may be referred to as a “necessary evil”. It's necessary to prevent rampant abuses and chaos, but in the end, its still an evil.

Caution cannot be over stressed with respect to civil liberties. Too many governments throughout human history have abused this. Natural yearnings and inclinations of humanity are swept aside in favor of efficient order. But, what good is security or order if you're not free to make your own choices, or to state your own beliefs? Without these qualities, humanity withers on the vine, and despotism reigns supreme.
 

DeusExMachina

Planetoid
Joined
Oct 31, 2014
Where I see the most pressing issue with the educational system, not only in America mind you the German school I went to had the same problem, is the fact that almost all the time all that is done is drilling knowledge into the heads of children.
While it is important for anyone to have a wealth of knowledge, it is worthless and wasted without the understanding and reason to use it. Despite the fact that I went to a school that focused on scientific education, prioritizing math, physics, chemistry and biology above the other subjects, we never learned the scientific method and its far reaching implications. I only learned what some of the greatest minds of human history have come up with, but never how.
We have the great opportunity to stand upon the shoulders of the giants that came before us but it's of no use if we are afraid of heights or never learn to climb up.
A sense of doubt and reason is much more important to me than being able to parrot something the teacher wants you to. Reason and doubt lead to understanding in the end, not repetition and that is what children should learn. Teach them how to think, not what to think.

Aside from that the education could cover some topics a little more extensively, like the basics of democracy, where it came from and how it changed, what it gives us and what it demands from us. Or a trip through the history of philosophy, taking a look into the heads of some of the most influential people in history, many of whom have laid out principles we still utilize today and that make up the foundation of modern society and government.

But this would require a different approach to education, it would require true teachers, who want for their student not only to pass some arbitrary test but to leave school as a better human, as someone who isn't afraid to use and speak their mind, someone who will doubt established wisdom and traditions, only following them after finding them to be useful.

In the end I hope we as a species can finally rise above the need for silly laws and people who enforce them with violence and become something greater than we are now. Arriving at a higher form of understanding through reason, making government obsolete in a new society.
 

captain_jay_conrad

Super-Earth
Joined
Aug 23, 2012
Location
Courthouse.
Isn't it amazing that the central tenet missing in modern education is the original driving force behind the first Greek academy system? Socrates had one goal in mind when he held seminars with the inquiring youth of Athens. To discover the truth and to find reason. Socrates pelted his pupils with incessant questions. No matter what answer they provided, he followed it with another question.

The Socratic Method of instruction is withering. No answer is taken for granted, and all justifications are questioned. Irrespective of their veracity. Legal education employs this method. No lecture is given. From the start until the finish of class, the professor grilled us relentlessly. The pressure of it could cause the most extroverted student to wither in a quagmire of self-doubt and uncertainty.

Now, some law schools have started to abandon the practice. In my mind, that would be a mistake. At its heart, Socratic Method empowers the student to teach themselves. By questioning everything, we force ourselves to understand why a court ruled one way, and whether it might rule that way again under similar circumstances. Without that understanding, a lawyer becomes an ineffective advocate and counselor.

It's very much like the scientific method. All learning begins with a question. Research must be conducted to construct an answer. That answer must be formulated as a hypothesis. Then, the hypothesis must be tested, analyzed and repeated, before being communicated to the wider public.

This sort of thinking composed the foundation of academia. Truth, in its purest form, is irrefutable. In Socrates's case, irrefutability occurs when the answer possesses such strong reasoning that it cannot be questioned. Therefore, the best instructors empower their pupils to instruct themselves.

“Ratio et Veritas” should be the motto of all educational facilities. Truth and reason are the notions that expand the quest for knowledge, and they encourage the students to become proactive in their personal quest for enlightenment. Sadly, as you pointed out, that spark diminishes under an autonomous system of rote memorization and lecture. Most education today is conducted as a monologue. Monologue is a poor substitute for dialogue.

The story of Socrates is an important one, in light of this topic. His method of questioning unsettled the democratic leaders of Athens. He caused the youth of that city to question the existence of the gods. Such speech and questioning might even have undermined the Athenian Council's rightful authority. They just couldn't have that!

So, they charged Socrates with the crimes of denying the gods and corrupting the youth of Athens. The public trial was held at the heart of the city. Socrates defended himself ably, with no legal counsel. He argued that public opinion and reputations carry no significance. Rather, only truth and wisdom matter. In that sense, Socrates claimed that Athens would be stronger if they sought to educate themselves. He wanted them to embrace speech and knowledge.

Despite his most valiant efforts, the Athenian Council sentenced him to commit suicide by ingesting poison hemlock. I must stress that the only crime Socrates really committed here was that of questioning the youth of Athens to expand their philosophical horizons. In other words, he engaged in free speech. The governmental authority feared that speech, and they ultimately sentenced the 71 year old philosopher to kill himself.

It's also important to remember that Athens was a democracy. Which adds to my previous concerns with limiting free speech. Even a democracy can order unjust actions, all in the name of self preservation. That is the sort of risk we run with limiting free speech.

If we do not have free speech, the mere quest for knowledge and truth can be criminalized. For the Athenian Council, their actions were justified. Socrates presented a danger to their world view. They earnestly believed his words would unleash divine retribution from Mount Olympus. Therefore, like the ex-wife in this case, they thought his speech would bring imminent harm and death. Of course, the ex-wife's fears are more justified than the Athenian Council's. Nevertheless, I'm merely attempting to demonstrate that even reasonable fears can result in horrific consequences, if we do not proceed with caution.

Of course, the Athenian Council was wrong. They didn't protect their citizens. Instead, they killed their greatest philosopher in a superstitious response to their unfounded fears. All restrictions of free speech carry the real risk of repeating the trial and death of Socrates. Which is why we must be exceedingly cautious with this issue.
 

DeusExMachina

Planetoid
Joined
Oct 31, 2014
The story of Sokrates, one of the most influential minds of the entire human history, is doubtingly a cautionary one, showing what petty lust for power and unfounded superstitions can do with a free mind.
But even in the end Sokrates was not broken, he accepted his sentence and drank the cup of hemlock with dignity, showing his convictions to the bitter, in this case quite literally, end, showing the world what a free mind is truly capable of.
The man is a figure to aspire to, a man standing for understanding and reason, for doubt and expansion of one's horizon, shunned and killed by the close minded leaders of his time.
Throughout history we see this motive repeated over and over, great minds bringing humanity great knowledge and understanding about the universe and getting shunned, trialed, threatened and killed for it. One of the more famous examples being Galileo Gallilei. But especially in the European Dark Ages there were a lot more, burned and killed for daring to speak their mind.
These are the examples we should live up to and teach our children to look up to, constantly questioning everything, leaving no stone unturned and no question unasked, relentlessly seeking for truth and understanding.

But a lot of forces stifle these aspirations, seeking to strangle the spark that humanity carries before it can become a raging fire, sweeping them away. Religion being one of the foremost and most dominating one, constantly pushing back against science, trying to halt our progress on every level and teaching people to be content with the world as it is and ask for forgiveness from a non-existent tyrant in the sky.
A free mind won't bend his knee to such ignorance and will cast the piercing ray of reason through the fog of their lies and superstitions and that is why they fear us. They know that once humanity has embrace reason and doubt they will become irrelevant to us, their flimsy excuse for a worldview picked apart by simple questions they can't answer.
 

Sierra-117

Super-Earth
Joined
Sep 25, 2014
I'm a huge defender of free speech (I went to a college that tried to implement a "no platform policy" on campus that I single-handily beat) but rape/death threats go too far on that IMHO. Free speech ends once you impede on someone else's rights. Threats are an impingement on human rights.

That sounds very contradictory. But let me give you an example. The way the BNP in England can say they want all foreigners out of the country is entitled under free speech (it's extremely racist yes) vs if they said they wanted to kill all the foreigners. Two different things right there. Free speech entitles you to say what you want to the limit that it does not infringe upon the rights of others. Saying you hate all Jews vs saying you want to kill all Jews is a massive difference.

For instance, I can say I hate another person. I'm allowed do that under the free speech act. But once I say I want to kill said person my rights end! It's very simple really!
 
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