The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

18 March 2006

Limited remedies

Thoughts from John Hinderaker:

One of the basic problems in our society is that nearly all informal sanctions have been forfeited, so that there is hardly any middle ground between passive acceptance of antisocial behavior and a felony prosecution. Legislation and criminal prosecution are blunt instruments that cannot be brought to bear against every deviancy that may arise.

The specific deviancy arousing Mr Hinderaker's wrath? Demonstrations at funerals, such as those staged by Fred Phelps and his merry band of dirtbags. What sort of "informal sanction" might be useful in this context?

If a bunch of crazies show up waving signs at a funeral, the appropriate course is for an able-bodied man — there should be at least one at any funeral — to take a sign and break it over the ringleader's head.

Alas, when the ringleader sues, the fact that he's a suppurating pustule on the hindquarters of humanity won't be taken into account.

Posted at 11:36 AM to Political Science Fiction


You used "thoughts" and "John Hinderaker" in the same sentence. That was funny.

It's entirely like Hinderaker's "fire, ready, aim if you feel like it" political stance to advocate the "informal sanction" of beating people with whom he disagrees. Lord knows he's tried to do it enough on his blog, making up crap over and over and referring to a site where someone bothers to point out his fictions as "dimmest of the dimwitted left-wing web sites," and the authors as "stupid."

Yet even though his entire modus operandi is "make up crap and rage furiously if anyone points it out," he is still allowed to do so because the "informal sanction" of going to his house and hitting him with a stick until he stops doing that is not available to the public at large.

I would say that he'd better be careful what he wishes for, but in Hinderaker's world, "informal sanctions" like these are supposed to only be available to him and his friends, not to everyone. It wouldn't sink in that this same respect for free speech is what lets him post his fictions from Minnesota without a gang of enlightened bachelor farmers showing up every night to beat the crap out of him.

But the rest of us know better.

Posted by: Matt at 7:46 PM on 18 March 2006

I'm sure Rev. Phelps will be grateful for your concern for his safety, and that he will happily reciprocate should the situation require it.

Posted by: CGHill at 8:01 PM on 18 March 2006

Free speech is free speech, Charles, even when it's odious like that of Hinderaker or Phelps. Hinderaker is far too divorced from reality to understand that he's not safe in a world where people who disagree with you have the "informal sanction" of punching you out.

You should know better, as you should than to make the ridiculous false-equivalence argument that either you support punching people in the face or you support Fred Phelps. I support neither.

Posted by: Matt at 1:34 AM on 19 March 2006

You continue to suffer from the delusion that free speech is only free if it goes unchallenged, that someone having the temerity to object to what you've said is perforce stifling your dissent. (What's most amusing is that the same people tend to say it so often, which demonstrates both the single-mindedness of their vision and the fatuousness of their conclusion, since were it so, they'd have faced serious consequences long before the third iteration.)

And you're apparently appalled that the population might take matters into its own hands rather than litigate. Fair enough. Nobody is going to argue that lynching, for instance, was good for anyone. But I am also an advocate of peace through superior firepower, and a couple of irritated fellows with two-by-fours, even if they don't have to use them, can do things that mere injunctions can't. (This is, incidentally, why the "stand your ground" laws are proving popular: if you've provided the perp with crossflow ribcage ventilation, you don't have to endure a whole lot of tedious drivel about what his alleged motivations were.)

Then again, I also support the death penalty for spammers, so make of that what you will.

Posted by: CGHill at 8:51 AM on 19 March 2006

It's easy to argue that odious speech should be challenged because it's a straw man: I never said it should "go unchallenged." Not once. I said the solution to odious speech is not physical force.

As the ACLU has said for decades, the solution to bad speech is more speech. I personally happy to think that if Fred Phelps and his Angry Band of Reknown try to picket the funeral of a soldier, the correct response is for them to be completely surrounded by a ring of about 25 marines (tall ones). They could either be silent with their backs to the loonies, or they could stare right at them and repeat John 3:16 over and over.

Yes, the Phelpsian presence would annoy the crap out of me at a funeral, but they are not such a blight upon society that we need to trash the First Amendment for them. When they were only protesting the funerals of AIDS victims like Ryan White, some "Christians" wondered if the Phelps gang was really that big a bunch of fools or not. Now they've opened their mouths and removed all doubt.

The population always takes matters into its own hand, but your argument about "stand your ground" is again false equivalence. While the new laws have their own problems, invoking them is responding to personal threat by force - not responding to speech with force. You take matters into your own hand by responding to bad speech with your own speech.

And once again, Charles, you and I are well-armed enough to win those speech battles. Just because Hinderaker is not doesn't mean he should get the right to escalate with a two-by-four.

Posted by: Matt at 12:17 PM on 19 March 2006

I have to admit, I do like the idea of surrounding Fred and Co. with the Marines.

Posted by: CGHill at 12:26 PM on 19 March 2006

Eugene Volokh is contemplating this very matter.

Posted by: CGHill at 4:07 PM on 23 March 2006