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Tilting at Windmills

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February 22, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

DAVID IRVING....Michael Shermer, who's actually met and interviewed Holocaust denier David Irving, thinks Austria did the wrong thing by sentencing him to prison for expressing his views:

Austria's treatment of Irving as a political dissident should offend both the people who defend the rights of political cartoonists to express their opinion of Islamic terrorists and the civil libertarians who leaped to the defense of University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill when he exercised his right to call the victims of 9/11 "little Eichmanns." Why doesn't it? Why aren't freedom lovers everywhere offended by Irving's court conviction?

Freedom is a principle that must be applied indiscriminately. We have to defend Irving in order to defend ourselves. Once the laws are in place to jail dissidents of Holocaust history, what's to stop such laws from being applied to dissenters of religious or political histories, or to skepticism of any sort that deviates from the accepted canon?

I've already mentioned this briefly before, but I agree. As usual with free speech issues, this isn't a question of whether Irving's speech is odious, it's a question of whether the state should be allowed to declare it illegal. This is a power that I'm very reluctant to concede to central governments, which is why I generally oppose hate speech laws and think that Tony Blair is insane for pushing legislation to ban the act of "glorifying terrorism" whatever that is.

As Shermer says, it's at least understandable that countries like Germany and Austria have laws that ban Holocaust denial. There's some history there. But at some point they have to decide if they've matured enough since World War II to trust their own citizens not to fall prey en masse to the ranting hatred of loons like David Irving. It's unfortunate that apparently they don't feel they have.

Kevin Drum 10:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (131)

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Don't really know about Austria and de-nazification, but I have read the judge's opinion about Irving in the Lipstadt case (it's available online). Lipstadt had made some statements to the effect that Irving was an ignorant mendacious hack, and he sued her in England where the libel laws are much more favorable to the plaintiffs in these types of cases. Among other things, truth has to be established as a defense. Lipstadt was able to establish that essentially Irving was indeed an ignorant mendacious hack, and the judge's opinion in the case is an absolute gem of crisp legal writing carefully built on solid evidence. More effective than prison, I think, in getting the truth out.

Posted by: Mad Blogger on February 22, 2006 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

As usual with free speech issues, this isn't a question of whether Irving's speech is odious, it's a question of whether the state should be allowed to declare it illegal. This is a power that I'm very reluctant to concede to central governments, which is why I generally oppose hate speech laws and think that Tony Blair is insane for pushing legislation to ban the act of "glorifying terrorism" whatever that is.

Word.

Posted by: Gregory on February 22, 2006 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

One of the benefits of free speech, is it's much easier to identify the idiots. Throwing this scumbag in jail actually makes him a somewhat sympathetic character. But by letting him express his views unfettered, we can easily determine that he has nothing important to say. And that allows us to safely ignore him.

Posted by: Staunch Moderate on February 22, 2006 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

While I understand your views on free speech, Germany and Austria have special history in this regard and treat holocaust deniers as dangerous to a society that would like to forget what they did in the 20th Century.

To deny is to eliminate the need for vigilence at home and abroad. Many nationalist Germans/Austrians would love to be able to deny that their parents actively or passively participated in the slaughter of millions.

Posted by: stuart on February 22, 2006 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

Free speech is a start, but please expand your list of things we should not concede to central government.

Posted by: Matt on February 22, 2006 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin - you oppose "hate speech laws." What are those? I'm not aware of there being any hate speech laws.

Posted by: BRussell on February 22, 2006 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

As usual with free speech issues, this isn't a question of whether Irving's speech is odious, it's a question of whether the state should be allowed to declare it illegal.

Yep. When being an idiot is illegal, most of the population should be in prison.

Posted by: PCashwell on February 22, 2006 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

If they are worried about their own citizens, that would be silly.
If they want to continue to demonstrate to the world how seriously they take their responsibility to atone for what they did in the 30s and 40s, that makes sense to me.

Posted by: Kevin on February 22, 2006 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Also, once you ban some types of speech, people will ask why you're not banning other types as well. For example, I heard a Muslim guy on the CBC (Canadian public radio) asking why Irving's going to jail for saying something anti-Jewish while Europeans defend other people's rights to mock the Prophet in cartoons.

Once you give the government the power to ban offensive speech, you end up being pressured to expand the range of prohibited speech, since more and more people start letting you know what they consider offensive.

Posted by: otherpaul on February 22, 2006 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

Anyone who's ever been to Germany and spent time with Germans, knows they're extremely sensitive to all things relating to the Holocaust. They're not likely to "forget" about what happened, nor deny it. Jailing Irving is totally unnecessary. The German public know the guy's a whackjob. They're not looking to bring any more shame upon themselves by repeating history. Though I haven't been to Austria, I would imagine the same holds true there, as well.

Posted by: EM on February 22, 2006 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

As Shermer says, it's at least understandable that countries like Germany and Austria have laws that ban Holocaust denial. There's some history there. But at some point they have to decide if they've matured enough since World War II to trust their own citizens not to fall prey en masse to the ranting hatred of loons like David Irving. It's unfortunate that apparently they don't feel they have.

I'm not sure how the second half of this paragraph follows the first. Trusting their own citizens means not having laws making Holocaust denial illegal. Are you arguing that having these laws is fine, but enforcing them isn't?

Posted by: shortstop on February 22, 2006 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

While I understand your views on free speech, Germany and Austria have special history in this regard and treat holocaust deniers as dangerous to a society that would like to forget what they did in the 20th Century.

People whose very ideas are considered dangerous are exactly who "free speech" is supposed to protect. There are no "special cases"; not in Germany and Austria after the Holocaust, not in Britain after the subway bombings, not in the US after 9/11, not in the US during the Cold War, not anywhere, not anytime. There are acts that go beyond speech to actually being part of violent acts, such as conspiracy, incitement, etc. But Holocaust denial is exactly the kind of "bad idea" for which the best counter are "good ideas" -- facts and evidence -- not suppression of speech.

Suppression of contrary speech is only the best way to advance a desired believe when the desired belief is, in fact, wrong, which is why it is the universal tactic of repressive totalitarianism that relies on deceiving the masses.

Suppressing denial does nothing to combat it, if anything it validates it, particularly when done in the otherwise "free" world, where the idea that bad ideas are fought with good ideas and totalitarian decievers employ suppression is more well established.

To deny is to eliminate the need for vigilence at home and abroad.

No, to deny is not to eliminate the need it is merely to deny it. The counter to that is for people to tell the truth to counter the deniers, not to imprison them. Once you've established that merely embracing ideas that are considered dangerous is grounds for imprisonment, you've opened the doors for widespread thought control.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 22, 2006 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

Bah! This is reverse-Breyerism. Jailing Irving in the USA would violate our inviolable principles, but there's no need for us to meddle in the legal system in European countries. We should cluck our tongues and shake our heads and smugly celebrate their collective slide into irrelevance. It should also be a reminder that the liberal world order imposed post-1945 keeps the Europeans impotent and in the dark and that's a good thing indeed.

Posted by: KevStar on February 22, 2006 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

He pleaded guilty to fraud.

This is only tangentially a free speech issue and the foundation isn't exactly what you make of it. Free speech in the U.S. allows for freedom of opinion, which is not the same as freedom to write anything you want. This is true for everything from advertising and marketing (you can't make promises for benefits that don't exist) to journalism (you can't libel on air or in print someone, for instance).

There is a minimal standard of truthfulness when you are dealing with history and Irving abandoned those standards in a country that knows first hand how vile those lies are.

He decided to challenge the Austrian government and they called his bluff. His lies are knowing falsehoods and, as a result, fall under fraud. Even he knew this, which is why he pleaded guilty to the charges.

Posted by: n.o.t.l.f. on February 22, 2006 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

I'm glad you're posting on this Kevin, especially since nobody else seems to care, from the left or the right. Yet this is one issue that both conservatives and liberals, here or in Europe, should be in total agreement over -- and should be outraged: the freedom to be a misinformed or lying or venal shithead should not be taken away by any government.

But disgusting as these laws are in terms of their content and impact on freedom, they also violate the very idea of progress itself, which is the recognition that we can change our minds about anything. Without the ability to do that we have no progress in science, politics or ethics. Instead we have social stagnation and static societies based on prescribed piety. Irving, in fact, had recanted some years ago after losing his libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt. He could have been lying through his teeth but that's irrelevant. He did publicly recant. Yet he was still convicted.

The message here is not only that you cannot hold opinions the government does not agree with, but that it is now a crime to be wrong -- sure, sure, Irving is not a nice guy and his opinions are abhorrent, etc. etc. But it is possible, after all, that he was just monumentally wrong and then he saw the light and changed his mind. He, or anyone else with any opinion deemed officially odious, can simply hold that opinion from ignorance, temporary insanity, wrong-headedness, or any other condition that causes people to hold odious views on any subject. The content of the opinion is irrelevant. You can now be convicted for being wrong.

Isn't the world becoming a strange and terrifying place? There's no country or place that I want as my home any longer. The era of progress started by the Enlightenment is dead.

Posted by: Aris on February 22, 2006 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK
Jailing Irving in the USA would violate our inviolable principles, but there's no need for us to meddle in the legal system in European countries.

I don't think anyone was proposing invading to free him. We're commenting on whether its a good or bad idea for him to be jailed, which isn't "meddling". And, if our "inviolable principles" really are "inviolable principles" rather than merely quaint local customs, then, yes, its just as wrong that they are doing it that it would be if we did it.

You don't fight bad ideas with imprisonment.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 22, 2006 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

Why Irving having the reputation of being a liar and a scoundrel isn't sufficient punishment is a mystery.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on February 22, 2006 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

Where's the anti-Bush angle on this?

Posted by: fred on February 22, 2006 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

I don't know that I have a problem with this.

Nothing has harmed our world more than the power of big lies. Nothing stabs at the heart of democracy more than lies designed to keep citizens ignorant and fearful.

If its not OK to yell fire in a crowded theater, and its not ok to lie publicly to harm a person's character, why on earth should it be OK to lie to harm a peoples government, or an entire peoples reputation?

Frankly, I'd love to see some serious anti-lying laws put into effect here, because it would dramatically change the nature of commerce and politics, and for the better.

If the past century has proven anything, its the power of the big lie to do irreparable harm. We can wax poetic over the disinfecting sunlight of truth, but in case you haven't been paying attention, truth has been getting its ass kicked recently, and a lot of people have died because of it.

there are few absolutes in the world. Everyone knows there is no absolute freedom in a world where your actions affect everyone around you, and we accept limitations on our freedom daily - I'm wearing pants at work, for instance. It is always a balancing act, and it will never reach a state where it is sitting on a shelf in absolute certainty of boundaries. The price of liberty is constant vigilance, after all.

Irving is a lying bastard who absolutely deserves to be locked away from society, where there is no risk of disinforming more people for the sake of bigotry and making a buck off bigotry.

Posted by: Mysticdog on February 22, 2006 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

Aris wrote: "the very idea of progress itself, which is the recognition that we can change our minds about anything. Without the ability to do that we have no progress in science, politics or ethics. Instead we have social stagnation and static societies based on prescribed piety."

Would someone tell the Bush Administration this? And it's not just the ability to change your mind, but to admit you might have been *gasp* wrong.

Posted by: EM on February 22, 2006 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Here's where it gets tricky.

Kevin's right that their should be freedom of expression and pretty absolute freedom of speech (except for Fire! in a movie theatre, of course),

But it's hard for me to say that Austria and Germany should allow people to lie about the Holocaust. And Holocaust deniers do lie about the holocaust all the time. Jailing a liar who purports to be a historian is a lot different than someone presenting his opinion.

Irving didn't say "I don't think that the Holocaust was such a big deal". He basically claimed as a historian that it didn't really happen. And that's just not true.

Second, Irving's not Austrian, he's British. And the rules for a visitor can be different. If an Austrian says something that fine in Austria. But if some outside agitator feels he can just wander in and scream and yell, that's a bit different.

For the US, I could accept rules limiting the speech of foreigners visiting the US. i.e. make it illegal for foreigners coming in here advocating killing americans, or denying that we never treated African Americans or native americans badly. But I would be adamantly against saying Americans aren't allowed to say any of that.

Posted by: Samuel Knight on February 22, 2006 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Regardless of one's views on Austria's laws, one thing is certain: Irving's a complete moron. All he had to do was stay the heck out of Austria.

Posted by: nolo on February 22, 2006 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

I'm sure Irving will land on his feet with a plum position at The Heritage Foundation.

Posted by: jimbo on February 22, 2006 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

"Why Irving having the reputation of being a liar and a scoundrel isn't sufficient punishment is a mystery."

No, it really isn't. He has that reputation with you and me, but to 99% of the world he doesn't have any reputation at all. And when he shows up to those people, with his unopposed "proof" the holocaust never happened, its part of a jewish plot, it makes converts. Even with people who should know better, it will make converts, because that is the proven power of the Big Lie.

Sure, if we were to dedicate people to follow Irving around to immediately refute his bullshit, it might be an viable, safe alternative - except once he gets published, how do you refute his books to people who will look no further?

And why waste the manpower, and risk missing some people? He has proven himself irredemable in honest society, what does leaving him on the street gain us? Does he serve any useful function at all? Is he worth following around, refuting his bullshit over and over and over and over again?

Jail is a great place for him. I hope he gets sodomized by a jew gang.

Posted by: Mysticdog on February 22, 2006 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

BTW - Sorry about the typos.

Also wanted to make clear that I don't think it's a good idea for Americans to deny our history either. I just would be very uncomfortable just banning that speech.

I think the core issue with Irving is that he just lied - all over Europe and the US. And to do so in Austria and Germany just invited getting hammered for it.

It'd be like going to an Arab country with those Danish cartoons on a t-shirt.

Posted by: Samuel Knight on February 22, 2006 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

I'm pretty much opposed to hate-speech legislation as well.

But there has to be a line somewhere, between "I hate xxxxxxx-ians" and "let's go kill the xxxxxx-ians".

And every single time a Muslim cleric reads something to the effect of "let's go kill the infidels" from the Koran - that should NOT be protected speech.

And the biggest problem Liberals have right now, is that they've been framed as supporting Muslim Clerics' right to say "let's go kill the infidels". For those of us on the left that do not support this right, this stance should be made loud and clear.

For those that DO support such a right - do you also support the right to yell "FIRE!" in a crowded theater?

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on February 22, 2006 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

Here's my motto, "I may hate what you say, but I'll defend to your murderer's death, your right to say it".

Free speech but if you attract looney-tunes, pay your own security bills.

Posted by: McA on February 22, 2006 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

Would we jail somebody, or even pass a law in the first place, if the issue were slavery denial? It seems to me that our version of slavery, while not so heinous as the holocaust, is at least roughly parallel to it. Or maybe it was as heinous; at least the Nazis tried to hide what they were doing. Still I think we'd let public opinion take care of a slavery denial.

Posted by: Ace Franze on February 22, 2006 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

Mysticdog: If its not OK to yell fire in a crowded theater, and its not ok to lie publicly to harm a person's character, why on earth should it be OK to lie to harm a peoples government, or an entire peoples reputation?

How about we drop this tired "yelling fire in a crowded theater" analogy as an example of acceptable restrictions on speech? It is not: Trying to cause panic in a crowded place which will surely cause injury is a criminal act. That's what's punishable. The yelling is incidental. Indeed, if one were to yell "Fire" thinking there's a fire when there was no fire, I don't think many courts would convict even if the yelling caused panic. Don't confuse criminal acts that involve speech with speech itself.

What's more worrisome though is the idea implicit in your argument that there is a supernatural way of detecting lies and we can therefore enact laws to criminalize lying, period. Who exactly decides what is a lie and what isn't? You? Me? The government?

Think about it: Are ID opponents lying? Are anti-environmentalists lying? Are conservatives lying most of the time? Is Rush Limbaugh is lying scumbag 24 hours every day? I happen to think that in most cases, most of these people are lying, and when they are not they are just stupid, ignorant idiots. But I'm not arrogant enough to want my opinion on what constitutes a lie to become law. Or my opinion on what constitutes stupid, ignorant idiocy. I mean, why criminalize just lies? How about stupidity or ignorance, the primary sources of most "wrong" opinions.

Posted by: Aris on February 22, 2006 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

Friends:
I had family and many friends who served in post-WWII Austria and Germany and they universally stated that the Austrians were the most unreconstructed and unaware Nazi sympathizers on the continent. They hid their Nazi affiliations behind the false "history" of their invasion by Nazi Germany to deny everything about the Nazi past and their willing involvement. Indeed they were greeting the Germans as their liberators with flowers.
I bow to no one (particularly anyone in this current fascist wannabe US govt) in my support for free speech. Yet I clearly see that denying the Holocaust in Vienna as the moral equivalant of shouting fire when there is none in the proverbial movie theatre.
Sometimes we need to remember history and give sovereign govts the right to decide when fire is being yelled in their own opera houses.Irving can use the 3 years to reflect upon his casual assertion of the untenable.
Irving 6 years ago used british libel laws to attack the writer Lipstadt who challenged his calumnies, she won, but it was a blatant attempt to financially break her for telling the truth. Irving's time for reflection and penance has come. There are thousands of genuine and important brave free speech advocates languishing in jails around the world;consult Amnesty International for a list. Irving will never be one of them!

Posted by: joe compton on February 22, 2006 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

I note that the law was passed in 1992, I think, and his main writing / speech / whatever it was was in 1989. Isn't that an ex post facto law? I mean, punishing someone for an act done before the law made the act illegal?

Now, if his writings and speeches since then have been in the same vein, and his mea culpa and recantation is too recent, then maybe he is "guilty" of breaking the law, whatever we think of the law. But if he has said little on the subject since 1989, that instance should not be held against him.

Ed

Posted by: Ed Drone on February 22, 2006 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

osama_been_forgotten: And every single time a Muslim cleric reads something to the effect of "let's go kill the infidels" from the Koran - that should NOT be protected speech.

Obviously, incitement to violence should be a criminal act. That's totally different than some pseudo-historian who is being either a liar or an idiot. If Irving had encouraged Austrians to go out and kill Jews, then he should have been prosecuted for inciting violence.

Hate to seem to be defending him since I find his opinions odious -- and yes, dangerous too -- but they are opinions, not explicit incitements to violence.

Posted by: Aris on February 22, 2006 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

But at some point they have to decide if they've matured enough since World War II to trust their own citizens not to fall prey en masse to the ranting hatred of loons like David Irving. It's unfortunate that apparently they don't feel they have.

No, what's unfortunate is that they actually haven't.

Posted by: Allen K. on February 22, 2006 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Shermer and Kevin better watch out. Arguing in favor of Irving's right to free speech is what got Noam Chomsky labeled a holocaust denier in many circles (including, if I recall correctly, Lipstadt's book)

Posted by: Martin on February 22, 2006 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

Irving didn't have a lawyer in the Lipstadt case, he represented himself, what that generally means is that the courts give him all kinds of extra consideration and the bringing of the action itself forced Lipstadt, a not-rich professor, to scrape together funds for a lawyer. I think her publisher ended up paying the lawyers, but it was expensive. At the end of the case, they got an uncollectible judgment for attorney fees against Irving for $250,000 or so.

Irving deliberately used the English courts as a forum to haul an American professor into court, and he is no fan of free speech when it hurts him, so whatever the merits of the Austrian law, don't shed any tears for Irving the individual.

Posted by: Mad Blogger on February 22, 2006 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

As I already stated at TPM cafe discussions, the right on free speech has limits. In Germany in Austria, the limit is when the border to Nazi propaganda is crossed. Don't start a "holier than thou" discussion as long as you can't demonstrate in the US with a sign saying: "Don't criminalize Osama! He had nothing to do with 911!" without being arrested. It should be obvious that Hitler was a more dangerous terrorist than even Osama. We simly won't allow anyone doing propaganda for his cause. Period.

Posted by: Gray on February 22, 2006 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK
Nothing has harmed our world more than the power of big lies.

I'd argue that punishment of expression of views considered "dangerous" has harmed our world more than "big lies" and that, indeed, most of the harm caused by "big lies" itself was enabled by the suppression of views considered dangerous by the government perpetrating the big lies.

Nothing stabs at the heart of democracy more than lies designed to keep citizens ignorant and fearful.

Democracy works fine even when people are lying, so long as other people aren't prevented from countering them.

But democracy doesn't work when unpopular ideas are suppressed with punishment because they are "dangerous".


Posted by: cmdicely on February 22, 2006 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

it's at least understandable that countries like Germany and Austria have laws that ban Holocaust denial. There's some history there

In the sense that they haven't changed much since the 1930's?
.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on February 22, 2006 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

Another example: Recently, three US supporters of Al Qaueda have been sentenced. One was charged with downloading a plan to build suicide bomb vests. Great right of free speech on the US, no right to listen or read freely? Where is your outcry on this issue?

Posted by: Gray on February 22, 2006 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK
Sure, if we were to dedicate people to follow Irving around to immediately refute his bullshit, it might be an viable, safe alternative - except once he gets published, how do you refute his books to people who will look no further?

Laziness on the part of the supposedly virtuous is no excuse for totalitarianism.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 22, 2006 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

joe compton: There are thousands of genuine and important brave free speech advocates languishing in jails around the world;consult Amnesty International for a list. Irving will never be one of them!

You cannot be an advocate for free speech if you differentiate between "good free speech" and "bad free speech." Free speech is free whether you or I think it's good and genuine and brave or not. And please retire the "yelling fire" canard. It's not applicable here, or in fact in most situation where it's brought up. See my comment above.

In Michael Shermer's article, he quotes a passage from "A Man for All Seasons":

Roper: So now you'd give the devil benefit of law.

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the devil?

Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that.

More: Oh? And when the law was down and the devil turned round on you where would you hide? Yes, I'd give the devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

Free speech is not a privilege for Irving or the devil, but a necessity for all of us, and that will include the devils of this world.

Posted by: Aris on February 22, 2006 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK
Another example: Recently, three US supporters of Al Qaueda have been sentenced. One was charged with downloading a plan to build suicide bomb vests.

Source?

That sounds like conspiracy -- an agreement with others to commit a crime couple with a concrete act in furtherance of the criminal end -- which is not a free speech issue, as it is substantive action designed to acheive a criminal -- violently so -- goal.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 22, 2006 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

The law seems silly in it's specificity. Is it illegal in Austria to say the Holocaust was a good thing or to argue that we could make the world a better place by aborting all fetuses of a specific race (e.g. Bill Bennett)?

Also, could someone in Austria please invite Mel Gibson and his father there to recieve the key to Vienna?

Posted by: ranaaurora on February 22, 2006 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

Obviously, incitement to violence should be a criminal act. That's totally different than some pseudo-historian who is being either a liar or an idiot. If Irving had encouraged Austrians to go out and kill Jews, then he should have been prosecuted for inciting violence.
Posted by: Aris on February 22, 2006 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

Right - and this country has had "free speech" for over 200 years - there's a line between free speech and incitement to violence. It's been probed and tested many times.

I haven't read all this guy's writings, and I'm not going to. Did what he said consitute inciting violence? I don't know. I guess that's up to the judges and laywers to decide.

Hate to seem to be defending him since I find his opinions odious -- and yes, dangerous too -- but they are opinions, not explicit incitements to violence.

Absolutely, that's the basic point I was trying to make.

But there's the larger point (and likely the reason why this story is a big story, in that it dovetails with the Mohammad Cartoon issue) - is; is it a valid criticism by muslims that the west does not have free speech, because we jail jerkwads like Irving? Is it valid for religious leaders to call for the execution of a cartoonist? (and should such condemnations themselves be allowed under free-speech rules?) - and do Liberals have a problem with free speech, as in, making special laws to punish people who bash gays or blacks or whatever? Does the cartoon constitute "incitement to violence" because it was provocative? And how do we reconcile our western "free speech" beliefs with the FACT that in a recent poll, westerners who recently self-identified as Christians were evenly divided on whether the Mohammad Cartoon should be protected free speech, and even the POPE criticised it?

The first amendment is pretty clear, and speech laws are fairly well established here, in the US - but frankly, a lot of westerners still "don't get it" - including people who post to this blog, and we're expecting the muslim world to "get it?"

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on February 22, 2006 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

I'd argue that punishment of expression of views considered "dangerous" has harmed our world more than "big lies" and that, indeed, most of the harm caused by "big lies" itself was enabled by the suppression of views considered dangerous by the government perpetrating the big lies.

And you'd be correct.

You cannot be an advocate for free speech if you differentiate between "good free speech" and "bad free speech." Free speech is free whether you or I think it's good and genuine and brave or not. And please retire the "yelling fire" canard. It's not applicable here, or in fact in most situation where it's brought up.

And you'd be correct also.

Those of you arguing for a magical distinction between harmful and acceptable free speech are scaring the bejesus out of me. Do we not have enough idiots on the right carrying this ill-conceived and very dangerous torch?

Posted by: shortstop on February 22, 2006 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

Speech has effects, which is why freedom of speech is not absolute.

One of the effects of speech has been to stir up genocides. In the 20th century, in "civilized" Europe, we have Armenia, the Holoccaust, and "Ethnic Cleansing" in the Balkans. National Geographic had a longer article in January, 2006.

Advocating violence against others is almost always prohibited speech. But there is a continuum from directly instructing the mob to rampage and murder through glorifying, condoning, and justifying violence, to simple disagreements that (nearly) all agree is safe and legitimately protected speech.

I can understand and accept that different places will choose to demarc unacceptable, prohibited speech at different shades of gray.

Posted by: OwnedByTwoCats on February 22, 2006 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

The principled argument for maximum deference to freedom of speech is compelling. However, I'm not especially shocked that historical realities occasionaly motivate societies to depart from what appear to be intellectualy compelling lines of argument. Lets get real - events such as the Holocaust have long-lasting effects on affected societies - isn't this just too fresh to expect it to be treated like any other freedom of speech issue? Aren't societies within their rights to impose some sort of mortorium on malicious mis-portrayals of such events not only in order to uphold community standards but also to show respect to those affected?

Posted by: Aidan on February 22, 2006 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

Mad Blogger: so whatever the merits of the Austrian law, don't shed any tears for Irving the individual.

The discussion is on the merits of the Austrian law. Irving the individual is incidental and inconsequential.

Questions for those who have no problem with censoring speech they consider odious: What other speech should be outlawed? How about, the denying the Armenian Genocide by the Turks? There's as much evidence that it happened as there is on the Holocaust. I think both are established historical facts. But if we make denying it a crime, we'd have to arrest not only historians but most of Turkey's population, including its government and army leaders. Anybody for it? Is the Turkish prime minister yelling "fire" every time he denies it happened?

Posted by: Aris on February 22, 2006 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely, it's been in yahoo news, pls search for yourself or look at the Matt Yglesias discussion at TPM. I#m working on a BCCI summary now....

Posted by: Gray on February 22, 2006 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

"I've already mentioned this briefly before, but I agree. As usual with free speech issues, this isn't a question of whether Irving's speech is odious, it's a question of whether the state should be allowed to declare it illegal."

Even just MENTIONING that Irving's speech is "odius" makes this statment completely off the mark. It's like pointing out that the victim of a mass murderer had his fly unbuttoned.

Only one thing matters here and that is that a guy just went to jail for his expressions. It is so unbelievably disgusting it just drains you of all hope for the "old" continent.

Posted by: peanut on February 22, 2006 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK
cmdicely, it's been in yahoo news, pls search for yourself

If you want to make the case that it is a free speech issue rather than the criminal conspiracy that your summary here makes it appear, you can present the evidence and argument yourself.


Posted by: cmdicely on February 22, 2006 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

The discussion is on the merits of the Austrian law. Irving the individual is incidental and inconsequential.

Amen.

Posted by: peanut on February 22, 2006 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

"Is it illegal in Austria to say the Holocaust was a good thing"

If you do it publicly, YES. I have no problems with that. But why don't you demonstrate in front of a US police station with a sign "911 was a good thing! I love it!"? Good luck.

Posted by: Gray on February 22, 2006 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

BTW, I'm with Kevin on this. Revisonist histories and the distortion of scientific or demographic data can be odious, racist, and moronic -- but making statements illegal in the long term leads to authoriatarianism and in the short term provides the ideas with sympathy, plublicity, and in some circles a sense of credibility.

Posted by: ranaaurora on February 22, 2006 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK
The principled argument for maximum deference to freedom of speech is compelling. However, I'm not especially shocked that historical realities occasionaly motivate societies to depart from what appear to be intellectualy compelling lines of argument.

I'm not especially shocked that the response to the abuses of the French monarchy and clergy, combined with what was, at least for the poor, a famine combined to produce the horrors of the Terror and the subsequent dictatorship of Napoleon.

I'm not suprised that the miserable economic conditions and the national humiliation in interwar Germany produced Hitler's Nazi party.

Lots of bad things are not surprising. That doesn't lessen the need to advocate against them when they occur or appear probable in the near future.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 22, 2006 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

IIRC, Chomsky not only called it an important work in his introduction, but declined to weigh in on its veracity. Chomsky deserved every ounce of trouble he got from that "endorsement".

Posted by: Matt on February 22, 2006 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

This kind of "one the one hand, but on the other" analysis is so typical of the treatment that anyone who "insults" islam gets especially in Europe.

Editors living with 24-hr bodyguard protection and afraid for their lives because they printed a cartoon? Point out that the editor is a fundie Christian and was probably looking for trouble. Artist has his throat slit in broad daylight? Wasn't he at least a little bit to blame for producing such provacative films? Politician living in a jail (not figuratively speaking) because living outside is too dangerous after he criticized Islam? Righ-winger!

All the same and equally disgusting.

Posted by: peanut on February 22, 2006 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

Gray -- what law are you going to use to prosecute someone who glorifies 9/11? Sure someone with an "I love Osama" shirt might get dragged behind a pick-up truck in many neighborhoods and shouted down or kicked in the nuts most everywhere else -- but what law are you going to use?

Posted by: ranaaurora on February 22, 2006 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

The German and Austrian laws against neo-Nazi activities look back on a time when freedom was not protected. If governments protect all freedoms then the laws against lying become moot -- you can lie about Nazis, but you can't take it further, to the point where you actually begin to take away other people's freedoms. In this sense, defending freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly protects all people, as long as we understand that these freedoms apply to all people, and that they will not be taken away. These post-Nazi laws are the reflection of lingering insecurity that it could all happen again. A more distanced perspective might determine that the existence of NATO, the passing of half a century, and the modern communications structure have made these laws obsolete.

It is also true, in my experience, that a lot of people, when faced with our American concept of freedom of expression, just don't get it, even when they have lived here. They can't quite make that distinction between freedom and the need to have big brother protect us from ourselves.

Posted by: Bob G on February 22, 2006 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

Why the generalization based on what happened in Austria to include Germany as well? No other nation on the planet has made as much of an effort to atone for genocide (not to say that this effort has been flawless by any means). Austria's denial of involvement in the Holocaust may not be on par with Japan's of its war crimes, but I understand it's pretty significant. This difference should not be discounted.

The fact is, any discussion of the Holocaust beyond the borders of the countries and indivisuals that instigated or suffered it can never really be anything more than academic.

Posted by: TXdem on February 22, 2006 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

No, it really isn't. He has that reputation with you and me, but to 99% of the world he doesn't have any reputation at all.

So, why break a butterfly on the wheel? Irving is a nothing. A pest. A moron. A scoundrel. Light has erased his shadow just as it has erased those of other Holocaust deniers. (And endorsers. As Chomsky has discovered. Whatever Chomsky utters is automatically flagged, "said David Irving praiser, Noam Chomsky...")

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on February 22, 2006 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

"Gray -- what law are you going to use to prosecute someone who glorifies 9/11?"
Propaganda for Al Quaeda? Pls check Patriot Act, I'm busy on another topic now. Also I'm not convinced that any open supporter of Osama won't simply disappear for some weeks, lawful or not. Why don't you go ahead and try it?

Posted by: Gray on February 22, 2006 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

"How about we drop this tired "yelling fire in a crowded theater" analogy as an example of acceptable restrictions on speech?"

Because it makes the point in an obvious and clear manner, with a century-old understanding of hat it means?

Ok, how about:
Its not ok to lie to the cops that a person just tried to get you to pay to sleep with his 6 year old daughter.
Its not ok to incite a riot.
Its not ok stand outside a business lying to every potential customer that their product put your wife into a coma.
Its not ok to follow a person around insulting them all day.
You cannot lie on the witness stand.
It's not ok to recite pornographic poetry (or read aloud a scooter libby novel) to a classroom of first-graders.

Got a problem with any of those?

"What's more worrisome though is the idea implicit in your argument that there is a supernatural way of detecting lies and we can therefore enact laws to criminalize lying, period. Who exactly decides what is a lie and what isn't? You? Me? The government? "


There is no supposition of a supernatural lie detector, where in the hell did that come from? What is "more worrisome" is your assertation that there is no way of determining lies from truth than the supernatural. It must be very hard to be you.

All law enforcement is subject to societal and judicial determination and review. That is what makes the judicial system of a liberal democracy strong. Maybe a junior civics course is needed. Courts make decisions all of the time on what is truth and what is not, and with a fairly good record of achieving justice. Do you not trust democratic institutions? Why not? Perhaps it is becuase of the effect that lies have had on them - that has been the source of most of their failures.

"I'd argue that punishment of expression of views considered "dangerous" has harmed our world more than "big lies" and that, indeed, most of the harm caused by "big lies" itself was enabled by the suppression of views considered dangerous by the government perpetrating the big lies"

LOL, really? Trying to chicken vs. egg the argument never works - evolution tells us the egg came first, lol.

Big lies lead to the suppression of truth. It is not the other way around, because the reason people have demanded the suppression of truth is to protect the big lies.

The nazis blamed the Jews for all of Germany's problems. Plenty of people spoke out against it - they were killed or defamed until they learned to shut up. It wasn't the other way around.

"Democracy works fine even when people are lying, so long as other people aren't prevented from countering them."

The neocons lied about the connection between 9/11 and saddam, about Saddam having WMD and an intention of using them against the US. There was no governmental suppression of the truth - in fact, there were a smattering of journalists who did refute these things. But the power of the big lie prevailed - who could believe the government would lie so blatantly? And my, wasn't it better infotainment? So we were told that Saddams son-in-law claimed the program was active and ongoing, even though he really said the exact opposite, and in fact the very same newspapers that originally reported that he said the exact opposite were now reporting the lie as fact. Did "democracy work fine"?

The swiftboaters lied about Kerry. There were lots of sources that refuted the lies, in a very conclusive manner, but the press still treated the lies as having an equal footing as the truth. Did "democracy work fine"?

"But democracy doesn't work when unpopular ideas are suppressed with punishment because they are "dangerous"."

Its not a matter of "unpopular" ideas or "dangerous" ideas. It is a matter of false facts that prevent people from even having a proper base to evaluate the ideas.

Almost all abuse of laws limiting free speech (and there are plenty already, most of which are required for a democratic society to function at all) starts with lies about threat or validity of the speech in question.

Does this mean you cannot promote ID/creationism? No. It affects how you can promote ID/creationism. What you shouldn't be able to do is, for example, claim that there is no fossil evidence of evolution. What you shouldn't be able to do is claim that the law of thermodynamic prevents systems from organizing, especially after its been explained to you a dozen times that thermodynamics refers to the movement of energy, NOT the organization of matter (and had someone shake a box of magnets in front of you several times to prove it).

Posted by: Mysticdog on February 22, 2006 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

I think it would be much easier and more effective to expose and humiliate deniers rather than prosecute.

Posted by: aaron on February 22, 2006 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

Well, why is everyone so suprised? Austria, like Germany, is a country that is founded on autocratic, rigid structure that sees everything in black and white. As much as I dislike Irving, I do not think he should be jailed for opinions, but am I suprised that this nation did just such a thing?
Nope.

Posted by: marcus on February 22, 2006 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

Any country that has any sort of slander or libel law is already going down this road. Don't act so high and mighty, because free speech is ALWAYS abridged.

Posted by: karmakin on February 22, 2006 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps Austria could use their own version of the Radical Acid Test.

Posted by: aaron on February 22, 2006 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

"So, why break a butterfly on the wheel? Irving is a nothing. A pest. A moron. A scoundrel. Light has erased his shadow just as it has erased those of other Holocaust deniers."

Except, of course, that he hasn't been erased. He gets invited to conferences denying the holocaust. Neo-nazism and the Klu Klux Klan are again on the rise in this country, and around the world. His ideas don't affect you and me. We know better. Are you going to go try to correct every klan member and skin head who believe everything he has written, who in fact may have become bigots, or more entrenched bigots, because of his speeches and writtings?

the trial and jailing him has done two very useful things - made it less likely that he can influence more people who are isolated from the truth about the holocaust, and made it more likely that people have been exposed to his ideas and the truth at the same time, perhaps giving some level of innoculation against holocaust denial.

Do not cry for David Irving. He made his choices with a clear understanding of the consequences.

Posted by: Mysticdog on February 22, 2006 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

As I already stated at TPM cafe discussions, the right on free speech has limits. . . Don't start a "holier than thou" discussion as long as you can't demonstrate in the US with a sign saying: "Don't criminalize Osama! He had nothing to do with 911!" without being arrested.

What part of the country do you live in? Rural Oklahoma? Because I live in Berkeley, and I see shit like that all the time, and much worse. This includes a peculiarly deranged group of Iranian exiles rallying in support of a terrorist organization, diehard Maoists praising the Cultural Revolution and attacking the Bill of Rights, LaRouche cultists, and all sorts of people advocating the violent overthrow of the US government. And even before I moved here I'd seen similar things elsewhere on occasion. Ward Churchill is a perfect example of how much you can get away with in the US.

I wouldn't have it any other way. I despise these people and everything they stand for, and I'm aware that they'd probably have me killed if they could, and if their revolution ever comes I'll be waiting for them with an assault rifle. Until then, I'm content to let them make fools of themselves and scream incoherent threats at the rest of America. Judging from most of the comments here, I'm not alone in this opinion - so stop making shit up in order to claim we're inconsistent.

Posted by: Nat on February 22, 2006 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK
Its not a matter of "unpopular" ideas or "dangerous" ideas.

Yes, it is.

It is a matter of false facts that prevent people from even having a proper base to evaluate the ideas.

See, it is about "dangerous" ideas. Somehow, exposure to these "false facts" will prevent peopel from even having a proper base to evaluate ideas. That's the "danger" you believe exists.

Of course, the marketplace of ideas has a solution to the problem of people providing "false facts", its called other people providing "true facts" with evidence and argument to support them.


Does this mean you cannot promote ID/creationism? No. It affects how you can promote ID/creationism. What you shouldn't be able to do is, for example, claim that there is no fossil evidence of evolution.

What, that should be criminal, now, too? No, you certainly should be able to claim that, and people who believe otherwise ought, likewise, to be able to claim that you're wrong, and present the evidence which demonstrates that that is, in fact, correct.


What you shouldn't be able to do is claim that the law of thermodynamic prevents systems from organizing, especially after its been explained to you a dozen times that thermodynamics refers to the movement of energy, NOT the organization of matter (and had someone shake a box of magnets in front of you several times to prove it).

Again, this claim should be criminalized? No, it is readily demonstrable as false, and people who want to discredit themselves by making it ought to be free from criminal threat in doing it, and ought to be refuted in the marketplace of ideas.

We don't need Big Brother punishing thoughtcrime. We just need the truth combatting the lies.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 22, 2006 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

"Why doesn't it? Why aren't freedom lovers everywhere offended by Irving's court conviction?"

Everyone I've read thinks this is an awful decision. Can you name any civil libertarians or defenders of cartoonists who've applauded his conviction or even begrudgingly supported it?

I think the comment above is dishonest and feeds into the notion that civil libertarians only care about their own freedom of speech and not that of others. The ACLU, for example, has a long history of defending speech in this country even when the speech is odious.

Posted by: Mike on February 22, 2006 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK
Any country that has any sort of slander or libel law is already going down this road.

No, its not. Principally, because there is a categorical difference in kind between civil, compensatory process and awards of damages and criminal process and imprisonment.

I wouldn't object if Austria had a super-libel law that allowed damages to be sought by categories of persons who were implicitly defamed by Irvings work, insofar as it involved willful or deliberate misrepresentation of facts. I might think that such a law was overbroad, bad policy that would be prone to clogging up the legal system with invalid claims, but it wouldnt' violate free speech.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 22, 2006 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Since Irving chose to go to Austria himself, I'm guessing he thinks of this as a sort of book tour that will inflate his cult status among anti-authority neo-nazis around the world.

And no it is not against the law to say things like: 1) there is no fossil evidence of evolution, 2) up is down, 3) clear-cutting forests makes them healthy, and 4) the bush tax cuts will raise federal revenue.

And Mr. Gray, the Patriot Act makes it very easy to spy on and investigate someone but it does not make it easier to prosecute someone for saying 9/11 was a glorious act of God brought on by lesbians, gays, abortionists, and the ACLU.

Posted by: ranaaurora on February 22, 2006 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

"I think it would be much easier and more effective to expose and humiliate deniers rather than prosecute."

Of course! It is easier to do anything than prosecute. Prosectution SHOULD be hard. That is the whole presumption of inocence thing.

But effective?

Exposure and ridicule only goes so far - at a maximum, it only goes as far as the people who heard the ridicule, and in reality, gets reduced by the people who don't take the ridicule seriously, people who forget about the exposure, people who don't weight the people doing the exposing as much as the person who committed the lie.

And as anyone who has argued with a creationist knows, it doesn't matter how much you explain the science, they will turn right around and lie about the science to the next person they talk to. It doesn't matter if David Irving was put on America's Favorite New Reality Show, "Big Liar", and revealed as a liar to 20,000,000 viewers. The next day, he could publish "My Rainy Day Zionist Evil Fun Book for Kids - How the Jews made up the Holocaust to Control the World", and the any of the other 250,000,000 americans who didn't watch the show could pick up the book and not know it is bullshit.

Posted by: Mysticdog on February 22, 2006 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Andrew Grimson in the Telegraph wrote:
"But although these laws can seem rather beside the point, we should be careful before we condemn them out of hand. When I spoke yesterday morning to a Viennese friend, he said: "One reason why the Austrian state exists is to make absolutely sure that Nazism isn't going to come back again. Austria was allowed to exist again after the war because we swore to remain neutral and to ban fascism forever. This is our historical obligation. If Irving had been allowed to get away with it, we would have been on a very slippery slope." And in Austria you do hear people such as Jrg Haider pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable.

"Part of the Austrian establishment's idea of itself is that it will never allow the horrors of the Third Reich to recur..."

Foreign governments have the right to make laws that protect their people. The Austrian government, based on both history and the nature of their people, decided that Holocaust Denial or Nazi promotion is such a danger to democracy that it could not be allowed. I do not think we should second guess their decision.

One other point: After WWII, the Nazi party was banned in Germany as was the the worship of Shinto in Japan. Each of these examples may be a violation of our Constitutional standards but one cannot argue the beneficial results.

Posted by: Barry on February 22, 2006 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

"Well, why is everyone so suprised? Austria, like Germany, is a country that is founded on autocratic, rigid structure that sees everything in black and white. As much as I dislike Irving, I do not think he should be jailed for opinions, but am I suprised that this nation did just such a thing? Nope."

Oh, please. Do you base this opinion on repeated watchings of Hogan's Heroes and Raiders of the Lost Ark? Smart!


Posted by: TXdem on February 22, 2006 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

"There's some history there." I think that's putting it a bit mildly, Kevin. Lipstadt was interviews on NPR at lenght yesterday, and as an earlier poster also pointed out, she explains clearly 1. that the issue was fraud under Austrian law, not free speech; and 2. that the matter of Holocaust denial must be viewed in the context of Austria's role in the Holocaust, not from an American viewpoint, in order to understand the case. I think your view does not take those complexities into account. You ought to listen to the interview with Lipstadt.

Posted by: Janet on February 22, 2006 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK
Lipstadt was interviews on NPR at lenght yesterday, and as an earlier poster also pointed out, she explains clearly 1. that the issue was fraud under Austrian law, not free speech;

"Free speech" is not orthogonal to "fraud"; the proper parameters within which a government may regulate "fraud" are constrained by "free speech".

So saying that the issue was "fraud under Austrian law" does not negate the argument that free speech rights are implicated.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 22, 2006 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

The issue boils down to whether insanity should be illegal. Its an interesting point to discuss but, really, it becomes a question of what insanity exactly is. If you know, keep it to yourself.

--A. Peculiar

Posted by: parrot on February 22, 2006 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Mysticdog, you seem to be missing the point. None of your examples have anything to do with outlawing speech because you or the government designates it a "lie." All your examples are examples of criminal acts, not examples of generally acceptable limits on free speech that expresses an opinion which may be wrong or a lie. One does not have to be a lawyer to see that. I mean, sleeping or trying to sleep with a 6-year-old is a crime, regardless of what you say to the cops; inciting a riot is a crime regardless of how you do it; standing outside a business and harassing customers is trespassing, harassment, etc; following a person, whether you're insulting them or professing love, is stalking; lying on a witness stand is perjury; exposing kids to pornographic material is a sexual crime. I mean, come on!

The problem is that lying is not as obvious as you think it is. Sure, just to pick one obvious example, I agree with you that the swiftboaters lied about Kerry and that was a dastardly, disgusting thing to do with dire consequences for democracy. And if I were advising Kerry I'd tell him to sue their asses for libel. But that's an entirely different thing from prosecuting everyone who would argue that the swiftboaters' version of events was "true." That's just someone's opinion, and it may be wrong or a lie, but that's the correct comparison with the Irving case. Apples and oranges.

The whole idea behind both democracy and science is that we cannot know with transcendental certainty what is true and what isn't. We can only know provisionally, which means that we follow the evidence wherever it leads, knowing all the time that we may be wrong, the evidence may be faulty or incomplete, someone may have lied about it, etc. In other words, there is no opinion, theory, conclusion, etc. that is sacrosanct since any opinion, theory, conclusion, etc. can change at any time. That's the principle by which liberal societies work, politically, ethically, legally, in terms of research, etc. There is no supernatural way of establishing absolutely what is "true" and what is "false."

You state, for instance, that, "What you shouldn't be able to do is claim that the law of thermodynamic prevents systems from organizing, especially after its been explained to you a dozen times that thermodynamics refers to the movement of energy, NOT the organization of matter." This is a chilling statement for anyone who loves and trusts science as the only way of advancing human knowledge. You may think a law preventing ID supporters and other pseudoscientists from espousing nonsense will advance the cause of science, but what you will be doing essentially is codifying a prevailing paradigm that may legitimately, through scientific research, change in the future. You fight nonsense with evidence not laws.

Posted by: Aris on February 22, 2006 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

I wouldn't object if Austria had a super-libel law that allowed damages to be sought by categories of persons who were implicitly defamed by Irvings work, insofar as it involved willful or deliberate misrepresentation of facts. I might think that such a law was overbroad, bad policy that would be prone to clogging up the legal system with invalid claims, but it wouldnt' violate free speech.

Thanks cmdicely. Very well put. The distinction should be evident.

Posted by: Aris on February 22, 2006 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

The only reason to engage in Holocaust denial is to whitewash the Nazis' crimes and pave the way for their resurgence. That's why Germany and Austria have laws against it. Irving went into Austria fully aware of all this. He went not to boost his own status among neo-Nazis -- which is already considerable -- but to bolster their status in the country. His willful historical falsifications are an attempt to bring Nazis back into power. I have little sympathy.

Posted by: awack on February 22, 2006 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

"Again, this claim should be criminalized? No, it is readily demonstrable as false, and people who want to discredit themselves by making it ought to be free from criminal threat in doing it, and ought to be refuted in the marketplace of ideas.

We don't need Big Brother punishing thoughtcrime. We just need the truth combatting the lies. "

Again with the hyperbole.

The government is the will of the people in a democracy. If it isn't, there is something wrong (and it probably has a lot to do with a lack of transparency and the use of big lies). This isn't 1984. There is no big brother. Every facet of government is made of American citizens, laws made by american citizens, and procedures made up by american citizens.

Yes, the big lie is demonstratably false. Yet it still takes hold.

It is criminal because it is intended to harm the ability of people to make good judgements. That is the basis for nearly every criminalized activity in a democracy - is it intended to do harm. Why is it not that way for big political lies? It is not OK to falsely advertise - is that Big Brother keeping the dishonest merchant down? It is not OK to falsely accuse - is that Big Brother keeping the jilted girlfriend down? It is not OK to tell a twelve year old all the naughty things you'd like to do to her - is that Big Brother keeping the pervert down?

So why is it OK for a person to publically lie to a massive audience in a way designed to harm them? Because it can be publically refuted? The girl can be taken away from the pervert - no harm done? The customer can stop using the product - no harm done? The guy can point out he didn't rape his jilted girlfriend - no harm done?

Posted by: Mysticdog on February 22, 2006 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

There is a related case in Italy right now where a priest is being accused of fraud for construing papal dogmatic definitions as historical fact.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4653200.stm

Posted by: toast on February 22, 2006 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

But at some point they have to decide if they've matured enough since World War II to trust their own citizens not to fall prey en masse to the ranting hatred of loons like David Irving.

Why Kevin? Why must they trust them not to be stupid or ignorant or bigots? Our citizens have been falling pray to it since... well the end of the Civil War.

Posted by: MNPundit on February 22, 2006 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

"The whole idea behind both democracy and science is that we cannot know with transcendental certainty what is true and what isn't."

LOL, where in the hell do you get that? And who needs "transcendental" certainty? What the hell does that mean? Is truth so out of style that it has to be defined in a mystical way?

Is there a remote possibility that the Holocaust didn't happen? That Germans did not put jews in mass quantities onto trains and ship them to concentration camps, where they were gassed or worked to death, then cremeated or tossed into mass graves?

Is there a remote possibility that there is no gravity in our universe, or that people are not made up of cells, that genetic code is a fabrication of scientific community?

Your assertion is total, confused, bollocks. Democracy has nothing - NOTHING - to do with knowing truth or "transcendental" certainty. It is a method of organizing people, in a way that hopefully reflects their will and serves their needs. Our Declaration of Independence proclaims "We hold these truths to be self evident - that all men are created equal..." ... (which is in fact questioned by many, many Americans (like "The Bell Curve" supporters)). Does it sound like they were leaving wiggle room for what truth really means?

Science is ALL about getting to absolute truths .. in a logical, ordered way with checks and balances on how we determine what is true. Certain "soft" sciences deal with the problem that there are no absolutes with choice or behavior, and try to work off of probabilities. But then, even those probabilities are defined as truths.

This "there is no truth" psuedo-nihilistic nonsense is great for Matrix movies - but has no relation to reality.

Posted by: Mysticdog on February 22, 2006 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Bullshit Mysticdog. Science is probability not certainty. NOTHING in science can EVER be Absolute.

Posted by: MNPundit on February 22, 2006 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

"Mysticdog, you seem to be missing the point. None of your examples have anything to do with outlawing speech because you or the government designates it a "lie." All your examples are examples of criminal acts, not examples of generally acceptable limits on free speech that expresses an opinion which may be wrong or a lie. "

No, you are missing the point. The point is exactly that - we criminalize lots of free speech that results in harm. But not political lies. Is it because they don't cause harm? No. they do cause harm, typically on a scale that dwarfs any other harm imaginable. Is it because the harm is preventable or reversable? No, because lots of harm from other free speech restraints could be prevented or reversed (lots of fire escapes for the theater, to use the example we love so much, lol).

We accept that there is such a thing as harm to a person. We accept that there is such a thing as harm to a person's psyche. We accept there is such a thing as harm to a person's reputation. We accept the concept of class actions, of crimes against the community as opposed to against the person (it is the fundemental nature of our legal system, and its why you can still go to jail even if no one presses charges).

Why don't you accept that certain lies intended to do harm to the community should be treated as criminal?

Posted by: Mysticdog on February 22, 2006 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Personally, I believe the world is 6000 days old and all that supposedly happened prior to that is an invention of the mushu pork monster imprinted on our brains, books, and rocks to tempt us into losing our faith in the flying spaghetti montster. No halabja, no holocaust, no spanish inquisition, no crucifixation of christ, no plagues of egypt, no great flood, no K-T impact, no period of life-extinguishing impacts, no birth of the solar system.

Posted by: toast on February 22, 2006 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

Is Rush Limbaugh is lying scumbag 24 hours every day?

Well actually he is, but I still don't think we or anyone else should jail him for his lies.

Now being a drug dealer is quite another thing.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on February 22, 2006 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Really? What science do you do?

Please, show me the scientific reference that there is a certain probability that DNA is not the blueprint for protein construction.

Please, show me the scientific reference that there is a certain probability that a wire passing through a magnetic field does not create a current.

Please, show me the scientific reference that there is a certain probability that energy does not behave entropically.

You really have no idea what you are talking about. Science accepts that we do not yet know the truths about many things, not that truths do not exist.

Posted by: Mysticdog on February 22, 2006 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

LOL, where in the hell do you get that? And who needs "transcendental" certainty? What the hell does that mean? Is truth so out of style that it has to be defined in a mystical way?

I got that from years of studying epistemology. My BA minor was in Philosophy of Science.

Please understand that I'm not listing credentials in order to impress you, but in order to impress upon you that my statement is the standard definition of science, as understood by scientists and philosophers of science. The terms "transcendental" and "provisional" are standard terms used to describe the different types of certainly that distinguish faith-based convictions (such as religion) from science.

Indeed, the statement that "Science is ALL about getting to absolute truths" is not only nonsense, it is a description more aptly applied to religion. Science is about validity, not "truth." And no, this is not nihilism: What the scientific method acknowledges is that as fallible, limited human beings we cannot be certain (transcendentally, absolutely certain) that something is true. We can only be provisionally certain -- i.e. certain until new evidence or a better theory comes along. The "truth" may be out there, but since we are limited by perceptions that take place within space and time and brains that are neither omniscient not omnipotent, any conclusions we reach about anything should be considered provisionally valid.

To think that anything is the "absolute truth" is to stop progress, in any realm. It says that education and research are obsolete since we now know absolutely. This is a sure way to kill scientific progress. It is to negated science.

This is a very dangerous position, attacking science at its core, and far more dangerous than the specific nonsense espoused by creationists -- hey, I wonder if we should make lying about what science is a prosecutable offense?

Posted by: Aris on February 22, 2006 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

Mysticdog,

Re. this science tangent: I don't think anyone here was denying that there are truths -- who (over the age of 25) would say it's true that there's no truth? The claim is instead that while there are indeed truths that obtain independently of our opinions about them, our grasp or knowledge of them is not 100% infallible (outside math). But this often has no impact on our lives, since in practice there's no real difference between a statement's being 99.999...% likely to be true and its being 100% certain.

You can dispute this -- there's no law against that after all -- but it's a different view from the strawman you're stalking above.

Posted by: otherpaul on February 22, 2006 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

"But at some point they have to decide if they've matured enough since World War II to trust their own citizens not to fall prey en masse to the ranting hatred of loons like David Irving. It's unfortunate that apparently they don't feel they have."

As a german citizen, I have to protest this. It's good that we stay aware and show that we stand by our history by not allowing Nazi followers to spread lies. After all, there still are Holocaust victims alive! Does anybody suppose to scratch these laws now? OK, maybe in 2045...

Posted by: Gray on February 22, 2006 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

Please, show me the scientific reference that there is a certain probability that DNA is not the blueprint for protein construction.

Actually it's fairly unlikely that the first proteins were translated from DNA through the biochemical path you are familiar with. Other paths were almost certainly once dominant.

Please, show me the scientific reference that there is a certain probability that a wire passing through a magnetic field does not create a current.

Many scientists think our understanding of these forces is limited by the dimensions we are locked into. The actual nature of fundamental physical forces and their relationship to matter is still a field of rather open speculation.

Please, show me the scientific reference that there is a certain probability that energy does not behave entropically.

Many scientists believe the universe may have a history and future that extends beyond the finite limits placed on it by the second law of thermodymics. If so, the second law of thermodynamics may break down somewhere outside the extent of the visible universe that we are familiar with.

Posted by: toast on February 22, 2006 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Aris
I did not differentiate between good or bad free speech; I reason and now accept the Austrian position that Irving, a visitor to their country, was willfully committing a fraud in his assertions of denial of the Holocaust that threatened, and intended to threaten, the security of the Austrian democracy, given the collaberation history I had cited.
You may not want to deal with the fire in the theatre analogy, but you now are reduced to arguing for an absolute right to yell fire in a newly refurbished theatre that has recently been gutted by fire. As Kevin too subtly referred to the "some history" issue.
Irving and his lies are dangerous to all of us and his attacks on Lipstadt indicate his disinterest in your absolutist free speech position. Again consult Amnesty International for genuine free speech advocates in jails around our world.

Posted by: joecompton on February 22, 2006 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

If the past century has proven anything, its the power of the big lie to do irreparable harm.

Its not a matter of "unpopular" ideas or "dangerous" ideas. It is a matter of false facts that prevent people from even having a proper base to evaluate the ideas.

This is a tragic mistake, MysticDog. There are no facts that are not ideas, and that cannot be refuted at some point in the future. Not even in physics. Can you imagine what would have happened if, in the 19th century, governments have made illegal any notion that matter is also energy, that time is a relative notion, that an electron can go through two slits at once? This is more dangerous than fascism itself.

Posted by: JS on February 22, 2006 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

joecompton, I already dealt with "yelling fire in a crowded theater" in a previous comment and did not want to repeat it. But here it is: "Yelling fire in a crowded theater" is not an example of acceptable restrictions on speech because the act of trying to cause panic in a crowded place which will surely cause injury is a criminal act. That's what's punishable. The yelling is incidental. Indeed, if one were to yell "Fire" thinking there's a fire when there was no fire, I don't think many courts would convict even if the yelling caused panic. Don't confuse criminal acts that involve speech with speech itself.

Obviously, incitement to violence should be a criminal act. That's totally different than some pseudo-historian who is being either a liar or an idiot. If Irving had encouraged Austrians to go out and kill Jews, then he should have been prosecuted for inciting violence. If, as cmdicely pointed out, "Austria had a super-libel law that allowed damages to be sought by categories of persons who were implicitly defamed by Irvings work, insofar as it involved willful or deliberate misrepresentation of facts" then, again, Irving should have been prosecuted. The issue here is whether having an opinion which is wrong, because you're misguided ignorant or a liar, should in itself be criminal.

Criminal acts should be prosecuted, not odious opinions, even when they are really, really, super duper odious and demonstrably false by general consensus.

Posted by: Aris on February 22, 2006 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Obviously, incitement to violence should be a criminal act.

Yes, but that "should" is loaded. A society that considers incitement to violence a crime on its territory often applauds it when it occurs on the territory of its enemies. So again, we are not necessarily talking about some absolute thruth here -- just practical necessity.

Posted by: JS on February 22, 2006 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

How many people on this thread have read a book by Irving?

Posted by: davids on February 22, 2006 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

And I assume, Aris, that you do not consider the American and French revolutions to have been criminal acts.

This is a fine point, of course, intended to separate the reasons we have laws from the notion that laws are somehow based on, or are intended to defend, some absolute truth.

Posted by: JS on February 22, 2006 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

Grand Moff Texan's comment about Germany and Austria not having changed is even funnier when you realize that laws against holocaust denial exist in a number of other countries, including Poland, France and - Israel.


Posted by: Christian on February 22, 2006 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure this is the right question. Is this really about free speech? Does free speech really include the right to lie?

Why should a country turn a blind eye to fraud when the fraud is a false and indefensible claim about history, which also happens to defame many living people, when we expect governments to prosecute those who make false and indefensible claims about salad oil or haddock.

Irving is a liar. Lying is properly a crime under certain circumstances. Would I have voted for such a law? I doubt it, but that doesn't mean I don't see its value or that I think that lies about history get a free speech pass. Now, can we return to the time when lies about 'food supplements' were illegal?

Posted by: freelunch on February 22, 2006 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin writes

There's some history there. But at some point they have to decide if they've matured enough since World War II to trust their own citizens not to fall prey en masse to the ranting hatred of loons like David Irving. It's unfortunate that apparently they don't feel they have.

I agree wholeheartedly.

Posted by: Proud German Skinhead on February 22, 2006 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

JS

There are no facts that are not ideas, and that cannot be refuted at some point in the future. Not even in physics.

What a bunch of horseshit.

I just typed those words. Go ahead and "refute" me JS, you postmodern script-reciting piece of shit.

Posted by: George Duke on February 22, 2006 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

Although I am sympathetic to the argument that free speech is only meaningful if it protects even speech deemed to be odious by most people. I do, however, reluctantly make an exception in the case of holocaust denial in Austria and Germany.

There is a difference between a right and license; rights of an individual to express himself are balanced against the right of other individuals to be free and safe. Taken to its logical conclusion as borne out by history, the extremist libertarian defense advocated by many in this discussion ends with the rise of a tyrannical majority and the extinguishing of minority rights. Free speech is measured, it is stable and self perpetuating and propagating; licentious speech is oppressive of the rights of others and self destructive.

Even in the United States (pre-Bush) there were generally agreed limits upon free expression. The classic example is that the right of a citizen to speak does not include the right to "shout 'Fire!' in a crowded theater." Similarly, free speech is not construed to include a right to commit slander or libel. The principle underlying all of these examples is the same; public statements in defiance or disregard of proven facts made with either malicious intent or reckless disregard for the harm they may cause innocent people is not protected.

Given the history of modern, institutionalized anti-Semitism in both Austria and Germany as well as it's current incarnation in the skin-head movement, public denial of the Holocaust poses a serious threat to the public order and members of minority groups. Because claims that the Holocaust never took place are demonstrably false, potentially attractive to the Austrian and German public and threatening to vulnerable members of both societies that have endured extreme persecution, I cannot see any valid argument in defense of it's decriminalization.

cmdicely argues that truth is the best defense against mendacious speech. Sadly the example of the past five years in the United States disproves that notion. Presented with a choice between a hard truth and an appealing lie, a few individuals might chose the truth, but the public as a whole will swallow the lie even knowing that it is a lie.

Posted by: Chesire11 on February 22, 2006 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

Does free speech really include the right to lie?

In the US, yes, in general. Exceptions do exist in the case of libel (where different standards of negligence, reckless negligence, or actual malice also must be met) and fraud (where lies are used to obtain property or services unjustly).

With respect to hateful ideology, the supreme court supports speech that is abstract but not speech that explicity incites criminal action.

Posted by: B on February 22, 2006 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

toast

Personally, I believe the world is 6000 days old and all that supposedly happened prior to that is an invention of the mushu pork monster imprinted on our brains, books, and rocks to tempt us into losing our faith in the flying spaghetti montster. No halabja, no holocaust, no spanish inquisition, no crucifixation of christ, no plagues of egypt, no great flood, no K-T impact, no period of life-extinguishing impacts, no birth of the solar system.

That's wonderful and fine by me.

On the other hand, were you to publish books pretending that your "beliefs" were based on demonstrable facts and subsequently peddle those books to ignorant people and/or urge those people to instruct schoolkids in public schools that your "beliefs" were equivalent to the understanding of sincere scientists, then I would have no problem with a state passing a law that punished you for such behavior.

You know: an anti-fraud statute.

Posted by: Greg Johnson on February 22, 2006 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

Irving should not be in jail, and the EU cannot respectably be considered liberally democratic unless they free the man. Next up is imprisoning people for other offensive communciation, like pornography, or political dissent.

Posted by: Jimm on February 22, 2006 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

Greg, you can fight that battle today. Some Italian atheist is suing members of the catholic church for fraud for declaring as historical fact that a man named Jesus was born 2000 years ago to a virgin named Mary. Apparently, the priest teaches this stuff to people every weekend and then collects money from them, all the while declaring himself a member of an organization that speaks for the still living omnipotent father of this Jesus character. The preist also advocates the ban of certain medical procedures, molded latex balloon like items, and most uses of explosive devices for the implementation of foreign policy. His organization is in charge of many schools and hospitals.

I'm sure this atheist is need of legal aid and funds and would appreciate your help.

Posted by: toast on February 22, 2006 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

So, since intelligent design and the theory of evolution are both just "ideas," it's okay to teach either one in public schools? I guess, since "truth" is an unknowable and apparently obsolete, mythical concept in a postmodern world, the jury must be out on whether there were WMD's in Iraq as well right?

I'm not trying to be sarcastic, but the whole" everything is subjective" line of reasoning that so many people find so appealing only works as long as its applied selectively. Any attempt to apply it comprehensively collapse into a tangle of paradoxes.

In order to function in the world, we need to proceed from a few basic assumptions, one of which is that there is such a thing as objective truth and that it is (or can be) knowable. We may be mistaken from time to time, but that can't be helped. Just as we approximate the value of Pi and move on rather than succumb to a paralysis of uncertainty, we really need to accept reality as we perceive it and move on.

The alternative is paralysis.

Posted by: Chesire11 on February 22, 2006 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

OK, if we are going jail people whose lies cause harm to others shouldn't we start with folks like Rumsfeld?

"We know where they [Iraq's WMD] are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south, and north somewhat."

How about that for "known knowns".

And if you say "but he wasn't lying, he believed that" -- then so does probably Irving, and the priest toast mentioned above.

Posted by: JS on February 22, 2006 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

So, since intelligent design and the theory of evolution are both just "ideas," it's okay to teach either one in public schools?

No Cheshire, nobody said it's OK to teach both in school. What is OK is not to put the proponents of either in jail. Big difference.

Posted by: JS on February 22, 2006 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK
cmdicely argues that truth is the best defense against mendacious speech. Sadly the example of the past five years in the United States disproves that notion.

You think that we'd be better off in the US if we, instead, adopted the view that whatever the party in power believed were "false" and "dangerous" would result in jailing?

I think its bad enough that such views make you ineligible to be at any location where the President might be speaking...

Posted by: cmdicely on February 22, 2006 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

But toast is wrong about one important thing. There is no mushu pork monster. Only the Flying Spaghetti One.

Posted by: JS on February 22, 2006 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

The next move:

An Israeli lawyer, Ervin Shahar, says he has asked Germany to charge Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with denying the Holocaust.
Posted by: DonBoy on February 22, 2006 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

Chesire11,

The distinction I would draw would be between 1) government advocacy of speech and 2) government sanction for speech. The former should be an interactive process with policy makers, experts, and the public making obvious distinctions when possible (what is science and what is religion) and intelligent decisions to the best of their ability. The latter is a completely different issue and in my opinion should be limited as much as is reasonable (taking into consideration possible public and private harm). Offending people or misconstruing the conclusion of a scientific paper doesn't cut it. Conspiracy, malicious libel, fraud, etc. do.

Our constitution and statutes constrain policies related to both. Implementing most of the gut feeling policy suggestions of offended commenters in this thread would require significant ammendments to the constitution.

Posted by: toast on February 22, 2006 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

"LOL, where in the hell do you get that? And who needs "transcendental" certainty? What the hell does that mean? Is truth so out of style that it has to be defined in a mystical way?

I got that from years of studying epistemology. My BA minor was in Philosophy of Science.

Please understand that I'm not listing credentials in order to impress you, but in order to impress upon you that my statement is the standard definition of science, as understood by scientists and philosophers of science. "

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA . God that was hillarious. As an ACTUAL scientist, believe me, there was NO risk of me being impressed by your "philosophy of science" degree, especially since it has led you to the absurd conclusion (can we have conclusions if there is no truth?) that science and scientists do not pursue the truth.

"Science is about validity, not "truth." And no, this is not nihilism: What the scientific method acknowledges is that as fallible, limited human beings we cannot be certain (transcendentally, absolutely certain) that something is true"

Yet we have to, at some point, decide something is true enough to base our lives around. You want to semantically play with the words "Transcendentally" and "valid", go for it. Its a great thing for a "philospoher of science" to do, since they aren't doing any real work. It does not change a bit that in any real, earthly terminology, scientists pursue truth. And that eventually, truth is found. If you want to argue some existential bullshit, that is fine. Go ahead and claim there is not a "true" force of gravity, that at some point, the math involved will be shown to not to really work - it aint gonna put any satellites into orbit.

"This is a tragic mistake, MysticDog. There are no facts that are not ideas, and that cannot be refuted at some point in the future. Not even in physics."

Ok, please explain to me the point at which it will be scientifically valid that two hydrogen atoms fuse to form Iron. Explain the point at which the holocaust didn't happen.

I would like you "absolute truthists" to please perform the following experiment. Stab your hand with a fork. Did you just stab your hand with a fork? I'm sorry, but it would be philosophically incorrect to say that. You might have stabbed your hand with a fork, but it may be quite possible that you didn't. You may not be capable of realizing that now, but at some point, it could become true that you didn't stab your hand with a fork - you are OK! No medical attention is/was needed. But if you do, please do NOT tell your doctor that you stabbed yourself with a fork - there is no truth, after all - at least none that a feeble human could be certain of. The most you can say is that there is a certain possibility that you might have stabbed your hand with a fork.

Hey! Are you a person who stabbed himself with a fork? Or just a figment of someone else's imagination who dreamed that he stabbed himself with a fork? Wheeeeeee!

"Can you imagine what would have happened if, in the 19th century, governments have made illegal any notion that matter is also energy, that time is a relative notion, that an electron can go through two slits at once? This is more dangerous than fascism itself."

LOL, yaaaAAAYYY Hyperbole! What you are advocating has nothing to do with what I am advocating. There is nothing outlawing any scientific enquiry in my position. Presenting EVIDENCE is exactly at the core of my position about lying. Lets make it plain in a bleatable phrase - Evidence and scrutiny good, willful misinformation bad.

"The issue here is whether having an opinion which is wrong, because you're misguided ignorant or a liar, should in itself be criminal."

No, that is confusing the issue. It should never be criminal to be wrong, unless there was extreme recklessness with dire consequences. That is a whole different thing than willfully lying in order to inflict significant harm.

"Although I am sympathetic to the argument that free speech is only meaningful if it protects even speech deemed to be odious by most people. I do, however, reluctantly make an exception in the case of holocaust denial in Austria and Germany."

You don't have to make an exception. You just have to recognize there is a difference between "odious" vs. "significantly harmful".

"Re. this science tangent: I don't think anyone here was denying that there are truths -- who (over the age of 25) would say it's true that there's no truth?"

Sadly, that is exactly what some people here are saying. Or the equally absurd "we can never know if we have found a truth". See the hand stabbing experiment above.

"Please, show me the scientific reference that there is a certain probability that DNA is not the blueprint for protein construction.

Actually it's fairly unlikely that the first proteins were translated from DNA through the biochemical path you are familiar with. Other paths were almost certainly once dominant. "

I was certain even as I wrote that that someone would game it, since I didn't bother to specify "in modern living creatures". Also, you could have pointed out retroviruses, the fact (are there facts?! NOOOooooo!!) that proteins can form without any blueprint (but man, you'll be waiting a while) and that there are some protein sequences that under special cirumstances self replicate.

Feel better about yourself?

"Please, show me the scientific reference that there is a certain probability that a wire passing through a magnetic field does not create a current.

Many scientists think our understanding of these forces is limited by the dimensions we are locked into. The actual nature of fundamental physical forces and their relationship to matter is still a field of rather open speculation. "

And yet, a wire passing through a magnetic field will generate an electrical current. There is a difference between knowing a truth, and speculating what lies beyond. I know that guy stabbed himself with a fork for a stupid metaphysical experiment. I can speculate as to why, and what happened afterwards :)

"Please, show me the scientific reference that there is a certain probability that energy does not behave entropically.

Many scientists believe the universe may have a history and future that extends beyond the finite limits placed on it by the second law of thermodymics. If so, the second law of thermodynamics may break down somewhere outside the extent of the visible universe that we are familiar with. "

Again, speculation is different. We have a universe. If I have to specify "in our physical universe" with every factual statement, we will be here a while.

Its like arguing Hitler didn't create the holocaust, because I didn't specify Adolph Hitler the Nazi ruler of Germany in the 1930's and 1940's based on the western calendar. sheesh.

Posted by: Mysticdog on February 22, 2006 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK

As an aside, isn't it awesome to be in a web thread that BEGAN in Godwins law territory?

Posted by: Mysticdog on February 22, 2006 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK

Mysticgod,

What the hell are you babbling about and what universe do you think you are you in?

Posted by: toast on February 22, 2006 at 6:32 PM | PERMALINK

"You think that we'd be better off in the US if we, instead, adopted the view that whatever the party in power believed were "false" and "dangerous" would result in jailing?"

yaaaAAAAY Hyperbole! No! that would be a stupid thing to advocate (but a great strawman!). What is being advocated is that there are some proven falsehoods that when maliciously spread should be considered criminal.

To try to cut down on further straw man arguments the criteria are:

A) the speaker/writer knew he was lying, or should have known he was lying beyond any reasonable persons doubt.
B) the speaker was intentionally trying to commit harm to the public's ability/duty to monitor the state of our democracy.

and yes, we ask Courts and Juries every day to make decisions about what a person's motives and activities were every day. Too many people here seem to think the judicial system is based on an "insert facts, output verdict" black box. The burden of proof is high. I've no doubt that David Irving meets it in Austria.

And the penalty obviously has to fit the crime. And the process must be transparent. We aren't talking capital punishment or life imprisonment, held by secret tribunals at Guantanamo.

Posted by: Mysticdog on February 22, 2006 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

"What the hell are you babbling about and what universe do you think you are you in?"

Toast, could you be a little more specific as to what you are confused about? And I'm in the one with all the Starbucks.You?

Posted by: Mysticdog on February 22, 2006 at 6:37 PM | PERMALINK

Mysticdog, dollars to donuts that when you say you're a "scientist" you actually mean you're an engineer (who said the "Salem Hypothesis" only applies to creationists?).

No scientist who's actually involved in research and the formulation of theories and has any knowledge of the history of science would be so confused as to what actually constitutes science. Indeed, you seem to think that someone here is arguing for solipsism or existentialism and you seem to be confusing distinct events with theories -- just as a quick and obvious example, you seem to confuse the effect of gravity (rather irrefutable) with theories of gravity (spatial indentations anyone?).

There's really no point in continuing this since your arrogance is only matched by your ignorance. You're simply and embarrassingly wrong -- unless, of course, you're lying. Hey, quick, get a jury together!

Have a good night...

Posted by: Aris on February 22, 2006 at 9:26 PM | PERMALINK

Mysticdog my man, you're embarassing yourself. Writing long tracts of text with parts IN ALL CAPS ain't helping you none either. You seem like a nice guy otherwise. Better call it quits my man.

Posted by: Richard M. on February 22, 2006 at 9:34 PM | PERMALINK

IIRC, Chomsky not only called it an important work in his introduction, but declined to weigh in on its veracity. Chomsky deserved every ounce of trouble he got from that "endorsement".

No, Chomsky wrote a letter defending Irving's free speech rights. Irving then used the letter, without, permission in, IIRC, an introduction to a book. Chomsky didn't endorse or denounce Irving's work because that was not the topic at hand. Anti-Chomskyites have been distorting it since then.

Posted by: Martin on February 23, 2006 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't there a guy in jail for this in the U.S. right now? I think his name is Matt Hale. There are other charges involved, but it really seems to me that he was jailed for his beliefs rather than any other crimes.

I think this probably goes on all the time in America, people express a unpopular point-of-view and then the authorites start investigating them and either find other crimes to convict them for or cook up something. I really think that is what happened to Hale. He's sort of our version of Irving. And Ill bet there are alot more.

Posted by: Jonesy on February 23, 2006 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

CORRECTION: Chomsky's was defending the rights of Robert Faurisson. Different person, same subject, same point
http://www.chomsky.info/articles/19810228.htm

Posted by: Martin on February 23, 2006 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK
Isn't there a guy in jail for this in the U.S. right now? I think his name is Matt Hale. There are other charges involved, but it really seems to me that he was jailed for his beliefs rather than any other crimes.

He was jailed for soliciting an FBI informant to kill a federal judge.

Now, if you want to claim he was, earlier, denied admission to the Illinois bar for his beliefs, you'd maybe have a shadow of an argument.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 23, 2006 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely,

I saw the details about the case, I can't remember them off hand, but I remember thnking then that they set this guy up. He never really asked the guy to kill a judge anyhow, he only said that what the guy does is up to him. Thats all they could get him to say. And it was a whole set up by the FBI too, the guy was trying to get Hale to say something criminal. So it was sort of an entrapment case as well. Nobody will speak out about it though because Hale is a racist, it's like the same thing thats going on with Irving.

Posted by: Jonesy on February 23, 2006 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

Nope, real science. When was the last time you were in a lab?

I'm not confusing anything. I have several different arguments to deal with, all of which come back to the absurd "there is no truth, and if there was, we can't know it", though just from different angles.

I argue that lies that are harmful should in some instances be treated as criminal, for the same reasons other acts that are treated as criminal are treated as criminal. I hit someone with my fist, I've commited a criminal act, even though the effect is minor. If I lie to incite hatred and violence against a group of people, with a proven significant effect, there is no crime. There is something wrong with that.

Somewhere along the way, several claim that this kills science, even though this has nothing to do with being wrong or challenging ideas legitimately. Several claim there is no truth that we can know with enough certainty to prosecute someone. A very silly philosopher who I'm sure talks down to every scientist he meets for not understanding science as well as he does goes so far as to claim scientists don't look for absolute answers. Sorry dude. Climb back into that ivory tower and load up another bowl, because /every/ (emphasis not with caps, since it offends delicate sensibilities) hard scientist doing real research thinks they are attacking knowable mysteries with definite answers. I'm sure there are subatomic physicists who don't see it that way, but there's not a lot thats tangible at that level. Maybe those are the guys you like to talk to. Me, I deal and have dealt primarily with chemists and biochemists and microbiologists, and yes, they think they are pursing true, absolute properties and events.

Since this is starting with Irving, the question still remains - what is the uncertainty level you "No absolute truth"-y people give the Holocaust? Is it so great that it would be wrong to convict someone for intentionally lying about the science without offering any science in rebuttal? If you accept that significant harm is done by willfully spreading this ignorance (and maybe you don't, that's ok. For the sake of the argument, lets say something would convince you harm was done), then why is it wrong to at least consider that the activity should be treated as criminal?

For you "No knowable scientific truth"-y people, what is the uncertainty level that we did not evolve from more primitive species. Is it so great that it would be wrong to convict someone for intentionally lying about the science (not being wrong, but obviously lying)? If you accept that significant harm is done by willfully spreading this ignorance (and again, maybe you don't, that's ok...), then why is it wrong to at least consider that the activity should be treated as criminal?

Is it impossible for speech to do harm? We have any number of precidents in our legal system where certain speech at certain times is treated as punishably harmful or even criminal.

Posted by: Mysticdog on February 23, 2006 at 7:21 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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