Many Americans, and even more Europeans, favor restricting speech offensive to minorities

November 24, 2015 • 12:15 pm

A brand-new poll from the Pew Research Center gives a dispiriting result: there’s widespread resistance to free speech in the U.S., and even more so in Europe. Further, within the U.S. itself, younger people favor more restrictions on speech than do their elders.

The complete report is here, and I haven’t yet read it, but the link above gives the salient results on free expression—queried as the right to utter offensive speech. First, though, the precise survey question:

We asked whether people believe that citizens should be able to make public statements that are offensive to minority groups, or whether the government should be able to prevent people from saying these things.

That’s not too bad, because the question is clear, and the issue of government prevention is clearly an issue of censorship and, in the U.S. of our Constitutional First-Amendment rights.

Here are the results for the U.S., broken down by age, sex, political affiliation, ethnicity, and education.


The upshot:

  • The younger the age group, the more restrictions people place on “offensive” speech. I was frankly, astounded to see that 40% of Millennials favor censorship. That drops with age, declining almost 70% in the older “silent generation.” While I’d like to think this is an age thing, and that the Millennials will accept less censorship as they mature, I’m afraid this is might reflect a real change in the Zeitgeist, a change we see in the calls among college students for censorship of views they deem offensive.
  • Democrats and Independents favor more restriction on freedom of speech than do Republicans. That’s not surprising given the new connection between censorship and liberalism. Democrats, of course, are those most likely to support minorities, and this is now translated into protecting minorities from hearing what offends them.
  • Minorities (“non-white”) are, unsurprisingly, more likely to favor the censorship of speech that offends them.
  • Finally, increased education is associated with less desire for censorship. I’m not sure why.

When you go to Europe, some of whose countries already have speech restrictions (e.g., Germany and Poland), the approval of censorship is higher—shockingly high. Given the common accusation of “Islamophobia” in some of these countries, it’s even more surprising that, say, 48% of French and 70% of Germans favor censorship of speech that offends minorities. Overall, censorship of this sort is approved by 28% of Americans and by 49% of Europeans: almost twice as many as in the U.S.! In this sense, at least, we are the “land of the free”.

One reason that Europeans may be less opposed to censorship are the laws already in place in some countries, which may make citizens think that it’s okay to restrict speech. It would be instructive to see if there’s a correlation between the existence of anti-speech laws and individuals’ responses to this question.


Finally, Pew confected an “index of censorship” for the many countries it surveyed, though there are no data for many countries in the Middle East, southeast Asia and Africa. What they found is below: the greener a country, the freer expression it favors, while more orange countries favor more censorship:

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 11.52.22 AM

Pakistan, Jordan, and Senegal get the raspberries here, while North and South America, Europe, South Africa, and Australia are less censorious.

The full report gives many more data on things like gender equality, freedom of the press, and the effect of the Internet on feelings about free expression, but I’ll leave you to peruse this yourself.

I’ll end with a caveat: although I’m in favor of higher numbers of people opposing censorship of statements offensive to minorities, that doesn’t mean I’m in favor of offending minorities. It should be clear from what I’ve written on this site that “offensive” speech is the form of free speech that deserves the most protection, because banning speech that offends anyone is the surest way to shut down free discourse—the foundation of democracy.

94 thoughts on “Many Americans, and even more Europeans, favor restricting speech offensive to minorities

  1. “While I’d like to think this is an age thing…this is might reflect a real change in the Zeitgeist”

    I’m not sure sure it’s a change. The older group might favor fewer restrictions on speech mainly because they have more bigoted attitudes they want to be able to express. Ask them how open they are to restricting speech critical of religion and I bet the numbers change.

    1. “The older group might favor fewer restrictions on speech mainly because they have more bigoted attitudes they want to be able to express.”

      It needn’t be bigoted attitudes in particular. Nothing strengthens one’s commitment to freedom of speech than holding, or having once held, a highly unpopular opinion. The longer one lives the more likely one is to have had this experience.

      1. So the Puritans that came over the New World to escape persecution were all in favor of religious tolerance, right?

        No, that didn’t happen.

        And African Americans were overwhelmingly for gay rights, because they know what it’s like to experience discrimination, right?

        No, that didn’t happen either.

        So, your theory doesn’t hold up in a general sense. However, it’s true that some people, when they are treated badly for a reason, will attempt to not do the same thing to others.

        1. “Some people” is all I need, since I’m talking about relative likelihoods. The 75% of the human race (to make up a statistic) that are inveterate bigots will learn nothing from experience; but those that can learn, will do so over time.

          In any case I think you’re introducing a new variable. As humans, mistreatment at the hands of a different tribe tends to make us more insular and tribal – sure, I’ll grant that, and I think that’s what’s going on in your examples.

          I’m thinking more of the case of someone who as an individual has found themselves in possession of an unpopular opinion. That’s essentially the mechanism you’re suggesting, too; only you suggested the unpopular opinion in question would typically be a bigoted one, held by an old person. I’m saying it might be a bigoted opinion, but it could just as easily be any sort of unpopular opinion, justified or unjustified, good or bad.

          1. “only you suggested the unpopular opinion in question would typically be a bigoted one”

            Not really; I’m suggesting that most people think their own opinions are more important than the opinions of others. Suppression of their own opinions is therefor outrageous, but suppression of other, stupid opinions is perfectly OK.

            1. No disagreement at all on that last part.

              I think it applies to old and young, though, and we’re trying to explain a relative difference between old and young.

              And I frankly admit I’m just guessing here. I wouldn’t even want to say that I believe my own proposed explanation is correct. It’s just an optimistic suggestion. Your more pessimistic suggestion might well be right.

              1. Very specifically regarding the young v. the old, not a few youngsters disparage – and inescapably offend – the older set on account of the physical vicissitudes of aging (at least in this bloody U.S. culture). Seniors’ (sometimes retaliatory) cutting remarks about youngsters are not made on the obverse basis, except possibly as motivated by jealousy and despondency, the “sweet bird of youth” (Tennessee Williams) having flown the coop. (I speculate that youngsters generally will refrain from making such comments to their own elderly relatives, for fear of otherwise being disinherited.)

                I’m grateful that I’ve reached an age (in my youth I despaired at the prospect of doing so) at which I apparently offend youngsters’ delicate aesthetic sensibilities and somehow provoke them into asking me how old I am and making little cutting remarks to me. In exercising my free (retaliatory) speech, I pointedly stare at the miscreant and congenially reflect that I am grateful to have had the good fortune to have made it this far, and confirm his awareness that not everyone makes it to my age, and ask him if he hopes to make it to at least my age.

        2. “However, it’s true that some people, when they are treated badly for a reason, will attempt to not do the same thing to others.”

          Unfortunately, it’s also true that many people, when treated badly for whatever reason, will attempt to do exactly the same to others.

          Which of those is more prevalent I don’t know.


  2. Allowing the press to publish sensitive national security information is tricky. I don’t know the answer to that one. I lean toward not restricting the press to do so.


    1. I would be for it if only because once it’s illegal, the government would be deciding what constitutes “sensitive national security information” and then anything that has to do with military and law enforcement will suddenly be “sensitive national security information”.

      1. Also, the recent big releases have exposed criminal and otherwise unsavory behavior by the government, while the government has been unable to give a single example of how the information has cost any lives or significantly harmed anything besides the government’s reputation.

        For the sake of democracy and consumer protection, we must allow people to expose criminal behavior by government and corporations, and both of these are currently under threat. Until the government can be trusted to not abuse whistleblower-suppression powers to prevent exposure of crimes, they should not have whistleblower-suppression powers.

        1. Entirely agreed.

          Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

          Only too often, in fact it’s almost standard practice, ‘classified’ is used to hide the incompetence or failings of officialdom. It’s very convenient to be able to hide any embarrassing facts under the cover of secrecy. “We can’t say how many unauthorised wiretaps were carried out last year as that information is classified”.

          Other popular excuses for covering up are ‘sub judice’ and blatant misuses of ‘privacy’ legislation. “We can’t release details of how Mr Ayake came to be shot 57 times by police for jaywalking as it would breach his privacy”. (Only slight exaggeration).


          1. Sadly, your slight exaggeration has been borne out in the overnight news from Chicago (16 shots in the back, apparently). The good news (if I may call it that in these circumstances) is that the police video footage has been released to the media, and the policeman involved charged with first degree murder.

            1. That’s actually a counter-example to my thesis, in that (in this case) the ‘authorities’ haven’t tried to cover it up.

              I saw that news report, including a mug shot of the policeman responsible, and a more thuggish-looking crim I have never seen. (All mug shots do that to people, though).


            2. Also, the US military has just released its report on its investigation into shooting up the MSF hospital in Afghanistan. It sounds as if it’s fairly detailed. This is a vast change from the ‘deny everything and never apologise’ stance taken when the Vincennes shot down an Airbus 30 years ago.


  3. ” The older group might favor fewer restrictions on speech mainly because they have more bigoted attitudes they want to be able to expressa”

    As an older one,I would largely disagree (though it seems to be the trend among the younger ones now to define everything one disagrees with as bigoted–because that’s the big bad word, for now). People bitch and moan about insults to religion, but other than certain medieval strains, you’ll seldom see an active attempt to shut down through force.

    This is continuation of a long trend, kind of bastard offspring of the civil rights movement and feminism. Nadine Strossen warned about it back in the 90s, more recently Wendy Kaminer kept pointing this out as ‘anti bullying’ (not a bad thing in itself) started gaining legal teeth at the same time its definition blurred to include a whole host of things.

    The problem is that people, especially young ones, have been indulged all their life, have been taught that the government should protect people from being offended, and that their belief of the moment is the ‘open minded’ one, while everyone else must be a bigot.

    If they don’t wake up soon, freedom WILL be lost, once speech and belief are suppressed, anything else can follow.

    1. “you’ll seldom see an active attempt to shut down through force.”

      These polls are about attitudes, not active attempts to shut anything down, so your comment doesn’t undermine my observation.

      1. Not true.

        Some of the questions centered as to whether the GOVERNMENT should be empowered to stop offensive speech.

        Government = force.

        1. Those are still opinions, not active attempts to shut down speech. I use the word “active”, since that was your word.

          Regardless, the history of the religious is to shut down criticism, and older people tend to be more religious. The reasonable conclusion is that older people are more likely to favor shutting down criticism of religion. This, in fact, corresponds to what happens in the real world.

  4. When I was young, I looked at the older generation as wedded to their entrenched positions, obviously we younger folks had a much clearer idea of what had to be done.

    As you can guess, I learned a lot over the years, that often the ‘new’ idea is not better and often not even new. That certain things need to be protected lest they be destroyed in the name of progress, or expediency. If you destroy something (like protection of free speech), you can’t fix it.

    I’m not against progress, but very much against reckless change.

    As JFK said ‘don’t tear down a fence until you know why it was built’

  5. One of the problems I have with this study is that the phrase “the government should be able to prevent people from saying these things” is vague enough that it might include education. There have been government-sponsored campaigns against unhealthy or risky behavior, as well as anti-bullying, good citizenship, and good manners taught in public schools on the public dime. These are done for the purpose of preventing people from doing and saying things which are not wise, not nice, and/or not fair — but they fall a long way away from imposing criminal penalties, like fines or jail.

    If I read the question and wondered whether gentle persuasion and ad campaigns were included under the government getting itself involved in “prevention,” then my guess is that some proportion of other people wondered the same thing. That introduces some ambiguity in the results, perhaps.

  6. I’m not in favour of a blanket ban on speech offensive to minorities, but I certainly favour it in certain contexts. In the UK, for example, advertising that is offensive to minorities is not allowed, which I think is a good thing. In general, public spaces should be free of hate speech. People have the right to go about their daily business without being harassed and upset by such materials.

    On the other hand, I believe that people must be free to express ideas in books, films, websites and other media, and it would be dangerous to allow the government too much power of censorship in these areas. No more than is needed for national security.

    1. Other than overt racial slurs, I do not know what is offensive to minorities. How can an advertiser know? And what is a minority? Are atheists a minority for this purpose? How about furries? Or do only races count? And who defines races anyway?

      1. This is related to something I could have mentioned on the cultural appropriation thread. How does one individuate these things? How does one tell who belongs and who doesn’t? (In the case of the slur, well, one could say blanket ban, but then all matter of comedy dies!)

    2. “In the UK, for example, advertising that is offensive to minorities is not allowed, which I think is a good thing. In general, public spaces should be free of hate speech. People have the right to go about their daily business without being harassed and upset by such materials.”

      … and who gets to decide what is offensive? Anybody, any time, for any reason? Who is to decide restrictions on this (fictional) right to not-be-offended?

      I imagine many Muslims would be (seriously) offended by my saying that there is no God (or Allah). Should I be prevented from saying that? Why?

      What’s wrong with telling people to grow up and, for instance: Change the channel, throw the book into the bin, look away from the billboard? No one is holding a gun to their head and making them consume this stuff.

      As Salman Rushdie said:

      “Nobody has the right to not be offended. That right doesn’t exist in any declaration I have ever read.

      If you are offended it is your problem, and frankly lots of things offend lots of people.

      I can walk into a bookshop and point out a number of books that I find very unattractive in what they say. But it doesn’t occur to me to burn the bookshop down. If you don’t like a book, read another book. If you start reading a book and you decide you don’t like it, nobody is telling you to finish it.

      To read a 600-page novel and then say that it has deeply offended you: well, you have done a lot of work to be offended.”

      1. Exactly. Slippery Slopes are real.

        The slippery slope argument is considered a fallacy, especially among our new atheist circles. And from a purely syllogistical perspective it is. But that is not how people actually reason. The very fact that people commit this fallacy proves that it is not a fallacy after all.

        Standing on the relatively secure plateau of the first amendment is the best way to avoid a slide down to totalitarianism.

        1. Some work in the “theory of argumentation” has gone a ways to analyze when “slippery slope” arguments are a fallacy and when they are not. See, e.g., _Argumentation Schemes_ by Douglas Walton.

      2. “and who gets to decide what is offensive?”

        In the UK, anyone can complain to the Advertising Standards Authority, which is an independent regulator. It is for the ASA to rule whether the advert should be allowed to run.

        “No one has the right not to be offended”

        Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t try to make public spaces generally more pleasant and harmonious by restricting certain types of speech in certain places.

    3. You realize that this is often the argument used by Xians to (to their satisfaction) justify their idea of hell?:

      God is infinite, therefore if you offend him, it’s an infinitely bad action. Therefore an infinite punishment is justified.

      Dear god: Change the channel.

    4. Like some other readers I’m having trouble determining what would be in the category you espouse. I know this might be a difficult request to fulfill so I won’t hold it against you if you can’t answer, but can you cite an example of an advertisement in US media today that would not be allowed in the UK and which you would hold up as the sort of thing you’re glad is censored? I’m not challenging your opinion, I’m just having trouble thinking of some example of what we allow, the UK doesn’t, and which would be “good” or useful to censor.

      1. I’m not very familiar with advertising in America, so I can’t think of an example.

        It’s easy to find historical examples of racist or sexist advertising by typing “racist” or “sexist advertising” into Google Images. You will see images that probably wouldn’t get past the British regulators today.

    5. I don’t get it. Maybe this is the thinking in England? It sounds like talking out of both sides of the mouth. We should have some regulation of speech but only here and here. But not there.

      Who gets to decide? Who calls the shots? Who are the censors?

    6. How is decided what is hate speech or offensive? Of course some things are obvious, but after we get past those, then what? It hurts my feelings?

  7. The younger people favoring more restricted speech is no surprise. Less age can also mean less educated as we need to remind ourselves. All of our education does not come exclusively from how many years we spend in “schools”. The age difference, in other words, is also the education difference in some ways.

    Knowing your own country’s history does not seem to be so important in more recent years and it’s not like it was much of a priority even long ago. Anyone born since roughly 1985 would have no actual experience with the cold war environment and likely know little about it. As far as other countries that have much less concern for free speech or press – I guess you don’t miss what you never had.

    I’m not so concerned about losing the fair and democratic election in this country but I am very concerned that having that election is becoming meaningless.

    1. I’m not so concerned about losing the fair and democratic election in this country but I am very concerned that having that election is becoming meaningless.

      I think it’s becoming meaningless because it is no longer fair or democratic.

      1. Sorry but I don’t see that. Elections in this country (U.S.) today are as democratic and free of rigging or other problems as they ever have been in our history. Think back. There was a time when only men of property voted. They only voted nationally for their representatives in the House of Reps. Later they let more men vote, then African American men, then women. Also, started voting for Senators and the president. So where did the less democratic come along??

        The “more democratic” election has always been moving in one direction. What I mean by meaningless is that all the people elected in Congress are bought and paid for by special interest and the money people. Our entire government at the national level is spending all their time running for office and collecting money from the few with the money. It’s called the lobby…you know, K street.

        Therefore, a very democratic and meaningless election.

        1. Compared to history (many of it recent) you are 100% correct, but today, I don’t see it “free of rigging”. I’m mostly bemoaning Citizen’s United where the vote or politician is purchased and the fact that SCOTUS dismantled the Voting Rights Act which spurned Republican governors across the US to expunge minorities, college students and others from voting. So therefore, un-democratic imo. There is also a lot of information out there of loony polling that points to tampering with electronic voting machines. We need to go back to paper ballots and hand counting, then I would personally feel that U.S. elections are fair and democratic…and we need to abolish the rampant gerrymandering as well.

          1. Yes, Citizen’s United, which simply made legal what was already happening with money and politics and gerrymandering, nothing new, just being perfected. But that is what we call corruption and has nothing really to do with democracy or democratic elections. Where in the definition of democratic do you see included — no corruption allowed, no huge piles of money allowed to buy votes or influence the voters or even to decide who gets to run?

            We have just about the cleanest and most “democratic” open elections possible or at least more democracy today by far than any time in our history. The republicans will say there is fraud in the voting but that is just BS. They do this so they can pass regulations requiring voter IDs and other crap to keep minorities from voting.

            I will stand by my first statement – democracy, mostly yes, but meaningless, also yes. If you want meaningful elections with politicians who are actually representing voters, get rid of all the money. The best democracy in the world, if that is what you want, is worthless unless you do away with the money.

            1. The best democracy in the world, if that is what you want, is worthless unless you do away with the money.

              Exactly what I think I was trying to say all along.

              There is a simple matter that must be destroyed for politics to work and that is money. It is a strange evolved beast, money is.

  8. Not all speech is protected. For example, I live in one of 7 cities in Missouri that have codes against harassment of bicylists, pedestrians, runners and persons using wheelchairs. The offenses are strictly defined and include…

    (2) Threatens any person riding a bicycle for the purpose of frightening or disturbing the person riding the bicycle; or

    (3) Sounds a horn, shouts or otherwise directs sound toward any person riding a bicycle for the purpose of frightening or disturbing the person riding the bicycle; or…

    among other things. There is a similar State-wide law regarding harassment in general.

    So my question is, How much of what people think of as “free speech” is really harassment? I’m thinking of calling people the N-word in particular. Given its history, I think that it is indeed a threat against African Americans, and it certainly is frightening and/or disturbing.

    1. The two instances you cite seem to relate to behavior which could be dangerous as startling or distracting the cyclist. I think that would be different than standing on the sidewalk, and shouting, “Cyclists suck!” I believe that most harassment laws that deal with speech deal with a pattern of behavior, not an individual instance. I am not aware that using the n-word is illegal anywhere. The Supreme Court has left the largest possible latitude on speech, even offensive speech. Speech is actually a lot freer than people think. Most often, it seems, restrictions we observe tend to be part of an implicit agreement to limit our rights in certain venues for employment, etc.

      1. Yes: People should be free to say almost anything short of direct incitement to violence, explicit threats, and stuff like yelling “fire!” in a public building.

        1. Even direct incitement to violence is legal, as long as it’s not incitement to “imminent” violence. For instance, it’s legal to incite people to violently overthrow the government, as long as you’re not making it so specific that you’re convincing them to do it right now, or on some specific date. (This was decided in the famous Brandenburg v. Ohio case.)

    2. The question of when speech rises to the level of harrassment is a difficult one. It depends on repetition, aggression, invasion of privacy, etc. I think the Potter Stewart criterion is used.

  9. Offense is taken, not given.

    Any kind of restriction on “offensive” speech starts immediately on a slippery slow, because anyone can say “that’s offensive” about anything.

    I think this is a direct result of the political correctness and call-out shaming culture that has been taking over for the past 40 years or so. One can hope that these young people outgrow their stupidity about free speech, but I’m not particularly sanguine about it.

    It’s already gotten so bad in Canada that a man is on trial (criminal trial!) for disagreeing with feminists on Twitter.

    1. A decade or so ago I attended an ‘anti harassment’ workshop run by my employer. One thing that stuck in my mind was that even speech that was not meant to cause offence could be ‘received’ as offensive and that was against the ethos of providing a good employment environment. This was in accordance with UK law.

      It struck me that this was sensible in the case of well intentioned ‘office banter’ which could be genuinely received as bad intentioned criticism or bullying.

      It also struck me that a few people will take offence unreasonably easily and this ‘fear of causing offence’ could lead to the general restriction of anything other than work related speech, which I think it did.

      1. Agreed on all counts, I think.

        Every work place I have been in in the last 25 years has had an anti-harassment policy. They are very explicit and you get extensive (and annual) training in them.

        In a work place, I have no issues with this. The employer gets to control most aspects of speech in their premises. This is to ensure that their employees (all of them) can work unimpeded. And some people are assholes and must be controlled in a workplace.

        I have a problem with restricting speech in the public sphere.

        You should be able to say offensive things in public. And others are free to shame you for it, if they can. It’s not, and it should not be, illegal to hold asshole attitudes. You just can’t injure others (real injuries, not I’m offended).

  10. People who live in glass houses…. If you think speech should be restricted, you implicitly think that government should restrict speech. If you give government the power to restrict speech, you make that power a pawn of the political process. The speech government restricts may change with the next election cycle. A minority could easily find that their political expression was now restricted. The only way to be sure that this didn’t happen would be to constrain the political process so that only the people you agree with could ever be the ones to make the rules. Or to not allow anyone to restrict speech.

    Unfortunately, I think that a lot of people who think speech should be restricted (and it is a common goal — look at states that try to limit speech about global warming), would also be happy to lock other viewpoints out of the political process. Restricting opposing viewpoints would be an easy win for most politicians.

  11. It seems to me that the survey is not a good one on two grounds.

    1. It gives a one-sided view of what offensive speech might be. If you asked the same people whether Salman Rushdie had a right to publish The Satanic Verses you might have had an entirely different response.
    2. The question suggests that it is the government that should restrict free speech. Perhaps the only thing the survey really shows is how much people want their governments to be involved in their lives. It might even suggest that in the United States people do not feel that their governments represent them and support their interests. I take it that limits on free speech are set by laws and the judiciary, which ought to have a degree of independence from the government. Libel and slander, for example, are decided in the courts not in the House of Commons (in the UK). Where I live in Spain the government is feeble and people generally feel that laws are suggestions rather than requirements. That probably explains the peculiar high score for “say what you like” in one of the most conventional countries I have ever been in.

  12. I should say I like this approach and we should remember that free speech in first amendment meaning is what the government cannot do and does not apply to what people do to other people and so on.

    Think of free speech as a restriction on government, not incitement to the people.

    Every time we see people getting offensive with their speech you just know they are not thinking about it this way.

  13. I admit I have never understood how the French can claim to have free speech, yet it is illegal (as I understand, maybe a french contributor will correct me) to question either the Holocaust or the Armenian genocide by the Turks. That both took place, I agree. But it seems to me that free speech is, well…, free speech.

    Of course, Chomsky caught a lot of flak some time back for defending the right of a french holocaust denier to say what he wanted. And my french friends do not understand my attitude, nor I, theirs.

      1. No, it’s not hypocritical. It’s a different constitutional definition of free speech. That doesn’t make the US definition superior to the European one, or vice versa.

        It all resides in the common legal understanding that most rights are not limitless, but limited by the rights of others. My right of free speech is thus limited by the others’ right to an inviolable human dignity and other rights.

        Art. 2 sec. 1 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany:
        “(1) Every person shall have the right to free development of his personality insofar as he does not violate the rights of others or offend against the constitutional order or the moral law.”

        Art. 5 sec. 1-2 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany:
        “(1) Every person shall have the right freely to express and disseminate his opinions in speech, writing and pictures, and to inform himself without hindrance from generally accessible sources. Freedom of the press and freedom of reporting by means of broadcasts and films shall be guaranteed. There shall be no censorship.

        (2) These rights shall find their limits in the provisions of general laws, in provisions for the protection of young persons, and in the right to personal honour.”

        In everyday life, that doesn’t restrict free speech in any relevant way. We seem to do quite well without the right to hate speech.

          1. Not sure what part of your reply at 6 should apply to my post. The “who gets to decide”?

            Well, as always when there is to decide if laws were broken, the courts get to decide. The fact that there are veeery few court cases about people feeling that they have been insulted or that their right to free speech has been violated shows, that in praxi it’s not that much of an issue.

            Furthermore, try to see it this way: When you have 81 million people in a country that’s smaller than Montana, the right of the society to peaceful coexistence might be considered the greater good compared to an individual’s right to spew venom.

  14. Having lived in Germany for a number of years the numbers there don’t surprise me. They have very different ideas about what freedom entails. I suspect that’s a remnant of having lived through fascism. They accept limitations that would never be tolerated in the US, and if you suggest they aren’t free in comparison with the US they are easily offended, and will defend those limitations.

    1. Yes, once in Munich, I was in a bookshop and I wanted a copy of Mein Kampf both to read it (almost no one has, actually) and to work on German. The horrified looks I got from the staff were pretty disconcerting. It was like I had dropped my pants and shit in the store.

      I ended up buying Remarque, Schiller, and Goethe …

      1. You didn’t miss much. I’m serious when I say Mein Kampf is harder to read in the original German than in tranlation. I tied it several times when I lived in Germany and gave up – worse than war and peace.

    2. I had a look at the methodology of that survey:

      If you ask about censorship in general (“people can say what they want without state or government censorship”), Germany actually scores higher than the US, with 86% saying it is “very important” compared to 71% of Americans.

      The numbers for Germany drop dramatically where the questions get more specific: Calling for violent protests, offending minorities, offending religious beliefs, and – interestingly – making “sexually explicit” statements have a much lower approval rate compared to the US. Criticizing the government however is about equal, and whistleblowing scores higher than in the US.

      I think much of this can be explained by Germany’s past, which after all has an ugly past of coups and hate speech against minorities.

      I do wonder though where the non-approval of sexual content comes from. Germany scores almost as low here as Turkey and Palestine!

  15. The irony is that in the countries polled it has been a tremendous effort to get even half the population to express their political opinions and actually vote in local and national elections.
    So now some seem to believe that even expressing personal opinions may be too much bother and possibly offend somebody somewhere.
    Has the world become so nice and cozy for us that we can afford to say nothing controversial, to just lie back and not rock the boat?

  16. Who adjudicates what is offensive??

    Consider the related case of blasphemy laws.

    Look at all the genuinely constructive speech the Catholic League finds “offensive”, including the TV series “Nothing Sacred” to which a different (and wiser) Catholic organization awarded its “Humanitas” prize.

    Some Christians thought Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” was blasphemy, but is considered edifying by others. Wikipedia reports that “in February 2007, the Church of St Thomas the Martyr in Newcastle upon Tyne held a public screening in the church itself, with song-sheets, organ accompaniment, stewards in costume.”

    Louis Farrakhan thought the movie of Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” was part of a white plot to undermine African families, and the original novel’s portrayal of black males was quite polarizing in the African-American community.

    Many Jews were deeply offended upon the initial release of Mel Brook’s “The Producers” but Jewish sensibilities to that film have significantly(!!) shifted since then.

    Multiple works of (Jewish) author Philip Roth haven’t set too well with the Jewish community either, notably his first big hit “Goodbye, Columbus”, which is now considered quite classic.

    1. “in February 2007, the Church of St Thomas the Martyr in Newcastle upon Tyne held a public screening [of Life of Brian] in the church itself, with song-sheets, organ accompaniment, stewards in costume.”

      St Thomas the Martyr must belong to one of the non-theistic chapters of the C of E 😉

      To be a little bit more fair, Life of Brian (contra Muggs and the Bishop) can easily be seen as sympathetic to Jesus (who the film was specifically NOT about) and the Christian message, while it lampoons in hilarious fashion everything from leftist activists to faddist new-agey religious followers to official bureaucracies.


  17. In Germany, it is most likely connected to speech associated with Neo Nazism, and this connection is drawn quicker than (probably) elsewhere. If that was teased out, I doubt that my compatriots want goverment to regulate what they can say. In theory, it’s the same as in the USA, with two stark difference: Neo-Nazi stuff is outlawed (keep in mind this is an enemy and former system here, and not just some random ideology) and we place a much higher importance on personality rights (i.e. your freedom sharply ends at the face or name of some other person).

    1. You are partly right, see my comment above. But it doesn’t explain why there also is a much lower tolerance to sexual stuff, compared to the US.

      Nebenbei, könntest du wohl bitte nochmal deine Emails kontrollieren?

  18. I think that women want restrictions on speech because of a history of suffering abuse – quite like minorities.
    I am a woman and I think that firing Tim Hunt was the right thing to do. However, I keep my mind open that I may be wrong. What do you think?

    1. I think women in general (in our culture at least) have a greater tendency towards ensuring and enforcing safety and protection, whereas men have a greater tolerance of risk, danger, and discomfort. (Consider who does the most dangerous and unpleasant professions in our country. I also base this on the behavior of male and female teachers that I observed in school.) I think women have greater empathy than men, in general, that leads them to care more when others are offended. And I think those two things might be related. I don’t know whether this is caused by history or biology or what.

      In general I’m opposed to the firing of people for things they say or believe, especially outside the workplace. Twitter, email, and phone campaigns to get people fired for perceived bigotry (usually just a joke on social media) are a common tactic among the “regressive left”, and I’ve seen many people fired for jokes or beliefs. The consequences of depriving a person or family of income are far more devastating than simply feeling offended, and the vision of a country where only people with Correct Beliefs are allowed to earn a living is far more frightening than a country where people can say offensive things.

      I don’t know what it was like to work in Tim Hunt’s lab. If his lab was a bad place to work, then that would justify reassigning him to a job where he’s not running a lab. But if he was fired just for making a joke on his personal time, I don’t agree with that.

      1. Anecdote: my female student once gave me a quote from a lecture by a male professor:

        “There are two types of female students. Those of the first type have a good macroscopic appearance, are stupid and do not read. Those of the second type have a bad macroscopic appearance, are also stupid, but are ambitious and read a lot.”

        I have never contacted this professor as a student, just as a fellow teacher. He has always been respectful to me.

  19. Free speech is always good for me but not so for the other guy. Please recall our history and the Alien and Sedition Act 1789, with attention on the Sedition part. This was probably John Adams worst moments and he likely lost the election because of it. People were prosecuted and convicted for saying thing against the president/govt. It was a dark day for Adams and the end of the federalist.

    1. I’m nearly in the ‘silent generation’ myself and me and Mrs DiscoveredJoys have observed – as a generalisation – that the older you get the more outspoken you become. We have debated whether this is cognitive failure, or perhaps the realisation that most things aren’t worth worrying about, or perhaps that ‘the old’ have little to lose.

      Probably a mix of all these things. After all you can often see some (PCC excluded, of course)’emeritus’ professors saying things which are quite startling. Sometimes they are mad, sometimes they are bad, and sometimes they just don’t give a damn for anything but the truth.

      1. No it isn’t cognitive failure but at 76 YO I simply don’t have time and patience for nonsense that has come and gone around many times before. I realise that each generation has to learn for itself but sometimes it gets ridiculous.

  20. I agree that “offense” is not the proper criteria for restricting speech and other expressions. However, lies do not meet my criteria for protected speech. So, how do we discern what is a lie?
    Science helps, even if it’s sociological statistical analysis or some such, it’s more objective than emotional.
    There’s no “free market of ideas” where opinions and attitudes and estimates of consequences can thrash things out on a level playing field. This is related to the observation that are hardly any free markets at all anywhere, due to not-so-level playing fields, i.e.,barriers to entry, billionaires interfering, etc.
    I wish the “fact checking” was a real thing. It seems to be in infancy, and compromised behind the scenes in many places. Real analytical journalism is so hard to find anymore, even though I’ve been working alternate media for some time now. Mainstream journalism has collapsed as a useful means of fact checking.
    “The 21st century is all about the control of information.”

    1. I tend to agree with you.

      If somebody says that “refugees from Syria are just coming here for economic reasons and to take our jobs”, should that be protected under free speech? What about the lies climate change deniers tell? The trouble is as you say that there is no level playing field, that these lies can have tremendous negative consequences, and that it is very hard to effectively counter them.

      In principle I would like free speech restrictions on the grounds that something is a lie, but I can see no practical way to accomplish that. In fact, trying something like that is almost certainly worse than just allowing everybody to say (almost) everything.

  21. I’m surprised the Philippines gets a 4.6 (slightly green) in the free expression index. We have some really censorious laws including an official media censor board (MTRCB), onion-skinned public servants, and an honor society that places a higher importance on personal honor over personal freedoms.

  22. I suspect that environment plays a role too. As an early boomer I was born in a world with half the current population, and less that half that population in cities. News of foreign parts was slower and more considered.

    Crowd people together more, deluge them in instant opinions from around the world, and suddenly everyone, particularly the young who are ‘status aware’, is scrabbling for mental calm and a less unsettling view of life.

  23. I think the question should be phrased as “offensive to some members of a minority group”. It’s not hard to find someone who is offended by almost anything you say. Whether they are representive of their group is another question

  24. Where do you stop ? open that Gate and many others may open and you end up like Saudi Arabia , say the wrong thing and its Chop Chop Square for you. I reserve the right to insult who i want as they have the right to insult me.

  25. “Finally, increased education is associated with less desire for censorship. I’m not sure why.”

    I have a theory:
    (1) People who actively seek an education are generally more intelligent
    (2) While they were getting that education, they actually LEARNED something about human nature and how the world works!

    I think part of the increased desire for censorship in Europe is because they don’t have a long-standing, “tradition” of free speech as being an essential part of personal freedoms.

  26. Could this bias be influencing the views of the young. Prof Gad Saad on a 2005 study:
    “Across 11 heterogeneous Californian universities, the ratio of Democrats-to-Republicans (registered political party affiliations) was 5 to 1. The ratio was also dependent on the professors’ faculty and departmental affiliations. For example, the humanities had a ratio of 10 to 1, with sociology holding the most lopsided ratio at 44 to 1.”

    Chomsky on free speech.

    “Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech.”

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