Click here to learn about my mind-bending epic mythological novel A Conspiracy of Wizards!!!

The following is an unedited and unabridged (other than to exclude the names of the participants) exchange that I engaged in on Facebook this morning. I share it because I think it illustrates the underlying dilemma in public discourse, that rational arguments cannot penetrate the fortifications of entrenched dogmatic displacements of reality.

In this case, an argument one poster made about what they perceived to be liberal hypocrisy was thoroughly debunked by a close examination of the two cases being compared, and of the legal and Constitutional issues involved. That examination was then ignored, a repetition of outright error in the representation of what the Constitutional protection of speech entails (and doesn’t entail) clung to, and the ideologues went blithely on their way, not in mere error, but in entrenched and, in a sense, intentional error.

An opportunity was provided, in the course of the exchange, for the original poster and fellow commenter to make a narrower and more defensible argument. Instead of either accepting this opportunity or admitting that they’re argument was in fact the broader and more indefensible one, they both proceeded to conflate the two, baiting-and-switching between them, using the more defensible one as a trojan horse (that I had provided them with!), but still trying to smuggle in the less defensible one along with it (while insisting that they weren’t).

This is an illustration of the two-pronged real political and cultural divide in America today: 1) That between dogmatic ideologues of any stripe, and those who attempt to consider the challenges we face in a systematic and rational way; and 2) that between those who, on the one hand, think in more tribalistic terms, with more narrowly defined in-groups and a broader array of out-groups, and a variety of biases and attributions that favor in-groups and disfavor outgroups, and those who, on the other, are more inclusive and more humanistic. The overall tendency is for those who are more dogmatic to be more tribalistic (though not always so), and those who are more analytical to be more humanistic. 

Commenter 1:

I find it ironic that the people advocating equal rights for all today, were the same people trying to destroy the Chik-fil-A people for exercising their free speech rights last August.

Simply put, these “rights” advocates were upset at the free speech offered by those associated with the restaurant and didn’t approve of the result of first amendment rights. Do they support equality for all or do they not?

I would take these folks more seriously if they were more consistent in their own personal walk. As someone once said, “My eyes see better than my ears hear”.

Steve Harvey:

Respectfully, there are demonstrable flaws in your reasoning. You have to put the following facts together (as in a syllogistic argument) to see them:

1) “Free speech” refers to freedom from governmental infringement, not private. It does not mean that protected speech is protected from the consequences of offending others. If you were to preach racial hatred, and your business were to suffer because too many potential customers found that offensive, that would not be an infringement on your right to free speech, but rather a consequence of your choice in what to say.

2) Beginning with the Civil War, abolition of slavery, and the 13th and 14th Amendments, we as a people began to identify certain liberty issues that do involve protection from private oppressors as well as from the government (and from state and local as well as from federal government). Perhaps the clearest expression of this came with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when we (through our Representatives) passed legislation which protected African Americans from certain kinds of private sector racial discrimination, such as discrimination in hiring and in choosing who to serve.

3) Unless you want to argue either that speech should be protected from the private and otherwise legal reactions of those who are offended by it or that we should not extend equal rights protections against certain identifiable categories of people to protection against private sector discrimination, comparing instances of these two issues is comparing apples and oranges: One does not involve protection from otherwise legal reactions to speech by private citizens, and the other does include protection from otherwise legal forms of discrimination on the part of private citizens.

4) At this point, that isn’t even the issue (though it soon will be, and occasionally has been). The arguments being considered by the Supreme Court today involve the constitutionality of governmental discrimination against a category of people; can the state (yesterday’s case) and federal (today’s) government constitutionally discriminate against homosexuals by denying them the right to marry one another? It doesn’t involve protection from private sector discrimination at all, whereas your contentions about the Chick-Fil-A reaction involve private citizens choosing not to patronize an establishment whose advocacy for discrimination they find offensive, and encouraging others of like mind to do the same. So, at this point, you are comparing an issue of governmental discrimination against a class of citizens with an issue of private sector reaction to the choice of political positions of a business establishment. The two issues are logically incomparable on multiple dimensions.

5) In the near future, the question of private sector discrimination against gays will come front and center. When it does, it still won’t be comparable to the Chick-Fil-A example, for the reasons given above: One involves a private sector reaction to speech it finds offensive, and one involves private sector discrimination against a systematically discriminated against category of people. You can try to make the argument at that point that the category of people should not be protected from private sector adverse reaction, because others have the right to find their choice offensive, just as in the Chick-fil-A example. The counterargument is that they are different species of cases, because one involves the reaction of private citizens to speech it finds offensive in individual cases, while the other involves systematic discrimination against a category of people on the basis of who and what they inherently are. We can have that debate, but there is absolutely nothing logically or ethically inconsistent between maintaining the position that Chick-Fil-A should not be patronized by people who respect the rights of gays and the belief that the rights of gays to be protected from private sector discrimination should be the law of the land.

Commenter 2:

Steve Harvey: It is incredible! Free Speech is OK as long as you agree with it. Hummm….Otherwise it is discrimination…. Let’s see I have sworn an oath to support the constitution and that includes all of it! Not just the parts I agree with and that includes all opinions, not just those that I agree with. If you don’t like what a private business is doing or saying, then don’t go. If you don’t like what you see on TV then turn the channel or turn it off.. It applies equally to all, regardless !

Commenter 1:

Simply put, the “equality” bunch wants…rights equality. Except for those they don’t agree with. Thats where “rights” end. When it comes to the protected free speech from the Chick-fil-A CEO, the equality crowd tried to mow him down into silence. They don’t care about equal rights for all. They care only about equal rights for those that share their world view.

Odd. I just don’t remember the “equality for all” crowd making noise last year in defending Chick-fil-A and their right of free speech. Hummmmm. Why is that? Couldn’t be that they don’t really want everyone to have the right of free speech do they?

Steve Harvey:

Again, “free speech” refers to freedom from governmental infringement, and I staunchly support it in all circumstances, whether I agree or not. But it does not mean that a person is protected from the adverse reaction of others to what they choose to say. A boss will not be prosecuted for firing an employee who routinely says to him, “Good morning, asshole.” That’s not what free speech means. No one violated Chick-fil-A’s Constitutional rights, because there was no governmental infringement on their right to free speech. Had there been, I’d stand side-by-side with you in opposition to that Constitutional violation.

If Nazis rally, others can speak out about how offensive they find it, and can refuse to patronize the businesses of those Nazis. People are free to be offended, and to choose what businesses to patronize or not in part on the basis of what they find offensive. The first Amendment does not protect people from non-governmental consequences of their speech. Your repeated and persistent insistence to the contrary is disingenuous and annoying.

Conversely, the Constitution DOES protect the equal rights of all under the law. I laid it out very systematically, and made very clear the distinctions you are choosing to ignore. You can continue to pretend they don’t exist, but that becomes at this point not an error in comprehension, but an assertion of self-imposed ideological delusion. I’ll unfollow this now, because clearly fact and reason will gain no foothold here.

Commenter 1:

I don’t read anyone making the point that no consequences arise from free speech or expression. That’s a separate argument not related to the first amendment.

Commenter 2:

Never Once has anyone said that standing for your rights would not produce adverse affects. That being said, Standing for your right as a business owner to refuse service to anyone will have an effect on your business, it is up to you and your freedom to decide whether to make that stand or not. IE: Dixie Chicks and their low sales, they chose to speak out and it had an effect on their record sales. Again, if you don’t like what the Chick-fil-a people are saying, then just as the Nazi’s you may be offended, that is your right. Do with that as you please, but don’t tell me or anyone else that they violated anybodies rights!! That is asinine, I don’t have the RIGHT to Chick-fil-A or any other service offered by a private company. Wow. It is your right to express your opinions but you need to take and should take responsibility for that opinion, even if it means less business. It is mind-boggling how you have twisted the reality of our freedoms.

Steve Harvey:

Let’s make a distinction here: there were a few cases of local governmental action against Chick-fil-A which I agree that, arguably, were a violation of First Amendment free speech rights (it depends, again, on whether we interpet equal protection laws to extend to gays, in which case a business that not only speaks but discriminates against members of that group would be in violation of the law. I don’t know whether Chick-fil-A discriminated in its practices). But you seemed to be referring to the more widespread public reaction to Chick-fil-A, which is in no way a violation of Chick-fil-A’s rights.

Other people’s free speech rights allow them to speak out against speech they disagree with. If you are isolating your remarks to governmental action against Chick-fil-A, then you have a limited point, though it applies only to those who vocally supported those governmental actions, not to all those who spoke out against Chick-fil-A’s position and political actions.

So, are you both referring ONLY to those who both advocated GOVERNMENTAL ACTION against Chick-fil-A, and not all those who simply spoke out against Chick-fil-A’s political position? If so, I apologize for having misunderstood you. Or are you saying what you appeared to be saying, and then denying it while repeating it? In that case, I stand by my above comments about entrenched and intentional irrationality.

Commenter 1:

Quit playing dumb in an effort to sow discord. You know the point of the post. Keep throwing out straw man arguments if you wish. Unlike the equality crowd, I won’t try to silence you.

Steve Harvey:

No, I thought I knew the point of the above post, but I’m seeking clarification. Are you referring only to those who support government action against Chick-fil-A, or to all those who exercised their own First Amendment right and spoke out against Chick-fil-A’s political activities against gays? If the former, then you have a point, about those people only. If the latter, then you don’t, for the reasons I expressed. If you can’t say which, then you are trying to insulate a debunked argument from the rational and legally informed argument that debunked it. Take your pick.

Commenter 2:

WOW….Ok, it applies to both….Wouldn’t be an issue if the PEOPLE SPEAKING out weren’t calling for government action against Chick-Fil-A. When they are confronted with the pure truth, that is that I/WE/WHOEVER has the right to say whatever they want as long as it isn’t violating anyones rights. Unfortunately, these people, see themselves as the ones and the only ones who have a right to express an opinion and on top of the demand government intervention simply because they feel they are right and the other is wrong. If anyone can’t see that then they need to pull their heads out of the sand…well I was thinking of another place..

Simple truth, if Chick-Fil-A violated the law, then they should be held accountable with due process, not simple jumping in by anyone no less the government.

Commenter 1:

Remember the Mayors of several large cities were pronouncing that they would never again allow a Chick-fil-A to be built in “their” city? Sounds like government suppression of free speech rights to me. Once again, where was the “equality for all” bunch on that discrimination?

NOTE: This discussion is not about gay rights. It’s about equal rights. Including free speech, shared inheritance, hospital visits etc. I’m just challenging some hypocritical behavior.

Steve Harvey:

You have to pick one or the other: Either you insist that it implies to both, and therefore that the freedom of speech of those who oppose chick-fil-A’s policies aren’t protected in your view, or it applies only to those who advocated governmental action. You are stating two mutually exclusive positions at the same time, in order to defend your main one which is in error from the fact that it is in error by switching to the one that isn’t just long enough to insulate yourself from the counterarguments against the one that is. And so, I return to my statement above: Fact and reason will gain no foothold here.

As I said (Commenter 1), if you’re referring only to those mayors and to those who supported their position, then you may have a point. But you keep trying to expand that point to those who aren’t those mayors and didn’t support their position. I am only asking you to make clear which it is, which you are consistently refusing to do, in order to cling to a debunked argument.

Commenter 2:

exactly! Freedom of speech and equal rights. Not a difficult concept unless you chose to twist it to deny others of theirs!

Steve Harvey:

You’re not challenging hypocritical behavior, but rather challenging perfectly consistent behavior by making what is itself a hypocritical argument and then trying to insulate it from criticism by switching back and forth between that hypocritical argument and a more valid one.

Are you arguing that it is hypocritical to have spoken out against Chick-fil-A’s anti-gay agenda, and to have supported the equal protection of gays’ right to marry, or aren’t you? If you aren’t, all you have to do is state that you did not mean to imply that those who spoke out against Chick-fil-A and encouraged others of like mind not to patronize them are hypocritical for also supporting equal protection of gays’ right to marry. End of discussion. If you can’t make that clarification, simply and explicitly, then it is you, rather than those you are accusing, who are the hypocrites here. (Not least for suggesting that my arguing against your false accusation of liberal hypocrisy in this case is an act of “sowing discord,” as if the accusation itself was no such thing.)

Commenter 1:

Steve: The “equality for all” tribe did not simply speak out against CFA, they tried to silence them and destroy their livelihood. Yet again, you present a straw man to try to change the argument.

Steve Harvey:

Steve, again, you can characterize the speech of those you disagree with as “trying to destroy the livelihood” of those they are speaking out against, but if it is not the government doing so, it is still their First Amendment free speech right to do so.

In an act of real (as opposed to imagined) hypocrisy, you are dismissing Chick-fil-A’s contributions of large sums of money to groups that organize to prevent the advancement of gay rights as harmless “free speech” which is to be protected not just FROM government, but also BY government against others who would also exercise their own free speech rights, while insisting that the free speech of those others is an attempt to harm the party with whom you are more ideologically aligned.

Reason and logical consistency are simply not on your side here, and you can either continue to tap dance around that, or, improbably, exercise your own rational faculties and admit that that is the case and that you have made a logically fallacious argument. Your misuse of the term “strawman,” to dismiss an argument that is precisely on-point and precisely directed at what you actually and clearly are arguing, does not remedy the logical fallacies of your own argument.

It is you, and not I or other liberals who criticized and encouraged one another not to patronize Chick-fil-A, who are engaging in hypocrisy here, by insisting that free speech protects Chick-fil-A from adverse reactions among potential customers but does not protect the right of those who simply criticize and encourage others of like mind not to patronize an establishment dedicated to anit-gay political activism, and that speaking out against and boycotting a business for anti-gay political activism while advocating for legal recognition of 14th Amendment equal protection rights for gays’ right to marry is somehow hypocritical. There is no “strawman” argument in that response to your post, just a cogent and incisive debunking of your own inconsistencies.

Click here to buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards for just $2.99!!!

  • I just noticed that Commenter 2, in his second comment, is rejecting the Civil Rights Act of 1964, by insisting that any private establishment has the right to refuse service to anyone they like (which, being unqualified by Commenter 2, must be assumed to include on the basis of race, age, gender, or any other criterion that the owner chooses). This is one of those subtle encroachments of racism into modern far-right-wing thought in America, in which the modern libertarian ideology, which bears so many points in common with the former versions that were used by first slave owners in defense of their “liberty” to own slaves, and then segregationalists in defense of their “liberty” to discriminate on the basis of race. I’ve outline this entire phenomenon in several essays, including “How Much Racism is There on the Far Right?”

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.