Saturday, 16 June 2012

Adversaries and adversaries

So this is a bit of a delicate post to write, because I'm going to disagree with two friends, one of whom is a fellow DJer. This is about the whole legal tiff referenced in the last post by Fern, where a friend, Dr. Dawg, has won a court case against some truly nasty Internet scum, people for whom I have zero respect and whom I would probably not miss if they disappeared magically from the face of the Earth.

But let me lay my cards on the table: by my own sympathies, I am what Dr. Dawg calls a Speech Warrior (tm). I feel that I have good reasons to believe that the "American approach" to speech matters is the most optimal one so far, barring the nonsense about speech being money, Citizens United, etc. But the idea that even an allegedly impartial court should be able to decide what thoughts are permitted to survive in public rubs me the wrong way for a whole lot of reasons, and makes me suspicious even of libel and defamation laws.

That said, I respect those who consider otherwise, as they have a point in the need to protect people and society from lies and the sort of harmful propaganda that leads to genocides, and so on. The horrible scumbags in question do certainly represent a tendency on that continuum. I can understand that those, like Dr. Dawg, who don't share my conviction on free speech, but share most of my other convictions, would therefore feel that they have the right to make use of Canadian law to protect themselves against what they probably correctly see as a sort of rhetorical assault. And while the law stands as it does, I don't begrudge them that opportunity.

And this is where I come to disagree with Fern. The courts in Canada are adversarial for a reason. They aren't calm legislative arbiters, serving a public function to lay down guidelines. They are legal boxing rings, or maybe pitched battles. And while that may seem unfortunate to some practically-minded people, people who just want well-engineered solutions, the "set phasers on pulverize" nature of the courts is one of its most important and best features. Consequently, one cannot simply be politically neutral and support both sides. One side must lose.

If you contribute to both sides (say, the Fourniers), and your political side loses (Dr. Dawg), then you have contributed to the financial costs imposed on your own political compatriots. And make no mistake, Dr. Dawg is a political compatriot par excellence: pro-choice, anti-racist, pro-environment.

Like I said, this debate saddens me, because I think it's ultimately the sort of clash of personalities that tends to rend left-wing sites asunder: the "engineering-minded" vs. the "battle-minded." When it comes to the courts, though, the "battle-minded" are right. There is no neutral solution-finding, only winners and losers. And the Free Dominionites must be ground legally into the dust.


ADDED by fh on June 19/12: Isn't this an interesting development? I wonder who will debate.

26 comments:

Balbulican said...

I think we would all best be served by a bit of de-escalation and reflection here. Some people I like and respect hugely are staking out public positions that might bear a little more thought, for both strategic and tactical reasons.

Edstock said...

"it's ultimately the sort of clash of personalities that tends to rend left-wing sites asunder" — you're probably right.
One problem with some of the "personalities" is common with right-wingers too: that which I believe to be true MUST be true.
Another problem is the anti-American knee-jerk. The Yanks are a cluster-fuck, but sometimes, you can't let the knee-jerk keep you from really seeing what future trends are.
Like Neil Young said, "You are the only person you are screwing, when you put down what you don't understand".
Knee-jerk makes 'em feel good, but doesn't get the job done.

fern hill said...

Namó Mandos: Thank you for this.

You say 'practically-minded people'. So, yes, I was trying to be practical, but wound up in Wishful Thinking Land.

Having recently been beaten up by our wonderful adversarial system, I was looking for a way to get some clarity on these issues without anybody going broke.

Who knew the notion would be SO controversial?

But where I disagree with you is the 'ground into dust' bit. Don't they call that eliminationism?

Yes, there are some truly horrible characters at FD that the world would be better off without. But I don't see most of them as enemies, just terribly misguided and needing to spend a couple of decades in the political wilderness.

I want them out of power and influence. They don't need to be ground into the dust. They need to be electorally defeated. Soundly and roundly.

And I do NOT subscribe to the 'you're with us or you're with the child p0rnographers/terrists/commies' mentality. I'm sort of appalled that it has been rolled out and aimed in my direction.

It seems rather school-yardish to me. 'Ooh, you talked to Britney! You're not my friend anymore!'

Sad.

Námo Mandos said...

The problem, I'm afraid, is that most of them don't view you or I that way, even if sometimes they behave in a friendly way. I'm a fan of understanding the origin of reactionary psychology as an object, but I don't think they need to "spend decades in the political wilderness", as though they had anything meaningful to contribute. There *are* right-wing figures on whom I might be persuaded to take a softer line, but anyone associated in a supportive capacity with FD is not one of them.

I think they need to spend an eternity in the political wilderness.

I realize that you had serious problems with a court system tilted against you, but a lawsuit is a lawsuit. In the event Dr. Dawg ultimately loses, anyone who gave money to the FD, even if they gave the same amount to Dr. Dawg, takes a share of the responsibility for his loss. It's like giving weapons to two opposing armies: the only one you really helped is the winner.

Since Dr. Dawg stands to be winner or loser here, and is strongly personally invested in winning and having the law interpreted in a manner that he believes is right (not some pragmatically neutral solution), I can understand his reaction to you. You can't arm both sides and claim that you did everyone a good turn.

J.lobe said...

The problem is that one cannot be a speech warrior and lend support to Dr. Dawg in this battle, at least in good conscience. The consequences are huge if everyone is going to use defamation laws to shut down net-based opponents they dislike. Even the use of terms like "Internet scum" in your own post could be subject to a defamation lawsuit. I am wondering if Dr. Dawg has really thought this over, browsing through his own posts. much more defamatory terms than "Taliban supporter" can be found there.

An analogy is that if a democratic government with all the values that you like, invades a reactionary dictatorship that you hate, and commits war crimes along the way (should I give more specific references?), would you continue supporting that just because you hate the other side? or would you at least stop lending support for actions that are not supportable on the ground that one side should win the fight?

At minimum, you should refrain from lending support to any side here because the side that you like is taking an unsupportable action.

Námo Mandos said...

Well, the truth is that I wouldn't fund either of them. Dawg can take it :)

I do think that the what form of peaceful redress the law allows does matter and make it different from, you know, a political decision leading to a lawless invasion, and people should be able to take advantage of it. For an extreme/limiting-case example, just because I don't like US insurance companies, doesn't mean that I wouldn't take out an insurance policy, though I'm supporting their business model by doing so.

MyPetGloat said...

What is the difference between the stand taken against Progressive Bloggers supporting 'progressive bloggers' supporting the reopening of the abortion debate in Parliament - on free speech grounds - which Fern didn't support - and what Fern now supports.

If anyone can shed light on this, it would be much appreciated.

fern hill said...

Because reproductive rights is not a free speech issue.

MyPetGloat said...

I agree with you, though some argue otherwise.

What's your position on Harper repealing hate speech laws?

fern hill said...

Why are you interrogating me? If/when I have something to say about that subject, I'll write a blog post.

MyPetGloat said...

I'm not interrogating. I'm asking what I believe are perfectly reasonable questions. You have said you would fund both causes. One of those is a group whose members promote racial hatred. Harper's repealing of the hate speech laws directly support white supremacists. Indeed, they applaud his decision. If I'm completely off base, explain how I am. I'm seeing overlap here.

fern hill said...

It's off topic on this post for one thing.

And for another, which group 'promotes racial hatred'? You got any proof of that?

JJ said...

Interrogation is Standard Operating Procedure for this halfwit. "Achtung! Vee haff vays of makink you TALK!"

fern hill said...

You are so smart with the bookmarking and screen shooting JJ.

Did you catch this from the Gloat?

Niles said...

The interesting thing, to me at least, is, even when it's contentious and personal, this corner of the internets checks its 'feeling righteous' privileges and weighs whether fairness is involved, chewing on where the line is and what could better serve it.

I've read discussion elsewhere that a progressive's kryptonite is getting caught up in nuances to the detriment of making strong stands. Too much 'yeah, but' while the opposition authoritarians declare 'THIS!' and sneer at progressives for finding reality complex.

If the Fourniers were hit by a tornado, flood or other life-disrupting disaster, I'd give money to help them recover. When they hit the marks on free speech, I have to grant them the points, no matter their usual behaviour. When they stubbornly commit to self-induced acts of reputational assault and the governing system leaves only the option of adversarial courts to repair the public acts, I have far less sympathy for them.

Free speech goes up to the point where it becomes deception, then it hopefully gets smacked in the chops, otherwise a nation's contract of how to conduct civil society might as well be used for wrapping fish.

With the increasing reliance of society on the intertubes for knowledge about people colliding with the inability of some to realize a public forum that can disseminate libelous gossip in a nanosecond is not a private opinion *and* the reliance of others that malicious accusations will never have consequences, we're at the publishing stage where legal precedents are being set and we're at the political stage where gossip is being cyberweaponized.

Revisiting the nuance, in this instance, I side with Dr. D's plaint in the matter and would not consider funding the Fourniers. When systems like the Courts Challenge programs (not that this case might fit under that, but referring to the general concept) have been eliminated and it is left to private citizens to ad hoc push for definition of civil behaviour contracts on new social frontiers, I'll let the Fourniers find fellow travelers to fund defense of their stance.

But you know....I'd still rather have the state spend money on both sides of cyber libel to see the topic legally and robustly analyzed and worked into living law. I'm sure it would be a fraction of the money that is otherwise spent on jets that don't work and it would have a more lasting effect on peace, order and good government.

JJ said...

"Harper's repealing of the hate speech laws"

Good grief.

Our hate speech laws under the CC are alive & well, doofus. What got repealed was a clause in the human rights act (s.13)

I see the right aren't the only ones who spread half-baked disinformation as propaganda.

fern hill said...

Ah, Niles is speaking sense again.

Yes. We are in unchartered waters (one of my fave malapropisms) here. It would be wonderful to have some grand inquiry into the matter.

And not leave it to aggrieved individuals to bankrupt themselves over.

Námo Mandos said...

Well, the right way to set out guidelines cooperatively, or at least "sportingly adversarially", is in theory the legislative route. For libel suit use/abuse, I gather this has been done before in various countries.

Námo Mandos said...

FH: I've been thinking about what you've said about "bankrupting". I think now that that's where the communications disconnect between you and Dr. Dawg really lies. You seem to be seeing this as a burden on Dawg (and the Fourniers). It may be a burden on the latter, but for Dawg the costs are not a burden as such, but a price gladly paid in order to wield a weapon to get satisfaction and impose punishment on the Fourniers.

Your interventions on the matter kind of negated/ignored this kind of goal and appears to have been taken by Dawg as a kind of misappropriation. Dawg isn't in this as a reluctant combatant, burdened by this awful litigation that whose biggest upside is the possible release of a new set of guidelines for internet comment. A good part of the upside for Dawg is that his opponents will (justly, from his point of view) would be defeated. And so the costs are just an investment in that.

It's quite the opposite situation as you had with your landscum.

Suggesting that we help lift both sides burdens kind of missed the point of what Dawg wanted to do, and I think Dawg didn't know where you were coming from on this, and he hit back on what he viewed as a deliberate attempt at denying him his principal goal.

fern hill said...

NM: Your parsing sounds entirely plausible.

But, seriously, he sees my 'suggestion' as a 'deliberate attempt at denying him his principal goal'? I can't imagine how a suggestion made on a little blog could do such a thing.

And does a suggestion deserve the all-out smearing I and by extension DJ! have been the target of?

Looks more like a temper tantrum to me.

Námo Mandos said...

Hmm, let me put it a little less delicately.

If *I* were suing someone (ie, an enemy, because when you sue someone they are your enemy), and spending a lot of my own money to do so, and you suggested to people that you give my enemies a single penny, I too would feel extremely hurt and betrayed by someone I thought was my friend and ally. At minimum I would think that their judgement was rather compromised.

It's a war. What side are you on? is what I would be asking. And what Dawg *did* ask. Never mind that it was a blog comment, it would make me question whether I can continue to be friends with that person.

I understand that you genuinely don't think that it is a big deal, which is hard for me to understand, because when you're suing someone, you obviously want to deprive the Enemy of any and all resources, while you grind them legally under your heel and scatter the dust to the four winds.

To put it most bluntly, Dawg is aiming to financially ruin Connie. That's at least one of the goals of this, or he wouldn't have sued. You can be on *neither* side in this (say, you genuinely have some principle involved), but you can't be on both, because you'll be betraying at least one.

If we had a different legal system, one with mediation councils or something, then maybe it would be different. But we don't have that for a reason. We have to have a battlefield because some people cannot be reconciled.

deBeauxOs said...

Thank you Mandos. What you wrote was extremely illuminating and helpful.

Your description of the legal system as war and the court-room as a battlefield is apt.

It provides insight and understanding.

fern hill said...

OK, NM. You're right. I don't understand.

I don't understand the intention to financially ruin someone for the crime of -- what exactly?

In the depths of my struggles with my landscum, I had no intention of ruining him -- though I found the idea of my causing him some unexpected inconvenience and expense satisfying -- I just wanted to be left in peace and in place.

He started the argy-bargy. My intention was to survive it.

And I did. So in that way, I 'won'.

I guess I have a natural inclination to identify with non-agression. Dawg is very much the aggressor here, both initially in the case in question and in his behaviour towards me and DJ! since.

My suggestion was, I guess, naive. But not ill-intentioned.

And now I think I'm done with this.

Marky Mark said...

Mandos, defamnation suits are about restoring and maintaining one's reputation and not about financially punishing or ruining the defendant. I don't think Dawg pursued it for that goal but more for principle. In any civil litigation a successful plaintiff wins damages, as determined by the court, and does not per se extract a fine as punishment from the unsuccessful defendant.

Dr.Dawg said...

"Dawg is very much the aggressor here, both initially in the case"

Whoops! Mask slipped a tad there.

Námo Mandos said...

MM is right. I put it that way for a reason though: to put the contrast in greater relief. But yes, you're right about the true purpose of such a suit.

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