Saturday, May 13, 2017

Moving Markets

The on-again off-again affair between Southern states and the Confederate battle flag reveals just how slowly racial justice moves in this regard. Despite evidence that its revival as a symbol of white supremacy coincided with the Civil Rights Movement, the flag means only "tradition" and "heritage" to its supporters. In 2016, discussion of a problematic poll revealed that attitudes toward the Washington professional football team's mascot are wildly inconsistent. Until we critically examine how our opinion of the mascot is a function of our own social conditioning — like celebrating Columbus Day, being a lifelong sports fan, having no American Indian friends — we can never be objective consumers of ideas about it.
Hate Speech And The Misnomer Of 'The Marketplace Of Ideas'
I'm dubious about this statement, because it carries an undertone that equates "objective" with "right thinking." It also assumes things about the meanings of words. I, as a Black person, can assume all I want that some dude flying a giant battle flag of the Army of Virginia from his truck would like nothing more than to re-fight the Civil War, and upon winning the rematch, form the southeaster United States into a new nation that enslaves every Black person it can lay hands on, but that assumption doesn't have to bear any real relationship to the truth. A person's romantic notions of the Lost Cause of the Confederate States of America doesn't have to be the least bit grounded in reality in order to be sincerely held. (And if they are insincerely held, that {to me, anyway} becomes proof that ideals of racial supremacy and apartheid government are held in enough distaste that people will not admit to them. Given that we live in a world that is not ideal, I'll take that.)
Racist hate speech has come to emblemize free speech protections because the parties it injures lack social power. Students of color are expected to endure insults to their identities at the same time that celebrities win multi-million dollar defamation settlements and media companies scrupulously guard their intellectual property against plagiarism.
I don't know if I understand someone calling me "nigger" is as bad as falsely labeling someone a criminal or a cheat. Likewise, I don't know that being referred to as a "coon" carries the same legal ramifications as taking someone else's work and passing it off as one's own. But more importantly, this formulation presumes that to be non-White is to be, in a sense, outlawed. I suspect that I could win a defamation settlement if someone were to, say, knowingly falsely claim that I murdered someone. Likewise, were someone to lift my words from Nobody In Particular, and in passing them off as their own, somehow make money in so doing, I could go after them for plagiarism. The chief obstacle I would have in these cases is not the color of my skin or my presumed continent of origin, but the fact that litigation is expensive, and few people are dim enough to act in a way that the case against them is ironclad enough that an attorney would be willing to work for little more than a share of the payout.

The issue with "the marketplace of ideas" is not that the government regulates it to the detriment of women, non-Whites and/or sexual minorities. Rather, the issue is that there is a belief that "right" ideas are obviously and fundamentally better products than "wrong" ideas. But this is no more true of ideas than it is of anything else. The issue with "Hate Speech And The Misnomer Of 'The Marketplace Of Ideas'" is that it assumes that there is an obviously right answer, and therefore, the "goodness" or "badness" of an idea can be determined by how it aligns to that answer.

But, as I used to remind an ex of mine, there is more than one road that leads to Rome. She was disturbed by the idea of skinning cats, and so I didn't use that saying when she was within earshot. Now, it's possible to take that as proof that what's needed is a at least some anger or confrontation on the part of distressed people to influence others to change, but in the end, it came down to a simple calculation on my part. Since this was my girlfriend, I wanted her to like me, and like spending time with me. She wouldn't do that if I was going to randomly squick her out by talking about skinning cats (which she liked much more than I do). So I created a new saying - because there was something in it for me.

And that's what's missing from the marketplace of ideas - the idea that the "correct" idea still needs to be treated as a product. Even if they can't articulate it well, or at all, the Redskins fan who supports the team keeping the name or the pseudo-Confederate who decorates their home with the flags of defeated armies or defunct states derive something from those practices that have meaning and value for them. To really compete with them in the Marketplace of Ideas, the concepts that boosters hold up as "good" ideas have to bring just as much value and meaning to the table. Rather than presuming that people pass on forcing the Redskins to change their name or seeing flags of the Confederacy as standing for "tradition" and "heritage" as indicative of a failure of those people to be "objective," perhaps people would do better to see them as one would any other marketable commodity, and ask what benefit the would-be customer will derive from purchasing them.

No comments: