Thursday, March 19, 2015

Torbjörn Tännsjö - yttrandefriheten i trängt läge

Torbjörn Tännsjö - the freedom of expression getting caught in a corner (or something like that, can't find words that exactly translates the Swedish ones)
The text in gray is parentheses/thoughts.

On 18th February Torbjörn Tännsjö held a lecture at the philosophical association in Uppsala, the association organizes a couple of lectures each semester, that this lecture was going to happen was called out shortly after the Charlie incident in Paris and it sounded like it could be really fun/interesting and a lot of other people thought so as well cause this was held in a big hall (instead of the usual classroom) and it was almost full.
Apparently he's a bit famous as well, professor in practical philosophy in Stockholm and engaged in public political discussions, he just made a book about utilitarianism (I think) and surprisingly called it Fatta! (translated: Get it!) which is the name of a movement that has been around for a couple of years and is focused on spreading awareness on sexual violence and everyday sexism, and also promoting consent-laws.
I went there with Robin and sat next to a classmate from the self-knowledge course, most of the teachers for the institute were there as well.

 Tännsjö starts with presenting what he thinks would be ideal, no legal restraints on saying or writing anything at all in anyway. He gives the example that he thinks people should get to call homosexuals "cancer of the society" and that that should be fine, that more weight should be put into the difference between talking about an action and doing the action, aka. anyone should be able to say "I hope all homosexuals die" how ever much they want as long as they don't kill anyone themselves.
What about the research that has proven that saying something makes you progressively think that that action is completely fine? and when you think it's fine to say someone should die then you are less likely to intervene if you see someone being killed and you are also way more likely to even kill someone yourself (lots of research right now is about proving again and again how much what we say and hear our environments say influence what we do, and here we have a professor involved in contemporary politics trying to imply that we should pretend that's nothing important?

He goes on to talk about laws about holocaust denial, that those should also be removed for the greater good of getting to question everything equally and never getting any dogmas. He gives an example that a holocaust denier recently held an official discussion about the holocaust where oppositors were debating him on it and that that was something good.

I do not see why that would be good at all, it is not to make anything a dogma when officially stating that something has happened and making it illegal to harass the people who were the victims (and if you look at who usually says it should be okay to harass anyone it's almost exclusively people who themselves aren't the target for any kind of harassment). There is actually no good reason at all to standardly doubt anyone claiming to be victim of a crime, so why not let there be a law to protect those and remove it when the law is unnecessary instead of arguing that it's unnecessary now when there are a huge amount of people who are being protected by it?

He goes on to keep saying pretty careless stuff about a lot of things like "there should be nothing wrong with writing "whore" to someone on facebook, social media bullying should not be illegal".

Then he says "if you are naked in the park outside here, and you get raped, then you are partly responsible for that rape, you should not have been naked then and there" and added "but maybe that's a thing I shouldn't say so maybe you should all forget that I said that, haha"
I immediately said so everyone could hear "you can't say something like that and then just dismiss it just like that", he replied "yea maybe your right" but continued with similar things so I got really frustrated with the whole thing and left the lecture hall and Robin left too.
After I calmed down a bit Robin decided to go home but I thought it would be better if I instead took this chance to talk back at this kind-of-famous and influential person saying really awful stuff.
So I went back in and the lecture was over and he was now taking questions.

There were a lot of questions, or more precisely a lot of critique, so it took a while before I got to say anything, but the other people there seemed also to have good questions and Torbjörn didn't have good answers.
When I got my turn I started with explaining that there is a lot of research that is showing that we get very effected by our environments and even that the difference of saying an opinion outloud effects us to like that opinion more even if we might not have agreed with it before hearing someone saying it, and that this was an argument against his claim that it would be for the greater good of everyone if there were no laws restricting freedom of speach.
He answered that he believes that it isn't actually hurting anyone to just say opinions on things and that cyber bullying exists, eventhou it's illegal, is an example of why the restricting laws are useless and that it would be better for everyone if no one is legally threatened to publish anything at all.
I replied that, for example, in USA there are a lot of states that don't forbid hate speach against HBTQ people, and in those places there are also a lot of murders and suicides of HBTQ people because the hate that they see around them effects them so much that life is a lot harder or for some impossible to live. Where it is illegal to publicly state any HBTQ hate those people who are getting killed or killing them selves wouldn't die/aren't dyeing cause they are not exposed to that everyday hate. Clear example of real difference cause of the restricting laws.
He tried to explain it away, to not really answer, and to say that it was for the greater good.
I said that when it is clear that these laws are really protecting people, and that the laws are put in place after a long fight for them to exist by the people that are protected by them, why then would it be necessary to argue for them to be removed before the need for them has passed, why would this be a point worth arguing for?
He just said he hadn't heard of that research or thought about those arguments, and then just stood silent for a bit before the moderator said we should take the next question. 
If you want to express opinions, especially publicly as a public person, then you should really know what you are talking about, this isn't research that has just come up in the last year (just a minute on gives me papers that touch this subject that dates back 15 years) and as he based so much of his argument on that no one really gets hurt by hate-speech he should have looked up if that was even true?
I put myself on the list for another question.
A woman in front of me asked: if you are a woman in India, and it doesn't matter if you are naked or not, you still can get raped anytime you go on or of a bus, and you have no choice but to take a bus everyday if you want to have any chance at... he interrupted her and said that the woman was part at fault for being there, she could chose not to take the bus.
A couple of more people asked questions that he answered just as they expected, against what almost most political activists (more specifically feminists) has worked against recently.
He gave an other example, that you're just out walking and you say "hi" to a random person and then that person kills you cause s/he was homicidal and waiting for any trigger, I loudly point out that that is the exact same principle as the naked-in-a-park example, and he said that this is also partly your fault cause you shouldn't have talked to that person then and there.
He says that he kind of supports "blame the victim" principles and adding "haha", but I felt that most of the audience was pretty critical to all he said so I didn't feel the need to do anything more than shake my head.
I don't understand how he can have gotten this far with these ideas when he can't answer on any of the critique on it? Maybe by just doing this like this, and then continue to get invited to hold events and positions cause he doesn't write on his merits that he just talks away/ignores the critique.
He ended the questioning period 20 minutes early (even thou there was still a whole lot of people who hadn't gotten to ask their questions yet).

After each lecture organized by the philosophical association there is an invite to go to the institution and drink alcohol and talk about the lecture subject (or something else), and since I was still frustrated with him getting to say all these stupid things and also be a professor I decided to also go back to the institution to at least get to ask some of the questions I hadn't gotten to ask yet.
When we were leaving the hall he was walking by him self so I went up to him right away.
I said "the name of your book is Fatta!" and he said right away, "I know it's some other organisations name as well and that they were known before I wrote it, maybe I should've checked that before I named my book".
I was abrupted by his answer, so I just said "yea you should've", but I had wanted to also ask why he would chose that name at all if it wasn't to try to get his book more seen for people googleing that organisation? It doesn't fit with his attitude, it doesn't fit with the content of the book, what other reason could he have to name it that?
Next I asked him why he had used as an example of internet bullying that you can be called "whore" on facebook, I said that it didn't make sense that he, as an older man, would use that example, it would be more fitting to use maybe "disgusting old creep". He said he had used that example cause he had heard it at his dinner table from one of his daughters but he also agreed with my argument.
I continued arguing that it doesn't make sense that he uses so many examples for his arguing that there is no risk ever for him to experience, and that the specific examples are really awful. I said that it is easy for him to say that it is partly the victims fault if they get raped for being naked in a park at night, when there is practically no risk for him ever getting raped, even if he was completely naked in that park for a long time (I'm not saying men can't get raped, just that the circumstances for that happening are vastly different). I said that at least if he was going to argue that the victim is in anyway responsible for what happens to them that he should mainly use the example where you unknowingly get yourself killed by speaking to a murderer instead as that shows the exact same point but the risk of someone in the audience having had a similar experience is much much lower while the one he used now probably, statistically, made about 10 people in the audience hurt.
He said that again he used that example cause it had come up at his dinner table (and that he was angry at his daughter for saying that she should be able to go outside naked without being scared of rapists), but that he understands my point and that he is going to remember that for the future.
As Robin had told me earlier that Tännsjö is kind of known to say things provocatively by intention I wanted to test that/have fun so I asked him
"If you use the rape example instead of the murder one, as the murder one makes more sense for you to use, it seems like you just want to provoke for no reason, and you don't want that do you?"
He said no and was a bit bothered.

We arrived at the institution and were almost the first ones there so I continued with asking him about his comment on Mill.
He had talked a bit about Mill's text and thoughts on utilitarianism and said that Mill has clearly focused on some parts instead of the whole, but that was probably cause Mill was so interested with the "intellectual" parts, I said that I don't see why he would use that word when just saying that Mill was privileged enough to just not be conscious of the problems of making those wide generalizations is more suitable? he was trying to excuse Mill from lack of better analysis and I didn't want to let him. But he didn't seem to understand what I meant... but my friend and some other people had also arrived now and sat down at our table. (I should have asked about it when he first said it...)
The subject of what "blame" means came up, we tried to get him to say exactly what he meant when he wants to "blame the victim", but he really didn't want to answer and managed to avoid doing that pretty good, we asked in a lot of different ways and at least got out of him that he didn't actually mean that the victim was guilty of anything or to blame for anything, just that the victim is in someway involved with the incident, and that's not something anyone is questioning? If I get killed it is obvious that the situation is dependent on me being there but why would anyone try to say that by saying "blame the victim"?? We also tried to make him understand/answer on the bigger implications of that attitude: that if I get killed for saying hi to someone and it doesn't matter at all that I had no way of knowing that that was going to happen, how far back does that go? Is it my landlords fault as well for sending me a letter that arrived today that made me leave home 5 minutes later and therefore bumping saying hi to this person who then killed me? And if he wants people to think like this, that they are somehow responsible for whatever may happen when they leave their homes, does he not realize that that would probably result in no one leaving their homes? 
If nothing protects journalists from getting killed doing dangerous stories (there are now laws protecting journalists in those situations, he wants them gone as well), (almost) no one would do those stories!
He just continued to avoiding answering us and answering on questions we didn't ask.
He repeatedly changed the example to the murder one whenever someone came and wanted to talk about his statement on rape, which is at least something, but if I was anywhere close to as diffuse with arguments in my studies as he has been this evening I wouldn't even pass on to advanced level. 

I don't think it's good praxis to excuse people with higher merits from useful standards, if anything they should be held more responsible to follow the standards as they are setting the example for the students.
(sure I haven't read anything written by him, and maybe he just didn't feel like answering too many questions just this evening, but that's not very likely the reason for my very not-good impression of him as he wouldn't have held a lecture with an hour set a side for questioning if he didn't want to answer some questions, come along to the institution if he didn't want to continue to talk a bit, and he could also easily have excused himself from me/my table if he rather wanted to talk with someone else, but instead he stayed at our table for about an hour and when I stood up and said I was going to sleep he said he should leave right away as well (don't know if he did as I just left immediately).) Maybe he's much better at writing than speaking.

I wanted to share this with so many details cause it was a fun experience for me, and could also be interesting for others who have heard of him.
I didn't really feel like myself, I took a role that I felt was needed in the situation and then just continued with it, I interrupted people a lot both in the lecture and later around the table but everyone just let me? so I went with it.