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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Incitement vs. Determinism

I recently wrote a post (and linked to another) debunking the left's claim that the ideology and rhetoric of the Tea Party, talk radio et al. are to blame for fomenting a "culture of hate" which necessarily leads to violence, i.e., I argued against the idea that the right's vehement opposition to the explosion of government power and debt constitutes incitement to violence. This idea, propounded by liberal pundits and politicians, underlies the various Democratic proposals in support of regulating the Internet, censoring talk radio (excuse me, imposing a "fairness doctrine" on broadcasters), banning so-called "hate speech", and regulating or prohibiting gun ownership.  In fact, I argued, it is the left's political goals, viz. confiscatory taxation, regulation, and the nationalization of major industries, which necessitates the initiation of force against innocent people. 

Another crucial legal and philosophical issue involves the relationship of the legal concept of incitement to the philosophical concepts of determinism and free will.

Determinism is a philosophy which holds that "man is a product of factors outside of his control." In previous posts [1] [2], I analyzed in detail how determinism underlies liberal politics. According to the left, people are conditioned by their circumstances, their "environment", or their race, socio-economic class, or gender. Given this philosophy, it's not hard to grasp the origin of the wild accusations, made in the wake of the Tuscon massacre, that held various politicians, intellectuals, and talk radio hosts to be accessories to murder. The left simply makes a logical connection. If one is conditioned by outside factors (particularly the satanic Fox News Channel), and there is a popular opposition to the government's policies, one will be conditioned to oppose the government. If a democratic politician gets shot, then it is not the fault of the one who pulled the trigger - it is the fault of the ideas which conditioned him and, ultimately, the purveyors of those ideas. Liberal solution: use government force to prevent those propounding such ideas from speaking. Simple, eh?

In contrast, free will is the idea that human beings "have the freedom to think or not think" and that it is "this choice which controls all other choices." Quoting Ayn Rand:

A process of thought is not automatic nor “instinctive” nor involuntary—nor infallible. Man has to initiate it, to sustain it and to bear responsibility for its results. He has to discover how to tell what is true or false and how to correct his own errors; he has to discover how to validate his concepts, his conclusions, his knowledge; he has to discover the rules of thought, the laws of logic, to direct his thinking. Nature gives him no automatic guarantee of the efficacy of his mental effort.
That doesn't mean that people can not be influenced, encouraged, or impeded by their surroundings. Of course, they can, but these factors can not fundamentally force someone to think or not. Free will means that individuals are accountable for their own actions, legally and morally.

Even if you reject the liberal claim, based on determinism, that their opponents' ideology and rhetoric is incitement to violence, can a proponent of free will ever accept the legal concept of "incitement to violence" as being a criminal act? After all, one could ask, if an individual is responsible to think or not to think, how could it ever be crime to incite violence, since the one committing violence could have chosen not to act?  Isn't it always solely the fault of the individual committing the violence and never the individual who incites?

Consider the U.S. Supreme Court's standard for what constitutes incitement under the First Amendment.  Quoting an article from a previous post:
"The imminence requirement [set by the US Supreme Court] sets a high hurdle. Mere advocacy of violence, terrorism or the overthrow of the government is not enough; the words must be meant to, and be likely to, produce violence or lawlessness right away. A fiery speech urging an angry racist mob immediately to assault a black man in its midst probably qualifies as incitement under the First Amendment. A magazine article - or any publication -aimed at stirring up racial hatred surely does not."
This is a valid standard since it recognizes the nature of cognition. Even if it is true that an individual has the ability to think and control his choices, the nature of cognition is such that properly compiling and weighing evidence takes time - time that is not available in the context of incitement. If someone in a crowd arbitrarily yells "that man has a bomb, kill him" he is attempting to convey an immediate threat to others. This claim is part of the action and is meant to produce violence right away against a specific person for no reason. Given the immediacy of the threat, others would be justified in taking action, and if the innocent man was injured, the person who yelled (incited violence) would be culpable. Note that there is a great chasm of difference between one who is directly and imminently plotting murder or inciting a mob to violence and one whose speech is merely critical or even hateful.

If the imminence requirement is not set and the left had their way, logically, no political speech would be allowed since criticism of anything could indirectly lead to violence. If one criticizes the government, it may lead another to not like the government, or may even lead ultimately to one acting violently against the government. So, what exactly could we talk about?

Of course, the First Amendment was not designed to protect people's right to discuss the weather. It was specifically meant to protect the right to express controversial and extreme ideas. The dividing line politically as always should be based on the principle that the government's function is to protect individuals from the initiation of physical force and/or fraud. In this way, the US Supreme Court's standard is eminently reasonable while the unconstitutional and dangerous standard implied by leftist intellectuals is not.


garret seinen said...

Doug, maybe you can elaborate.

I see the left as only accepting determinism partially as, to fully accept determinism one would necessarily be fatalistic rather than blame the right for their problems. They would consider the Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck to lack responsibility for their rhetoric just as Nidal Hasan and Jared Loughtner are held personally blameless for the trigger pulling.

I consider it to be more of the altruist mind-set, that need trumps everything. The independent, self-supporting individual obviously is responsible but the drug-addicted homeless can’t be responsible. As a matter of fact, the rich are rich because they stole the wealth from the helpless poor.

That AR defined reason as the capacity to evaluate contradictions makes it no wonder that the left is riddled with hypocrisy. That they expect malicious free will from the right while absolving their side of thought makes sense only from an irrational point of view. So tell me where I’m seeing it wrong. gs

Anonymous said...

Despite the consequentialism arguments here, which are lacking, you provide no argument for why casual determinism is false. Despite what it may lead to, a lack of moral responsibility is your claim, the logic behind causal determinism is sound. In every case in which man is free from external restraints he chooses what he wants, thus his choice is restricted by what he wants, and what he wants is casually determined by his genetic makeup and past experiences. Therefore, man is casually determined by external factors.