Current Events

Part of My Letter to URI’s President Dooley

…it’s an abuse of language to infer he was actually making actionable threats against anyone. As the president of the University of Rhode Island, it is your responsibility not to throw your faculty under the bus in the face of external pressure. By saying that URI “does not condone acts or threats of violence” and then immediately saying, “These remarks do not reflect the views of the institution…,” you create the impression that you agree Prof. Loomis was indeed making threats. I look forward to seeing your public apology to Prof. Loomis for your misbehavior.

Background here and here.

Ken at Popehat writes:


Professor Loomis Is No Hero

I started this post by saying that there are no good guys in this story, and I meant it. Erik Loomis is no hero. He’s no free speech martyr.

It’s not just because he likes hyperbole about killing people who disagree with him — though that is hardly a way to encourage the marketplace of ideas. No, what I find the most repulsive about Erik Loomis is that he equates petitioning the government for the redress of grievances with murder and terrorism — a point on which he continued to double down even after he had time to cool off and retreat from his violent hyperbole.He echoed that even in his self-justifying post about his experience:

Do I want to see Wayne LaPierre punished in the way many of us wanted to see Tony Hayward punished during the BP oil spill or the way many of us wanted to see Dick Cheney punished during the Iraq War. Of course. That would mean real accountability for causing immeasurable harm to families, nations, and/or nature. Do I think the National Rifle Association is culpable for the murders of thousands of people in the United States and Mexico because of the policies they support? Yes. Do I think it is reasonable to call the National Rifle Association a terrorist organization? Although obviously using more than a little hyperbole, yes. It is defensible precisely because the polices they support facilitate the terror unleashed in Newtown, at the Clackamas Town Center, at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, at the theater in Aurora, at Columbine.

But here’s the thing: in America, under the First Amendment, we hold people “culpable” for their effective policy advocacy by becoming a more effective advocate and convincing our leaders to move in another direction, or by convincing our fellow citizens to vote them out.

My position is in-between Ken’s and Loomis’s. I don’t want to get into a gun control debate, so let’s take a different, hypothetical issue. Suppose we are debating nuking Tuvalu, just for fun. To advocate nuking Tuvalu is rotten, but it doesn’t make you a murderer, even if the government later nukes Tuvalu. However, if you vote for the political party that (you should know) intends to nuke Tuvalu, then you typically* are morally responsible for their deaths. (So, for instance, most 2012 Obama voters will be partly responsible for the children he will murder over the next four years.)

So, if Loomis wants to call LaPierre a murderer, he should peg it on LaPierre’s voting behavior, not his speech. Also, certain forms of lobbying go beyond mere speech and are similarly culpable. Perhaps Loomis has these in mind. Loomis would need to defend other claims as well, such as the claim that our gun ownership laws are unjust, etc.

*I say typically because there can be an escape clause here if you’re engaging in justified strategic voting.

At any rate, this whole episode confirms my desire to title my fifth book Civic Enemies.

  • Rick

    It’s amazing how this tragedy has been diverted to a discussion on gun ownership. The real focus should be on how money comes into being and how private money issuers support companies that produce poorly tested and dishonestly monitored psychotropic drugs (which are presently heavily marketed for use by children). Most of these drugs would never survive in an economy that was truly free and open.

    • Sean II

      I’m no fan of those drugs myself, but at the moment the only thing I’ve definitely and dangerously overdosed on, is people telling me what “the real story” of Newton is supposed to be.

    • “The real focus should be on how money comes into being”


      • Rick

        Americans are presently living like an isolated “company town” or ship at sea (but on a huge historically unprecedented scale), where the company board (the Fed) controls almost every aspect of life within its jurisdiction through the use of private company “scrip.” And judging by the response to the Newtown tragedy the board wants more legalized drugs for its inhabitants, and less gun ownership rights.

        • Kyle Nearhood

          I have seen no movement by the “elite” of society to increase the availability and use of drugs of any kind.

          • Rick

            There’s a strong trend, which will be reinforced by the Newtown tragedy, towards classifying almost every conceivable psychological discomfort, disorder or annoyance as a “chemical imbalance” in the brain which requires psychotropic drugs, but first it must be classified and labeled as a disorder in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders):

          • Rick

            In fact, some psychiatrist somewhere is probably thinking up a DSM label and psychotropic drug for us libertarians.

          • Sean II

            They already have that. It’s called “oppositional defiant disorder”. The good news is it’s easily treatable through the application of physical force.

          • Rick

            I thought you made that up and you were kidding, but “ODD” is actually in the DSM. (Libertarians are basically screwed if we don’t start taking legal action instead of just complaining and philosophizing.)

          • Rick

            Apparently they want pathologize introverted thinkers, too. It’s called “introverted personality disorder” (or IPD):

  • anomdebus

    I think your hypothetical is loaded unless you can show LaPierre voted to allow crazy people the right to shoot up schools.

    • I’m not saying LaPierre is responsible for murder. I’m just saying that if you want to peg him as partly responsible for the Sandy Hook deaths, you’ll need to start with his voting behavior (or perhaps certain forms of lobbying that go beyond speech), not his speech. You then need to defend a number of other claims to make the accusation stick.

      • anomdebus

        Ok, it just came across to me like it was meant as an apt comparison to LaPierre.

        Considering that he is not a legislator, most of his activities are speech and his voting responsibility can only be as great as any other citizen voter.

      • Hume22

        Very strange view. If through public deliberation and debate you influence 100 to vote but refrain yourself, things are ok, but if you vote yourself, then you are morally culpable. I find this view implausible. Even in a demcracy, “democratic” action in the political realm is much more than just voting, and “political acts” in non-democratic utopia of rule-by-the-elite is also more than just direct voting in an assembly. After all, as an intelligentsia you will recognize your finite cognitive ability and seek the ideas and advice of others with much different view points (unless youre yosemite sam-like Brian Leiter with a napolean complex).

  • Xeno of Citium

    My thinking is much more in line with the comments on Popehat. The major problem I have, which I haven’t seen mentioned, is that I found it totally callous and near indefensible to condemn violent acts through violent rhetoric directed at a person and a group who are quite indirectly (at best) culpable. It strike me even something akin to wishing the entire Penn State student body and administration had their children raped because of what Jerry Sandusky did. It was intellectually lazy and stupid.

    Moreover, I think that we ought to condemn people that seek to short circuit real discussion though emotional appeals and fallacious logic. (It is a call back to the paid Sophists of ancient Greece, who sought to arouse the emotions of the public simply to win the argument.) Plus, as I see it, his speech was aimed at chilling the speech of others. Now dressing him in the righteous cloak of the right free speech seems to be giving him the very benefit he wanted to deny others. I understand that as a legal matter, he didn’t waive his free speech rights by being anti-free speech, but from a moral or ethical perspective, it is hard to have any sympathy for him.

    If I denied him tenure it would be for those reasons–not because I thought he was truly calling for violent action.