Monopolizing outdoor air

Dear Europe,

It’s been a lovely trip. We hiked in the Austrian Alps, swam in the Baltic sea, and enjoyed the joyful chaos of Fête de la Musique in Berlin.

Despite these beguiling adventures, I remain puzzled. You seem to have given a full monopoly of clear outdoor air to the smokers. Cigarettes still rule your world. For someone under the age of 60 to have fun outdoors, secondhand-smoke comes as the main course.

Even in Iceland’s lovely airport, there was an outdoor smoking quarters. Whither, I ask, is the nonsmoking section, where one can drink in the crisp Icelandic air sans smoke? While I’m stuck with a four-hour layover, I would love to enjoy the fresh air you have to offer, even if I don’t leave Keflavik International Airport. It would be so simple, so forward-thinking, to have a nonsmoking outdoor area, to just enjoy the air. Let’s get on that one.

I keep on hoping that with the 2014 EU Directive on Tobacco, that Europe will decide that incentivizing addiction just weakens the character of its peoples. But here, three years later, there’s no improvement, from my subjective experience. In Switzerland, the smoking epidemic seemed even worse.

While EuroMonitor 2015 says that smoking in Switzerland is decreasing, to 25% (1 out of 4 inhabitants), in transit zones such as train stations, aire libre cafés, and popular outdoor haunts, it feels higher. The Swiss government’s acceptance of smoking by providing smoking spots everywhere is indicative of not really understanding the nature of the beast. They might as well provide regular places to do other drugs too, as at least those other drugs may not harm others the way that smoke does.

Of course, the butt of the joke for an American is that Europeans often chide me for the US ethos of individual freedom and our deleterious trigger-happy gun rights, yet many Europeans regularly dismiss smoking as harmless to self and other. They simply are undereducated. The governments of Europe still allow billboards and advertising, and tobacco imagery is rampant. Prohibiting such bald entrees shoving their addictive cancer-causing products into everyday culture, combined with a strong denormalization campaign stigmatizing smoking could be a powerful countermeasure to produce major social and behavioral change.

Biosemiotic Ethics special issue of ZfS

I’m happy to announce that the Biosemiotic Ethics special issue in the Zeitschrift für Semiotik I co-edited with Morten Tønnessen and Jonathan Beever has come out. It’s got the great semiotician John Deeley‘s last article in it he wrote before passing, and we dedicated the issue to him.

On behalf of the editors, I’m very satisfied with how this special issue came together, with contributions on this relevant subject from John Deely, Jonathan Beever and Morten Tønnessen, Andreas Weber, myself, Hans Werner Ingensiep, Jessica Ullrich, Konrad Ott, and an interview with Wendy Wheeler.

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The special issue is printed with half of the articles in English and half in German. My article appears in German (but with enough Latin and French words as to make it intercultural) as Interspezies-Ethik: Der modus vivendi inter-organismischer semiotischer Milieus.

N.B. The journal staff, because they are behind on issues, marked this as appearing for their 2015 issue, even though it was published in May 2017.

Speaking at the Creative Edge Conference

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I’m honored to be presenting on “The Ecological Self: Harnessing the Power of Our Interspecies Nature for Good” alongside Flow author and psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi this Saturday, May 13th 2017 at the Creative Edge Conference organized by West LA College.

I’ll be speaking during  the Creative Space Session during 10:45am – 12:20pm.

The WEST TALKS, in the spirit of the TED Talk series, aim to expose students and the public to avant-garde ideas that can help transform the notions under which we operate as a society. Creativity, thinking diagonally, will give us the tools to confront the systemic breakdowns we currently face, and allow us to create better alternatives with finesse and elegance.

The Conference is free with RSVP. Click here to download a PDF of the Conference.

 

 

 

Bernie Sanders is bandwagoning on Ann Coulter Berkeley Debacle

Vermont US Senator Bernie Sanders’ remarks calling for UC Berkeley to go ahead and permit the alt-right darling Ann Coulter speak despite the recent violence of neonazis descending on Berkeley and harming local citizens have been spread across the internet by right-wing and politically correct gatekeeper pundits.

Sanders is quoted as saying, “Obviously Ann Coulter’s outrageous ― to my mind, off the wall. But you know, people have a right to give their two cents-worth, give a speech, without fear of violence and intimidation.” This claim itself is innocuous. What philosophers should be more circumspect of is his claim that

Taken out of context, as a disembodied principle, letting people speak their piece, and being a good listener are of course basic principles of decency that should only be contravened in exceptional circumstances.

But the times we are in are not innocuous. Black people are dying. Women are being forced to have babies they don’t want and can’t take care of. Hispanic people are being deported. Islamic people are enduring hate-crimes and denied entry to the US. LGBTQ people are being killed, harassed, and institutionally discriminated against. These are not events that arose out of thin air, but are the product of speech–speech which has led to hate, which has led to violence. Pretending that there is no correlation between the unleashing of hate speech and violent hate acts is a grave mistake.

Especially in light of recent violence as a result of UC Berkeley allowing alt-right hate groups to sponsor bigot Milo Yiannopoulos, and that expensive, failed fiasco, and the descent of neonazis nationwide on Berkeley two weekends ago, causing bloodshed, violence, and property destruction, it makes sense for UC Berkeley to learn from its mistakes of forcing on the local community hateful people and prevent people such as Coulter who spread disease vectors of violence through their hate memes. Quarantining infectious diseases of hate memes is the responsibility of government and universities, as well as informed, aware citizens.

We get specious sentences, like this one from Inquisitr that “A non-partisan group originally invited Coulter to Berkeley for a speech on April 27.” Drilling a little deeper, Young Americans for Freedom, a wing of the Young American Foundation, is a Koch brothers front-group. The same people that brought you the Tea Party alt-right and Trump, also bring you Young Americans for Freedom, a perverse euphemism if ever there was one. And this group is the real force between the Coulter scandal. Alt-right billionaires are puppeteering foolish youth into doing their bidding for them to create scandal and to confuse the over-apologetic progressive center. Running such a disinformation campaign, where hate speech becomes allowed and spread like the virus that it is, while constraining the rights of peaceful protesters is the perverse sense of freedom that these UC Berkeley front groups are perpetuating, whether they are aware of it or not. Meanwhile, Berkeley college Republicans declare “the Free Speech Movement is dead,” another opportunistic abuse of the Civil Rights Movement to promote hate speech.

Sanders, I’m sure, did not make his comments in light of recent events. On this account, he is simply mistaken that saying NO to parasitic elements is a “sign of intellectual weakness.”  I’m not sure who Sanders’ publicist is who encouraged him to fall into this alt-right trap, but his moral high ground should not be eroded over a misunderstanding of the stakes of this issue, in light of the context of recent events.

While those unschooled in making distinctions tend to default to the knee-jerk response that not inviting detestable people and their divisive and violence-inducing hate speech into their home, their habitat, the communities in which they live, is censorship, let them be reminded that no one has the right to say whatever they want wherever they want. You can preach to your own choir as much as you want; but if you want into my church, I’m going to vet you first–thoroughly. If I yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, that’s creating a situation of malicious harm, and I am culpable for the consequences. People like Coulter should also be liable for any hate acts following their hate speech. To conflate speech as any speech, is to abuse the ideals of democracy and the sanctity of words. It is to make war by other means. To feign innocence while one’s actions cause violent acts by those moved by the passions stirred up by those words. Fanning the flames of hate is as bad as the ensuing acts that follow from those words. Words and deeds go inextricably hand-in-hand. We ignore this simple fact at our own peril.

So I urge Sanders, and all other thinking people to think a little deeper.

The counter-argument–if we don’t give people like Coulter a forum, then maybe other people in other places won’t give us a forum–is, I believe, the underlying concern most good-hearted but misguided people have in their strategic apologetics for the free screech fallacy. They treat all language as equal, or equally deserving listening, because they fail to differentiate between public-good-oriented speech, and destructive speech. Of course, the fear boils down to: but who is the arbiter of such speech? Who decides what is hateful and what is helpful? It’s like US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s controversial definition of porn: I know it when I see it.

Differences are a healthy component of a pluralistic democracy. However, “some differences are asserted so irrationally that debate is foreclosed, and those differences, while they must be tolerated in a free society, must also be denounced by all right- thinking persons. Hate speech-speech directed against women, Jews, blacks, and gays-falls into the second category,” writes Stanley Fish. Like Jürgen Habermas’ refusal to allow religious fundamentalists a legitimate place in his constitutional republic because they “claim exclusiveness for a privileged way of life” that precludes “civilized debate … in which one party can recognize the other parties as co-combatants in the search for authentic truths,” so too must hate speech by divisive self-proclaimed bigots be excluded from the fora of academics, politics, and civilized life.

Amy Gutmann, among others, classifies hate speech as a different form of speech than regular speech,

Milo Yiannopoulos’s threat that he will “return Berkeley to its rightful place as the home of free speech — whether university administrators and violent far-left antifa thugs like it or not” sounds like a threat of violence.  What if Greenpeace said, “We are going to stop the rape of the earth fossil fuel companies are perpetuating, whether these companies or the corporate shills in government like it or not?” I’m guessing if they tried to do this, they would (1) be unsuccessful, and (2) be met with violent opposition. Why should alt-right thugs like Yiannopoulos and Coulter (who self-describes herself as a “mean-spirited, bigoted conservative”) be treated any differently? Why should democrats and city officials roll over, play dead, and let neofascists steamroll them and what they have built? I know I don’t want my taxpayer dollars going to such nonsense.

As Oliver Wendell Holmes in Abrams v. United States declared hate speech as that speech “fraught with death,” anyone compounding existing structural inequalities by calling for more structural inequality or bigotry against those historically beaten down by the white supremacist patriarchy ought to be censured from inclusion into the community of discourse.

I’ll end  by citing a passage from Stanley Fish in his essay Boutique Multiculturalism, or Why Liberals Are Incapable of Thinking about Hate Speech:

“Banishing hate speakers from your little conversation leaves them all the freer to pursue their deadly work in the dark corners from which you have averted your fastidious eyes. Gutmann’s instinct to exclude is the right one; it is just that her gesture of exclusion is too tame-it amounts to little more than holding her nose in disgust-and falls far short of wounding the enemy at its heart. A deeper wound will only be inflicted by methods and weap- ons her liberalism disdains: by acts of ungenerosity, intolerance, perhaps even repression, by acts that respond to evil not by tolerating it–in the hope that its energies will simply dissipate in the face of scorn-but by trying to stamp it out.”