February 5, 2016

When you broaden the meaning of a word, Lena Dunham, can we hold you to that meaning... at least until the end of a sentence?

Calling for "new codes of conduct" on Twitter and drawing us in with the assertion that she is "experiencing violent bullying in the internet," she said:
“I think it’s important to remember that threats are more than someone saying I’m going to come to your house and I’m going to hurt you... Insulting someone’s appearance, insulting someone’s religion, or their race, you know, all of that to me constitutes a threat and I think we can make changes to how we control that dialogue on the internet without threatening our First Amendment rights.”
So, you want a broad definition for "threat," going beyond what you called "violent bullying." (I'm going to guess that "violent bullying" refers to words of violence — like "kill" and "rape" — directed at a particular individual and not restricted to a context where the target is going to need to worry that the the violence will occur.) You want "threat" to cover insults of all kinds, including the banal remarks about how somebody looks and the politically important critiques of religion. Then you want to avoid "threatening our First Amendment rights." But if I accept your meaning of the word "threat," then you are already threatening our First Amendment rights.

This word game works both ways. 

I don't know if Dunham was thinking in terms of the actual law, but she did say "First Amendment." "First Amendment" understood narrowly only refers to what the government might do to us. Since Twitter is a private company, no control of the dialogue by Twitter can threaten First Amendment rights, if we stick to the narrow idea. Therefore, we can even adopt Dunham's definition of "threat" and say there can never be a threat to First Amendment rights, no matter how restrictive of speech Twitter becomes, because our oppressor is a private corporation.

"First Amendment" is already too narrow a term for the threat under discussion. We need to say "freedom of speech." This is a topic I've discussed at length elsewhere on this blog — notably here — so I'll stop this post now.

ADDED: Here I am in March 2011 fighting hard for my position that we need to care about what private enterprises can do to our freedom of speech:

62 comments:

David Begley said...

Could this Lena Dunham person please go away? Along with those Kardashisan people.

Shouting Thomas said...

Women are obviously too dainty, too easily offended and too weak to compete in the public arena.

They should be kept locked up at home, and allowed out only in the company of a male relative, whilst clad in a burqa.

machine said...

I totally agree with Begley...

AprilApple said...
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Tarrou said...

The left brooks no criticism. They have no argument, no logic, no science, no dialectic even anymore. All they have is the whining, babyish assertion that they are above criticism.

They have all the moral gravity of a fat white trash toddler throwing a fit in a Wal-Mart.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

I am bothered by how many folks in this country can't seem to separate "the first amendment" and "freedom of expression." The first applies, as Althouse points out, only to government control. Freedom of expression is broader, applies to everyone and everything and is a critically important component of a free and intellectually vigorous society. Those who are interested in the latter ought to be advocating for more freedom of expression and tolerance of all ideas, in all arenas: academic, corporate, and more. It bothers me when folks defend attacks on freedom of expression by saying "well, the first amendment only applies to government, so it's totally OK that the Twitter mob didn't like what Bob Jones said and got him fired from his job." We have to work very hard to maintain the idea that it's OK for people to express themselves and their views in ways that bother others and still participate in society.

AprilApple said...

She is free to support her private server criminal. Ain't America grand?

Amy said...

Why does anyone care what Lena Dunham thinks or says? She's not even 30 yet, and outside of some success in the entertainment industry, what makes her opinion more valuable or worthy of our time and attention than anybody else's?
Is there some memo I missed that attributed an unusual level of wisdom to her?

Laslo Spatula said...

Fat Chick doesn't like things said about her on Internet.

I'm sure this is quite the Demographic.

I am Laslo.

Tank said...

Amy said...

Why does anyone care what Lena Dunham thinks or says?


In this case because she is signaling a new tool in the SJW toolbox, the Code of Conduct, an innocent sounding thing actually designed to purge the "bad" people, or as FF would say about Tank, the racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, Muslim hating bigots. Or, anyone they don't agree with or think is PC enough. Yes, beware the Code of Conduct. A tool to shut you up. If you're interested in this, there is lots of discussion about it at Vox Day's Blog.

campy said...

"I don't know if Dunham was thinking in terms of the actual law ..."

Dunham is not thinking at all. She's a feminist (and an idiot); she's emoting.

Ann Althouse said...

I myself am a private entity with some power to control speech here on this forum. You can get your own blog if you have things to say that don't pass moderation. But you may note that I don't suppress viewpoint and I allow very vigorous speech. I mainly use moderation to exclude a small handful of people — less than 5 — about whom I have formed the irrevocable belief that they are out to destroy this blog. If you see that your posts, whatever they are, however seemingly like other comments, are continually deleted, then you know you are one of those people. You need to stop posting. Find something else to do with your urge to express yourself. Continued posting here is, from my perspective, harassing me. If you are reading this, and you continue to post, you are deliberately harassing me. You know who you are.

tim in vermont said...

I wonder if quoting her book accurately is a threat to her too? Obviously it is, it is a threat to her desired constructed public persona.

tim in vermont said...

Maybe Lena is taking this whole white privilege thing way too seriously and assuming she has privileges she actually doesn't?

tim in vermont said...

That's a very fetching still from blogginheads, BTW.

Mark Nielsen said...

So all that stuff said four years ago (and continuing since) about Romney's religion was actually threatening, huh?

Shouting Thomas said...

The prof is, indeed, a champion of free speech.

JAORE said...

Poor little Lena can not understand that, by her definition, she has "threatened" hundreds of people. Not the least of these the "Republican" boy who raped her - but didn't - when she was in college.

But, then, she does not seem capable of seeing humanity in those that do not share her malleable world view.

Quinn Satterwaite said...

" the assertion that she is "experiencing violent bullying in the internet,""


Can we talk about the definition of "violence" then? It seems to being redefined as well to something that you dislike, but contains no actual violence.

jacksonjay said...

Amy said:

Why does anyone care what Lena Dunham thinks or says?

Professor Althouse cares very deeply what Gotta Pee Lil Lena thinks and says. Gotta Pee seems to be the voice of the very important Millenial Generation. I believe that she has been referred to as a "genius" on this very forum. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both seem to think that Lena Dunham is an important voice. So Amy, don't be so quick to dismiss this young champion of the First Amendment.

tim in vermont said...

@Quinn,
Do you think at that Iowa Writers Workshop that they will teach her stuff like "what words mean"?

dbp said...

"The more Lena Dunham talks, the more she raises the question: Is her entire career and persona an ingenious undercover scheme dreamed up by a GOP operative specifically to discredit Millennials, feminists, and progressives? Is she the Manchurian Girl?"

I think it is more likely that she is merely a knee-jerk leftist who has never had an out-of-the-box thought in her life. But Kyle Smith's thesis is possible.

Lena Dunham: The Manchurian Girl

Chris N said...

Hey Althouse, I deeply appreciate the blog, and what you've done to stand-up for more accurate understandings of our 1st amendment, while being a fine example of briad and free speech.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

This puts you at odds with many 3rd wave feminists especially, and many angry, fairly unhinged people.

Rick said...

I think we can make changes to how we control that dialogue on the internet without threatening our First Amendment rights.”

...she said safe in the understanding authorities would never apply such control to her own dialogue due to her combination of celebrity status and leftist in good standing.

Laslo Spatula said...

This will all be much easier when we all have to file for First Amendment Permits.

After all, it works for the Second Amendment...

I am Laslo.

Roy Jacobsen said...

Stupid little whinger, that Dunham chick. Does she really think that we can't see what her game is?

Nichevo said...

Ah, perspective. Have you tried asking nicely?

From one perspective, you have already lost the war. You have changed the blog in response to the "destroyers."

Laslo Spatula said...

,First Amendment Permit.

Applying for Permit for: (select one)
__ Verbal Speech
__ Internet
__ Internal Thought
__ Bumper Sticker

Select One or More of the Following. I am:
__Female
__Black
__Hispanic
__Gay
__Transgender
__White Male

Have you ever been accused of:
__ Racism?
__ Sexism?
__ Homophobia?
__ Otherism?
__ Generalized Hate?

If so, please write explanation of how you will prevent such behavior from occurring again:
____________________________

Please list three recommendations from People whom we can contact for supporting your Request. Recommendations from People of Color will be weighted appropriately.

Approved Permits are effective for thirty days from filing of application.

Please allow 90 days for Processing.

I am Laslo.

Ron Winkleheimer said...
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Ron Winkleheimer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris N said...

Because Lena Dunham wields a fair amount of cultural influence, and if not her, then likely someone else.

If you haven't noticed, politics often follows culture, and the ideas she has merged with her artistic creativity champion political 'consciousness,' virtue in nearly neurotic notions of suffering and victimhood, and a feminine ideal which champions independence and individualism, but also control and collectivism, an ideal promoted by cultural and political radicals whose ideas she consciously inherited.

Even if Dunham made TV I liked, she would still probably be pushing political activism sooner or later, along with very postmodern, navel-gazing 'woe is 'me' ironic brand promotion. This is where a lot of 'the culture' is.

Her pale, almost comically unhealthy body invites mockery because it also invites martyrdom on the feminist cross: She's subverting 'the male gaze' only then to take natural human impulses and direct them into theories and ideas that seek to control the 'culture' where she would prefer to see 'the culture' go.

She's trying to do the same with speech, here, and Althouse is pushing back.

In my experience, this seems to be where lot of feminist ideas lead, frankly, and while I disagree with Althouse on many things, she knows many things I don't, I respect her mind and often her judgment. and It takes some courage to do what she does

This might make Althouse a bit of a heretic, really, and heretics usually need free speech and support more than most (I suspect Althouse would support Dunham if Dunham supported speech).

Fernandinande said...

"Insulting someone’s appearance, insulting someone’s religion, or their race, you know, all of that to me constitutes a threat”

Only an ugly person with a stupid religion would say something so typical of their inferior race.

Francisco D said...

I am with David Begley, although I might add a few more names to the list.

BrianE said...

So, anytime Hollywood portrays Christianity in a derogatory manner, or fills the screen, whether big or small, or uses the Lord's name in vain, that is a threat to my inner essence and should be banned.
Is that what she meant?

Rusty said...

Shouting Thomas said...
The prof is, indeed, a champion of free speech.


Goddamn right, motherfucker.

jacksonjay said...

Gotta Pee Lena and Smirking Shkreli fall into the same category for me!

Laslo Spatula said...

When filling out the First Amendment Permit Form of my 9:32 comment please remember: don't do that thing of putting in a lot of extra line breaks.

I am Laslo.

Rusty said...

David Begley said...
Could this Lena Dunham person please go away? Along with those Kardashisan people.

If you give up TV you never have these distractions. For the longest time I didn't even know what a Kardashian was. Now I f8ind out they're only claim to fame is being related to a dead lawyer.
America

Bill Peschel said...

Amen, Rusty. Haven't had cable since '95. There are tons of hit shows I've never seen a full episode of, starting with Seinfeld (not that there's anything wrong with that).

My wife brings People mag home from the library, and I recognize about a third of the bold-face names in it. I'm looking forward to going to LA and meeting someone from the other 2/3rd and not acting like I've been baptised in Jesus' presence.

SGT Ted said...

The fat ugly bitch Lena Dunham is just parroting the SJW Maoist cant regarding words being the equivalent of conduct, so therefor they may be restricted. She's a totalitarian.

jacksonjay said...

Well Rusty, actually the Kardashian claim to fame was a blowjob video that was widely distributed via the internet. The supposedly famous rapper Ray J was on the receiving end. That started the ball rolling!

mikee said...

Lena Dunham believes that her personal feelings of the world define the world, not just for her but for everyone. And if not, then by law it should be so. Narcissus would applaud her behavior. We need not.

My daughter, at three years old, used to cry "Stop YELLING at me!" when she was told, in a normal voice, to do something she did not want to do. This is essentially what Lena, as a supposedly adult human female, does as well. My daughter, having been kindly instructed to stop her silly childish antics, did so by age four. Lena Dunham mayhap requires someone to help her do likewise. And no, that is NOT a threat.

William said...

I saw the first couple of seasons of her show. She had some intelligent and interesting things to say about the difficulties and challenges a homely girl faced.. She accentuated her dumpiness by wearing frumpy clothes. Then she took those clothes off. In Hollywood only extraordinarily attractive people are allowed to appear naked so I suppose that's sort of groundbreaking. If there is an opposite of a beauty mark, it's those tattoos which emphasize the unlovely contours of her body.......She has incorporated homeliness into her persona, I'm not sure what the correct response to her act should be. She's not a repugnant person, and I hope she finds happiness and enduring love, but I wish she wouldn't take her clothes off so much. Also I wish she would stop politicizing her gripes with fate and the circumstances of her life. All in all, she has a pretty cushy deal.

Phil D said...

The total inability of a Lena Dunham to see that according to her own definition of "threat" she herself is one of the worst offenders makes her a pathological toxic moron.

JCCamp said...

The photo at the link - admittedly intended to mock I'm sure - is pretty ironic, considering she doesn't want to be talked to in harsh or derisive terms. The few picture of this beast I have seen include semi-clothed and naked views of an out-of-shape, tattoo'd whale of a thing who obviously makes no attempt to control her weight or appetites. I did see one picture of her at some red carpet/awards thing in a completely outlandish, catoon outfit that would have looked suitable for the female lead Muppet.
This is the same woman who claimed a fictitional Republican raped her during otherwise consensual sex by going outside the agreed-upon gymnastics at college, while they both were high on coke or something else, right? A role model for new era...

This is comic relief from another Trump thread, right?

tim in vermont said...

For the longest time I didn't even know what a Kardashian was.

They are a fictional alien race on Deep Space Nine, aren't they?

Ron Winkleheimer said...

There are literally millions of young people more talented and intelligent than Lena who do not have an HBO show with sparse viewer-ship. And most of those have neither molested their younger sister or falsely accused someone of raping them. But Lena has something those people do not. She has connections.

Her "career" is proof that most of the people who control what is considered "high" culture in the U.S. are decadent, maleducated idiots.

My name goes here. said...

This comment has been removed

n.n said...

What you have said is proscribed. Don't we already have a secular religion that prosecutes thought crimes? But not, notably, actual violence and depredations.

I wonder what other manifestations they will witness in the dark fringes of a penumbra.

William Chadwick said...

"Insulting someone’s appearance, insulting someone’s religion, or their race, you know, all of that to me constitutes a threat . . ."

Only "liberals" can be that stupid. Or that self-deluding. They always want to obfuscate what is coercive and what isn't because their philosophy is based on coercion, and they like to think of themselves as kumbaya-singing peace-lovers.

Rusty said...

Blogger jacksonjay said...
Well Rusty, actually the Kardashian claim to fame was a blowjob video that was widely distributed via the internet. The supposedly famous rapper Ray J was on the receiving end. That started the ball rolling!

More than I ever wanted to know.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Why should we care if the Left wants to change the definition of "threats," of "violence," or even of "freedom of expression?" What does it matter if the terms "sexist" "racist" or "homophobic" don't mean what they used to, and in fact have very little fixed relation to what might have been their (former) "rational" definitions? They're just words; get over it you old fogeys.

I never did trust that George Orwell character anyway: privileged white male, of course.

Jupiter said...

"Insulting someone’s appearance, insulting someone’s religion, or their race, you know, all of that to me constitutes a threat and I think we can make changes to how we control that dialogue on the internet without threatening our First Amendment rights."

Whom do you suppose she means by "we"? Has she got a pod of whales in her vagina?

Joe said...

Note that critics of unfettered free speech usually list as examples the very speech the first amendment was designed to protect.

Of course, their arguments aren't really that sophisticated; in truth the Lena Dunham's of the world want to censor any speech they personally disapprove of, especially speech which shows them to be the buffoons they are.

The Godfather said...

OK, we've gone completely into Dunham world, and I'm more than happy to read criticisms of her statements and behavior (and body) written by people who know a lot more about her than I know or want to know. I wish I were as witty as many of you are.

But I want to focus on the legal/philosophical issue about what "free speech" means in the private sphere. Our leader/hostess Prof. Althouse provides in this very space a fine example of what free speech can mean in the non-governmental world. She lets it (or us commenters) all hang out, with a very few exceptions. In a First Amendment context, though, that might be too restrictive; we don't really have a basis for evaluating what she excludes, because we don't see what we don't see, but that doesn't matter because it's HER decision to make. In the private sphere, she has a right to make those decisions, and we have no right to take her to court over them.

The important point to me is that "free speech" in the private sphere is a matter of liberty. A free person cannot be required by government power to permit or publish exhortations with which she disagrees or to forbid opinions with which she agrees. That's part of the First Amendment, too, even though the government itself is prohibited from barring such speech. It would be destructive of Consitutional liberty for someone exercising government power to tell me that I must allow a statist to join my libertarian discussion group, or an atheist to join my Christian discussion group. But if the groups were sponsored by the government, the result would be quite different.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Humpty Dumpty was admirably honest about what he was doing; he at least had some style.

David said...

Fetching photo, Althouse.

Rusty said...

David said...
Fetching photo, Althouse.

Adorable as hell isn't she.
I'm a little put off by Roberts' habit of looking up while he's talking. It looks like he's trying to avoid the conversation.

damikesc said...

Nothing, to me, says "I have great ideas" like silencing all dissent.

Kirk Parker said...

William,


"I'm not sure what the correct response to her act should be."

Ignoring, for starters.

"She's not a repugnant person"

Seriously? Have you read about what she did with her little sister?

Pathetic, yes. Damaged, yes. But yes also repugnant on steroids.

Char Char Binks said...

Right on, Brother Ann!

Char Char Binks said...

Can free speech ONLY be violated by the government? What about when an angry mob (Black Lives Matter, for instance) violates the freedom of assembly, the right to record video, and therefore the right to report on what was happening there as journalists (of a sort), and the right to speak freely on a public street, and BLM used violence to enforce it, the way they did against Allen Scarsella and his friends in Minneapolis? Isn't that a violation of their civil rights, even though BLM isn't the government?