Defamation Laws or Inalienable Right to a Big Mouth?

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Defamation Laws or Inalienable Right to a Big Mouth?

I was surfing a bit, going through links on my bookmarks, and landed on Noodlefood. I try not to be contrary to Hsieh when folks go off on her because I don't find it worth anything. She made her bed, but I don't have to be the one throwing stones into it. This time, she started a conversation about something that has interested me for some time (see here: Preliminary Thoughts on Defamation). And there are some real ideas to dig into. So here goes.

Not surprisingly, Hsieh has come down on the side of the inalienable right to a big mouth and blaming the victim when such people don't know how to defend themselves against real negative public opinion damage.

My problem with this is the same as it always is when I encounter arguments in O-Land based on deducing reality from principles instead of looking at reality and deriving principles from those observations.

Here's how that error works. You learn a principle from someone (usually Rand in our corner of the woods). You notice that it applies in some cases you can observe so you feel good about that and think this is proof the principle is valid. You read Rand's all-or-nothing scorched earth rhetoric (when she did it). You get lathered up in righteous anger and use the principle as some kind of pruning razor for cutting down all exceptions to the same size.

The logical problem with this is often a blatant exception comes with a context that was not present when the principle was formulated. There's more reality there and it didn't get included in the principle.

So, to use Rand's jargon, you "blank out" that part of reality that doesn't fit. Usually by rationalizing, but sometimes by simply ignoring it. (Or you get snarky, but I don't even want to go there. I'm discussing ideas and epistemological method, not neurotic behavior.)

One obvious example is applying principles that are valid for adults to children. How often do we see that in our intellectual neighborhood? I can cite all kinds of cases, starting with a recent discussion here on OL where a younger member, working through the ideas, claimed a newborn baby was a parasite.

Now my problem when I read things like what Hsieh wrote is that I have lived too much and seen too much with my own eyes. I can't simply sit back in the comfort of my home and deduce what everybody else should do, or make proclamations on what protections other people have no right to. And I certainly do not go along with those who sit around and do this stuff.

So what's on my mind? Just Hsieh? Nah... It's something else.

Here's the worst thing I have witnessed about defamation. It brings up the damnedest emotions in me as I write about it. Go to Wikipedia here: Day-care sex-abuse hysteria. Scroll down to the entry, "Escola Base."

The story was a repeat of the Salem witch trials. Except this time, after the kids played their prank, society had the entire country's news industry lathering up hatred toward a small family over weeks. Brazil is a predominantly Catholic country and they totally destroyed that family with claims of sexual child-abuse. The amount of death threats alone was one of the most horrible public spectacles I saw in Brazil.

One small detail. The family was innocent.

I knew these people. I used to live near the school (which was in a semi-affluent neighborhood called Aclimção), but that is not where I met them. After the nightmare started and it had raged for several weeks, they opened up a small corner on the street in downtown São Paulo to sell Xerox photocopy services just to eat. Their school was trashed and they couldn't open a new one anywhere. They were famous. I first started going to their Xerox hole because I was doing a lot of translating at the time and their Xeroxes were good and cheaper than others.

(Back in the 1990's, there was no Internet to speak of, computer ink was pretty expensive and matrix dot printers took forever, so Xerox was how a lot of business was done for delivering multiple copies of long documents.)

I became friendly with these people and would talk to them as they did my copies. They were very bitter about what was happening to them, but somehow still upbeat about life--even as they constantly looked around afraid. I often told them that I was nobody in their lives, but I would gladly sit down and eat with them. We never did, but the gratitude I saw surging up from their eyes always messed with my head in soul-wrenching ways. It wasn't right what was going on.

Oh, I had read the news stories and saw the constant reports on TV and talk shows, so it felt really weird when I first learned who they were. But I always noticed that there was no specific evidence. Just vague insinuations and a lot of indignant yelling and macho posturing. And me being me, after I decided the public was full of it, I just walked right on up and shook hands with the Devil, if that was to be the case. (It wasn't, thank goodness.)

One day I asked them point blank what had really happened and they didn't want to talk about it. Over time they opened up a little and started telling me bits and pieces. I became interested and started digging. I became aware of just how little the authorities actually had about the accusations. Or I should say nothing at all if substance is the standard. This family was framed for no reason at all other than unfounded gossip.

These people lost their school--an excellent school at that--they had built up over years of hard productive work, they lost their reputations, everywhere they went people called them vicious names (I even saw a little of that at the Xerox place), they suffered constant death threats, they were beaten up several times, they could not get work anywhere, and on and on. Then the day came when the press said, oops...

But they still suffered. The public damage was done and you just don't turn that off like a water spigot from one moment to the next by citing a principle. That is a reality that doesn't go away for a long time.

I saw it.

I don't know what ultimately happened to them, but I hope they took their accusers for everything they were worth. Wikipedia insinuates they did. And I fully support the laws that allow them to do it.

Surely there's a principle in this story that our oh-so-wise fundy Objectivists can try to extract other than a claim that these people didn't have the competence to defend themselves, that instead their accusers, including the nationwide press, had an inalienable right to a big mouth, an inalienable right to lather up the public (about 160 million people at that time) against them over weeks with a horrible unfounded witch-hunt.

Reality exists, damn it.

You can have legal protection for freedom of speech without legalizing the inalienable power to destroy other human beings with falsehoods like that. It's both doable and rational. It sure as hell is.


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That seems to have been the time child day care sexual abuse was going crazy in this country with innocent lives destroyed. It wasn't caused by lack of laws, but misuse of laws by prosecutors. All kinds of crazy thoughts were put into children's heads which were regurgitated into convicting evidence. You cannot stop such hysterical media-fed avalanches with defamation laws, but they may be helpful in libel and slander lawsuits. There is a lot of tribalism implicit in all these sorts of things. If you are a witch, you get banished. Abuse children, banishment. Use recreational drugs, . . .


I stopped reading Noodle Food when it became 90% about her podcasts; I don't listen to podcasts, most especially grossly pretentious ones dishing out advice as if she were an Objectivist Dear Abbey--before, she wrote some things of mild interest, but it's been all downhill since she and Perigo grandstanded on the Internet corpse of Chris Sciabarra over six years ago in part of her vain attempt to revirginalize herself in Ortho-Objectivism's eyes starting with trashing the Brandens the year before and with about as much success as Benedict Arnold in Britain

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Free speech need not be curtailed. As long as there are effective actions that can be taken against libel and slander there is no cause to limit the right of free expression with the obvious exceptions: fomenting a lynch mob, causing panic, and inciting revolt and subversion. These forms of expression have immediate violent consequences and they can be curtailed.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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