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Sunday, August 01, 2004
Miscites et al.

Tim Waligore asked for a clarification of my Benhabib quote in my latest post. In reference to these sentences: "This brings me to a practical application of what I have learned. The College can, and should, ban speech that injures the quality of life and the total community environment of learning. Since we as individuals are, as political theorist Benhabib notes, situated among many webs of interlocution and various communities of language and socializing, we as individuals, and the College as an institutional authority, have the responsibility to censor and punish speech-acts, which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace" Tim responded:

In Seyla Benhabib's book The Claims of Culture, Benhabib says she agrees with Charles Taylor that our selves are situated among many webs of interlocution. BUT Benhabib says that, from that fact, she does not think it follows that that the government should single out one of those indenties and it give specific institutional recognition and protection to it. At least in the context of society as a whole, Benhabib makes it clear that she is more interested in our identities being contested in the institutions of civil society, rather than through state enforcement. Granted, I haven't read everything Seyla Benhabib wrote, and she may in fact be in favor of 'speech codes.' But simply because we publically negotiate and contest our identities does not entail that the nearest institution should be empowered to regulate identity. Stevenson can make whatever argument he wants; I just don't think it's Benhabib's argument and I'd like him to tell me at least where he got it from.
I cited Benhabib, who was quoting/agreeing with Taylor but I didn't remember that at the time, to argue that we are situated selves, with multi-faceted identities. I cited her to show that individuals are complex situated selves and that the content-neutral idea of free speech as freedom of expression being defended in the D, rather than free speech as a tool toward small-e enlightenment, been offered by myself did not sufficiently recognize the potential for speech-acts to injure parts of a persons identity. I tried to make clear, and may have failed, that any defense of free speech, in my mind, needed some mechanism by which it could punish hateful, harmful speech, and promote constructive, pedagogical speech. I did not want the "nearest regulate identity" projects as a whole but to be in a position to punish and regulate exceedingly harmful discourses.

I did not cite her to say that the college should single out any one identity to which it grants special protection/recognition. No where did I state that Jewish persons needed some special protection from hate-speech. I am unclear on where Benhabib falls on the issue. My invocation of her should not implicated in my argument for "speech codes" (that label in and of itself is problematic). It's just that I was relying on her for a specific conception of identity, which she herself was appropriating from Taylor, and wanted to mention my indebtedness to her on that front. Starting from the Benhabibian/Taylorian conception of the situated self, I conclude that speech which "by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace" is not speech that should be eligible for protection under the banner of free speech. The wording of the latter half of the sentence I pulled from my notes on a US supreme court case 315 US somewhere between 570 and 573. My notes have the quote as follows: "There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem...insulting or fighting words which [cause] injury or (garbled) breach of the peace." In retrospect, I should work quotes around the latter half of the sentence and send that off to the D. (It has been edited on this site.)