“Fuck the Second Amendment!” Free Speech and Contemporary Professional Philosophy. A Short But Very Edgy Essay.

Author’s Note:
This little essay is dedicated to The Colorado Three: Morris Judd, Ward Churchill, and David Barnett.

(1) The First Amendment to the US Constitution says this:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

In other words, focusing on the material in boldface, all Americans have a moral and political right to free speech.

(2) Relatedly, the justly-famous “Report of the Committee on Free Expression at Yale,” published in 1975, under the guidance of the Committee’s chair, the highly distinguished American historian C. Vann Woodward, says this:

The primary function of a university is to discover and disseminate knowledge by means of research and teaching. To fulfill this function a free interchange of ideas is necessary not only within its walls but with the world beyond as well. It follows that the university must do everything possible to ensure within it the fullest degree of intellectual freedom. The history of intellectual growth and discovery clearly demonstrates the need for unfettered freedom, the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable. To curtail free expression strikes twice at intellectual freedom, for whoever deprives another of the right to state unpopular views necessarily also deprives others of the right to listen to those views.

In other words, again focusing on the material in boldface, the moral and political right to free speech possessed by all Americans is rationally unlimited, other things being equal.

Notice that I said, rationally unlimited and other things being equal. Please don’t let the fact that completely crazy and evil speech, in certain contexts, can be permissibly limited, conceptually confuse you.

The idea that our right to free speech is rationally unlimited, other things being equal,  is not a wacko, living-unshaven-in-a-shack-in-Montana, moral and political view. Indeed, the current President of Yale University, Professor Peter Salovey, explicitly and publicly re-affirmed this very view in August 2014.

(3) Now here is an ethical anarchist argument against the Second Amendment, that I regard as rationally decisive.

(i) The primary function of guns is to threaten or kill people (i.e., coercion), whether this happens arbitrarily or non-arbitrarily.

Notice that I said primary function. Please don’t let the fact that guns can have secondary or tertiary functions, say, for hunting non-human animals, or for recreational shooting, or for holding doors closed on windy days, conceptually confuse you.

Notice too, that if it turns out that the possession and use of guns according to their primary function is rationally unjustified and immoral, then the possession and use of guns according to their secondary and tertiary functions will be rationally unjustified and immoral too. If it’s rationally unjustified and immoral for you to possess or use a bomb that would blow up the earth, then it’s rationally unjustified and immoral for you to possess or use that bomb for hunting non-human animals, for recreational bombing, and for holding doors closed on windy days too.

(ii) Now arbitrary coercion is rationally unjustfied and immoral.

Notice that I said arbitrary coercion. That means threatening or killing people for no reason at all, much less a good reason. Please don’t let the fact that in some circumstances non-arbitrary coercion might be rationally justified and morally permissible, conceptually confuse you.

(iii) Therefore, since it fully permits arbitrary coercion, the possession or use of guns is rationally unjustified and immoral, other things being equal.

Notice, again, that I said other things being equal. Please don’t let the fact that under some special “crisis” conditions, when other things are not equal, when all else has failed, and when the only way to stop someone doing something horrendously immoral (e.g., rape, torture, murder, mass murder, genocide) to you, to someone else, or to many other people, is to use a gun to threaten or kill that evil person, might be rationally justified, conceptually confuse you.

(iv) But the Second Amendment to the US Constitution says this:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

In other words, yet again focusing on the material in boldface, the Second Amendment says that “the people,” i.e., all Americans, have the moral and political right “to keep and bear arms,” i.e., the moral and political right to possess and use guns, unconditionally.

(v) Therefore the Second Amendment is rationally unjustified and immoral. More generally, no one, which includes all Americans, and which especially includes all members of the police and the army, has the moral or political right to possess and use guns, other things being equal.

(4) Not so very long ago, in a state university that is not so very far away, I was once reported by a student in one of my big Introduction to Ethics classes, and reprimanded by my department Chair, for daring to criticize the Second Amendment in class, and what was even worse, for shouting “Fuck the Second Amendment!” although I was merely portraying how a visiting foreigner who said “eh?” after every sentence, i.e., a Canadian, might react to it, in the course of carrying out an ethical thought-experiment.

(5) By the argument presented in 1.-3. above, I had the moral and political right to shout “Fuck the Second Amendment!” in class, and I should not have been reprimanded by my department Chair. It was a violation of my right as an academic philosopher “to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable.”

(6) Now substitute for ‘the Second Amendment’ any meaningful phrase in English that refers to some state of affairs that you personally regard, for philosophically-warranted reasons, by your own rational lights, as unjustified and immoral.

Notice that I said personally regard, for philosophically-warranted reasons, by your own rational lights. Please don’t let the fact that your personal rational opinion might still be mistaken, conceptually confuse you.

Be sure to pick something that’s not just sententious mom-and-apple-pie drivel, whether right-wing drivel or politically-correct left-wing drivel.

Pick something like “Fuck the Second Amendment!”

In fact, pick something that has to do specifically with COMMUNISM, 9-11, or SEX.

More precisely, be sure to pick something that, although rationally warranted by your own lights, as a philosopher, is shocking to a great many Americans, including most university professors—who, for instance, surely believe (although, by my own rational lights, as a philosophical and political anarchist, they do so altogether mistakenly) that the police and the army have a rationally justified moral and political right to bear arms, even if they also believe that private individuals do not have such a right.

Pick something like “Fuck the Second Amendment!”

In fact, pick something that has to do specifically with COMMUNISM, 9-11, or SEX.

(7) Now go into class and shout “Fuck [your phrase here]!” More than once.

(8) Do you have any doubt whatsoever in your mind that some of your students, and some of your professional philosophy colleagues in your own department, would report you behind your back to the university administration, and also (anonymously) name your name to the public press, and try to get you fired, and very probably succeed in doing so, or at the very least force you to leave the university in disgrace, even though you’re tenured?

And do you have any doubt whatsoever in your mind that the American Philosophical Association would either fully support this firing or forcing, or at the very least say nothing?

(9) So what does that, more generally, entail or imply about free speech in contemporary professional philosophy?

(10) I leave the answer to this question as a philosophical-political exercise for the reader.

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About Z

Z is a 50-something cosmopolitan anarcho-philosopher, and previously was a tenured full professor of philosophy at a public university somewhere in North America, but still managed to escape with his life.