List polarization, politics, and a hypothetical

Andy Siegel siegel at law.law.sc.edu
Wed Jun 1 07:15:40 PDT 2005


I rarely particpate here and hope this isn't too tangential to constitutional law but I 
have always been confused with the degree to which those who are supportive of 
free expression both in theory and as a matter of doctrine get squeamish when it 
comes to words like "fuck."

It has always seemed to me that our society's decision to take certain words like 
"fuck" and mark them as out of bounds (or limit them to particular contexts or employ 
lesser tests when the government seeks to ban them or impose penalties for them) 
is a classic example of majoritarian censorship, unbacked by any correspondingly 
substantial public policy justification.  I find it hard to understand why so many people 
treat majoritarian squeamishness as a legitimate, let alone a substantial or 
compelling governmental interest.

"Fuck" is a word that conveys a very dense set of meanings and connotations.  If it is 
really the best word to convey the sentiment you are trying to convey--which will be 
true fairly infrequently in a setting like a classroom--I think it is both silly and vaguely 
authoritarian to suggest that the speaker substitute another word.

That having been said, among the messages conveyed by "fuck" (in most usages) 
are a certain disdain for majoritarian conventions and a purposeful angry distancing 
from traditional "civilized" discourse.  Thus, someone who uses "fuck" in a setting 
where it is not commonly used (such as a classroom) should expect and embrace a 
certain hostility and squeamishness from students and teachers.  If that is the 
desired effect, so be it.  If it is not, then pick another word.

--Andy Siegel

On 31 May 2005 at 14:33, Volokh, Eugene wrote:

>     Of course Malla never said "fuck" on the list.  (With Sandy, I
> distinguish "quoting" uses, such as the one in the preceding sentence,
> which I obviously find appropriate -- though Malla eschews even those,
> in favor of "f***" -- from nonquoting uses.)  She has been the model
> of decorum.
> 
>     But as I read her posts, she was criticizing a focus on civility,
> including in class.  One of her criticisms was that such a focus would
> essentially discriminate either against feminism, against women, or
> both:  "[W]hat Eugene and Sandy are saying is that the class room is a
> "Rational" ie male place where emotion (ie feminism) is not
> appropriate. I agree that the court room is such a place, and
> generally my classroom is a place for teaching how to discuss things
> in a courtroom."  I expressed my disagreement, in what struck me as a
> pretty temperate way. I hope I haven't accused Malla of any
> misbehavior here:  I was simply disagreeing, in what I hope was a
> polite way, with her polite arguments.
> 
>     Eugene
> 
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Malla Pollack [mailto:mpollack at uidaho.edu] 
> Sent: Tuesday, May 31, 2005 2:18 PM
> To: Volokh, Eugene; conlawprof at lists.ucla.edu
> Subject: RE: List polarization, politics, and a hypothetical
> 
> 
> 
> Oh boy, we have lost our temper.  Eugene is usually a wonderful,
> balanced, calm list moderator.  I am not quite sure what I said that
> resulted in such an uncharacteristic response. Certain, I have never
> said "f**" on the list.(Even in my first posting in this thread).  
> Nor have I said that feminists don't use rational and emotional
> arguments. So I will not go through the "you apologize to me" stuff I
> see on this list repeatedly.  
> 
> 
> 
> I was trying to raise a pedagogical and cultural power point. 
> I think the responses have, well, illustrated that my point was well
> taken.
> 
> I will drop the matter and go back to writing. 
> 
> 
> 
> Malla Pollack
> 
> Visiting Associate Professor 
> 
> Univ. of Idaho, College of Law
> 
> mpollack at uidaho.edu
> 
> 208-885-2017 [please note change]
> 
> 
> 
> -----Original Message-----
> From: conlawprof-bounces at lists.ucla.edu
> [mailto:conlawprof-bounces at lists.ucla.edu] On Behalf Of Volokh, Eugene
> Sent: Tuesday, May 31, 2005 2:02 PM To: conlawprof at lists.ucla.edu
> Subject: RE: List polarization, politics, and a hypothetical
> 
> 
> 
>     I know lots of feminists, and very few of them insist on using
> "fuck" in class discussions, or for that matter in list discussions.
> Both feminists and nonfeminists, in my experience, combine both
> emotional appeals and rational appeals; it's hard to do effective
> legal argument without both.  Class discussions are chock full of
> emotions -- sympathy, fear, passion, and indeed in certain contexts
> anger and outrage -- combined with rational arguments.  The question
> is how to present the emotions in a way that is more likely to be
> persuasive to one's audience, or helpful to one's audience (if that is
> the task), than alienating to the audience.
> 
> 
> 
>     Eugene
> 
> 
> 
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Malla Pollack [mailto:mpollack at uidaho.edu] 
> Sent: Tuesday, May 31, 2005 12:56 PM
> To: 'Sanford Levinson'; Volokh, Eugene; conlawprof at lists.ucla.edu
> Subject: RE: List polarization, politics, and a hypothetical
> 
> While I am not a professional feminist (that is I do not generally
> write feminist scholarship), what Eugene and Sandy are saying is that
> the class room is a "Rational" ie male place where emotion (ie
> feminism) is not appropriate. I agree that the court room is such a
> place, and generally my classroom is a place for teaching how to
> discuss things in a courtroom.  Certainly this list is such a place
> (except for the outbreaks of Democrat/Republican bashing which I
> believe are usually by men :-)).  However, I still think as a
> professor teaching students who will be better placed than most
> citizens to help change society, you do them and society wrong by not
> at least occasionally admitting the anger. And anger there most
> certainly is 
> 
> 
> 
> Malla Pollack
> 
> Visiting Associate Professor 
> 
> Univ. of Idaho, College of Law
> 
> mpollack at uidaho.edu
> 
> 208-885-2017 [please note change]
> 
> 
> 
> -----Original Message-----
> From: conlawprof-bounces at lists.ucla.edu
> [mailto:conlawprof-bounces at lists.ucla.edu] On Behalf Of Sanford
> Levinson Sent: Tuesday, May 31, 2005 12:04 PM To: Volokh, Eugene;
> conlawprof at lists.ucla.edu Subject: RE: List polarization, politics,
> and a hypothetical
> 
> 
> 
> Eugene writes:
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
>         Well, if a student of mine started saying "Fuck the Supreme
> Court" in class, instead of giving a more reasoned -- and more polite
> -- argument, I would no thank him for showing his anger and for
> expressing his rage.  Rather, I'd admonish him, stressing that showing
> your anger (especially that sharply) is rarely the best way to
> persuade someone. (Perhaps sometimes it is, but rarely so.)
> 
>         That something is constitutionally protected on the street
> doesn't mean it's helpful in class, in a textbook, at a conference, or
> on an online discussion list.
> 
> *********************************************************
> 
> Unless the course in on the first amendment, where "Fuck the Draft"
> would be a perfectly appropriate thing to say if he were teaching
> Cohen v. California, I generally agree with Eugene.  It's clearly the
> case that there is a difference between constitutionally protected
> speech and "appropriate" speech.  Shameless self-promotion:  I have a
> piece coming out very shortly in the UCLA Law Review--based, not at
> all coincidentally, on the Nimmer Lecture that I gave their last
> fall--on "The Pedagogy of the First Amendment" and why teaching a
> course on "free speech" presents  "unique (and perhaps insurmountable)
> problems" with regard to such things as seditious speech, offensive
> speech, invasions of privacy, and pornography--all of which, I argue,
> must be presented to students and not merely "talked about" in the
> abstract.  
> 
> But let me ask Eugene (and others) the following question, drawn from
> that article:  What if a student, dissatisfied with the "abstract"
> approach to discussing abortion, brought to class and insisted on
> displayed either a) a picture of an aborted middle-to-late-term fetus
> or b) a picture of a victim of a back-alley abortion?
> 
> sandy
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
> But leg 
> 
> 




More information about the Conlawprof mailing list