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Tag: speech

Speech I: Oliver Kamm vs. Tom Wolfe

Tuesday, 16 August, 2016 0 Comments

The Kingdom of Speech is published by Jonathan Cape but might as well have been issued by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose tracts at least have the merit of being funnier.” So writes Oliver Kamm in a devastating put-down of the latest book by Tom Wolfe. Along with being the author of Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English Usage, Kamm is a leader writer and columnist for The Times and it was in that newspaper on Saturday that he took Wolfe to the reviewing woodshed.

The Kingdom of Speech Tom Wolfe argues that speech, not evolution, sets humans apart from animals and is responsible for all of our great achievements. He targets Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky in The Kingdom of Speech when arguing that there is no evolutionary explanation for language, particularly abstract language. Kamm differs, however: “Wolfe’s theory that words are a memory aid — a mnemonic system — likewise falls apart on a moment’s reflection. Words like cat and dog and run and jump might help us to remember things in the world, but what about words like not and very and whether and however?”

Readers who purchase The Kingdom of Speech in the hope of acquiring an invigorating clarification of the big ideas at the heart of the debate about morphology, syntax, phonetics and semantics will be misled, claims Kamm, who shows no mercy in his critique:

“It’s a celebration of ignorance: a vain, sneering and calumnious piece of fluff in which Wolfe misunderstands his subject and misrepresents leading thinkers, notably Darwin and the linguist Noam Chomsky. It’s not even stylishly written. What I learnt from it is that a crotchety celebrity of vaulting hubris and small mind doesn’t feel constrained by canons of evidence and accuracy.”

Tomorrow, here, Wolfe attacks Chomsky.


Twitter vs. trolls vs. terror vs. markets vs. censors

Wednesday, 10 February, 2016 1 Comment

Twitter is going to war with trolls — people who spread hate anonymously on the internet — armed with a Trust & Safety Council, which will draw on the expertise of the Center for Democracy and Technology, EU Kids Online, GLAAD, the National Cyber Security Alliance and 40 other groups and individuals. Statement:

“With hundreds of millions of tweets sent per day, the volume of content on Twitter is massive, which makes it extraordinarily complex to strike the right balance between fighting abuse and speaking truth to power,” Patricia Cartes, head of global policy outreach, wrote in a blog post. “It requires a multi-layered approach where each of our 320 million users has a part to play, as do the community of experts working for safety and free expression.”

By the way, not everyone sees the Twitter Trust and Safety Council as a blessing. It’s a version of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth says Robby Soave at Reason. Quote: “For my part, I would feel more comfortable if the Trust & Safety Council included at least a few principled speech or tech freedom groups, like the Foundation for Individual Rights and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.” And Julie Bindel, perhaps.

To help draw the line between poisonous hate speech that deserves to be blocked and disagreeable free speech worthy of protection, alternative voices must be heard and heeded. “We are in danger of making censorship the standard response to anything that offends,” argues Julie Bindel. “Recent attempts to ban Donald Trump and pick-up artist Roosh V from the UK would have achieved nothing politically constructive.”

Last year, the former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo confessed that “we suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years.” Fighting the trolls is now a priority for the new CEO Jack Dorsey. “Twitter stands for freedom of expression, speaking truth to power, and empowering dialogue. That starts with safety,” he tweeted earlier today. Along with battling trolls, he’s trying to stop terrorist groups using Twitter to recruit followers, and then there’s the tricky business of that plummeting share price.

Security: “Trolls, Hackers and Extremists — The Fight for a Safe and Open Web” is the title of a discussion at the Munich Security Conference on Thursday evening.

Scandinavia: What’s a troll? The origins of this menacing word hark back to Old Norse, which spoke of strange beings that lived in caves and were hostile to humans. Given the Nordic roots of the term, it’s appropriate that the world’s most famous troll trapper, as it were, is the Swedish journalist Robert Aschberg, who has made a name for himself by exposing trolls on his TV show Trolljägarna (Troll Hunter).