AS273: The Marketplace of Ideas, with Peter Coffin

Here’s part 2 of my discussion with Peter Coffin! In this one, we finish up talking free speech and then wade into the topic of his second mini doc. This one is about what created Trump and Peter’s opinion on the marketplace of ideas.

Free Speech Video
Trump Marketplace of Ideas Video

22 thoughts on “AS273: The Marketplace of Ideas, with Peter Coffin”

  1. Thanks for introducing me to Peter Coffin’s videos. I agree, he seems to have some counter-intuitive ideas that are pretty compelling.

    I would have commented on last week’s show, but I’m having trouble accessing the episodes page on your site (I don’t know if it’s just me). I thought the episode was surprisingly candid and the time spent discussing Coffin’s personal experience with such vehement and deliberate harassment seemed to inform the conversation.

    I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, but I think there’s something to Coffin’s assertion that by refraining from legislating speech, we aren’t just protecting/enabling all speech, but we’re also failing to address the de-facto silencing that occurs as a result of unregulated speech.

    I also think I agree that the best corrective measure isn’t necessarily legislation which prohibits speech, though I don’t know that I’d be so quick to immediately dismiss legislation as a means of addressing this issue. As someone who is very obviously not a lawyer, I can’t say for certain, but I imagine there has to be some means by which more diverse expression can be fostered without a requisite censorship of mainstream voices (e.g., expanding the National Endowment of the Arts, incorporating multicultural competency into public school curriculum, enforcing hate-crime legislation, etc.). Obviously, I think social justice and community organizers would have to be the driving force, but I don’t think we can limit the agency of legislators to “whether or not they can arrest people for speaking.”

    As for the marketplace of ideas, I do think Coffin’s right to note that our conception of a thing alters how we interact with it, so much so that referring to communication as a marketplace does intrinsically color our relationship with information and bias us in particular ways (e.g., commodifying information, democratizing truth, favoring simple over complex ideas).

    1. He eventually said something? I got frustrated because he kept going on tangents and not answering the question asked. His statement about scientists and the brain was too much and I turned it off. It wasn’t only wrong, but he used the gap he created to assert his own ideas. That was enough for me.

      1. I guess I was willing to cut him some slack about the brain thing, given that he’s not a neuroscientist and his argument didn’t seem so linear that the interesting parts depended on his concept of brain functionality being factually accurate.

        Some of the things he brought up resonated with me though. The idea that capitalism has social aspects, and as such, it leads us to conceptualizing our relationships and feelings as things that have value exploit, collect, or at the very least manage struck me as interesting.

        Especially relevant to this podcast, I thought the idea that religious belief acts as a cultural stand-in/touchstone for compassion, despite it not being a valid description of how religion actually operates, seemed interesting. It seems almost as if there being this entity/meme that is both revered and vague allows people who aren’t particularly interested in metaphysics to affirm that good things (e.g., compassion) are good even if they are not immediately/inherently valued by, or even readily apparent in, our society.

        1. The capitalism part was idiotic too. Capitalism is an economic system. He was just trying to redefine something to make a point instead of knowing what he was talking about. It is frustrating when people mix up economic systems with political systems. Of course Thomas pushed back not like that dirty bastard Dave Rubin.

          1. What was he trying to redefine? There are capitalistic components of other things… Are you saying that if someone uses a term in anything other than the strictest literal sense I need to challenge him on that? Also the whole reason I had him on there was to challenge his view of free speech because I thought he was advocating banning hate speech. It turns out he wasn’t, so that became moot. Yes, unlike Rubin I do my best to either challenge my guest or have a guest on who has another point of view later. If you delve more into what specific problem you had with what he said I could try to go into it more.

          2. I wasn’t aware that John Fugelsang, Rosanne Barr, Milo and Ben Shapero were all of the same political position.

            The real issue is when he defines capitalism as a social system but he does admit he is not an economist. Capitalism is an economic system. Democracy, or more correctly representative republic is the social system. The later creates the framework I which the former operates. Calling capitalism a social system is like calling atheism a religion. It just doesn’t make sense.

            Governments determine the level of how capitalist or socialist a country is, capitalism doesn’t inform any part of social structure. The US is more capitalist than Canada but both use capitalist economic systems. Canada has a single payer healthcare system the only one like it in the world. Canada regulates the banks to a far greater extent than the US. I could go on. What I think he was trying to talk about was the lack of regulation by the representative republic of the capitalist economic system. That might have made sense.

            Then he brought up the brain and I was done. Are you sure he was sober? He sounded like any random dude you meet at a pub, you just agree with him just hoping he will go away.

          3. The Rubin comment was tongue in cheek, I understand what you are trying to do. This guest was all over the map and impossible to question everything he was saying.

            Rubin doesn’t push back as a style choice very much like Larry King.

          4. I don’t think Coffin “mixed up economic and political systems” so much as he noted that there is a social component to inhabiting economic systems, and as a result of our participation in a capitalist economic system, our views and cultural norms are potentially vulnerable to certain biases (e.g., equating productivity and meaning, venerating individualism and ownership over cooperation, conflating the value of a college education with earning potential upon graduation, etc.).

            My understanding wasn’t that he was redefining terms, but rather exploring the effect of living/participating in a capitalistic economy on the ways in which we conceptualize philosophical inquiry, give meaning to our time, and relate to others.

          5. That’s more of an American issue not a capitalist issue. American culture is far more focused on individuals than being cooperative. If I’m correct about 10% of working people belong to a union, in Canada it’s about 50%. Both countries have capitalist systems just different ideas of how work/life should be. Europe is more different still, also capitalist economic system.

            Makes things difficult to follow when you use a certain term but actually mean something completely different.

          6. I take your point about there being additional cultural factors that could, and likely do, influence Americans having generally more fucked views up than Canadians. Although, that might not be a fair way to phrase it, because I think Coffin’s point was not that capitalism has ruined us, but taken as a piece of the larger whole, it’s potentially primed us to make some faulty assumptions particularly about accepting the conceptualization that the truth value of an idea can be determined by the number of people who accept it, or are willing to invest their attention in it.

            I’ll agree that the difference between US and Canada is a good reason to question these conclusions, but at the same time, you and I as critics of Coffin’s suggestion are not excused from the same criticisms we use on him, namely that none of us have done any compelling empirical research. We haven’t isolated variables or collected any data. I think it’s fair to suggest that Canadians, like Americans, may have some of the same biases, and if those biases are less pronounced in the great white north, it could be due to mediating factors, such as you mentioned (e.g., having a slightly more socialized government, not having to worry about health insurance, a more robust union culture, etc.).

            I don’t know what the interplay is, and I’m definitely not trying to defend Coffin’s suggestion as if it were a foregone conclusion, but I do think it was interesting speculation, and maybe more importantly, I think it’s unfair to dismiss the notion that participating in a particular economic system can affect the way we conceptualize value in other life domains. If nothing else, how we make, save, and spend money can spawn subcultures (e.g., salarymen) and even just indirectly affect seemingly unrelated aspects of our lives due to physiological/psychological strain and economically informed self-assessment (e.g., I’m unemployed, therefore I’m a loser).

            Also, I think it’s important to note that poorly restrained capitalism has very likely been influential in forming our political system and hindering unions. I feel like this is sort of tangentially related, but when corporations employ lobbyists, gain personhood/unfettered ability to spend on elections, and amass monopolies which drive out small businesses and undercut unions (e.g., Walmart), it’s difficult to say that the expression of capitalism hasn’t significantly shaped that American culture you referenced.

          7. Everything you are saying is political or cultural. If capitalism made people more individually minded and less socially progressive you would see those effects across Europe and Asia. You don’t see that and what is being described is a uniquely an American issue. It’s probably based on your founding being based on the liberty of the individual. There is a great libertarian movement in the US that doesn’t exist elsewhere. There also is not another country that formed based on individual freedom like the US did. That’s a better explanation for his point than capitalism having a social component. That view may come from the idea that most Americans do not see a world beyond their borders.

          8. I don’t mean to mess with your preconceptions, but I’ve spent a few years living in Europe and Southeast Asia. I grant that the United States has a vocal component who like to profess their undying love for their libertarian ideals, but individualism is hardly contained within our borders, and we’re hardly the only country to struggle with the cultural consequences of participating in capitalistic systems. And, you’re definitely right that the things I’ve mentioned, the effects I’ve highlighted, are social and cultural expressions and reactions, but you have to meet me half way when I say I’m offering them as examples of social and cultural realities that are related to participating in American society, which is not incidentally a capitalistic society. I’m not saying capitalism is solely responsible, just that it doesn’t exist as a pure, objective ideal that is constitutionally unable to affect us.

            As I wrote in my previous comment, without isolating variables, you can’t claim that a difference between the US and Canada is evidence that there’s not any relationship between participating in a capitalistic economy and the ways we think about value in other life domains. That’s an absurd statement. If Canadian and US citizens are significantly different despite sharing an economic structure, we can’t conclude that economic structure has no effect unless we can conclude that its effect isn’t moderated and/or compensated for by countless other variables. Maybe Canadians would be just as likely to gauge the value of their time in the same skewed ways Americans do if only there weren’t so many delicious Tim Hortons all over the place, if all their letters weren’t covered in stamps with the Queen’s pacifying visage on them, or if their currency weren’t so delightfully nicknamed, because who can bother being slightly altered by constant participation in a system which exploits their labor when they’ve got a fist full of loonies and toonies?

            And, I apologize, because I must have been unclear up until this point. I am not arguing that the inevitable result of capitalism is that people will reject progressive ideas and withdraw into their little prepper holes. I’m just trying to argue that if capitalism exists as an entity, in any sense, that we as citizens interact with in any meaningful way, we can’t pretend that it doesn’t have the potential to alter the way we view the world.

  2. I’ve never heard anyone complain about safe spaces because of it’s exclusivity, or because they don’t get to come join, though I’ll take your word for it if you have. And I understand, and appreciate its use as a place for people in marginalized groups to go, and get a temporary respite from bigotry. The problem is it’s more, and more being used as a way of avoiding, and encouraging people to avoid ideas they might have a problem with. Just announcing a safe space is available for people during a certain guest lecturers visit implies that the person is going to say things that you, as a “right thinking” person, should avoid. Trigger warnings are being misused in a similar way. The other problem is they are only acceptable when they go one way. Just imagine if a republican group, or a Jewish group hosted safe space alternatives during a speech by a BLM activist, or a pro-Palestine speaker respectively, or expected trigger warnings on course material that was critical of white people, or Israel. I can’t know this, but I expect those safe spaces would be protested as racist, or bigoted, and the trigger warning requests laughed at.

    1. Smalley complained about this many months ago. I think it was about a conference not a safe space but the same idea. David complained he wasn’t allowed to reply to some accusations made. It was a few episodes before Eli was on.

      1. “Smalley complained about this many months ago. I think it was about a conference not a safe space but the same idea.”

        I don’t know the details, but I suppose if someone proclaimed somewhere a safe space so they could keep you out to criticize you, while keeping you from responding, the target might have a legitimate beef.

        1. If I remember correctly David was upset about the speaker saying the white people had not experienced discrimination. Smalley took exception to that, as he should have.

          1. Actually it wasnt about conference but about safe space. If there was safe space for black people to talk about racism they encounter and one of them said for example “White people can never know what racism feels like” David felt like he should have the right to object as he had his own experience with racism (black to white). That was his problem.

  3. The “marketplace of ideas” sounds like a great Monopoly-like board game. You could float the idea that it’s the foam rubber in the seat cushions that actually keeps airplanes in the air and that expensive aeronautical engineers are not nearly as necessary to the aircraft industry a generous upholsterers. In our severely dumbed down society, you could probably sell this idea to thousands of people. In the Market Place of Ideas board game you could make a play-money fortune and this newly commoditized “fact” could be true for a large segment of the population.

    That notion is, however, of no use whatsoever to someone designing a functional aircraft. In fact, rejecting this idea and being completely unaware of its value in the Marketplace of Ideas would actually make you a better aeronautical engineer.

    Some ideas—many, many ideas—are nothing but fluff, providing mountains of entertainment and little else. I guess they are useful for herding idiots, if that’s what you do, but, for better or worse, Reality yet lurks and if you’re going to grow a potato or build an airplane or charge a battery, you’re going to have to leave the Marketplace of Ideas behind and recruit some facts that can be demonstrated and counted upon. We overfed twenty-first century dumbasses often forget this.

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