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Bill Roper's Journal
The Heckler's Veto 
11th-Mar-2016 11:03 pm
The idea that you can silence a speaker by shouting him down is a poor one. Aside from the possibility of this leading to Mutual Assured Destruction, there's also the problem that you may well convey to the speaker's supporters -- and worse, those who may be thinking about supporting him -- that if his message is so threatening to the shouters, it might well be attractive to them.
Comments 
12th-Mar-2016 11:33 am (UTC)
Also, it conveys the message that the speaker's position is so strong that the opponent can't muster any actual arguments against it.
13th-Mar-2016 12:57 am (UTC)
I disagree. I've been shouted down many a time, and I had arguments, but the person doing the shouting didn't have the patience or forbearance to let me express them in any but the most volatile, or cursory, manner.

An act I generally try top avoid.

Edited at 2016-03-13 12:59 am (UTC)
13th-Mar-2016 12:17 pm (UTC)
You've got a point. The one doing the shouting down can try to draw you into a trap where you lose patience and express your position badly, and then others may conclude you don't have good arguments. The best thing is probably to ignore people like that as long as it's possible, but I seriously doubt I'd be able to carry it off against a hostile faction.

In the long run, though, people who shout down their opponents show that that's all they have to offer.
12th-Mar-2016 08:14 pm (UTC)
I worried about this in some of the less-pleasant scenarios for last year's WSFS Business Meeting: imagining a horde of Puppy Supporters who refused to remain orderly and a chaotic meeting. I concluded that in such a case, I would have no choice but to declare the meeting adjourned and call for authorities, on the grounds that I could only preside over a meeting where people were prepared to play by the rules. This is effectively a "heckler's veto," and it scares me. Fortunately, everyone who showed up in Spokane, even those (relatively few) self-proclaimed Puppies, were prepared to behave by the rules. It was a long meeting, but an orderly one.

There are fears that, because Kansas City is closer to the middle of the USA and thus easier for "Real Fans" (whatever that means) to attend, that this year's meeting will be swamped with would-be Wreckers. I hope not.
13th-Mar-2016 07:08 pm (UTC)
Kevin,

I haven't attended a business meeting, but I have understood that the WSFS is fairly strict about procedure and Robert's Rules and so on. Are there sergeants-at-arms at WSFS meetings?

K.
13th-Mar-2016 07:17 pm (UTC)
There were at this past year's meeting, but they wouldn't have been able to do anything to anyone who wanted to be physically disruptive. Seriously, what would you expect them to do? If enough people decide to physically disrupt a gathering, there's not a lot we could do. It's sort of like a sporting event. If the players refuse to play by the rules and ignore the officials, the game is going to be effectively abandoned.

Many years ago, I was referee in a soccer match. One particular player was being particularly troublesome. I'd previously yellow-carded him for violent play. Later on, on a textbook offsides call (upon whom the person on which it was called immediately realized that he'd screwed up), this same player (who wasn't actually involved in the play) came over and started yelling at me. I gave him his second yellow and thus a red card. He attacked me, knocking me over. To my relief, his fellow players restrained him, took him off the pitch, and in fact threw him off the team for good. But if the players hadn't done that, I would have been done and so would have been the match.

Our Sergeants-at-Arms were there to keep people moving to where they needed to be, to distribute papers, to assist people with disabilities, and otherwise facilitate the meeting. They were not police officers, and had we had to eject anyone for disruptive behavior, it would have been up to the ejected person to decide whether s/he was willing to go on his or her own or if we were going to need to call for Security (and I mean the convention center Security, and ultimately the Spokane Police Department) to eject the person.

Or to put it another way, assume you were the Sergeant-at-Arms. A member gets sufficiently disruptive that the meeting votes to eject him/her. (This is possible but has never happened, and I hope it never does.) I instruct the you as SAA to escort the member from the room. The ejected member refuses to leave and continues to shout about abused rights and Freedom of Speech. What do you do?
13th-Mar-2016 08:01 pm (UTC)
My thought experiment ran to the same end you've arrived at here, but do notice that I have never been to a WSFS meeting, and I'll further clarify that I am no parliamentarian.

Given that WSFS has the reputation of being quite expert in parliamentary procedures, and that those same procedures must have within them means of coping with the disruptive, and guessing (see also: "no parliamentarian") that sergaents-at-arms are there to keep the meeting moving along its rules-borne path, I wondered how they might actually do that.

I can conceive of any number of ways to eject the dismissive unruly, but assumed that Mr. Roberts and, frankly, you guys, had this all figured out.

What would I do? Do you really want my input?

K.
13th-Mar-2016 08:10 pm (UTC)
Rules assume that everyone is willing to play by them. If you aren't willing to play by the rules, the game falls apart. See my sports analogy. Roberts Rules of Order is a rule book. You can't force people to play by rules if enough of them refuse to do so. That's true of any society.

If it was a single individual, I would have the SAAs call the convention center security and have the unruly person ejected. (I probably would ask the convention to expel the member entirely for violations of the code of conduct, which I believe they could do.) If necessary, I ask them to call the police and have the person cited for trespassing (and removed).

If it was enough people that such measures are impractical, I adjourn the meeting entirely, on my own authority "at the call of the chair" and ask the convention to take more extreme measures (again, the police are probably involved; they have more of a right to physically restrain people than we as private individuals do) before reconvening.

These are "disaster" scenarios, but I did go over them in my mind, and I did discuss them with Sasquan's Operations team, in case we got that badly down the rabbit hole. But no, there is no "magic bullet" in parliamentary procedure that will make people obey rules if they're determined to break them.

I can only preside over a lawful and rules-following assembly. When people stop playing by the rules, the game is over. It's sort of like deciding that if you're not winning, you're going to overturn the table on which the pieces are arranged.
13th-Mar-2016 07:06 pm (UTC)
I've seen it happen several times that the speaker *who has the microphone and is projecting through the sound system* engages with a heckler that most of the audience simply cannot hear.

Perhaps it is that being shouted at or heckled is a very intimidating experience. And people don't react calmly to it.

K.
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