A simpler rule for questions of when to interrupt speech

Some Brown students interrupted the speech of Ray Kelly, New York Police Chief. Then people argued about it on twitter. Then the Nation ran a point-counterpoint style forum for some of the key actors. Half think it is OK to interrupt and effectively shut down the speech. Half think it is not.

Long time readers of the blog will be familiar with my annoying smugness towards the silliness of debates about process. And this is a debate about process. The people against yelling him down have a pretty simple procedural rule: don’t yell down people’s speeches.

The people for yelling him down have a different procedural rule: do yell down people’s speeches provided certain conditions are met. It is the “provided certain conditions are met” that is where I think all of the hilarity is in these sorts of debates. It is the same thing you see in debates about the filibuster. Some people are flatly against the filibuster period. Others are for it when Wendy Davis does it, but against it when Strom Thurmond does it. Their rule? Filibuster is ok provided certain conditions are met.

People go to amazing and winding lengths to pump out volumes and volumes of words about what the “certain conditions” bit of their neutral rule on speech-interrupting and filibustering is. I maintain that this is almost entirely hand waving and non-serious. These folks are not deriving neutral procedural principles about when it is ok to filibuster and yell down speeches. They are figuring out which things they want to filibuster and yell down, and then trying, post-hoc, to come up with their nominally principled guidelines on the appropriate process. That is, their views on what is required procedurally turn entirely upon what they want substantively.

In that case though, I just propose that we use a much simpler procedural rule, instead of dropping a thousand words on some special case reasoning each time. The rule is this: yell down people you dislike (a lot), but not those you like. For filibusters: filibuster stuff you dislike (a lot), but not stuff you like. Of course the “you” here refers to a leftist placeholder or whatnot, not meant to be subjective to each individual.

For whatever reason, people just can’t deal with this rule. It feels gross. But here is my question: do these more complicated, hand waving rules actually ever deliver a conclusion that differs from the simple rule? I realize that the rules operate differently in their rationales and justification. But is there ever a case where the extremely-complicated hand-waiving rules about appropriate process generate an outcome that is different from the simple rule?

If it is the case that 100% or nearly 100% of the time the simple rule and the very complicated rule entirely overlap in practice for all given speakers (or filibusters), then what are you actually doing? What rule are you actually following if we are being serious here? I strongly suspect it is the simpler rule “yell down disliked, but not liked.” Why not just admit that and go forward? What is it in the psyche that resists just issuing and defending that rule?

Process is a weird thing.