Tuesday, May 25, 2010

THE HUMANITY: On Freedom Of Speech

Free speech is much in the news and commentary these days, as it certainly should be.  I haven't known a time in my six decades of life where it was under a greater assault on one hand, and a weaker defense (in some quarters) on the other.

On the assault side, we have two seemingly different prongs of pincer attack.  The first is the assault on pluralism and the Enlightenment by Jihadists and their Muslim-on-the-street supporters, who will not brook any mention of Mohamed, his religion, its book, or much of anything else they find "disrespectful".  Oh, and no images of Mohamed...some say at all, some say that are less than pious.  They are, typically for them, willing to back that up with murder, mayhem, and other forms of destruction.  Nice exemplars of that "religion of peace".

That sort of pales...if that is possible...compared to the special blood-lust they have for people they consider defectors; very brave, principled people who were born and raised in the Islamic religion, and who questioned and "fell away".  There is a special hell-on-Earth reserved for them.

The other arm of the pincer belongs to the collective...and especially to the Obama administration.  For years, the left in America has been purple with rage over the success and influence of conservative media.  Radio, television, and the blogosphere are paramount in that success, with Fox News beating its competition handily in both honest reporting and...consequently...viewership.  Talk radio was not invented by Rush Limbaugh, but it was rescued and exalted by him.  He's been joined by an able cohort, and the left has been embarrassed every time they have tried to field a challenge.

I remember a time in America...better than most of you...when the news was the exclusive province of three networks and a hand-full of newspapers.  The "news" was largely dictated by one particular newspaper, and then the networks derivatively produced their stories as some variation on what the tree-killer had deemed newsworthy.  It was the proverbial echo-chamber, and it belonged to the collective.

The Orwellian-named "Fairness Doctrine" was the rule of the day.  I remember well the ideal of "fairness" as practiced during that time.  You did not see or hear much from conservative thinkers.  There were notable exceptions; William F. Buckley on PBS, and Milton & Rose Friedman on PBS.  The McLaughlin Group was another...sometimes and sort of.  To this day, of course, the collective cherishes the myth and slander that there were so few conservatives on media because there are so few conservatives with brains, much less anything interesting to say.

When the government suppression of "Fairness" came off, the market for conservative ideas exploded.  It is still in the expansive phase, as proven by the number of conservative books on best-seller lists at any given time.  People are hungry for ideas and information.

But, as with what we can eat, Obama and his myrmidons are setting themselves up to choke off our channels for satisfying our hunger with selections of our own choosing.  They plan to attack supply, since their attacks on demand have been so unsuccessful.  What attacks, you ask?  Well, President Cool has been trying to get you and I to understand how un-hip it is to watch Fox and listen to conservative talk.  That isn't new; Bill Clinton did it, too.  But BHO has turned it into open Presidential warfare as never before.  Had Nixon been so openly, venomously the enemy of CBS as BHO has been of Fox, the MSM would have seen to it that he was hounded from office even faster.  Imagine W attacking Dan Rather as BHO has attacked Rush Limbaugh.  You can't.  It is unprecedented, what we're seeing now.  And this is only the beginning, it appears.

Obama's assault on the demand side didn't work, so we can count on a redoubled attack on the supply side.  It will take several forms, and will be very novel and stealthy.

There is a cadre of really radical people surrounding BHO.  They are not impeded in their thinking by constitutional scruples...or scruples of any kind outside of the collective dogma.  They are utilitarians; all about what works for them, and hurts their opposition.  They know that ideas and information matter a great deal in our democracy (increasingly nominal democracy).  They've watched for years as speech has been suppressed successfully in Europe, Great Britain and Canada...not by Jihadists, though that is working really well, imposition of laws and codes projecting concepts of "fairness", "diversity", and "civility".  But, really, they are all naked attempts to shut down the exchange of ideas and information.

Against those attacks, what do we have?  Well, the old left USED to believe in free speech.  It was a defining characteristic.  Not now, though.  The collective deplores any deviation from the script...any challenge.  The more effective the challenge, the more clever the speaker, the more hated and reviled they are and the harder they will try to shut them up.  This isn't about persuasion and the exchange of ideas in the public forum...this is about their drive to win an existential war, and tolerance and respect for others is counter-productive and outmoded.  "Conservative ideas are not incorrect, they are evil, and conservatives are insane for holding them."

So, that force...the old left...for resisting the attack on free speech is pretty much gone.  What about conservatives?  Not always good news there, either.

J.E. Dyer is a very good writer and thinker.  I have been dismayed by some of his writing on the subject of free speech, however.  Writing of the despicable attack on Lars Vilks during a presentation, Dyer wrote;
It isn’t even necessarily the most extreme.  Extreme, like provocative, is in the eye of the beholder.  But one thing the video of the attack on Lars Vilks in Sweden makes clear is that being shocking and offensive isn’t something one’s fellow men will line up to defend with their lives and sacred honor.
Here I strongly disagree; Swedes...emasculated by decades of state-mandated Big Brother hyper-civility...will not line up, stand up, or even show a pulse in defense of the speech of another.  There was one shining, proud little exception in that sorry episode, a young lady.

While I and most everyone I know deplored Piss Christ in our very core, if someone attacked Andres Serrano in my presence, I'd have moved to stop the attack.
When confrontation does erupt, it’s very often over subversive or provocative expression:  images or words juxtaposed deliberately to shock or incite The thing about this form of expression is that people instinctively know there is nothing noble about it.
Absolutely!  There was nothing noble about Piss Christ.  It was ignoble.  I suppose that was the guy's intent.  But that does not mean anyone gets to shut him down by dint of force.  Persuasion, YES!  Compulsion, NO!

So I'm not sure how brightly the Voltarian flame burns even in conservative hearts and minds.  I agree with Zombie...pretty much every word.
This is not an argument over the right to be “provocative” or “offensive”; rather, it is something much more significant — an argument over who gets to determine what counts as provocative or offensive in the first place. The Western world dragged itself out of the church-dominated Dark Ages and into the Enlightenment in part over this precise issue: the freedom to engage in speech and actions which formerly had been classified as the crime known as “blasphemy.”
But there is an area I have to note before passing from the polluted realm of Piss Christ; Serrano, while claiming a free-hold on the First Amendment for himself,  demonstrated he is its enemy.  How?  He denied the right of others to express their freedom of speech; he took money from Americans who, in turn, had that money taken from them under compulsion.  That put him in the role of censor, as he denied others THEIR FREEDOM to support or not support his "art"...his expression.

Put another way, Serrano demands a right for himself...and would benefit by my protection of that right (though I deplored his expression)...while denying me that same right by willingly forcing me and others of like mind any choice as to our expression.  Serrano's real work should be called Piss Rights.

I am not holding my breath to see news of Serrano's Piss Mohamed.  My opinion of Serrano is that he is a  very self-interested, hypocritical, cowardly "iconoclast".

In that, he has ample company.  There are cowards aplenty in the vanguard of American arts and the academy.  Defense...and the exercise...of free speech seems to fall to us "little people" in the American hinterlands; places and people generally held in contempt by those whose rights we would, have, and do defend.


  1. Hold on partner, you sayin' Uncle Walter wasn't shootin straight? "And that's the way it is". How many years was Cronkite's credibility unasailable? His adverse influence on the outcome of the Vietnam war has bever been fully flushed out. It's ugly. BTW, are you aware that the most "credible journalist" now is...Jon Stewart?

    IMHO Piss Christ had more to do with the definition of "art" than free speech. The intention was to mock the system by making a vile and provocative statement aimed directly at a specific group, calling it "art" and accepting NEA funding for it. As a bonus, he likely also expected a vehement reaction from Christians, exposing their hypocrisy. Didn't work. Most just said "You're one sick puppy" to which even a reasonable atheist would agree. As I recall, he was most noted for his art photos of corpses and burn victims. Deeply troubled indeed, but Van Gough he ain't.

  2. Uncle Walt should be exposed. I think a great mini-series is just waiting to be done on Tet. Every little nook and cranny should be dramatized.

    As to Serrano, he is a great embodiment of the collective. Gutless, warped, hypocritical, and paid off with money from people who actually do something honest to earn it.