Wednesday, July 6, 2016


splash of red

Stolo Winery, Cambria CA
left overs

 "Griffin Park" Park Cambria

Free Speech?
      Speech is getting less free, a threat to our way of life.
      A federation of damnable causes conspire against free speech but stopping the repressive advance will be a challenge.
      First we must eliminate philosophical reference points. This is not a conservative vs liberal issue. Anyone who values the core of our democratic republic supports our Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment and its implications.
     Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. 
     If it is Constitutionally guaranteed then we must protect against attacks including those that come culturally. The threat exists in an attitude and a growing fascism, even if disguised.  
     An example is PC, political correctness. Years ago it may have been born of a desire to be sensitive, to even recognize past discrimination, repression and accrued wrongs. But that was then. I heard a conservative friend observe recently "liberals and so called intellectuals especially college professors" were the greatest practitioners of political correctness to stifle free speech. He was partially right and largely wrong.
      No true liberal or no real academic would sign on to the silly practices underway in some of academia. Those who would impede speech are fascists, even if they shun that label.  
      In academia and in the church, nothing should be off the table, everything, regardless of its nature should be open for investigation, study and discussion. In a democratic republic we tolerate even the stupid and reprehensible. Wisdom and good judgment will be the antidote to that which is deplorable. We do not set up "guardians" of thought or study. That is what fascists do.
      In some places in America are those who demand a right not to be offended. Who do they think they are? 
      No one wants to be offended but in the rough and tumble of political debate, intellectual study or theology there are no restraints. Nothing is off limits. If these bright minds who whimper about "not being offended" would give it even a moment of thought they might see that under those rules almost nothing could be discussed or studied because about anything could offend someone. A right not to be offended means someone will control someone else's speech. That is fascism. 
     Schools, parents or academics who permit this mollycoddling are dong their children no good. The idea of "trigger alerts" or micro aggressions" are an intellectual dishonesty and a head in the sand self absorption, the practice of a weak and self indulgent society. Those who advocate such tripe need to speak with academics, clerics and journalists who try to leverage truth and reality in most nations on this planet, where it is not so free. 
religio fascism
     There is also the fascism that comes in a religious garb.
Perhaps the deadliest example are those practitioners of a virulent form of fundamentalist Islam. Writers, filmmakers, journalists and political activists have been targeted and killed because they dare "offend" Islam. Examples are the Charlie Hebdo killings, or the murder of Theo Van Gogh.        
     No one of faith wants to see their object of reverence or belief demeaned. While it may be repulsive, a standard of free speech demands the rights of speaking freely even if the intent is to offend. A democratic republic that values the freedoms that set us apart is strong enough to allow the profane and offensive, even if directed at our most sacred.    
     We don't condone merely because we tolerate. But the Islamist who stabbed to death the Dutch filmmaker who made a program about the abuse of Muslim women was quoted as saying he "could not live in any country where free speech is allowed."
     This is not an abstract problem. Satirists and more serious commentators are afraid to lampoon Islam. They are afraid of the violence that may befall them and they are afraid of being   labeled intolerant. For either reason there is a chilling effect on speech. No other religion practises such intimidation or intolerance to their critics-serious, comedic or even pathetic.
chilling or muting
    Controversial or dissenting theories or works are frequently held back in fear for one's career. To challenge a revisionist theory of history, or the self aggrandizing of someone in say a feminist or minority studies program for example could lead to scorn and crowd sourced derision. Look what happens when a Caucasian accuses an African American of being a racist. Preposterous perhaps, or not, but a serious discussion in a vein of free speech cannot ensue.
     Consider the damage done to the reputation of Duke athletes wrongly accused and maliciously prosecuted. Certain Duke professors jumped on and ganged up with a moral viciousness though they were dead wrong. The attempt to counter that rush to judgement got others in trouble with the fascist crowd. 
     This threat to free speech comes across several strands of American culture-politics, media, corporations and of course academia. The problem is not confined to the U.S.
The Economist says it is a British problem as well. Here's a quote from the Economist
       "Academics who think education requires the free flow of ideas are appalled. 'A university is not a "safe space,"' tweeted Richard Dawkins, a biologist at Oxford. 'If you need a safe space, leave, go home, hug your teddy and suck your thumb until ready for university.'"
     If a nation says it is free, then it must assure freedom and the liberty to speak one's mind, regardless of view. To quote a classical Greek idiom that has been around and oft quoted we need to " a spade a spade." Any attempt to control honest expression is dead wrong.

    See you down the trail.


  1. An interesting and worthwhile essay. These days I hear lots of people complaining about political correctness, and they use this as an excuse to vent their prejudices and bigotry.

    1. And that is a good point. PC may have helped us avoid words like "cripple" or "retarded" but like anything can be taken to excess. Some who protest it most loudly are also some the most prejudiced people one may encounter.

  2. Usually before I comment I have some rough outline in my head of what I'm going to say. This time, every other mental sentence is "On the other hand..."
    I agree with Stephan about anti-PC being a ruse for racist, homophobic, etc verbiage.
    At first reading, I agree with much if not all of what you say. However, I think it is much more nuanced than put forth. There are just too many 'on the other hand' for almost every example you raise. I'm not talking about the obvious stuff, crying 'fire' in a theater, but the genuine free speech issues. Yes, nothing should be blocked or somehow actually prevented from being said, but also I want my daughter to feel free to say "Shut the fuck up." when in class somebody says they want to talk about the fact they don't like niggers on campus. She can suppress him all she wants, in my view.
    I'll stop here, or I'd carry on as long as your essay.
    As Stephen said, thought-provoking and interesting, well-written as always.

    1. In fact your daughter should be able to challenge an offensive and derogatory word like nigger, not to limit speech but to be end an offense. We do not, nor should we tolerate slurs. We have a common expectation that people on the street will be dressed. We have a common expectation that people on the street will be civil. Slurs are a violation of civility. thanks for your reply.

    2. Yes, and that's the reason to leave the Constitution out of it. The Constitution is a legal document referring specifically to behavior of GOVERNMENT---"Congress shall make no law..."---, while the main issue you address is individual, societal, and mostly, if not entirely, non-federal. This in no way undermines the essence of what you say; the antecedent is both broader and deeper---a free society---than government.

    3. Indeed it is. It goes to true ethics.

  3. As a child in the much revered and mis-remembered 50's. I remember hearing things things like, "he's a good nigger", "not a bad guy for a chink" or the firm belief by many of the kids in my high school that all Hispanic girls were whores and all Hispanic boys carried knives. Things are much better today, not by much, but better than it was in the good old days.

    1. You hit on a good point. The "good" in the "old days" was relative. We seemed to have made progress but for reasons that are difficult to understand, we've lost our sense of center or commonweal and we've seen obvious attempts to back slide on issues of equality as we have seen this desire to suppress free expression. It is a weird tandem.

  4. I fully appreciate the freedom of expression, but the volume or aggressiveness of ones expression is where I tend to draw a line.

  5. That sounds like a civilized way to proceed.