Saturday, August 11, 2007

Is Free Speech Worth the Price?

I don't favor government regulation or interference in speech or press, and think we have too much interference already. Remember that as you read what follows. Because I think that unless we ourselves restrain them, our freedoms of speech and press will soon be gone.

Free speech and press are free in the sense of having no legal restraint on the content of what is said. But every outrageous conspiracy theory, every statement with which our nation's enemies agree, and every criticism of our country does have a cost. In addition, there are already many constraints on speech, including restrictions on fighting words, on "hate speech", and on lying for gain.

I have never liked the phrase "Speaking truth to power", conjuring as it does a Marxist class struggle in which those in power do not know the truth, but the keepers of truth have no power. In reality, those claiming to do it are often repeating the tired KnownFacts™ and talking points from their favorite blog to people who would be disinclined to contradict them for fear of being politically incorrect.

We are free to make fools of ourselves with outrageous conspiracy theories, but when these are repeated they lead to distrust in reality, especially among those already convinced of the relative nature of truth. They lead directly to Charlie Sheen and Rosie O'Donnell, purveyors of simple falsehoods who are, or were, unwilling to accept that our nation is the object of a concerted attack by a foreign group who seek nothing less than its destruction.

We are free to disagree with the government, or with any particular agent or institution in government. But is it wise to do so? Many liberals believe, or act as if they believe, that they must always disagree, at the top of their little lungs, with whatever those in power say (as long as those in power are conservative or Republican).

Some who would describe themselves as civil libertarians agree with constraints on "hate speech" and on false advertising, and support further penalties for them, without so much as considering the contradiction between free speech and curbing hate speech. Even if something is true, many would say, if it might lead someone else to be angry against a protected group, it must not be said. But what do they think of attacks on the government and its policies, even when they are in alignment with the policy positions of our nations enemies? These things, they say, must be protected as free speech.

Now, of course political speech should be the most protected. But because something may be said, must it be said? Because the government takes a position, is it necessary to publicly contradict it, even if you disagree with it? Why not just shut up?

Disagreements with the government must be aired, the answer comes, because we must keep the government in check.

The best then that can be said for these disagreements is that they are a bitter medicine which will in the long run be good for us. That implicitly admits that the statements do us harm. This manner of thinking arrogates the judgment of the speaker above that of the rest of us.

Take, for instance, the blinders-on anti-American reporting of Juan Cole. Rather than admit that progress is being made in Iraq, Cole continues spout to doom and gloom, in a clear effort to convince his readers that the effort in Iraq is a foregone failure. Why? What possible good could come of that?

Newt Gingrich recently told the National Press Club that civil libertarians should imagine the kind of restrictions that will come about if an American city is lost to terrorism. You can guess, without reading it here, the Keith Olbermann reflexive reaction. Liberty is preserved, Olbermann says, by its exercise. That is true in a vacuous sense, as is most everything Olbermann says, but ignores the result of abusing liberty.

We do so at our own peril. For if we continue to take up the cause of our nation's enemies, we draw ourselves ever closer to the day in which one of them is successful in destroying one of our cities, or an allied city, or several such. We risk overly broad restrictions on free speech such as McCain-Feingold. Balance the benefits and the cost. The likelihood of the foregoing must be very small indeed, or the benefits of the action very great, to take any action which could result in it.

Sphere: Related Content

No comments:

Blog stats

Add to Technorati Favorites