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Wednesday, January 26, 2005


Week Six: Censorship

Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech ...


There is supposed to be one reason to censor speech in this country: you cannot harm others. You cannot shout “Theatre!” in a crowded fire. You cannot sell a cure for cancer by claiming it's snake-oil. When demonstratable harm is done to others, speech can be censored.

That's the idea, anyway. And it's not a bad idea. If the last words I hear are “jump off the bridge—there's a bomb!” then I'd certainly hope there really was a bomb. However, the ‘demonstratable harm’ theory quickly gives way to a second, more pernicious theory: that speech can be censored when demonstratable harm is done to the common good.

We say ‘the common good’ because if we said ‘the people,’ we'd look like communists. But the theory is the same: that the people, as a group, have rights of some sort. Obscenity law comes from this reasoning. So do flag-burning amendments. So did the arrests of newspaper editors critical of the government during the first world war and the civil war. So did the Alien and Sedition acts. So do many other things. Sometimes people argue that certain specific groups are endangered by certain types of speech. This is especially true of obsencity laws, which are there to protect ‘the children.’ (“Censorship,” Mark Twain once said, “is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it.”) But still these laws place the rights of a group above those of an indivdual.

That's called ‘collectivism.’ It is antithetical to freedom, and to the ideals this country was founded on. And it is where the line, in censorship, and most other things as well, needs to be drawn.


TheCO does week six

I was going to make this a short and snarky: With a guillotine across the throat of anyone suggesting it. Unfortunately, since everyone else is being mute, it’s my duty to stir the pot just a bit.

Censoring starts, and should end at home. It is neither the job, nor the right of government to decide what I can and can’t see, hear, read, or wear. If I choose to get on TV and sing about a sexual encounter I had in an airliner bathroom with two flight attendants, and I happen to have video of it playing, so be it. If you are offended by it, it is your TV you can turn it off. You can change the channel. If someone writes a book that depicts carnal acts involving six men a goat four pints of ice dream and enough leather to upholster a car, you have the right not to read it, you have the right to be offended. You can choose for yourself, and for your minor children, in your home. However, your rights end there. America is not supposed to have thought police, or a Synod of Censors. And yet in all violation of the first amendment there is the FCC.

Sunday, January 23, 2005


Week Six Question

With Michael Powell stepping down, this question seems natural.

Where does the line for censorship need to be drawn?