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On Freedom of Speech

August 30, 2017

Are any freedoms absolute? I don’t think any meaningful freedom can be both absolute and universal.  In freedom of speech we get closest to the absolute, but there are still limits right?

Wikipedia is a fabulous manifestation of free speech. There you can read all about the history of limiting free speech, the famous case (Schenck) where Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. equated a pamphlet opposing the draft to ‘falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater’, and Dennis, basically upholding the illegality of leftist ideas (of overthrowing the government) in 1951. You can also learn about the current standard, Brandenburg, where in ’69 some Nazi jerk helped the Supreme Court come to the conclusion that speech must be “inciting imminent lawless action,” not just an abstract advocacy, to be prohibited.

Anyhow, it’s interesting, looking at this history, to realize that speech was curtailed initially in the first Red Scare, around WWI, then again in the McCarthy Era. And while we often equate the liberalization of speech in the ’60s with ‘Free Speech Movement’ at Berkeley, it was really altered by the Supreme Court for the extreme right-wing in Ohio!

You have the right to free speech,
As long as
You’re not dumb enough to actually try it . . .
               The Clash, Combat Rock 1982

So to be clear, free speech has been historically curtailed for the left, then re-liberated for the right. Despite the social liberalization of speech, the utility of this ‘free speech’ belongs to the powerful, those who can afford to say it with propaganda and advertising. In fact it’s this extreme right-wing view of ‘speech’ that gave us the Citizens United decision, which has basically handed the executive to the wealthy and powerful.

Face it, ‘free speech’ is a nice ideal but usually it is manifested as a (wealthy) white privilege.

Look, all public speech is subject to community standards. I mean when I shout the acronym for the Center for the Unification of National Treasures, my wife get’s really upset with me. Why can’t I get a permit for my March to Scream Obscenities and Project Pornographic Holograms? Because no one needs to see that, it is not acceptable.

The deplorable racist scum who are trying to having their klan rallies under our noses are no different. In fact I think there is a pattern of incitement - people have been incited, people have died for Christ’s sake. In light of these facts, I think an argument can be made, simultaneously under a community standard doctrine, as well as Brandenburg that this speech can lawfully be curtailed, and prosecuted. Their words were and are knowingly obscene and dangerous.

The community standard has changed. It is perfectly rational that ideas, clusters of thought, like racism and xenophobia - ideas that represent a fear based view of our evolving society - can move from acceptable to being considered obscene. These ideas, and the words that propagate them, are dangerous.

I am Antifa, although I don't go much for street brawling.  And the violent always win at violence.  But I applaud the outing and shaming and black-listing of the hardcore right and their enablers, even though it is a kind of reverse McCarthyism.  That shit was awful, but it was damn effective. In fact the current lurching of our government to the extreme right (and that’s what’s happening people,) is a direct result of relentless anti-left, anti-collectivist, anti-union, anti-socialist and anti-democratic propaganda we’ve been subject to since the end of WWII, and McCarthyism was a big part of it.

Do we need to make Mel Gibson name names like Elia Kazan for god’s sake?  Do we need to hound fascism and the extreme right out of our culture and society? Damn right we do. 

In my fantasies, when Comrade Bernie is our Supreme Benevolent Bureaucrat, we'll put the worst cases in re-education camps (after appropriate 'empathetic response testing').  I’m thinking out in the desert where these sociopaths can learn about climate change and their vengeful god, and who Joe Arpaio is and why he shouldn’t be pardoned.

Portland OR, gray skies and cool.