Sunday, May 02, 2010

We Are At The Bottom Of The Slope Now, “Free Speech*” Helped Get Us There [Anthony McCarthy]

* As defined by the courts.

In the endless rocking of politics and society, the countless incidents and issues that demand our attention, we lose track of just what it’s all about. Free speech, to what end? Free expression, with what results? The corporate right of the free press, for what reason, to whose benefit?

In one of my early blog posts, about the commercial exploitation of children, I said that if free speech advocates couldn’t find a way to protect children while protecting Lady Chatterley’s Lover, then, as far as I’m concerned, the book goes. Some readers said I shouldn’t have expressed that idea, which is their right. Well, the free speech industry isn’t in the business of protecting children. By avocation, they are in the business of protecting words and images. Professionally, they are in the business of protecting objects and commercial property. Being a very bad sort, I have no hesitation or shame in saying I think children are more important than both. Which probably marks me as a girly-man, in the rough and tough world of the free speech advocates. Or is saying that going too far?

You see, down at the bedrock of my thinking about all of politics, science, religion, the arts, I place the highest value on the lives and good of living beings. People, certainly not excluded. Leaving aside the paramount issue of profit, for the time being, no abstract principle is an unalloyed good. All stated principles, all of them, are liable to be bent and applied in ways which are malignant, which harm the lives and the rights of living beings, usually for the benefit of other people. Usually for the benefit of people with more wealth and power*. History shows that even with the most lofty and sincere of intentions, even the best ideas can be twisted to horrible ends.

I think the results of the application of a principle that determines a principle being right or wrong. I don’t hold with a standard which ignores those results out of some demented principle that places the abstract principle over the facts of our lives.

Free speech, free press, free expression, are all ideas that share in the possibility of their defective application. And those bad uses of the lofty words will generally be by intention and design. The ability of people with malevolent intentions to twist ideals is almost never explicitly stated. Lying, hypocrisy and deception are unsurprising methods of doing that. The “Citizens” ruling of this year is a prime example of that. The majority that produced that ruling all had their excuses for moving to hand our elections to corporations, none of them honest. All of them in line with other rulings**.

The crush porn ruling shows another frequent accompaniment to the malignant application of lofty principles, the refusal to distinguish a malignant application from a beneficial one. This, as mentioned last week, is done through the bizarre spectacle of judges suddenly deeming themselves unfit to judge. This seems to be the judicial fashion in matters with the words “speech” and “expression” attached to them. Oddly, they don’t seem to have this problem in areas where enormous harm results from their rulings.

My training is in the arts, music. My inclination is towards contemporary classical music and jazz, much of which pushes boundaries well past where they have been, often in the area of sex, sometimes of violence. I’ve written pieces here in favor of works that would have been considered obscene by past standards. Kenneth Gaburo’s Maledetto contains a good number of dirty words and descriptions of sex, but it doesn’t advocate rape or maiming. If it did, if I suspected that someone would be motivated to harm other people by it, according with its content, I would have no choice but to choose the victims over the music. In the end, people are more important than art. I gave up buying and listening to much of the blues when I heard that violent death was the leading killer of young black men. The degradation of black women, is, if anything, worse. With some of the music and videos of recent years, the music industry seems to promote the killing and degradation of black people, their “product” in volume exceeding that of white supremacists. Which, given the horrible history of their oppression at the hands of others, is breathtakingly appalling.

As a gay man, I despise large parts of gay porn, as I’ve also written here, for its advocacy of self-hatred, torture, rape, degradation, domination, infection and a host of other depravities. If that kind of pornography disappeared, I don’t think a single person would suffer a harm that would make its reappearance desirable. I believe that gay men would find other ways to achieve arousal and orgasm that wouldn’t depend on the promotion of self-hatred and harm to other gay men if it wasn’t available. I suppose it wouldn’t be noticed that I’ve never called for suppressing anything except violent, degrading pornography and that any consensual act between fully consenting adults should be legal, even acts I think are disgusting.

That a standard which places the highest value on people and other living beings, over money or words or expression, seems alien and odd shows how really screwy our culture has become. It shows that a huge swath of liberals and the left have been conned into giving up our reason for our political ideology on behalf of some of our worst opponents.

Of course the lives of the three victims of James Perry (see below) are more important than every single copy of Hit Man and the publication business that sold the how-to. Their lives are more important than the expression of the pseudonymous author. If you don’t understand that, I’m not sorry to tell you, there’s something wrong with you. Anyone who deems the profits of the crush porn videos and the arousal of their degenerate clients by the torture and killing of small animals over the lives of the animals, is sick.

The slippery slope argument is nonsense, we were standing on a slippery slope all the time. We would still be with the most absolute free speech position being the supreme law of the world. With Buckley v. Valeo and the “Citizens” rulings, we’ve slipped down near the bottom of it, with the weight of “free speech” as cited by the far right and some deluded liberals on the court, providing momentum. We are in the odd and little discussed position where “free speech” is the slogan that the far right on the courts and in the government are using to enslave us to a corporate system that takes all of our rights. They have done it with the participation of the champions of “free speech” giving support to that hand over. That we’ll be allowed to talk dirty and watch crush porn as a concession doesn’t strike me as a good deal.

* Again, to avoid going over too far over a thousand words, I will leave out the all important issue of competing rights and how free speech can destroy those rights for some people.

** I’m sure someone will bring up Alito’s dissent in the crush porn ruling. I have no explanation for that. Maybe he kept a hamster as a pet when he was young. Maybe, it happens, he let a shred of humanity break loose from his myriad of malevolent rulings as a judge.