The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age
    Michael Maiello's picture

    Is the US Heading for Anti-Hate Speech Laws?

    Was reading this morning about people in New Zealand being criminally prosecuted for downloading, distributing and even making statements in favor of the Mosque shooting.  New Zealand is a free and open society where freedom of expression is protected, but free speech rights are not quite so clear as they are here in the U.S.

    I'm a first amendment absolutist and always have been.  But everybody has limited means and energy and so my personal willingness to "protect your right to say whatever..." really does have a lot to with what's being said.  Ban a sexy book from the library and I'll get mad.  Shut down a Klan parade and I'll kind of shrug and say, "I guess it's wrong, but I can't really be bothered to advocate for those scum bags."  I guess I've come to a point where I believe you can be a first amendment absolutist without having to throw down for every fight.

    Pew said in 2016 that Americans are more tolerant of offensive speech than anyone in the world. But I wonder if that tolerance is slipping.  While I don't think everything that happens on college campuses flows into society (sheesh, it's just kids practicing at life) you can certainly find anecdotes about the young wanting to enforce community standards of safety and comfort over allowing people to say whatever they like. 

    You certainly see people enthusiastically pointing out that this or that internet service or social network is "privately owned" and not protected by the First Amendment. When I was growing up, the idea of corporate censorship was commonly discussed as a huge problem.  These days, you have to explain that yes, a corporation can censor you unfairly even if they haven't violated your constitutional rights.

    I sense a general softening on attitudes towards free speech. It might just be me, but I think that after so many social media fueled mass shootings, the riots of 2016, fake news and the still untapped malicious capabilities of the internet that people are going to shift gradually towards allowing more regulation of speech.  It will mostly be speech that none of us want to engage in anyway and if the courts sense that the public has moved in that direction, they will find ways to allow it.  We'll always have amendment #1, it will just have been a bit polished away. Maybe we'll become a bit more like other countries and it will be okay for you to be a jerk and put a confederate flag bumper sticker on your car but anything more overt will be off limits.

    It's hard to say this, as a free speech absolutist, but I'm not sure we'd be worse off for it, were something like that to happen.





    I think this related, Michael:

    "When it comes to Y.A., what, precisely, is the difference between the marketplace of ideas and a Twitter mob?"@xwaldie on sensitivity readers, self-censorship, and scandals in the Y.A. community.

    — PEN America (@PENamerican) March 22, 2019

    Corporate censorship is less a problem than mob censorship these days.

    This is why I belong to PEN: they are on the right side of understanding why the U.S. First Amendment system works better than all the other options out there. And they are constantly watching where borderlines are being breached.

    If all a society has is lowest common denominator mob censorship, there will never be any progress. Protecting radical thought and speech is not the same as institutionalizing it. In a capitalist system, the profit involved will make sure lowest common denominator gets a big audience. But no one requires anyone to buy a book or look at a painting or listen to a song and no publisher is required to take on something that they don't like representing...we are just currently at a point in time where politically-correct mob censorship is the major issue...

    At the same time, what were the community values working against DH Lawrence, William Burroughs, Henry Miller?
    Wasn't this the censorship you got sending off to a publisher who'd send you a rejection slip without really telling you why? Just because these critics go public with their PC reasons doesn't mean it's any rarer or more unhinged.
    [as 1 way of looking at this]

    Because at a certain point, somebody published it and let the reading public decide.  This is like Sylvia Beach announces she's going to publish James Joyce despite the bans and a bunch of socially conscious ninnies gang up on Joyce to the point where he's all, "Forget it, Sylvia.  Let's just apologize to everybody instead."

    And that, my friends, was my ridiculous new play "James Joyce on Twitter."

    Except that's just the way you're used to it. Over here, censorship was the norm. Yeah, publish it yourself if you've that much patience. Clockwork Orange had its last chapter cut by the publisher - I personally think it a good request - the restored chapter seemed banal - but I'm sure Burgess was pissed. Half of these writers sat in writing classes getting feedback from a class. Maybe it's useful later, rather than having another crappy Magical Negro character or another "humorous" adolescent sexist novel, etc... I mean, sure, I like just writing myself, no one to tell me what to do. But maybe understanding our modern audience and getting feedback is useful, even if we're not used to it. Columnists used to not have very many reader comments, authors used to be isolated from their fans in whatever cathedral. Maybe those days are dying - maybe good, maybe bad.

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