Friday, August 14, 2009

Free Speech and it's consequences.

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Update! And, no, wingtards, it's NOT "sensorship" to refuse to store or forward terror threats. It's entirely sensible.

Of late, I've been noting the bury brigades over on digg and the #tcot twits twittering; in those abrupt contexts, a rather pervasive misunderstanding of the First Amendment is often painfully illustrated.

The view is that a person has the right to say whatever they like about anyone with the presumption that there should be no consequence for that speech, legal or otherwise, if you are a REAL American. Of course, if you are NOT a "Real American," a substantially different standard applies, and on occasion tips over into direct threats of violence.

This even extends to those who will passionately assert things that are completely, obviously and provably untrue; these folk seem to be genuinely offended that their words are not given equal weight to those who advocate positions ballasted with actual facts, genuine documents, logical reasoning and historical evidence.

You do have the right to believe a lie. You don't have the right to demand that your belief be accorded the slightest respect. The only respect you might be allowed is the presumption that you are a conscious liar, and not a deluded thrall - but frankly, the expectation of such charity is SO 2004.

Over at The Volokh Conspiracy, I found that Eugene Volokh has taken on an interesting Pro-Bono case, in which the ACLU has filed an Amicus brief in support of his idiot client's right to say patently offensive things to a public official. I concur with Eugine and the ACLU that it's an abuse of power to use the law to "correct" the disrespectful address of our "betters." Frankly, as an anti-authoritarian, I encourage an entirely conditional respect for authorities.

I expect an authority to be competent and authoritative. They should be able to demonstrate their qualifications on demand and welcome the opportunity. And, as opportunities go, this one is a slow pitch. Such "critics" are to be treasured, such "dissent" tends to discredit other critics by example.

So, when a public official uses the law to punish such "dissent", it doesn't speak to me of their skill or qualifications. To the contrary.

Nonetheless, behaving like a dick tends to bring out that response in human beings with hind brains and limbic systems. Nor should anyone expect to speak to anyone in the manner cited below and expect to escape unscathed. Perhaps once, perhaps twice - but as a lifestyle choice, it's doomed to an abrupt and painful end.

I have a friend in Iraq that I told all about you and he referred to you as a Benedict Arnold. I told him that fit you very well. . . . I’d like to puke all over you. People like you should be forced out of this country. Hey, I have a great idea!!!! . . . Let’s do nothing to Iran, let them get nukes, and then let them bomb U.S. cities and after that, we will just keep turning the other cheek. Remember that Libs like yourself are the lowest form of life on this planet[.]
I would like to think that I'd be capable of "rising above" such a situation. I can think of times that I have succeeded. I can think of other examples when I have failed. In practice, I think that any response short of a slap across the face and an offer to exchange seconds is a gift.

Courtesy is a requirement for human beings who wish to participate in civil society, and the lack of courtesy will be often be met with cuffs and spittle, regardless of the pure merit of that reaction under law, or our expectation that those in power rise above the standards expected of the common man. That is a presumptive ideal; we should demand it of ourselves, but it should be considered foolish in the Darwinian sense to so sharply test the forbearance of others.

So, while I applaud Eugene and the ACLU for protesting the actions of the state against an odious arsewipe, I wish to state for whatever record that the defense itself is a consequence.

First Amendment cases do tend to be illustrated with the pain of those who have somehow earned the wrath of others, justly or unjustly. It's a rather perverse form of public service, that one has somehow managed to be such a conspicuous pain in the ass that it's merits as critical speech, redeeming social value and where it lies within the boundaries of free and unfettered speech must be discussed by the Supremes.

Should I ever find myself involved in a free speech case I want to be compared to George Carlin, not the KKK. And frankly, this fellow's speech does not rise to the standard of the KKK asserting their right to march in Skokie. This is simply a jerkwad, being used to demonstrate that even fucking jerks saying things that only a drunken jerk would say are protected by the first amendment. It's a principle well worth establishing. And yet it should be observed that it's a consideration that goes to the principle, it says nothing about the worth of the idea or the respect that it is due.

We choose to preclude a violent response to speech this deliberately offensive because we wish to preclude the right of those in power to prevent criticism.

But we must at the same time recognize that if you said this in a bar to someone else, nobody would be even slightly surprised if the response was a punch in the face, and you might well be held liable for any consequential damages or injuries.

The thing about pointlessly offensive speech is that it offends people, who tend respond by correction or avoidance. And they don't always distinguish between you, the offensive fucking jerk, and you, the offensive fucking jerk speaking in support of what you touchingly think to be "conservative values."

It often bears indirect, personal consequence in terms of lost opportunity and diminished respect, in direct proportion to the target and the wit displayed. Witlessly, mindlessly, patently offensive speech, then, bears it's own consequence and reward, for the speaker - and anyone standing next to them.

We need no state or church to tell us what we should be offended by, or what speech should have greater legal consequence than others, short of batshit insane exhortations to violent actions, or provable, malicious slanders and libels.

In almost every case of batshit insanity, even if it does exhort fools to violence we can say this: "Res Ipsa Loquitor," The Thing Speaks For Itself.

If such a speaker could convince you to violent acts - well, so could any random combination of sounds, or the invisible pink unicorn that lives in your lunchpail. If you can't consider this source - you are incapable of critical thought to a degree that amounts to a diagnosable handicap.

If you are thinking that hanging out with people that are that stupid gives you a shot at some influence and power ... well, the workman is known by the quality of their tools.

Speaking of whory aphorisms, there's another precept that predates any modern understanding of the terms "Liberal" and "Conservative," and it goes like this: "It's better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt."

Sarah Palin has made it impossible for anyone to defend her as a responsible, ethical, intelligent, informed and capable leader. Hell, she's made it impossible for anyone to think her capable of forming an intelligible sentence. I don't know what the hell she's trying to say here; I doubt she is entirely sure herself, but I doubt it deserves more deference than a chocolate-covered five-year old's assertion that an invisible friend ate all the cookies.

Oh, and Sarah, don't call yourself a "Conservative." Fucking up state Medicaid to the extent that federal intervention is required is not the hallmark of Conservative leadership, not socially nor fiscally. It's irresponsible at best, corrupt at worst, and absolutely disqualifies you from talking of yourself as politically and idealistically motivated.

Political philosophy speaks about how you go about fulfilling the duties you are elected to discharge according to law.
This speaks to being indifferent to responsibility entirely. "Malfeasance" is not an ideology. It's a character flaw.

The only people who still consider her to be an authority - on anything - are doing so in willful suspension of disbelief. She's an authority because she says she is, they elected her because she said she was and continue to support her because she asserts competence in the face of stark evidence to the contrary.

She is the chosen icon - or perhaps the boobalicious bubo - of the near terminal case of Authoritarian Personality Disorder that has stricken the GOP. The Republican Party has squandered it's right to leadership by pandering only to those who would blindly follow any tall figure on a pale horse.

Aside from being utterly cynical, it's moronic. At most 30 percent of the population falls into this category, and they are a promiscuous lot; as likely to follow Charles Manson as Sarah Palin. Their support says nothing good at all about the quality of the leadership or the causes it stands for.

The single most telling and persuasive rebuttal to Sarah Palin is ... Sarah Palin. She is also one of the most visceral emotional arguments against the social and economic policies of the GOP. That is to say, "You have to be THAT stupid to be a Republican?"

"Never argue with fools; people might not be able to tell the difference." And if you seem to be agreeing with fools, much less exploiting fools... well, again, the conclusions are inescapable.

This leads directly into the concept of "Free Speech" and the Freely Earned Consequences Of It. A free society neither needs nor desires any restriction on free speech or association, other than the natural rewards for good and bad choices.

If you utter bigoted and hateful words, it is inevitable and natural that people will realize that you are a bigoted and hateful person, and that your support of a position comes because you ARE that sort of person. If you speak in ways that reveal you to be stupid, shallow, opportunistic and self-serving, it's doubtful that it will impress those who hold the key to the opportunity for larger responsibilities that you might seek. Again, yes, I'm thinking of Sarah Palin - but it is a target-rich environment.

There are consequences to inviting obnoxious idiots to your Party. All the smart people finish their beers and leave via the back door, while blocking your phone number on their Blackberries.
And for the GOP, I'd have to say that started around 2004. I expect that the Blue Dog Dems will become the next party of the Right.

It's not because principled conservatives do not exist - it's because their speech has been driven out of the marketplace of ideas. If they speak as conservatives, or at least Republican Conservatives their ideas will be dismissed as either idiotic by definition, or simply a string of jingoistic keywords to provoke the freepers into another Pavlovian spasm. They will have to wait until the idiots are gone before they can be heard; and there's no real conservative principle that says there's great moral value in delaying the inevitable consequences of antisocial behavior.

Those witnessing the show can easily come to the conclusion that the Republican brand of Conservatism is inherently unethical, idiotic, selfish, inhumane, reactionary, authoritarian, judgmental and utterly incapable of critical thought. And it may well be that this has come to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It's certainly accurate enough regarding those Republicans who happen to be in positions of influence. I could state many examples, but one is so definitive that it trumps all others. The public defense of torture as necessary for the security of the State? The sanction of state terrorism, in violation of the Constitution and what the Deceleration states to be "inalienable" rights to life and liberty? Anyone who could say that thing aloud cannot call themselves a Republican. The concept does not stretch that far.

I consider those who advocate the use of torture to be ... well, I consider them to be persons worthy of no regard. And by "no regard," I mean that quite literally. They have renounced any reasonable expectation of regard for their human rights. Due process under law is not justice, for such people. It's merciful forbearance granted for the greater good, not because they deserve it, any more than any other terrorist does.

Those who have advocated torture, much less participated in the process deserve nothing more than that which they have excused, demanded or participated in. Torture is terrorism.

It would be ILLEGAL to shoot you in the nuts and laugh at your pain. I'm not absolutely sure that it would be wrong, and it's laughable to suggest it would be undeserved. It would be madness to rely on your moral or ethical insight and guidance. If that was not evident from first principles - and it WAS - it's certainly been brutally and effectively illustrated by the distinct and consistent inability of those who think and act in this way to achieve the results they predict. "Six Months." Greeted with flowers. Cakewalk. Mission Accomplished.

Words that will go down in history in comparison with "Peace In Our Time."

Since the GOP has insisted that torture is a legitimate tool of state interest and that it can and will detain and torture anyone it damn well pleases for any reason it damn well wants and sees no need to excuse or defend it - well, there you go. Now that you lost the election, how does it feel to be looking at the other end of those lovingly crafted testicle crushers? What argument do you have against them being tried out on you?

Those who have treated Constitution and Citizenry with contempt deserve nothing but contempt. And I certainly do not respect any assertion of political piety or rational justifications for inherently inexcusable positions, much less permit them to associate their sort of Conservatism with my own.

If you will not do as you would be done by, you will be done by as you did. It's not a moral precept. It's not even a statement of an ethical ideal. It's an observation of cause and effect.

UPDATE: Screengrab link to threat will not work. A Mad American Explains:

I expect there will be an impromptu First Amendment Seminar sponsored by the Department of Justice in A_Mad_American's immediate future. Perhaps the fine, somewhat academic distinction between "Free Speech" and "Uttering Terrorist Threats" will be clearer to him subsequent to having to pay for legal council.

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