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Archive for September 22nd, 2014

The political core of any movement for freedom in the society has to have the political imperative to protect free speech.  –  bell hooks

BBW posterThe last week of September is celebrated as “Banned Books Week”, a time not only to encourage the reading of books that busybodies (both official and otherwise) don’t want anyone to read, but also to remind people just how pervasive the urge to censor actually is.  Nor is it limited to those traditionally labeled “social conservatives”, who use words like “obscenity” and “immorality” to describe the things they want to censor; nowadays, the most belligerent, aggressive and effective proponents of censorship are those who consider themselves “progressive” or “feminist”, and who describe their targets with words like “sexist”, “racist”, “homophobic”, “objectifying”, etc, etc ad absurdum, ad nauseam.  You won’t see those excuses used as much in cries for the suppression of traditional un-illustrated print books, probably because the authorities these types follow have taught them that book-burning is something “conservatives” do.  But widen the scope to include comic books and graphic novels, music videos, movies and computer games and you will be absolutely inundated with them.  Furthermore, the promoters of this chic form of censorship very often don’t call for the direct government suppression of their targets; that would, after all, be censorship, and every thinking person knows censorship is bad.  So instead, they just “critique” the things they want banned and sling ad hominems like “misogynistic” at their targets’ creators, hoping to make them so radioactive in the public mind that risk-averse corporations will refuse to fund them.

Yes, I understand that this isn’t technically censorship in the strictest traditional sense of the word, because it isn’t being forcibly executed by a political authority.  Neither is Operation Choke Point direct criminalization of the businesses it targets; that doesn’t change the fact that those businesses are as effectively suppressed as if they had been criminalized.  In our present fascist system, government and big business are as intricately and symbiotically interconnected as the components of a lichen; to say that a cartel’s blocking of some sort of information isn’t really censorship is as specious as saying that a soccer player isn’t “handling” a ball because he’s moving it around with his feet, knees and head.  And if government, religion, academia or other respected “authority” figures spread lies in order to frighten even non-cartel businesses away from handling certain material, why that’s not censorship either.  These forms of “censorship lite” are very much in vogue right now; one might call them “censor chic” if one had a taste for puns.  And while they lack the violence associated with actual criminalization of forbidden ideas, they are still very effective in creating an intellectual soil highly toxic to free expression.

In last year’s essay for the occasion (which I republished yesterday in Cliterati), I wrote that…

…the desire to suppress knowledge and images of sex is so powerful that those afflicted with it are willing to devote tremendous amounts of money and manpower in a futile quest to that end; they are willing to deny millions of women income and freedom, to expose all women to much greater chances of rape, to risk the death of their children from disease, and to cripple the greatest tool of communication ever devised.  This is not rational behavior; it is a mental illness, and for sane people to give in to the censors merely exacerbates their condition and locks all of us up into a vast Bedlam with them.

Bradbury censorshipThinking people must not let themselves be intimidated by these self-appointed guardians of the public morality; we must speak out against all forms of censorship and speech suppression, whether advanced by guns, threats, intimidation or appeals to nebulous “harm” to women and children, and fight for everyone’s right to have his say…even if what he has to say is vile and offensive.  Bad ideas will eventually be shunned in the marketplace of ideas and die on their own; it is both unnecessary and wrong to try to keep others from hearing those ideas and making up their own minds about their quality.

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