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Shut Up or I’ll Kill You

February 21st, 2013 - 2:10 pm

We’re a fractious people, always have been, and our politics have been especially colorful. I’m a nearly lifelong fan of John C. Calhoun’s line about Henry Clay: “Like a mackerel by moonlight, he shines and stinks …”. Our political candidates have been mocked for their love affairs, their wooden legs, their false teeth, and their drinking habits. It’s not elegant, but rude, insulting talk is one of the products of free speech.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that free speech around the world is still a rarity, and seems to be becoming even rarer. Lots of countries have the death penalty and other violent punishments for “insulting the state” or “the leader.” In religious states, such talk is branded blasphemy; in all too many secular states, unrestrained criticism of favored groups falls under the arbitrary classification of “hate speech” and is suppressed.

Citizens and subjects of such places are not at all like Americans; they learn habits of mind and mouth that are quite different from ours. They learn to be silent about any subject that could arouse the displeasure of the thought police, and they learn to speak in code, using words to mean things very different from their dictionary meanings. If they are unhappy with their lot or see ways things could be improved, they don’t dare reveal their true feelings openly and explicitly.

That means they can’t think their way to new ideas, because creativity requires trial and error; it needs open criticism, it relishes the destruction of bad ideas.

Free societies are so much more productive and creative than the others in large part because of open debate, just as scientific discovery demands testing all manner of hypotheses. Once you lose the habits of the free mind, it extends to all areas of endeavor. Stifling free speech crushes creativity in all areas of life. And once the censors get their teeth into us, there’s no stopping them.

In my youth, there was a fine cartoon which showed two nasty-looking men outside a movie theater with “CLOSED” on the marquee (I think it was Lady Chatterly’s Lover), and one said to the other: “You know, I enjoyed censoring the movie so much, I think I’ll go censor the book.”

There’s no stopping them. So it’s always urgent to fight the censors, and to embrace free speech, rudeness and all.

That’s not happening nearly enough. Have a look at a few recent cases here at home, and then at a frightening event overseas:

● Four students in Oxnard, California were reportedly suspended for chanting “USA! USA!” at an athletic event. The school superintendent, incoherently, said that he was trying to advance the concept of “cultural proficiency,” whatever that means. The kids are back in school, but the matter is still open. They and their cohorts had better watch their language.

● Apparently, it’s very dangerous to criticize a judge in Indiana.

● If you’re criticizing the president, you’d better not … drink water or something. If you do, your ideas won’t get reported. Only your thirst will make headlines. You don’t think that’s censorship? I do.

● Segue to Denmark, where the estimable journalist, editor, and free speech advocate Lars Hedegaard answered his doorbell when he saw a mailman there, only to have the guy draw a gun and shoot at his head. Blessedly, the would-be assassin missed, Hedegaard swung at him, and the guy ran off.

We can all be thankful that the killer missed, but Lars is now “under protection,” in the usual undisclosed secure location, surrounded by men and women with guns of their own. This may reassure you, but in practice it’s another form of restriction of free speech. Like Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Geert Wilders, and others before him, Hedegaard is so well-protected that he no longer appears in public (not even on TV). He’s been taken out of the public square; the censors have thereby won at least a partial victory.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
I don't know what you mean by "theoretical subjects", but when it comes to political subjects the Russian system is pretty unforgiving. The Russians still like to put people in jail for speaking out against the regime. Just google "Russian political prisoners" to get an idea. Putin doesn't like to be taken lightly.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"If you’re criticizing the president, you’d better not … drink water or something. If you do, your ideas won’t get reported. Only your thirst will make headlines. You don’t think that’s censorship? I do."

So do I. I said all along the media's obsession with Rubio taking a sip of water was intended to distract people from what he said. Our news media must protect Dear Leader at all costs, and anything or anyone that makes Him look bad cannot be tolerated.

It's no wonder they behave this way. Not only are they liberal, but they are indoctrinated with the idea that repressing the "wrong" kind of speech is acceptable in our colleges and universities, where conservatives are shouted down when they give speeches (if they are allowed to speak at all) and college newspapers that dare to print a conservative column are thrown in the dumpster by the bundle in the early AM before anyone gets a chance to read them.

I think they instinctively know their positions are so weak they can't withstand debate. Not an honest debate, anyway...hence their frequent use of straw men, exaggeration, emotional histrionics, scare tactics, and explicit demagoguery.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
“I must add... my gratitude to you for the attention with which you have listened to me, for, from my numerous observations, our Liberals are never capable of letting anyone else have a conviction of his own without at once meeting their opponent with abuse or even something worse.”
― Fyodor Dostoevsky
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (57)
All Comments   (57)
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Appreciate this article, Mr Ledeen.

"How much media have you seen about the war against free speech? Not so much. The media have a heavy burden of complicity in all of this, needless to say. They should be up in arms"

It is truly a shining and corruptly stinking thing that the tiresome mainstream press has turned out to be. Members of said decadent press behave like thinking impaired ninnies.

What I truly do not understand, simply CANNOT get my own brain around, is just what benefit is there for this monolithic, single brain-cell sharing media to discard their integrity and scheme, distort, and lie for the "cause" ????
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Cultural proficiency" - I'm not really familiar with the term, but I'll hazard a guess that it isn't mysterious at all. I suspect it is just a re-branding of political correctness. PC gas been around awhile, and like Liberal, is accruing a negative connotation (Liberal/ commie dogmas tend to do that), so it's time for "progress", not a new idea, but a new name.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
That's "has", not "gas", not that PC doesn't have a lot to do with Lib/Prog gas.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I think the author got a little too close to the truth. There's lots of hand-waving in most of the comments, and LOTS of subject changing, as well.

Sometimes, that stuff about looking in the mirror and self-examination (mote vs log) is pretty uncomfortable.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Your story of the censor reminds me of a cartoon I saw back in the late 60s in either Playboy or the New Yorker: a theater with a sign in front saying "Due to the unusual nature of this movie, no one will be allowed into the theater".
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The line belongs to John Randolph, speaking of Edward Livingston:

"He is a man of splendid abilities, but utterly corrupt. He shines and stinks like rotten mackerel by moonlight."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Free speech in the UK is MUCH better.

http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2013/02/22/israels-bad-week-on-uk-campuses/#more-819124

Just ask Obama's pal, Ali Abunimah.

"Mayer points out the predictably hypocritical response of the anti-Israel activist Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electric Intifada. While Abunimah was outraged at the attempts of BDS opponents in Brooklyn to squash the departmentally sponsored event aimed at what Jonathan rightly described as hate speech, Abunimah described the actions of protestors at crushing free speech as “great.”

Obama puts forth Hagel, had put forth Robert Malley and tickled toes with Rashid Khalidi for years.

Makes just all warm and fuzzy if you love free speech and Israel doncha think?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I am old enough to remember cases like that of the Nobelist William Shockley, the anthropologist Carlton Coon and the sociobiologist E. O. Wilson. When sensitive subjects like the relationship between race, genetics and intelligence arise, even the shrillest defenders of free speech tend to turn and start baying with the other hounds of intolerance.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It was a rifle, right? because handguns aren't allowed to leave the shooting clubs. And they're all registered, so it should be pretty easy to find out who the criminal was, right? I'm sure someone saw the guy running around with a rifle; they're pretty hard to conceal... lol
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Ledeen continues to be wrong about everything. Take this paragraph:

"Citizens and subjects of such places are not at all like Americans; they learn habits of mind and mouth that are quite different from ours. They learn to be silent about any subject that could arouse the displeasure of the thought police, and they learn to speak in code, using words to mean things very different from their dictionary meanings. If they are unhappy with their lot or see ways things could be improved, they don’t dare reveal their true feelings openly and explicitly."

Ledeen's mistake here is to confuse manners with legal institutions. The desire not to offend, to avoid what today are called "sensitive issues," has been a staple of American manners from the time of Tocqueville. Many societies are opposite of ours in this respect: they have no free speech as an institution, but have no "unofficial" restrictions due to political correctness, either. A good example is post-Soviet Russia, which certainly has no "free speech," but where you wouldn't be treated like a social outcast for having unpopular opinions about theoretical subjects.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
So, as long as your opinions are only about theoretical subjects, they don't throw you in jail?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I don't know what you mean by "theoretical subjects", but when it comes to political subjects the Russian system is pretty unforgiving. The Russians still like to put people in jail for speaking out against the regime. Just google "Russian political prisoners" to get an idea. Putin doesn't like to be taken lightly.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Politics has a theoretical and a practical side. But directly attacking the people in power, and demanding that they be replaced forthwith, falls decidedly in the latter category, I should think. Be that as it may, no one in Russia gets thrown in jail simply for speaking out against Putin: there are plenty of liberals and extreme nationalists who do it without suffering any persecution. If Putin eliminates those who stand in the way of his rule, it's not really a matter of free speech. Free speech is when you can openly support or oppose universal suffrage, say, or the mass immigration of uncivilized foreigners, or whatnot, without being branded as some kind of lunatic by your acquaintances. In that sense of free speech, Russia is probably a good deal better off than the United States today.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
No, free speech is not only about theoretical subjects. Free speech means you are allowed to say basically whatever you want, as long as you don't incite violence.

Incidentally, opinions on suffrage or immigration are unlikely to get you branded as a lunatic here, unless you advocate murdering immigrants or taking the vote away from anyone who doesn't agree with you.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
That's exactly why in my first post I say that "Russia certainly has no free speech." I'm glad you concur with me on this. As for the consequences of having controversial opinions in America, from my and others' experiences and observations it is simply not as you say. But perhaps your experience are different.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The beatings will continue until morale improves.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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