Liberty: freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc.; power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice.
License: permission to do or not to do something.
Today has been a study in contrasts, originating from sources which have been, in truth, quite fantastic. On my drive to work this morning, I heard the story of the Los Angeles City Council’s burning new priority, passing a resolution urging “the management of radio and television stations in Los Angeles to do everything in their power to ensure that their on-air hosts do not use and promote racist and sexist slurs over public airwaves in the City of Los Angeles”.
I had to pause for a moment when I heard that reflecting on the fact that this same city council passed a law that now requires performers in porn movies to wear condoms. Only in California could we see the latest rendition of “The First Amendment: Ur Doin’ It Rong” so expertly played out over the course of a month. It takes a twisted sense of priorities to presume the right to ban speech that some in the community have decided is “unacceptable”, but to respond to an industry that is as graphic and demeaning as it could possibly be, not by moving to ban it, but to be its mother and say “Don’t forget to wear your rubbers.”
Aside from the absurdity of going after speech which is Constitutionally protected and condoning that which actually isn’t, one is struck by the impression that what we learned as children is wrong, and that names really do hurt us, and moreover, it is the duty of government to protect us from such an assault. Of course, in a time when we have the self-appointed “dog whistle” hearers in society who can magically hear all manner of offensive speech, including that which is never actually said, it begs the question: will the City Council also include a list of all the words we are not permitted to say, or would that be offensive to ask?
Speaking of offensive, today found me in a quandary. I actually found myself in at least partial agreement with someone I despise: Bill Maher.
It seems that Bill wrote an op-ed in the old grey birdcage liner this morning. This probably wouldn’t have been read, much like many other items in that endlessly sinking ship, but it was yet another in the attempts to convince the public that it really wasn’t hypocrisy for Obama’s super PAC to accept a million dollar donation from Maher, who has never apologized for purposely offensive statements about Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann, so soon after the latest exercise in contrived outrage over Rush Limbaugh using unflattering terms when talking about activist (and sometimes law student) Sandra Fluke’s incredulous and specious testimony before Congress on the burning need to make Catholic educational institutions like Georgetown provide contraceptives in the health insurance plans they provide to students, despite the Church’s long-standing teachings which are opposed to contraception.
In this op-ed, Maher argues that America has essentially wussed out with the rush to point fingers at one another over the things that we say, and that rather than seeking the annihilation of someone who says something that we find offensive, we need to exercise our right not to listen, and not decide instead that the speaker isn’t worthy of speech. He then went on to point out that the path to inoffensiveness takes us to a place where the only real debate is whether we are going to choose ecru or antique white. I admit that this actually took some courage for him to say. Not in the sense of people should be able to say whatever they want. With his history, and the place he occupies in the current debate, this is as surprising as the sun rising in the East. The surprise is in him basically saying to everyone “Buck up, and get over it. Just because someone says something you don’t like doesn’t mean that you can or should try to silence them.” This is bold stuff indeed, because if the right to be offended, and to squelch the offending voice is surrendered, then the Left would actually have to talk about issues again. No more condemning every criticism or probing question of President Downgrade as “racism”, and frankly, that is something that they can ill afford to do, even with Maher’s Million. But there are is a point that should be part of this ongoing discussion that we can’t get away from, and yet can’t seem to ever really have, either, and that is this:
When speech is condemned, what we are really condemning is the thought behind it.
Words convey ideas. That is the point. And while they can indicate motive, it has been too easy to fall into the trap of believing that we can always ascribe motive, especially with the words that were not said, but heard by those who already decided that they were nevertheless meant by the speaker, and the effort to remember that the words also have meaning, as do the context in which they were said. And for far too long, as a nation, we have been far too eager to stigmatize, and even try to criminalize thought, and not actually listen to each other and have an honest conversation.
I applaud Maher for almost getting there and saying something meaningful. I’m impressed that he said something that so clearly contradicts what has been a tried and tested technique of the “tolerant” left that has preached so long and so loud about the need for diversity and inclusion of every identity but the ones they don’t like. It can’t have made the DNC, MSNBC, Media Matters, the NAACP and the rest of the alphabet soups very happy, but I’m sure that they’ll do nothing to change their game plan. After all, Maher didn’t. He could have actually gone above and beyond, and actually talked about an idea, rather than simply being offensive for the sake of being offensive, but instead chose to end the piece with this:
”If we sand down our rough edges and drain all the color, emotion and spontaneity out of our discourse, we’ll end up with political candidates who never say anything but the safest, blandest, emptiest, most unctuous focus-grouped platitudes and cant. In other words, we’ll get Mitt Romney.”
Ignoring the hope and change of “Yes we can!” and fainting fools. This is why at its heart, this was a request for a license, and not a defense of liberty. But then, given where he is, he is surrounded by those who have far more interest in license than liberty, which is why I expect his public disclosure of an honest concept will be forgiven, and forgotten quicker than the Fluke outrage the next time he wants to call Sarah Palin a cunt.
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