Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Freedom of Speech, part two

I toned my previous Freedom of Speech rant down so far it lost most of its meaning and coherence, so I thought I’d try again. Perhaps with some specifics.

There’s a town near me called Berkeley; it’s famous for being a hotbed of leftists and hippies and artists and woke people and counterculturists and so on. I lived there for a while as a wayward youth, although I believe I was technically in Emeryville, in a decrepit old Victorian mansion full of roommates and mice. Berkeley has always stood for hardcore free speech – with regard to sex, with regard to gayness, with regard to unpopular religions like Satanism and Communism and Anarchism, with regard to punk rock, with regard to all kinds of things. I fell in love with it as a teenager, hooking school and riding BART to Shattuck and walking up to University to hang around at Rasputin’s Records and Blondie’s Pizza talking to other naughty teenagers about music. That free-speech, question-authority spirit is the reason I’m still here in the Bay Area. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere else. As a hardcore text addict with a deep burning need to read everything I can, I was born to live in a place like this.

Meanwhile, there is a conservative provocateur named Ann Coulter. I disagree with her 95% of the time, except when she’s ragging on Bill Clinton. Then she miraculously becomes hilarious for a while, until she changes the subject. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Right now there’s a lot of controversy about Coulter and similar Republican entertainers wanting to speechify in Berkeley, and the protesting is getting very ugly, with sucker punching and scary idealogues in masks and lawsuits.

I stand by what I said about public safety.  A broken arm, a knocked-out tooth, a twisted ACL – those can easily set you back thousands of dollars in 2017 America. It’s really not wise to put yourself in a physical altercation unless you’re rich enough to afford the medical bills and lawsuits. If the U, or the City of Berkeley, can no longer guarantee that people attending shindigs will emerge unbloodied, well, that’s a failure on the part of many people, but first priority is keeping people safe. Passions are high and both sides seem to be craving confrontation.

In the sixties, the hippies (taking the moral-high-ground option of “love”) used all kinds of creative methods to sneak the F word (and its little brothers and sisters) into movies, books and polite conversation. To be fair, they were operating under what they saw as a psychological imperative: if only we can cure the warmongers’ sexual repression (by miniskirts, the F word, birth control, etc.), we’ll no longer be threatened by nuclear war. That was state-of-the-art science in the sixties. There is a very good chance at least one of the practices we consider settled will sound equally stupid in half a century. 

Now the conservatives are pushing the line in the other direction regarding hate speech, a concept with infuriatingly misty borders. To some people, the novel I just reviewed counts as hate speech.

I hate to bring up my origins again with regard to this subject, but I come from a place where there are no majorities and everyone has slurs/stereotypes. When I talk to mainland (white) people about this, they grimace about how terrible it is to have slurs. When I talk to mainland (nonwhite) people about this they tend to light up and smile over the equal distribution of slurs. Both groups are interested in ending unfairness; to the white people this means helping everyone to achieve a slurless life and to the nonwhites it means equal distribution of slurs. “Let’s fix the world by making everyone like me!”


I’m facing a free speech issue right now in this club I just re-joined after several decades. It seems to be split between polite-speech advocates (who write dry, uninteresting, infrequent posts) and free-speechers (lively political arguments with occasional offensive content). My personal preference is for the latter – but with a block button. Too bad nobody’s invented a real-life block button yet. Until that happens, these kind of polarized encounters jeopardize public safety to an unacceptable degree.












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