The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

Censorship by Fear

Joseph Conrad, the writer,
was astonished to learn early in the 20th century that Britain, his
adopted country, had a “Censor of Plays.” In a 1907 essay* he wrote
about the character of an individual who would assume the power and harbor the
hubris as the supreme arbiter of what appeared on the British stage. Needless
to say, he does not “appreciate” the existence of a censor:
“…I
have come to the conclusion in the security of my heart and the peace of my
conscience that he must be either an extreme megalomaniac or an utterly
unconscious being.
“He
must be unconscious. It is one of the qualifications for his magistracy. Other
qualifications are equally easy. He must have done nothing, expressed nothing,
imagined nothing. He must be obscure, insignificant and mediocre – in thought,
act, speech and sympathy. He must know nothing of art, of life – and of
himself. For if he did he would not dare to be what he is.”
While the Church had been
censoring written and spoken speech for centuries, government censorship of
plays in Britain began in earnest with the Stage
Licensing Act
of 1737, to protect then Prime Minister Robert Walpole from
criticism by satire and mockery on the stage, and ended with the Theatres Act of
1968. But other forms of censorship subsequently were enacted in Britain, many conforming
to the legislative censorship of the European Union, rendering freedom of
speech in Britain contingent on those laws, which amounts to a byzantine maze
of “negatives.”
Article
Ten
of the European Convention reads:
1.
Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include
freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas
without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This
article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting,
television or cinema enterprises.
2.
The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and
responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions
or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic
society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public
safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health
or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for
preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for
maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
Given the woozy state of any
definition of freedom of speech today, or even its practice, in virtually any
country, Article Ten not so much guarantees freedom of speech, but wraps it in
a Rubik’s Cube-like conceptual straightjacket which only a puzzle-master or a consummate
politically correct judge would be able to grasp. It is burdened with so many
qualifications and exceptions it may as well decree: “We will let you know
when you are ‘free’ to say anything. Until then, be quiet, or it’s a fine and
the lockup for you.”
For example, a Swedish man
has been charged with “intentionally disrupting a religious or spiritual
ceremony,” in this instance, the Friday call to prayers outside a
Stockholm mosque, by honking
his car horn
. This is an example of Sweden’s fatal dhimmitude and deference
to its growing Muslim population. But, I am betting that no one has ever been charged
with the same offense for honking a horn outside a church while its bells were
ringing.
Of course, the local Swedish
law must conform to the European Convention one, or at least not conflict with
it. But, how does one categorize “horn honking” as unprotected speech? Does it encourage “disorder
or crime”? Does it violate “the rights of others”? Is it a dereliction
of one’s alleged “duty and responsibility”? How does one reconcile
the “right” not to hear a honking
horn and the “right,” if you are not a Muslim, not to hear some talentless muezzin
screeching and wailing for between three to five minutes every Friday
afternoon? 
Well, you don’t reconcile
them, because these are not “rights.” On the one hand, the government
frowns on literal horn honking if it bothers Muslims. On the other, it protects
the equivalent of malicious horn honking, that is, the loud call to prayers. The
call to prayers is “spiritual”; horn honking is not. So says fiat,
non-objective jurisprudence.
While the Swedish man denies
he deliberately honked his horn to disturb the congregated Muslims – we cannot
know the contents of his mind, that is, what he intended – it would not have mattered had he confessed that this was his intention. He is still liable
under the city’s municipal code. He disturbed the “peace” of the
faithful. Period.
In Austria, a man was charged
with “ridiculing” or “disparaging” Muslim beliefs by yodeling
and mowing his lawn at the same time
while his Muslim neighbors were trying to lift their arses and bang their heads
on the floor of their home in prayer. Again, local Austrian law must conform to
EU law, or not contradict it, and doubtless a European Union judge would concur
with the Austrian court’s decision to fine the man. His neighbors claimed that
his yodeling was a satirical attempt to copy the wails of a muezzin. (Personally, I find both a call
to prayers and yodeling esthetically abominable. I would be a harsh judge if a muezzin and a yodeler ever appeared on
“Austria’s Got Talent.”)
In Rennes, France, a butcher
was driven out of business because local Muslims, objecting to his selling of
pork, repeatedly threatened him and vandalized his shop. Did Article Ten
protect the butcher? No. Because some freedom of speech is “more
equal” than others, particularly if it is a Muslim’s freedom of speech. The
Muslims spoke; the butcher left the building.
In this country, singer Miley
Cyrus ignited a controversy with her super-vulgar performance during a Brooklyn
concert. Conservatives were up in arms. Breitbart
New
s sort of condemned her cacophonous gyrations:
The former teen star’s sexualized romp might have made Madonna blush–with envy.
There is nothing
intrinsically wrong with a “sexualized romp.” It can be vulgar, or it
can be tastefully stimulating. There is a difference between a sexualized romp
and the simulated pornography exhibited by Cyrus. Sexualized romps have been
around at least as long as the live stage. But, I dare anyone to compare
Cyrus’s performance, or Lady Gaga’s, or Madonna’s, with, say, Rita Hayworth’s
performance of “The
Heat is On
,” and claim they are all on the same level. They are not. Aside
from the fact that neither Cyrus, nor Gaga, nor Madonna ever had a thimbleful
of Hayworth’s talent, Hayworth is esthetically appealing, as well.
Rita Hayworth sizzles. Miley
Cyrus?  Yawn.
Someone might object: But how
can such outrageous performances as Miley Cyrus’s be protected as “freedom
of speech” or “freedom of expression”? Easily. Don’t watch them.
Don’t patronize the likes of Cyrus. That’s their protection. “Entertainers”
such as Miley Cyrus can degrade themselves as much as they wish, but one has
the choice of not rewarding them for it. One has the freedom to avert one’s
eyes and stuff one’s ears when Rita Hayworth is performing, as well. One may
even wish to criticize such behavior, but one hasn’t the right to stop it,
unless one wishes to resort to force. Resorting to force as a means of surcease
in the realm of speech has always been a government’s tyrannical prerogative.
A more fundamental objection
would focus, instead, on the state of a culture that would generate and
encourage such crude performances as Cyrus’s as entertainment values,
entertainment which appeals to the mindless, prurient hedonism and tasteless
interests of countless esthetic illiterates. Artists with nothing to say
usually resort to gross behavior and call it “novel” or
“ground-breaking.” In the musical, literary, and visual realms, they are
the avant-garde of nihilism. Miley Cyrus
has joined a populous club that includes such notables as James Joyce and Jackson
Pollack.
Contrary of Conrad’s
justifiably innocent presumption (he lived in the twilight of reason and
sanity), there are many individuals in government who do know themselves and dare to impose their mediocre, mean little
souls on the rest of us. They are the “soul-brethren” of Miley Cyrus.
Of far more danger is the choice of self-censorship. Fear of retaliation in the
way of direct or indirect government force can cause an individual to not speak
out when it is important that he speak, or even to commit self-perjury.
While we now know that the government
can and will monitor our phone
calls
and emails,
and has selectively targeted particular and prominent individuals at the behest
of presidents and other powers that are satellites of the Oval Office  to discredit political opponents or neutralize
or silence opposition of any kind (e.g., General David
Petraeus
), censorship needn’t be overt. A more effective means of silencing
ideas and truths is to instill fear of retaliation in individuals. The National
Security Agency (NSA)
is completing a multi-billion dollar facility in Utah that will store every
phone call and email of Americans and others.
For what purpose? To “fight
terrorism”? You “fight terrorism” by eliminating states that
sponsor it, not by snooping into the privacy of citizens which your agency is
chartered to protect from state-sponsored terrorism, and collecting data that
can be used to silence citizens  via
blackmail or threatened coercion lest they oppose government policies or speak
truths.
In short, you don’t fight
state-sponsored terrorism by instituting state-sponsored terrorism.
That, in short, is the mind-numbing
character of censorship by fear. And its advocates know it. After all, if one
remains silent for fear of retaliation or retribution, one can’t claim that one
is being “censored,” can one? Where’s the gun pointed at one’s head?
The person holding the gun…is
you.
 
*Joseph Conrad, “A
Censor of Plays: An Appreciation,” in The
Oxford Book of Essays
, Ed. and Introduction by John Gross.  Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press
(1991), 2002, pp. 326-329.

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3 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Hats off to you, Ed! You reveal the true intentions of malicious government bureaucrats. In reading about the power of the NSA, the first people that came to mind were Breitbart and Hastings—I do wonder if they were assassinated because they threatened to reveal information damning to Ozero. And then there is the inexplicable behavior of Roberts and Boehner.

  2. Edward Cline

    Wait until you see my next column.

  3. Dymphna

    I don't think the behavior of politicians is ever inexplicable. Anyone willing to go thru the inquistion of modern elections has already been bought by someone or other.

    We live in a totalitarian democracy. IOW, we have "elections" but we don't really get to choose our candidates. The best we can do is vote "present". Hey, it worked for Obama…and now we all work for Obama.

    Excellent essay. Conrad is turning in his grave…

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