Walking On Eggshells, Sticks And Stones

Censorship ends in logical completeness when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books that nobody reads.
– George Bernard Shaw
If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.
– George Orwell

Let’s pretend it’s kindergarten again and time for ‘show and tell’. Today, I’ve brought ‘my opinion’ to share.

Now, if that makes you nervous, so be it. However, know that I say that because only you can decide for yourself what offends you or incites you to violence. Hopefully, this post will do neither, but obviously it’s really up to you. Trust me, I understand.

These days, there is a rash of global protests, some violent, over a pretty lame anti-Islam film titled ‘Innocence of Muslims‘ produced in the United States. The zealous condemnation of the film by Muslims have triggered a rioting frenzy, including attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions and consulates, and resulting in at least 14 deaths and the murder of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Libya. This morning I awoke to a steady stream of ‘Twitter tweets’ suggesting that the protests were spreading like wildfire … and so was discussion of another form of righteous indignation: censorship.

Oh, how some have forgotten their kindergarten lessons: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

The Shocked And The Prude

One intriguing aspect of social media, mainly Facebook and Twitter, is that depending on your ‘contacts’ you tend to receive a flood of sentiment for and against any particular controversial current event or issue. What you are also privy to are lots of conjecturerers and pontificators engaging in emotionally charged sideshows’. These are discussions that aim to shed light on the roots, evils, and consequences of the events that ruffle these folks feathers or get under their dander. These proceedings usually include the obvious impulsive suggestions to prevent a repeat of such social conflagrations . Yes, everyone loves a good intervention, especially when it comes down to telling someone you don’t like to shut up. Ask ‘Big Brother‘.

In this case, as with the Pussy Riot episode of recent months, there is a unique rush to judgement by both the ‘nervous nellies’ and fearmongers who are all too eager to stomp and stamp on our rights of expression. They do so waving banners of political correctness, moral indignation and just plain old self-serving idealism.

Sometimes, the grandstanding is in the name of divinity (translation: the bible humping and thumping, along with the required writhing of hands). Other times, the excuse is an extremist brand of moral prudence laced humanism; symptoms include an obvious lack of thick skin.

Understandably, this is a touchy subject because we all individually see things as we choose to see them, and we assume there is some common framework of reference which we only end up interpreting for our own designs. In most cases of civil unrest, it is evident that there is none. Nine out of ten times, it’s this fundamental lack of understanding that does us all in. 

Incitement To Violence Or Free Speech?

What concerns me is the knee-jerk reaction by some to leap to censorship of ‘free speech’ by misapplying the old ‘incite to violence’ clause. While it’s obvious that the film in question is disturbing to Muslims, perhaps intentionally so, its message does not ‘incite them to violence’.

It does not explicitly tell anyone to go out and chop off the heads of Muslims, blow up mosques, or inflict violence on others (beyond suggesting the obvious extreme jihadist rhetoric about ‘infidels’ to the offended Muslims themselves) – and therefore cannot be construed as ‘incitement to violence’. As such, it is (at least in my opinion and understanding of the U.S. Constitution) covered under free speech. Moreover, the film did not instruct anyone to ‘yell fire in crowded movie house‘ so I think this is a moot point.

It should be remembered that regardless of whether a film, a piece of music, a work of art, or any expressed opinion is offensive to some, it is not a crime to hurt someone’s feelings. Again, remember kindergarten and ‘sticks and stones’.

How religious extremists choose to react to the film is a matter of their own free choice – as much as we all have free choice on any given day to react to those who offend us, after weighing the consequences of our possible actions. Yes, there are those who looking for any reason to start a fight, as well as those who are so beaten down by life, society and the ‘establishment’ that they feel left with no choice other than to rise up against their oppressors.

It’s all too easy to judge, especially when you haven’t walked a mile in another man’s shoes. Moreover, it’s harder to admit there is a breakdown in your society or to even question how you define ‘society’ and ‘good’ citizens. To this extent, more understanding is needed by all concerned.

Free Art And Occupy Your Mouth, Or Else

September 17th marks the 1-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Regardless of whether you support the actions or not, it’s the idealism behind the movement that to me is something you should consider. It’s a movement that puts people first and ‘artificial entities’, such as organizations, institutions and even governments, second. Moreover, it has raised flags about our society’s view of ‘free speech’ and the extent to which a pseudo ‘police state‘ may brutally crack down on dissenters.

On September 17, 2011, people from all across the United States of America and the world came to protest the blatant injustices of our times perpetuated by the economic and political elites. On the 17th we as individuals rose up against political disenfranchisement and social and economic injustice. (Source: Principles of Solidarity / Occupy Wall Street – New York General Assembly)

Censorship, another form of social injustice, in any form is wrong, especially in regards to the arts. Indeed, it has often been said that art itself is an expression of freedom. Nevertheless, rather than flipping a radio dial, switching channels, or simply turning away or the other cheek, there are all too many who would rather go to lengths to obliterate what they deem as inappropriate speech, music, art … and even people of different race, creed and color.

Trust me, when enjoying your right of free speech means going down to your local police station and applying 60-days in advance for a ‘free speech’ permit to speak freely in a restricted ‘free speech zone’ … it will be too late.


Required Reading / Viewing:

What the heck has Occupy done so far?

Occupy Wall Street: Principles Of Solidarity

Declaration of the Occupation of New York City

Occupied Stories: First person news from the Occupied Movement

American Autumn: an Occudoc (watch the film)


Suggested Reading:

 Free Speech: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) The Better World Handbook: Small Changes That Make A Big Difference Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment The Art of Freedom 

Greedy Bastards: How We Can Stop Corporate Communists, Banksters, and Other Vampires from Sucking America Dry Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in 21st-Century America

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