20 September, 2009

The Rules: Freedom of Speech

Here’s how it works:

You have the right to say
WHAT you want
WHEN you want
HOW you want
about WHATEVER you want
to WHOMEVER you want
AS MUCH as you want.

You do NOT have the right to be paid for it.

It’s that last little bit that has Glenn Beck and his supporters in such a flurry. Their crying about a sponsor boycott attempting to “censor” Beck conveniently misses the point that the right to express yourself does not offer protection from the consequences of doing so.

No-one is trying to silence Beck. He can say whatever he wants – on his own dime. If his show continues to lose sponsors, there are still thousands of street corners on which he is free to espouse his bizarre rants and theories along with all the other paranoid schizophrenics. But to expect people to continue to sponsor you even when they’re disgusted by what you do? That’s called.... (have you guessed it yet?).... socialism!

What really burns Fox News and the teabaggers up, is that this is exactly the same kind of consumer boycott that Fox advocates against anyone who says anything they don’t like. The only difference is that this one seems to be working. Of course, there’s nothing to stop people from launching a counter boycott and boycotting the companies who have boycotted Beck. But you might as well accept the fact that whatever the public relations departments may say, these companies have bean-counters who have crunched the numbers and determined that sponsoring Beck is going to lose them more custom that it wins them. That’s the free market for ya!

While we’re at it, let’s remember that free expression applies equally to everyone (more socialism!). This means that your own right to express yourself does not protect you from blowback by those who think your free expression makes you look like a jerk. When Kanye West invaded the stage and interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance, he was simply exercising his right to free expression. And everyone else exercised their freedom of expression by saying he acted like a dick. The same goes for Serena Williams and Congressman Joe Wilson*.

The interesting thing about these outbursts is that out of all of them, West is the only one who has unequivocally accepted that he did the wrong thing. What does it say when out of a news commentator, a tennis player, a congressman and a rapper, it’s the rapper that shows the most class after making an ass of himself?

*I don’t usually go with the American tradition of referring to politicians by their title, but I do it in this case to distinguish him from the other Joe Wilson, who exercised his freedom of speech for the reason it was originally intended and had his and his wife’s career destroyed for it.


  1. The conservatives and liberals have traded places in America. And not just who holds the key.

    West is also the only one who started his outburst with "I'm happy for you but..."

  2. I forgot to say happy birthday. In case you missed it at the paranoid gossip site.

  3. I saw it. More at your place. :)

    The turnaround is as depressing as it is predictable. Then meanings of conservative and liberal have been completely perverted in US politics, but I'll use the for the sake of convenience here....

    I have to say that I tend to find more coherence on the "liberal" side. They seem more inclined to construct an argument that follows some kind of reason and from there, we can discuss the validity of that reasoning. The looney right, in general, is more likely to stick with sloganeering. I read one commenter offer the insight that, "this country has to wake up and smell the coffee." What the hell does that mean? Will the budget be balanced if everyone just goes sniffing coffee pots?

  4. Good stuff. And there's a corollary to your argument: you have right to say whatever, etc. - but you don't have the right to force anyone to listen.

    People like Bolt tend to forget that, as any cursory glance at Insiders shows.

  5. Excellent point! The right to free speech is not the right to an audience.

    With the likes of Beck and Bolt, it's not a free speech issue, it's a free market issue.