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Censoring vs. Censuring
April 7th, 2018 by Dr Karma

I teach my students about the difference between the words censor and censure–because I want them to know what words mean and because I want them to be able to participate in conversations about the 1st Amendment.

This is especially important with my freshmen, many of whom are Chinese, learning here in a system that throws around “free speech” like everyone knows what it means.

The problem is that most Americans don’t seem to know what it means.*

I was disappointed by Bill Maher’s show last night,** because it seemed that he doesn’t know what it means.

He was furious that people are calling for a boycott of Laura Ingraham’s sponsors after her awful comments about the Parkland protestors.

I understand Maher’s anger–he is sensitive about this topic, since he lost his job–and his show–after a statement he made on Politically Incorrect after 9/11. Many people were calling the attackers “cowards.” Maher disagreed. The attackers were many things, but they were willing to die for their beliefs, which means they didn’t fit the definition of coward.

Maher’s opponents falsely claimed that he praised the attackers.

No–he was making a semantic point. (A correct one.)

Which is why I’m disappointed that he equated calling for a boycott of Ingraham’s sponsors with attacks on “free speech.”

Free speech means the government can’t shut you down, can’t imprison you.

It doesn’t mean you get to say whatever you want without consequences.

It doesn’t mean that you get to have other people pay you to say those things.

Laura Ingraham gets to say whatever she wants. She can blog about it, self-publish about it, yell it to people walking by, mumble it to herself in the insane asylum where she belongs.

But if her speech is no longer profitable, no one has the obligation to pay her to say it.

The old man on the quad who calls women “sluts” when they walk by gets to do that–free speech!

We can call him an asshole–free speech!

But the university doesn’t have to invite him to give a talk, no one has to publish his rantings, and I don’t have to let him follow my students into the classroom, give him “equal time,” or turn the other cheek.

When we disapprove of speech, by saying, “hey, that’s racist,” we’re not censoring anyone–we’re censuring them. Disapproval is not censorship.

My grandparents liked to remind people that my grandfather served to protect free speech–this was of course a form of censure–an attempt to tell liberals they didn’t have the right to speak if the speech didn’t agree with my grandparents’ view of the world.

Like it or not, my grandfather’s job was to fight for my right to criticize his party and to advocate for minorities and for women’s rights.

My job is teaching writing and critical thinking.

Words have meaning. Which is why the 1st Amendment is important in the first place.

 

 

 

*Of course, the 1st Amendment isn’t the only misunderstood one. Ummmm . . . militias . . . ?

** I have to add that Louie Anderson was on the show. And I love him. Desperately.

 

 

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