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Censoring vs. Censuring
Apr 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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Atwood under attack
Nov 12th, 2010 by Dr Karma

A prominent critic of the “theory” of climate change wants Margaret Atwood to be removed from her position on PEN. (article here: http://www.torontolife.com/daily/informer/mediaocracy/2010/11/11/climate-skeptic-wants-margaret-atwood-off-pen-board/).

PEN is an organization Atwood has been at the forefront of for years–it fights for the free speech of authors around the world (it’s akin to Amnesty International, but has a specific focus).

The critic seems not to like Atwood because of their differing views on climate and the environment, but is using a petition Atwood signed as the main evidence that Atwood should be removed. You see, Atwood signed a petition against a FOX News-like channel coming to Canada.

(There are many reasons why someone might sign such a petition. Perhaps you think the channel won’t be clear about news versus entertainment–Bill O’Reilly was on Bill Maher last week and when Maher asked him about a fact that FOX had reported, O’Reilly’s response to the completely wrong fact was that FOX wasn’t “reporting” it because it was on one of the entertainment/opinion shows. If you’ve seen the show, you know that the distinction is not at all clear. Perhaps they should change their tag to “we give you the facts (well, on the following shows, which don’t air when most viewers are watching–on the popular shows, we’re saying whatever comes into someone’s head); you decide).”

Or perhaps you might object because FOX news breaks up families. All 24 hour news makes my head hurt and the crawl seems only to have been invented to make me want to cut myself, but FOX makes me especially wary about going home, because it is impossible to avoid there.)

To recap: Atwood signed a petition. This critic says her signing the petition means she’s anti-free speech & thus should lose her position.

Petitions are free speech, though. I believe in free speech. I believe that I have to fight for your free speech, even when I think you’re wrong (unless that speech is an incitement of violence). However, I get to say that you’re wrong. I get to say that you shouldn’t say x, because x is a lie or because x is irresponsible. (Shouldn’t is different from can’t–one is censure and one is censor.) Signing a petition is exercising free speech & this critic doesn’t have to like it & this critic can say Atwood shouldn’t have, etc., but you shouldn’t say someone hates free speech because they said something you didn’t agree with.

I know I haven’t posted in a long, long time. Fall quarters are always really hard and this may be the hardest. If I stopped to list all the reasons why, I’d be late to class. Let’s just say that I was hanging on by my fingernails & then I got the stomach flu and it broke my nails.

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