Monday, February 6, 2012

freedom of speech

Wikipedia, the poor man's version of an encyclopedia, describes the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States this way:

The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. The amendment prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.
I read the other day that England has no such assurance or absolute right to free speech. Libel, slander and other laws require that a person making statements be capable of supporting his or her statements with facts. (A friend called as soon as I posted this to say that in England, you can be sued for slander even if you tell the truth. It's the intent of the telling that matters.)

Whether this is true or not (England), I honestly don't know, but when I look at the Internet or listen to sound-bite-prone politicians or the occasional fulminations of the Occupy movement, I wonder whether the United States wouldn't benefit from a requirement that those who speak freely be required either to think or, less difficult, to bring evidence to bear. I realize that this would raise a host of difficulties, but it is tiring sweeping up behind mediocre, manipulative and self-aggrandizing minds.

Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Germany's World War II minister of propaganda, was a wondrous role model for the politicians and Internet opinions that followed in his wake: If you tell a lie (or half-truth or a sincerely held opinion) often enough and loudly enough, eventually people begin to believe it, despite all evidence to the contrary ... assuming evidence made any difference.

My mother once told me that, while she was writing her murder mystery, "The Horizontal Man," whenever she got stuck or hit a 'writer's block,' she would simply kill off another character. Shock and awe. The illusionist's misdirection ... look over there and miss out on what is happening here. When governments get stuck with their version of writer's block, well ... how about a war to divert the attention of the masses?

Ah well, I guess mediocrity will have to do right up to the moment when it will no longer do and the facts demand more attention. And I guess individuals can choose to think things through for themselves.

Now if I could just find my own capacity to think, assuming I've got one....

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