USA Today’s pro-censorship reporting

Progressive hostility to free speech is turning up in more and more places. USA today has produced a piece of highly biased reporting on a new British censorship measure.

According to the article, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has issued a “ban on gender stereotypes” in broadcast ads. Broadcasters that fail to comply can have their licenses revoked. Examples of prohibited material include “commercials featuring hapless fathers struggling to look after kids and women left to do housework.” The headline refers to these as “sexist ads.”

The article declares that “British anti-discrimination laws protect citizens.” It complains that the ASA has “failed to act” against some ads. It doesn’t have a single word from anyone objecting to censorship. It doesn’t question what value there is in banning the depiction of situations people commonly encounter. If people never see fathers struggling to look after kids, will all fathers suddenly be free of the struggle?
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The ALA tries to destroy the concept of diversity

The American Library Association has made explicit what a lot of us have suspected: that to a certain mindset that loves to throw the word around, “diversity” isn’t a measure of the variation in a group, but a particular group of people. It gives this definition:

The American Library Association (ALA) defines diversity as being “those who may experience language or literacy-related barriers; economic distress; cultural or social isolation; physical or attitudinal barriers; racism; discrimination on the basis of appearance, ethnicity, immigrant status, religious background, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression; or barriers to equal education, employment, and housing”.

Even Humpty Dumpty would never imagine he could make the word “diversity” mean “people who have certain characteristics.” The point isn’t to define the meaning of the word, but to destroy it by turning it into an anti-concept. See the comments on my earlier post for how this works.
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Violence against free speech

A disturbing number of people want to restrict free speech to statements they agree with. They claim that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to speech they hate, or in their vernacular, “hate speech.” The outgoing ombudsman of NPR, Edward Schumacher-Matos, apparently thinks the First Amendment shouldn’t apply to anti-blasphemy laws:

I do not know if American courts would find much of what Charlie Hebdo does to be hate speech unprotected by the Constitution, but I know—hope?—that most Americans would. It is one thing to lampoon popes, imams, rabbis and other temporal religious leaders of this world; it is quite another to make fun, in often nasty ways, of their prophets and gods.

There’s a case for reading these as the words of an abject coward who wants to drag everyone else down to his level, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt — if you can call it that — and assume he really means that religious authority pre-empts human rights, that he wants to ban Life of Brian and not just the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. After all, he says the majority of the country agrees with him, so he must be counting the religious right.

Mob assaulting anti-abortion activists near University of OregonSome Americans go even further, committing acts of violence against people whose views they didn’t like. It’s reported that a mob of students assaulted anti-abortion protesters at the University of Oregon. The Daily Emerald reports:

Several students surrounded three anti-abortion activists at the intersection of 13th Avenue and University Street on Tuesday before attempting to destroy a graphic poster one of the men was holding in protest. …

History major Allison Rutledge was the first to damage the anti-abortion activist’s poster. She stood on it and claimed that the activist didn’t have the right to display the graphic imagery.

“All I’d like to say about why I decided to actually take the sign from him is I realized it was his property, but it was a piece of paper. I considered the sign obscene and offensive and intending to anger and start a scene,” Rutledge said when contacted for comment. “I didn’t want to look at that obscenity.”

Hopefully the police and university will investigate whether Rutledge in fact committed the assault and said those words, and she will be prosecuted if she did. Assaulting people in order to silence their ideas is a crime not just against the person attacked, but against the principle of a free and open society.

This attack has gotten strangely little news coverage; apparently only the local university press and some conservative and libertarian sources have reported it. Some may think, “Oh, it doesn’t matter, it’s violence in a cause I approve of.” Some may even like a society where people who express those views aren’t safe on the streets. But when censorship and violence restrict what people can say, falsehood wins. The people who can’t offer a rational defense of their views are the ones who have to resort to force.

Bland Books Week

Once a year, people spend a week courageously defending books that were controversial fifty or a hundred years ago. Open Culture comes to the defense of such books as The Great Gatsby, The Call of the Wild, and 1984 against the massed forces trying to deny people’s access to them. The first was “challenged” at Baptist College in 1987, the second was burned by Nazis in 1933, and the third “challenged” in Florida in 1981. “Challenged” can mean that just one person went to a librarian or judge.

It’s actually a good sign if these people have nothing better to do; real book-banning by governments in the United States is practically non-existent today. The First Amendment and the courts’ consistently upholding it have seen to that. This could change; the pendulum is swinging back against free speech, and there’s a sizeable body of people who say the First Amendment shouldn’t apply to corporations (including most major book publishers) or protect spending money on speech.

Some banned-book lists include books that would-be censors have recently targeted, such as The Anarchist Cookbook. In a 2010 post, Open Culture mentions Mein Kampf. Attempts to censor it in the US haven’t gotten any traction, but it’s heavily restricted in much of Europe. This hasn’t prevented Europe from having a much bigger neo-Nazi problem than the US; it’s only given Hitler’s rant a mark of distinction. (Today I came across an article on a US campus newspaper’s website that argues it should be banned not for anything it advocates but because — the writer concludes from an English translation — it’s badly written.)

It’s easy to champion books against yesterday’s censors when no one disagrees with you. Defending unpopular books takes more courage, and defending the freedom to print books you despise takes commitment to principle and willingness to take heat.