About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Who needs censorship, anyway?

This editorial in the Las Vegas Review-Journal last August makes the point nicely: The Jewel of Medina was cancelled even though there were no threats at the time, or protests of any sort, "from any actual Muslims." But Random House was afraid "some Muslim, somewhere, might be offended by the book," so they "told Ms. Jones to keep her [advance of] $100,000 - and her manuscript."

The editorial adds a little snidely: "This cowardice, this reluctance to stand up for free-speech rights against even the remote possibility of offending some Muslim with a rusty sword to wave, somewhere, certainly seems more European than American."

But whether it's European or American or the kind of thing they go in for on the smaller moons of Jupiter, it's a form of cowardice that we can well do without. We expect courage from our publishers. Of course, Random House was never under an obligation to accept Sherry Jones's novel in the first instance - that was purely a commercial decision - but things have reached a sad state when a major publishing house backs down because of fear that there will be reprisals when its chosen authors exercise their freedom of speech.

"As Neville Chamberlain proved at Munich," the Las Vegas Review-Journal's editorial concludes, "nothing more emboldens a would-be tyrant than to knuckle under to his whims and demands, rather than standing up and calling his bluff." Well, yes, but in this case there were not even any whims, demands, and bluffs involved. Nothing had happened except that one person who was sent an advance reading copy for a possible endorsement decided to raise an alarm about the possible consequences. That, of course, was not her role. Her role was to give an endorsement if she liked what she saw, or else to pass up the invitation in a dignified way - not to abuse her position by trying to sink the whole project.

Still, it was not her decision in the end, but that of the management of Random House, who gave in without so much as a single threat from a riled Islamist.

If you censor yourself, then who needs censorship?


Robert Byers said...

In North America it truly seems that a great agenda is here to control words and so thoughts and opinions.
I see it everywhere. As a conservative Evangelical Christian etc etc it seems to come from the left. they want to stop conversation that would undermine their deepest values and gains/goals.
so when I see liberal berat censorship it confuses me.
Are you really saying censorship is wrong or just wrong for things you don't want censored?
There is no freedom of speech in North america but only the government can't censor.
We do not have freedom of speech, by law enforcement, in our fathers homes.
Nor our neighbors.
Therefore it works out that the establishment decides what speech will be allowed or punished.
America is full of recent stories of people punished for saying this or that in public or private.
The freedom of speech (freedom from punishment/censor) is not a reality today.
Everywhere people censor what they don't like and complain bitterly when its done to them.
There is not a final conclusion amongst people on what speech/ideas/thoughts are permissable and what not.
Still its the left that stops most speech. It certainly stops creationist speech/ideas and EXPELLS it whenever possible.

Magpie said...

Robert: what do you mean by censorship? What happens if you say anything at all in your father's home?

If by censorship you mean that a lot of people will call you an idiot, then you are missing the point: you can say anything you like, and others can say anything they like about it.

There may also be consequences to your words. If language had no consequence, we wouldn't bother speaking. When I say a certain sequence of words, a listener learns how to calculate the hypotenuse. Another sequence of words induces the listener to terminate my employment. A have spoken both, and variously suffered or enjoyed the consequences.

Having a response to speech is not censorship, unless the response is only to prevent the speech. I am absolutely in favour of creationist speech and ideals being expressed - but where I see falsehoods or misunderstanding, I will use my own freedom of speech to point that out.

Please feel free to refer to specific examples, though, if you'd like to go into more detail.

anik said...

Poor old Nevile Chamberlain; I suppose he'll never live the Munich conference down. It should be pointed out however, that Hitler wasn't bluffing at Munich. Chamberlain probably was as the allies had no credible forces to field against the germans in 1938. Hitler's only bluff was occupying the Rhinelnd in 1936.
I must say Kenan Malik is right on target this time, I coudn't agree more. However it's Robert Byers comment that confuses me. As a liberal (and damn proud to be too!) who believes that science is our best hope of arriving at truth, I'm often on the side being attacked by creationists, ID whackos, religionists of all stripes, "pro"-lifers, anti-gay scaremongers, republican fascists and thugs whose only weapons are intimidation and propaganda repeated ad nauseam; I've never tried to censor any of it and neither do any other "liberals" (the word itself is used as an insult by the right) I know of. .....so why does Robert think that "the left", whatever that may be, is trying to censor him amd his ilk? Is rebuttal censorship? If we were to censor (as if we had that power - really Robert!) the whackos how could we demonstrate their beliefs to be nonsense?

Robert Byers said...

You make my case.
Punishment of speech is censorship. its to bring the same result. Punishment means the speech is illegal, immoral, and to be stopped.
This is the soul of the liberal establishment today.
For years I have witnessed the attack against everyone who has different opinions about almost anything.
Yes race, ethnicity, sex identity, , sexual identity, creationism , are the present most wanted for control.
Yet the whole philosophy is clearly that there is right and wrong about ideas and so words and this is to be controlled in its reaching an audience.
In Canada we have great government organizations to control speech.

I insist that censorship is a left wing tool and not or never a right wing one.

In the Anglo-American world all men should be free to speak unless a actual law is put on the books about this or that.
Or one may prohibit speech in one's private place. So my father has the right to bann me without any claim of freedom on my part to trump him.
Likewise private companies, churches, etc can control speech.
No however as is now the case where the media screams EVERYBODY turn and look at what Mel gibson said in private. This is illegal and to be punished!

Let all freedom loving people come to agreements on these things.

Robert Byers said...

Okay if you face opposition. I face opposition from the left and am always censored or banned etc.
Its not the right that has the power to control speech in nOrth america. It is the left.
you wouldn't notice speech being banned since it is banned.
The left has the weaker positions always and can not take the competition.
They are passionate to get their way and must attack and punish those who speak against them .

lets make a deal.
no censorship/punishment of speech save in private dwellings etc or laws on the books.
No spirit of right or wrong in speech but only in conclusions.
Free speech is the stuff of freedom and progress for man.