Friday, August 12, 2011

Lies And Free Speech

Reality is real, a wise Rabbi once said. That which really happens is what our lives are made of. What really happens is the source of whatever benefit we can get from life as well as the source of all harm.

It is the professed faith, at least, of most of us that the real is good, or at least unavoidable. And it is the real that has to be contended with in our actions and thoughts. What is asserted to be unreal is denigrated and the charge of believing in what is deemed to not be real constitutes one of the more serious contemporary sins among the relatively educated class of most western societies. At least that is the profession of faith which most of us would make if pressed. Which I won’t investigate further just now.

The esteem that the real is given is based in hard won experience about the consequences of wishful thinking unconditioned by consideration of the predictable results that flow from our actions. Often the lessons are unwelcome. But experience keeps a hard school as compared to desire, until the final exam results are in.

When bad results can’t be avoided, the least foolish thing to do is to forego that part of desire which leads to them. Oligarchies and other elite systems have rigged things, to insure that it’s others who pay the cost of actions and conditions not of their making. The history of non-democratic governments could be written in the measures which elites have taken to make other people pay for their privilege and the eventual collapse due to the accretions of those awful results from that.

Democracy is dependent on The People making decisions about governing society and making the laws with which a society regulates itself and its members. The quality of those laws, the quality of the results, inescapably depend on the extent to which those laws are in accord with reality. The farther they are from reality, the worse results can be expected. Experience seems to confirm this idea, the seductions of self-interest being very powerful, only hard experience consciously considered could overcome that motive to be deluded. I’ll also note that democracy is also dependent on equality before those laws. Very crudely put, laws that result in inequality will inevitably lead to a similar situation to the one described in the last paragraph.

We have an especially dramatic example of what happens when laws and actions are dangerously out of sync with what is real in the Gulf Oil disaster. A disaster which could destroy one of the most important eco-systems which life really and inescapably does depend on. Clearly the laws and regulations that allowed that well to be drilled were based on false information, much of it provided by people with degrees in science and engineering, some of whom certainly knew the possibility of something like this happening. It seems when large profits are in the mix, that these catastrophes repeatedly override experience, the lessons of past ones and the resultant destruction of the very basis of life. Yet those who repeatedly create them, are always able to profit from them. There is a reason for this situation.

My question, stemming from this past week’s discussion and the spectacle of the Gulf oil disaster, is there a right to lie?

I mean is there a real, and not just theoretical right to lie, which should be allowed to remain embedded in our laws and which has a real effect in real life. Most importantly, given the reality of how our country is ruled in 2010, what are the consequences of a legal system, a free press and a society which allows profitable and convenient lying to enjoy the functional status of a civil right*? Under the regime of free speech, free press, the champions of free speech apparently believe there is and the danger it imposes on all of us, isn't something they really care about.

Is there a right to knowingly lie in a way that can result in a catastrophe like the one we are all fixed on in the Gulf of Mexico**? Is there a right to lie in a way that will put liars in control of our government and regulatory agencies, and our courts? Don’t forget the courts, which, often don’t seem to feel it is their job to punish the most massively consequential lies, so long as those aren’t told in court, under oath or in a context that can be construed as the equivalent of a contract. And quite often, even when those are. It is exactly that part of the government which is supposed to consider what is real and what isn’t that has allowed the corporations and the congress and administrations to ignore reality as hard experience shows will obviously lead to disaster.


I’m sure that, as in the discussion of violent porn, this question will elicit an immediate response with the most extreme of hypothetical scenarios presented. It’s often the classic questions. What about lying to the Nazis about where the Jewish children are hidden? That kind of thing. And, of course, when those situations are real, they are all important. Of course, any moral person with a functioning brain would lie to the Nazis. But pretending that moral imperative to lie as an exculpatory factor in the official lies that gush like oil from the insanely drilled hole in the Gulf, is willfully and stunningly dishonest. The two situations are made definitively different by the illegitimacy of the Nazis’ genocide and their demented despotism. Naziism can, in no way, be equated with the aspirations and the goals of egalitarian democracy. To deny that difference is to lie, to assert those two situations are equivalent is a colossal lie. The imperative to lie to the Nazis is founded in the choices of Nazis. The requirement to tell the truth is an essential prerequisite for democracy to be possible.

In my experience, the very people who would bring up this hypothetical in defense of lying are the same who will absolutely hold that any suppression of Nazi propaganda is a crime against civil liberties. Those European countries whose children were rounded up and murdered by the Nazis are often criticized for their outlawing of Naziism and Holocaust denial. This pseudo-ethical stand is an example of denying the hardest of reality in favor of the soft comfort of an abstract principle.

The history of that genocide is as real a fact as exists. It is as real as anything in science or mathematics. It is more real than anything asserted in the entire history of philosophy. It is a definitive justification for the suppression of Naziism. Denial of a that lesson, consisting of the murders of millions of innocent people, discredits those who refuse to learn it. There comes a time when you have to acknowledge a lesson like that delegitimizes an abstract principle that airily accepts the possibility of its repetition. You just do. Eventually people have to stop pretending that is a serious point of view held by credible people. And the same thing can be said for other genocides, the extermination of the population of Tasmania by the British, the genocides on every continent that continue to today. Genocide didn’t end. It is a constant danger around the world today.

The clear morality of lying to save innocent people doesn’t set aside the fatal effect of serious lying in a democratic society. In fact, one of the likely cumulative results of that kind of lie, is the supplanting of democracy with despotism, and despotisms always try to keep themselves in power by the kind of violence that comprises the extreme hypothetical of the “free speech” absolutist.


The only legitimate reason for a government to exist is for the protection of The People and the promotion of their common good and other such benefits. Foremost, that requires protection of the biosphere that all rights depend on. To do that, we have found, a democratic government is indispensable.

As an extension of our personal rights and the necessity of their protection, we also find it necessary to protect democratic government. Our laws have protections of our constitution built into them, laws that protect the government against attack. Even the Bill of Rights and the rest of the protections of individual liberties are held to allow anti-treason and similar laws. Clearly supporting the enemies of the United States is not expression that is without legal jeopardy for those who express it in an actionable manner, especially during times of war.

But there is a far greater danger to a democratic society than the ones we are all told to fear, one that is allowed the freest of free reign today, and no where more freely than those in the mass media and government who are deflecting attention with fear of terrorism, often based on nothing in reality.

Why should a democratic society allow lying about serious public issues? It shouldn’t. It certainly shouldn’t allow it in the mass media or by politicians or judges.

The lies that fill the airwaves used to be mostly heard during political campaigns but are now a perpetual feast of toxic garbage on the airwaves and, even more so, on cable and the internet. I think that today those lies are a far greater danger to democracy and the Constitution of the United States than any foreign or domestic enemy. As an example, it is estimated that 40,000 Americans die every year as a result of our for-profit insurance system which denies them timely care, in many cases, it denies them any care. The well financed lies of the insurance and associated industries have perpetuated a protection racket that kills far more Americans that have been killed by any foreign or domestic enemy of the government and our society. And that’s only those who die from our terrible health insurance system. Corporations kill many more of us than that.

Democracy that allows lying a free reign in its politics can't survive as a democracy. The evidence is that our system that is fueled on lies, freely told, freely broadcast, told by professional liars paid by the most filthy rich and larcenous crooks, is destroying our society and, indeed, the very basis of life. I don’t think there is any moral or political reason to allow that. Citing free speech in defense of liars isn’t just an irrational, one law fits all occasions, refusal to consult reality, it is dangerous to our democracy and our lives.

Using the language of rights and freedom to hand over our minds to lies is criminal insanity. Using the excuse that sifting the lies from the truth is hard and takes an effort is inexcusable. If it’s too hard to do that, then it’s too hard for us to make informed political decisions. It is to pretend that responsible voting and participation in democracy is impossible. It is to assert that democracy isn’t possible. There is no royal road in reality. If it’s even very very hard to do what is essential, that’s just too bad.


Indulging in a bit of non-reality, just call it an extreme hypothetical, imagine a society where no one told lies, where no corporation interested in maximizing profit over the welfare of The People or the environment could misrepresent the reality of their intentions and proposed activities? Imagine if they had to be honest about what really happens.

Imagine if they couldn’t hire scientists, engineers, lawyers, and other, assorted professions --- and in today’s reality, quite a sordid bunch they are — to lie to us and our government.

Would we The People let them drill where they couldn’t fix an oil well blow out before it caused the death of a major ecosystem? Would we allow them to ration health care on the basis of what is most profitable to them, including the deaths of tens of thousands every year?

And imagine if politicians and lawyers and judges didn’t lie. Let’s go wild and imagine if the broadcast and cabloid media couldn’t lie? Would there be any harm to our freedom, our liberties, our lives from this terrible regime of the truth? Would getting even half way there from the cesspool of lies we are in today hurt or enhance those benefits of democracy?

* Of course, there are other lies that are not permitted, some have been noted in the discussions last week and I won’t go over those again here. Libel and slander among them. A good part of the Clinton administration was a lesson in what happens when media corporations and pseudo-religious corporations are given a free reign in slandering and libeling elected officials. It was the Supreme Court, in decisions some foolishly hail as a great bulwark of free speech that led to that crippling of democracy.

** In another recent discussion there was something of a scandalized reaction when it was proposed that scientists, engineers and others who, from positions gained through their academic credentials, lied or irresponsibly and catastrophically misjudged the situation that led to the oil gusher into the gulf, should lose their credentials. Including revoking their degrees.

Universities are supposed to be institutions that place the highest value on truth in accord with reality. “Veritas,” the often ironic slogan is. “Lux et Veritas, ”... This is supposed to be especially true in academic departments in the sciences, engineering and schools of law.

What are we supposed to think of the universities which trained corporate scientists and engineers who bend their work product in ways that are no different from lying about what is real? What are we supposed to think about those who have also proven, in the most horrible way, that their professional judgement is criminally negligent at worst, disastrously incompetent at best? Should people who have done those kinds of things retain their credentials? Shouldn’t universities which produce these people take their measure of blame in that?

What is the real value of a university education if the people they tout in the alumnae propaganda are proven liars and incompetents? And that doesn’t even begin to ask about law school graduates. It also doesn’t go into the fact that the faculties of many of our most prestigious universities are well salted with corrupt corporate hacks, crooks and liars.

Eventually, reality being real, the corruption behind the ivy and ersatz parchment becomes undeniable. I think we are rapidly reaching the crisis stage when our universities are adjuncts of a corrupt corporate oligarchy. The signs of rot are undeniably visible now.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Reason for Liberalism to Exist At All and Why Violent Pornography Should Be Suppressed

Two people hearing the same piece of music won’t have the same reaction to it. One person will hate it and the next person will find that it compellingly speaks to their condition. And those aren’t the only two possibilities. The person who finds a piece to be irresistibly absorbing of their attention will have a half-ally in someone who likes to ignore the same piece as background music while they read a book. The first cousin to indifference.

And what is true about different responses to a piece of music is true of books, movies, pictures, and just about anything else. It is also true of ideas. One person who finds an intellectual position to be totally convincing will be matched by many who think it is hogwash. And there are few passionate dislikes quite like colleagues who hold similar but competing positions on a subject within the world of scholarship.

Clearly people react in significantly different, often significantly opposite ways to the same experience. Which will come as a surprise to no one. When it comes to the things above.

A note I had from someone who read the exchange from last weekend provided the same old lines about pornography that can be abbreviated to “there isn’t any proof that pornography leads to violent behavior”, with the obligatory mention of statistics thrown in. While I’m not convinced that the statistical analyses, such as I’ve seen, are convincing, I ‘ve come to be even less convinced that they are relevant to the topic of the damaging effects of pornography. The statistics won’t show us what we need to know about this topic.

For the purposes of thinking about the possible impact of pornography in the actual lives of people, it is the individual people that are important, not the artificial, nonexistent conglomeration that is the focus of statistical analysis. A person isn’t raped by a number, they aren’t strangled or slashed or bludgeoned by a tolerable confidence interval, mode, median or average, they are attacked by one person, or a group of actual, other associated people. I hold that it is a reasonable conclusion, that if those people who attack have been exposed to violent pornography, their actions have been motivated by that pornography. That another person – OK, let’s cut that even handed garbage now — if another man happened to view exactly the same pornography and was entirely unaffected by it, that does nothing to negate the motivating effect it had on the attacker.

When it is a matter of a crime, the events of that crime are more important than a sociological generality. The life events and condition of the individual who commits a crime are more important in understanding that crime than the experience or condition of any or, even, all other individuals. Just as the crime of an unrelated person cannot be justly blamed on another accused person*, the non-response of another person to pornography can’t negate its likely effect on a person who acts in a way that is consistent with it and the ideas it promotes.

n individual person's experience isn’t watered down by the experience of another person, our lives aren’t neutralized to a tolerable acidity by the introduction of an inert substance. When looking for the possible effects that violent pornography has on the victims of violence, the only relevant subjects for study are those who attacked them. Unfortunately, since we are talking about the internal conditions of peoples’ minds in this, you have no access to that except through their self-reporting. And in the case of the consumption of violent pornography and its effects on those who act violently, I don’t know how you are going to reach a reasonable level of confidence in their testimony about their consumption of it or its place in their motivations. I’d be rather disinclined to view violent rapists and sexual sadists as reliable in matters of self-knowledge and truth.

As I’ve always been stunned to realize, in our society today, words and images are granted a higher level of respect than mere mortals, both human and animal. I strongly suspect that what began as an abstract Jeffersonian ideal that was supposed to allow the best ideas to incubate and naturally rise to prominence, in practice hasn’t worked out with anything like uniform success. I also strongly suspect some of the worst of it, flows from the fact that not all words and ideas are of equal attractiveness to people with the power to change things. The idea that women are inferior to men and so women were subjugated by natural law is an idea that we are still struggling against. It was such an accustomed idea to the late 18th century that women could be left out of the founding documents of this country, its expression isn’t sufficient to disqualify men from holding important public offices now. ** Jefferson’s actions show that he certainly didn’t see women as being the equals of men, certainly not women of color.

Clearly, for most of the history of this country, the idea that women were inferior to men had greater appeal than the idea that women are equal to men and possessed the right to full personhood and equality. It was to the benefit of men to pretend they knew this, it was to their economic benefit and to the gratification of their self-concept to have women subservient to them, their chattels. The struggle of the idea that women had equal rights is an idea that has had a hard time winning out over the traditional viewpoint of patriarchal domination. That the factual case of women’s rights is solid and entirely more credible than the self–interested hunches and habits of patriarchy has not made it strong, politically, and even under the judiciary it is constantly endangered in 2010.

Just think of that. In 2010 women are in danger of losing their right to control the most personal and intimate aspects of their personhood! Despite the centuries of reasoned discussion and proof, we are still struggling against the most primitive and obviously dishonest line of oppression that deprives more than half of the human population of their equal rights. The “more speech” of women’s rights has not yet effectively won over patriarchy despite what must be the daily experience of more than half of the species. And it is the freely spoken lies, the freely presented images and dramatic presentations and Madison Ave. style PR in favor of male domination that are what maintain the oppression. And in no part of the freely spoken, freely expressed discourse of patriarchal oppression is that as obvious as violent pornography.

To grant pornography the legal status where it must be convicted at a standard beyond mere reasonable doubt is one of the absurdities of our times. A standard granted to pornography is well past a standard based on perfect certainty that it is innocent. If there was absolute proof convicting pornography in promoting violence, I would bet you anything that the absolutists would still claim it was the right thing to allow it to live. That is the essential stand that is unstated in free speech absolutism. It is the standard of those who oppose all libel and slander laws which are, obviously, a restriction on speech. That standard makes the most damned lie immune from suppression. The counter-argument that bad speech be answered by “more speech” is made false by the fact that a lie, even countered, generally has a damaging effect on those lied about. There isn’t enough of the distilled water of “more speech” to render the lie of no consequence. Of course, if you have a prominent position in the media or other realm and often according to where you live, those consequences are often of less impact. The effects of many of the worst lies varies by area and economic status.

In Massachusetts on Thursday, a young man was convicted of the stabbing murder of James Alenson, a 15-year-old school mate. The jury didn’t find the psychological mitigation presented by the defense to be convincing. Among other things learned in the trial, the murderer, John Odgren, was obsessed with a series of Stephen King stories. The testimony in the case documented that what he read in those books influenced his behavior to the extent that he called himself by the name of the principle character in them. To assert that his behavior was unaffected by the book is, clearly, to lie. He was, clearly, impressed with the trench coat cult, which I associate with the killers at Columbine High School. He would have had to hear about that from someone, most likely through the media, perhaps through the sick online cult that sees the Columbine killers and their kind as heroes. I don’t know what it was in the mass of psychological jargon presented by either side of the court case that made him attack a randomly chosen student, one who apparently he didn’t know, who was small and gentle and not someone who would have been likely to taunt him. Someone who was probably seen as unlikely to put up an effective defense. I don’t know exactly why Odgren killed, I do know that to discount his media driven obsessions is willful detachment from reality. It is as delusional as the thinking asserted by his defense team as the motivation of the murder. Just as an observation, if I was the author of stories that played a role like this in a murder, I would at least cease from producing similar tales. My right to tell a story can hardly be equal to the right of a 15-year-old to live.

The political impotence of the left is the result of the pseudo-judicial requirement imposed, by us and media coercion, on our public life by the free speech industry.**** That standard of extra-judicial impartiality has been absurdly inserted into our political speech and our lives as political animals. It is a standard of behavior that no other part of the political spectrum feels they must practice. It is seen clearly in the scrupulous observances maintained on the left about speech and expression. When someone can’t object to the word “cunt” or about the business practices of Hooters without being chastised as violating some bizarrely inverted concept of justice, it’s clear that we mere human beings are the vassals of words and images, so much more so when they are the products of commerce. It is time for women and the rest of those struggling for progress to declare we are going to throw off that mind forged manacle that is so notably a benefit to our opponents. The idea that all speech is equal and must be treated impartially will always benefit those with more power and fewer morals.

When you add the mass media to violent words the results can be genocidal. As mentioned in last weeks argument, free speech in the form of lies is the basis of most of the loss of rights due to bigotry and discrimination. Misogyny, racism, ethnic and religious bigotry, hatred of LGBT folks, are, in almost every case today, founded on and fueled by freely expressed speech. Hate talk radio and cabloids are the most prevalent media informing the American People of what their government and others do. Our virtually unrestricted media, just about entirely freed of the obligation to serve the public interest is the product of the free speech industry and the corporate media it so often acts on behalf of***. There has hardly ever been a time in the history of speech, when hate speech by and in the interest of those with power wasn’t given complete freedom, no matter what other speech was suppressed.

Of the many clear examples when speech has a homicidal impact on mere human beings, abridging every right those mere humans have, the Rwandan genocide is a relatively fresh and undeniable example. By the time the “more speech” had time to catch up with the hate speech and incitement to commit genocide that was uninhibitedly broadcast in a way that our shock jocks are quickly catching up to, hundreds of thousands of people were dead. If you think that can’t happen here, it does now. Women, the identifiable class most subject to hate speech, freely expressed, are murdered in the United States every single day because they are women. The slaughter of women is slow motion terrorism that has an inhibiting effect on the freedoms of women and girls. It is a lynching campaign that is the product of words that accumulate into attitudes and social norms. The same can be said to an extent of other groups which are regularly and irregularly the topic of hate speech. As is undeniable during this time of “open carry” rallies, our opponents are showing us that they are armed well past the teeth. Anyone who is willing to bet that they could not be incited to kill with them is an idiot.

In thinking about this and other topics, I’ve come to the conclusion that the way we have been led to think of human behavior is basically wrong. People aren’t atoms and molecules, they don’t behave with reasonable uniformity, there aren’t just a few simple vectors to describe their motion and interaction with their environment. I think much if not all of this statistical activity concerning human behavior might be quite useless. I don’t believe anymore that human behavior is subject to any laws and rules that our science is able to discern with any reliability. It is in determining the actions of any individual. While it might be very desirable to be able to make predictions about future behavior, trying to determine that with statistics is of wildly variable success at the very best. The more complex the behavior, the less likely it is liable to be understood simply. With complexity, given the nature of behaviors and their possible source in unknowable motivations, the complexity of the network of those possible motivations expands very fast. I don’t think behavioral science works even as well as the observations of a good fiction writer. That conclusion is something I didn’t want to be true, I used to believe the opposite, but I think it is true. I would like there to be a reliable science to deal with dangerous mental illnesses, but I don’t believe that, other than administering drugs to prevent some of the adverse behavior, the results are reliable.

We don’t have to like something for it to be true. Nature and science don’t have to conform to what would be most useful to us or most convenient for us. It would be extremely useful if we could predict who will have a bad reaction to violent pornography and use it as a how-to manual. But we can’t. To pretend that inability requires us to accept complete libertarianism, allowing pornography to throw off its chains and to flourish in its infinite depravity, is insane. To ignore that it is at least as effective as Viagra commercials in changing behavior or encouraging behavior that is latent in a potentially dangerous person, is also insane.

* The results of the habit of generalization are on full display in the infamous law recently passed in Arizona. Allow sterotypes and group libel full reign and you get laws like that one.

** When you add the element of ownership, as in slavery, the interests of slave owners asserted themselves and the original Constitution included mention of slaves, conferring extra privileges to slave holders and the states they lived in. The importance of that distinction is seen in the fact that the constitution didn’t give extra weight to the representation of states based on giving unenslaved women a fractional value, the infamous 3/5ths person value. Of course, that added representation wasn’t given to slaves, it was given to their enslavers.

*** If you want to know why our government doesn’t work, despite the majority that was elected with Barack Obama, our media is the foremost part of that. The impotence of Democrats in the congress and the administration is inflicted by the free media, exercising their unrestricted free speech in the absence of the onerous burden of risking an accurately informed electorate voting in an effectively beneficial way.

**** It was exactly that media coercion that fueled my first blog post.

Note: In the end, you have to stand for what you stand for.

I would have risked making this post of even more unreadable length if I’d gone into the all important issue of what the values of liberalism are for, in the end. To hold that governments and societies should treat people equally, to allow them to practice the control of their bodies and lives, isn’t an isolated end in itself. It has a goal, that of allowing people to live peaceful, happy lives, to not be harmed by other people with the ability to suppress and harm them. I don’t think it’s wrong to point out that much of speech and expression is an attack on that goal, it isn’t of innocuous intent. The goal of many people is to hurt people and animals, some people are gratified by hurting other people, they want to steal the product of their work, up to and including the most basic sustenance. There are people who like to hurt and kill other people. To deny that is to deny the reasons that liberalism and democracy are necessary in the first place. To deny that it is necessary to prevent that harm is to deny the only legitimate reason that laws and government exist.

There are also people who are so enamored of their self-righteousness that they will preen in a posture of scrupulosity in the matter of free speech even as they wash their hands of the results of the malignant speech they champion. “More speech” is the water that is held to clean up the blood. Only it doesn’t clean up the blood. It does, however, mask the indifference to it.