Monday, December 15, 2008

some musing on free speech

Neil Gaiman put up a piece last week on the First Amendent. It's had me thinking. He starts off with this: "If you accept -- and I do -- that freedom of speech is important, then you are going to have to defend the indefensible. That means you are going to be defending the right of people to read, or to write, or to say, what you don't say or like or want said." This makes me more than moderately uncomfortable. It sounds an awful lot like "the ends justify the means" to me. Still, Gaiman is an intelligent, articulate man and I read his piece all the way through. He's coming from a thoroughly secular viewpoint. From a country (England) where they don't have a first amendent, but do have things like the "Obscene Publications Act" where any customs officer can sieze things from you if he thinks you shouldn't have them. He points out that "The Law is a blunt instrument. It's not a scalpel. It's a club. If there is something you consider indefensible, and there is something you consider defensible, and the same laws can take them both out."

The case that sparked this latest manifesto on his part involves pornagraphic comic books. It's got the whole conversation going again with the usual suspects for viewpoints. What is pornography? (SCOTUS Judge Potter Stewart: "I can't define it--but I know it when I see it). What is erotica? (Is there a difference between the two?) What is art? What specifically is the role of the government in regulating these things?

I don't have any grand or spanking new opinions on this can of worms. I admit a bias toward less regulation--I don't generally think that it's the government's job to micromanage an individual's moral behavior. That said, I think that pornography is a blight on human society and far too easily available. Saying that we must defend the indefensible sounds an awful lot to me like "the end justifies the means," which is a dangerous place to go . . . Every election I'm tempted to vote libertarian . . .

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