Thursday, April 23, 2009

Criticism is not censorship

It is astounding the amount of bullshit being spread around over Miss USA contestant Carrie Prejean and her befuddling, confused answer regarding gay marriage. Prejean, who has no claim to fame other then coming in second in a contest showing off her mammary glands, is milking the issue (pardon that unintended pun) for all it worth. She was a nobody with hopes of becoming a somebody, who failed. Now, the way to seek fame for herself, is to play the victim card and run around rallying Right-wing crazies and religious fanatics to proclaim her as some sort of saint. I can’t wait until they produce the little plastic statue for my dashboard—Saint Carrie of Bigotry.

Let us try to put some sense into this debate by looking at the silly claims that are being made and debunking them. The prime one that ought to concern freedom-lovers is the matter of freedom of speech. Larry Norton, at OregonLive, says that the Prejean controversy somehow deals with the “core value” of freedom of speech. He argues that the question she was asked shouldn’t have been asked—though he offers no reason whatsoever for that. And then he says: “There should have been no wrong answer.” Yes, of course, there are no “wrong” answers anymore, just opinions, just feelings, just damn irrational whims that have nothing to do with reality.

Norton’s opinion piece never comes close to explaining what “freedom of speech” issue was involved here. The closest he comes is when he says: “The fact that someone’s views are not yours is not the basis for ‘punishing’ that person." What he means by punishing is left unstated.

Of course, another person’s opinions are an absolutely valid reason for “punishing” them in one sense of the word, but not in another. If the term refers to denying them their rights, then it is invalid. If it means other forms of “punishment” there is nothing to say about the matter as public policy. For instance, let us assume that you are dating Miss Prejean and she opens her mouth and spews out some other form of ignorance. You thank her for the date and tell her you won’t be calling again. You just “punished” her but you haven’t violated her rights. She has no right to date you.

Let us assume that Miss USA judges decided that the comments Prejean made were “wrong” enough that she shouldn’t represent the pageant in public. Assume they vote her down in the judging in that area and that tips the scales in favor of another contestant. What right was violated? None. Prejean doesn’t have the right to represent the pageant anymore than she has the right date people who don’t like her opinions.

Miss USA represents the pageant, not herself. As such the pageant can decide whether or not she meets their criteria as their spokeswoman. Clearly several of the judges felt that Prejean would be a bad spokeswoman for this pageant. That is what the judges are supposed to do, that is within the pageant’s rights to do, and Prejean never suffered any diminution of her rights.

Apparently what the Right is doing is confusing consequences of actions with violations of rights. Mel Gibson went into an anti-Semitic rant not long ago, entirely consistent with the pro-Nazi viewpoints of his father. Numerous Jews said they would no longer work with Gibson—and I don’t blame them. Gibson suffered consequences due to his bigoted, drunken rant, but his rights were untouched. The idea that there should be no consequences to actions is a bizarre notion. If someone takes cocaine consistently and finds they lose their job due to their lack of attention, their rights are intact but they have suffered consequences. Removing consequences from people’s actions is a very dangerous thing to do—it encourages bad decisions and subsidizes destructive actions.

Carrie Prejean has the right to be biblically bigoted, if she wants to be. But she has no right to assume others will like it, and no right to assume that others can then be forced to work with her against their will.

Of course, it is possible to “censor” someone but she was not censored at all. That is evident from the fact that she is doing the interview circuit pumping herself up like crazy. At this point I suggest her “hurt” is just a PR tactic to get more publicity for the loser of a beauty queen pageant. At no point was her speech impeded. What she lost was the opportunity to represent a pageant as their winner. But no one has that right to begin with. It is a voluntary contract. In this case the pageant hires judges to decide which contestant will be given the position. They chose someone else instead. That is not infringing Carrie’s freedom of speech, that is exercising freedom of association.

Censorship requires force. It may be government forcibly preventing an opinion from being expressed or punishing people, through law, for expressing said opinion. Or, it may be a private person using force against another person to prevent them from expressing an opinion. But that is it. Other consequences to opinions are not censorship and not free speech issues. If I kick you out of my house, because you are a racist that is not censorship but property rights. If I refuse to hire you because you are racist that is not censorship, but freedom of contract. However, if I were to kick you out of your house that is censorship. If I were to forcibly prevent you from printing a book, that is censorship. But if I refuse to cooperate with you, in order for you to print your book, that is not censorship.

Roland Martin, a fundamentalist Christian, wrote on CNN as if Prejean was being crucified for her sins. He says she was “savagely attacked," by which he means she was criticized. I find it interesting how these fundamentalists downplay gay bashings when they happen yet describe criticism of themselves as “savage.” Martin claims that Prejean is “being torn to shreds” for her answer. Martin says: “The day we condemn folks for speaking honestly is the day we become a bland society.” Martin's piece was headlined "thanks for the honesty." I wonder if Mr. Martin, who is black, would thank David Duke for his honesty in regards to the rights of black people?

Odd that we have a Christian writer now demanding that we not condemn people for their comments. Mr. Norton says Prejean “stood up for her principles—quite refreshing.”

But those comments are rubbish. People stand up for principles all the time. And it is proper for us to judge those principles and laud them or condemn them as we seek fit. It is not proper to prevent people from airing such opinions however, but that never happened.

What is refreshing about Prejean expressing a bigoted opinion based on her religious beliefs? That sort of thing happens all the time. Consider the Christian Identity folk who say that God made the White race his chosen people, that blacks are inferiors, and that Jews are the spawn of Satan. Would it be “refreshing” to listen to them spout their hate? The Christian fundamentalists I grew up with taught that blacks were punished by God under the “curse of Ham” and that they were condemned to a life of servitude to white people. They used Old Testament verses to allegedly prove this.

There are lots of religious opinions that people hold that can be petty, bigoted, uniformed and wrong. Are we really supposed to stop judging such comments? Have we reached the stage where there are now only subjective opinions? Are we to restrain condemnation of religiously motivated suicide bombers merely because they are religious?

Christians have the right to morally condemn gays if they want. Prejean has the right to damn gays to hell but no right to try to send them there1 prematurely. She has the right to disassociate from people she thinks of as sinners, just like the Miss USA pageant has the right to move away from her and not give her the beauty crown. Nor is there anything wrong with condemning Prejean’s opinions.

I suspect that if Miss Prejean had been asked about the Middle East instead, and then gave a rambling answer about how Jews are evil people, and how this belief is confirmed in her own family, no one would be defending her today—except perhaps the American Nazi Party or the Klan. No would be calling an anti-Semitic answer “refreshing.”

What it comes down to is two things. One is that Prejean used religion as her excuse for denying equality of rights. Lots of people think that religiously-motivate opinions should never be judged scrutinized or condemned. Apparently, if you wish to deny rights to Jews, based on the words in Mein Kampf, you can be called a bigot and criticized. If you wish to deny rights to gays, based on the words in the Old Testament, you are immune from criticism and your opinions need not be justified or rational. Yet, there is no reason that religiously-motivated speech must be held to a lower standard of criticism.

The second issue is that lots of people, particularly those who are steeped in religious mythology, are bigoted against gays. Apparently, if enough number of people share your bigotry, then it doesn’t count as bigotry, but is merely “a difference of opinion.” Of course, it is much more than that.

If I condemn fundamentalism as a social evil that is an opinion. If I deny fundamentalists their rights as human beings that is much, much more than just an opinion. That is an assault. We all have the right to voice approval, or disapproval, of the values of others. None of us have the right to deny others their equal rights merely because we dislike what they do with those rights.

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