Tag Archive | rights

Free speech is for the brave and the hated (and everyone else)

Last week, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg came under fire for saying he would not automatically censor Holocaust deniers from Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg is not expressing sympathy with Holocaust deniers when he says he won’t automatically remove them from the Facebook news feed. His convoluted way of saying so may have missed the mark, but defending the right of people to post controversial or objectionable ideas on a free social media service should be a no-brainer. It’s a sad sign that anyone in America today should have to “walk back” any comment that defends the right of free expression.

Facebook has the right to censor content, as it’s a media platform that can operate by whatever standards it deems fit. And indeed it has censored content, putting dollars before principles and obediently obeyed repressive laws overseas in order to gain traction outside the U.S. It follows speech codes set by the Chinese government and governments in Europe that would never pass muster in the U.S. if they were applied by a government agency.

But the demands that Facebook censor content show the diminished respect for the concept of free speech and expression. Facebook enables users to block content they find objectionable and even block other users from their news feed if they are not to your liking. That people clamor for Facebook to go further and eliminate whole blocks of content simply because many people object flies in the face of what we Americans embrace as a concept of free expression.

Free speech is an end unto itself, it is a moral absolute. Freedom of expression is a basic human right that universal and inviolate. It is enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights as well as the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19).

Social media is not obligated to the same concepts of free expression that are guaranteed human rights. When you sign up for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever comes next, you are agreeing to terms of conditions that enable the service provider to regulate how they wish. But our sense of fair play in allowing free expression in these realms is an important one.

Americans have rightfully embraced the saying that is often attributed to Voltaire (though it actually comes from biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall who summarized his idea), “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

And to stand up for free speech is to undoubtedly join questionable company. You’re going to be standing up for Klansmen, pornographers, Holocaust deniers, pedophiles, and religious extremists. You will defend the rights of people who want to see you diminished, or maybe even dead. Sadly, the distinction of supporting someone’s right to say something as opposed to supporting what they say is being stripped away. Even long-standing organizations that have famously jumped to the defense of free speech—specifically the once-reliable A.C.L.U.—are now hedging and making exceptions in the toxic partisan atmosphere of our contemporary era.

Much of the speculation today surrounding the ascent of alternative right elements in our national politics is whether or not we are heading down the slippery slope to a fascist state. If the American far right is excelling in bringing us closer to fascism, its greatest victory so far has been in getting its opposition to embrace fascist elements wholesale while waving the flag of anti-fascist virtue. Every “punch a Nazi” post you see on social media, every embrace of the very concept of “hate speech” is a steep step down that terrible slippery slope.

Please remember: there is a reason that fascists are rightly reviled, it’s because they do things such as… restricting freedom of speech under the guise of protecting the populace from harmful ideas, advocating violence against those they disagree with, or claiming some higher moral right to speech than others. “That’s not free speech, that’s hate speech,” is among the most fascistic mantras in common use today.

Let’s all sides agree to let others have their say. You don’t have to listen or agree, but recognize that free speech is a human right that no one should be able to infringe. Defending the right of someone to express their ideas is not the equivalent of endorsing those ideas: teach that in schools and put up ads around town about it.

There can be no equivocation. There is no other speech but free speech. People have died for it in America and around the world. Don’t accept any substitutes.

Labor’s Love Lost

jim_larkin-200x200This past Easter Sunday, my family ate heartily and discussed some of the current political and economic issues of the day. There may be better ways to wash down a tasty Easter ham than a lamentation on the state of the republic, but we haven’t found it yet. Our conversation settled on how many pension holders have been screwed by their municipal or corporate overlords.

The unofficial conclusion we reached over our Easter meal was that the United States is long overdue for a resurrected organized labor movement.

Labor unions represent only about 11% of the American workforce, and a majority of union members today are government workers who can’t strike. The upside to this is that a lot of government workers have very good, stable jobs that are safer and more lucrative than their non-government worker counterparts. But most workers are continually getting screwed.

The labor movement was spurred on by the large impact of industrialization and it was designed to protect industrial laborers and tradesmen. It has not adapted to the changing economy. The majority of American workers today are not industrial tradesmen.

If there was a viable labor movement in the U.S., I would have a real union to join. I work as a financial journalist. The company I work for actually cut our salaries years ago during the financial crisis. They technically restored the salary cuts years later, but haven’t given raises since and continued to cut our pay in other ways, such as stopping all matching 401k contributions, gutting healthcare benefits, and the like. They’ve also done a lot of outsourcing. Employees with many years of service to the company under their belts were shown the door, their jobs shipped off to India.

A labor union would have fought all of those things, but there is no labor union representing us. We are considered too “professional” to join a union, though not professional enough to be tossed aside like yesterday’s garbage if someone outsourcing shyster can save the company a few dollars. But we don’t have much recourse since there is no collective bargaining going on. People vote with their feet and while people are leaving the company in droves, the rest of us are there are spending our energies looking for other work rather than fighting a good fight (and since I need my job and have four mouths to feed, I’ll kindly not mention the name of the company I work for here).

I dream of the day when the outsourcing C.E.O. gets a brick through his living room window and four flat tires on his way to work. There should be real unions to contend with when companies want to cut pay, cut benefits or cut jobs. This isn’t because I think the answer is some kind of socialist worker’s paradise. To paraphrase what Winston Churchill said about democracy: Capitalism is the worst economic system there is except for all of the others.

There seems to be a great illness of myopathy among our current class of capitalists. They think only in the short term and only in terms of the bottom line. I have no problem with businesses making hard decisions and scoring a healthy profit, but a lot of executives are not thinking ahead much farther than the next quarterly report. Sure, the slash-and-burn fiscal ass-fucking they’ve been giving American workers has increased profits now, but what kind of company are they going to have in five years?

But our companies have pursued these policies and the results are predictable. American capitalism no longer means industriousness and hard work, but rather golden parachutes and amorality.

Just as democracy doesn’t work without real political opposition, real capitalism doesn’t work without American workers having some kind of say over their working lives. Labor unions were once the source of that power. They can be again.

Boycotting the Irish

St. PatrickNew York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that he won’t be attending the St. Patrick’s Day Parade because the parade does not let gay organizations march under their own banners.

The statement made the news, though it was not likely de Blasio’s intention to do so. He mentioned it in response to a question at a news conference he had called to announce the appointment of a deputy mayor. But the press likes controversy over cultural issues a lot more than rudimentary announcements of mayoral appointments, so there you have it.

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade does not outlaw gays. There’s no marshal on Fifth Avenue with a Shamrock Gaydar device pulling alleged homosexuals out of the parade. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is organized by the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The AOH is religiously Catholic and since the Catholic Church, like almost every other major religion, considers homosexual acts sinful, it doesn’t want openly gay groups marching under their own banner.

I agree that the Ancient Order of Hibernians should allow gay Irish groups to march in the parade under their own banner, or at least give them the same consideration they would give to any other Irish group. I’m all for gays, lesbians and any and every other designation under the expanding LGBT nomenclature being treated equally under the law and given full respect and dignity.

But the Hibernians have the right to be as ancient as they like in their attitudes and parade policies. The parade even avoids certain city regulations because the parade predates the American Revolution. I would love to divorce Irish culture from Catholicism and put it on a more secular, nationalist bent. But it’s their parade and they can run it as they choose. Likewise, organizers of the gay pride parade can decide they don’t want Irish or Catholic gays marching under their own banner. That’s their right.

De Blasio is being consistent with his refusal to march in the main parade; he didn’t march as a councilman or as Public Advocate for the same reasons. But this consistency is now a problem. He’s not a councilman or the Public Advocate anymore. The job description changes when you are mayor. Mayors represent the entire city and to get drawn into battles over ethnic parades should be beneath them. Rudolph Giuliani, a Republican mayor who was pro-gay rights and first legalized same-sex unions in the city, marched in every St. Patrick’s Day parade as mayor.

I’m also curious as to how consistently political figures who avoid the mainstream St. Patrick’s Day parade are with their insistence on inclusion. There’s a Muslim Day Parade and other overtly religious parades that may also disapprove of gays. If they don’t have an openly gay group among their marchers, are they verboten also?

Taking the activist left position on everything only paints you into a corner. Though to be fair, there was an effort to convince the Mayor to ban city workers from marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in their uniforms and de Blasio didn’t take that left turn to crazyville.

By avoiding the St. Patrick’s Day parade, de Blasio doesn’t stand to change anything but lower his own standing. Lots of New Yorkers, Irish or otherwise, will look at him not as a more liberal-minded manager but as the white David Dinkins, involving himself in a well-tread skirmish in an old and tired battle.

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