Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Liberty, security and those giving both away

“Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty nor security”

- Benjamin Franklin (via Thinkexist)

The rights secured against government are particular and many, especially with regard to the US federal government and by incorporation to the States.  Additionally those powers not granted to the federal government are retained by the States and the people.  These are not new securities, by any means, and many go back not just to the Magna Carta and the pre-existing contracts between the people and their sovereigns, but also through the works of the post-Westphalian West that helped to delineate the differences between Moral Law, Natural Law and Civil Law.  As Natural rights and liberty are granted to us because we are part of the natural universe, there is no way that those rights can be severed from people as individuals and we can only agree to not exercise certain rights and liberties when we create government at the personal level and then at every level thereafter.  Of all governments it is self-government that is the strongest since it starts with each individual.  All other governments must utilize exterior power to enforce any larger agreements upon individuals as governments.  As Tom Paine puts it, government is the Punisher and all governments are created from the bowers of the ruins of paradise.

Freedom of speech is one of the prime rights secured against government as it is the way we communicate our inner-most feelings and ideas with each other as people.  As a people we are guaranteed that communication via the freedom of the press so that all means to communicate with each other are open to us.  With these two is the freedom of religion, the right to communicate our inner-most feelings to the Creator.  Together these are all descriptive of freedom of thought, the freedom to be oneself to oneself as you are.  Individuals who secure these rights are known as citizens, others that do not secure them properly are subjects as they allow their interior self to be defined by exterior forces.  Yet, within the heart of every subject is a free man, a citizen, if they would but allow themselves the freedom to think as they will unfettered by exterior forces.  This is the most powerful of rights as it allows self-direction, self-creation and the ability to reshape the very world by daring to find a way to do the impossible.

In our world there are those threatened by citizens, by free men, who dare to express their own ideas freely.  This is not the mischievous negative liberty to scare others (the yelling fire in a crowded theater paradigm) which is an attempt to subjugate others to fear of physical pain so as to cause pain.  In that same category is the incitement to riot which is a calling on the fear and hatred of others of some object, person, people, race, religion, or other demonized other of the moment.  Nor is there a thing known as 'hate speech' as there are only hateful people, and such people deserve the right and liberty to espouse their inner-most self so others can see just how small and hateful such people are.  Such speech is not applauded, but is counter-acted by various means, including just pointing out how hateful and baseless it is.  Thus even the worst, most vile of speech is not remedied by censorship on the outside, but through reasoning of individuals to understand just what the impacts of such speech are and why it is not good for individuals to do it.  Either that or learn to cope with the effects of such speech, that choice is up to individuals, not governments.

Current events always bring forward Franklin and his wisdom is one to be heeded as he helped to bring so much common sense to our Nation and because it is common sense and easy to understand it accords within free people to abide by it.  Events are within a time frame or period, and yet how we decide to deal with them help to chart the course of ourselves, our Nation and all humanity.  Thus your decision on how to deal with speech you do not agree with is up to you.  Sadly, there are those who want to vest that into bureaucracy we call government.  Take Eric Posner, at Slate, in has article of 25 SEP 2012 The World Doesn’t Love the First Amendment:

The universal response in the United States to the uproar over the anti-Muslim video is that the Muslim world will just have to get used to freedom of expression. President Obama said so himself in a speech at the United Nations today, which included both a strong defense of the First Amendment and (“in the alternative,” as lawyers say) and a plea that the United States is helpless anyway when it comes to controlling information. In a world linked by YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, countless videos attacking people’s religions, produced by provocateurs, rabble-rousers, and lunatics, will spread to every corner of the world, as fast as the Internet can blast them, and beyond the power of governments to stop them. Muslims need to grow a thick skin, the thinking goes, as believers in the West have done over the centuries. Perhaps they will even learn what it means to live in a free society, and adopt something like the First Amendment in their own countries.

But there is another possible response. This is that Americans need to learn that the rest of the world—and not just Muslims—see no sense in the First Amendment. Even other Western nations take a more circumspect position on freedom of expression than we do, realizing that often free speech must yield to other values and the need for order. Our own history suggests that they might have a point.

Note that first part I put into boldface, about the means of communication and what is said: that is the power of free speech and the press, both.   I will repeat it as it is a complete logic construct in its own right:

In a world linked by YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, countless videos attacking people’s religions, produced by provocateurs, rabble-rousers, and lunatics, will spread to every corner of the world, as fast as the Internet can blast them, and beyond the power of governments to stop them.

Without a free press the ability to disseminate ideas to point out tyrannical moves to punish people to think freely is then put into the very hands of those who seek more power via government.  Indeed, if government has not the power to stop such speech, as Mr. Posner implies, then there is no governmental remedy for such speech.  That is pure and absolute logic and proposing to make law of any sort that intrudes into this realm is backward, not by my logic but by that proposed by Mr. Posner.

The second part I highlighted is a call for self-censorship in appeasement of those who cannot or will not handle other people's freedoms well.  That is, individuals must censor themselves so as not to arouse the hatreds of those who will find any reason or rationale to express rage.  If it is not a video it is cartoons.  If not cartoons it is a book.  If not a book, then a poem.  The point is that it isn't the medium of expression that is at fault, nor those doing the speaking, but those doing the listening or receiving of such information that they cannot stand you not thinking and believing as they do.  To censor oneself in the face of such barbaric rage that seeks to impose its beliefs on others by silencing it is to give up that most especial of freedom: the freedom to be oneself.

That is not a 'response' but appeasement in the face of barbarism.

This is inviting more barbaric activity by becoming silent and passive.

It is acquiescing to barbaric actions by silencing oneself about them.

And no free man would ever consent to doing that.

This is not an 'alternative': it is inviting the death of civilization via the veto of the violent and intolerant.

To ask people to give away such rights and the liberty to use them, after going through the vagaries of the Left and Right, Mr. Posner puts this up as a reason to become silent in the face of barbarism:

We have to remember that our First Amendment values are not universal; they emerged contingently from our own political history, a set of cobbled-together compromises among political and ideological factions responding to localized events. As often happens, what starts out as a grudging political settlement has become, when challenged from abroad, a dogmatic principle to be imposed universally. Suddenly, the disparagement of other people and their beliefs is not an unfortunate fact but a positive good. It contributes to the “marketplace of ideas,” as though we would seriously admit that Nazis or terrorist fanatics might turn out to be right after all. Salman Rushdie recently claimed that bad ideas, “like vampires … die in the sunlight” rather than persist in a glamorized underground existence. But bad ideas never die: They are zombies, not vampires. Bad ideas like fascism, Communism, and white supremacy have roamed the countryside of many an open society.

The First Amendment is a securing of our Natural right of freedom of self, which is independent of the US Constitution.  The so-called 'contingency' misses the fact that this right had become an established one under the common law, with roots dating back not just to the Magna Carta but to the earliest law frameworks worked out in the House of Wessex.  In fact the concept that is embodied in this framework of law is that known as a 'contract' between the people and their government.  Contracts have varied over time, yes, and the extent of the limits of government start with these very first contracts that stipulate a concept of there being no taxation without representation by the governed to agree to such taxes.  The changes in these contracts and the limits of government are not ones on paper as those only come after countless changes of government, kings, and virtual despots.  These agreements are written after the blood has been spilled, victors found, and then limits on victory also found.  This Anglo-Saxon concept of limiting government and getting representation into it can be dated back to the 9th Century AD.  Where other peoples were having their laws and taxes dictated to them by government, the Anglo-Saxons were putting government on notice that it is by the consent of the governed.  As a Swedish King acknowledges that the Crown cannot go where the people do not want it to go and that the head wearing the Crown is liable to the same laws as the governed.

The Universality of Natural rights only came after 1648 and the Great Peace of Westphalia that got government out of using religion to gain more power and prestige for the rulers via religion.  This post-Westphalian European concept marries up with the English Common Law very well, as the latter is based on low-level contractual assurance, checks, balances and agreement, not sovereign dictates from the ruler.  With the Enlightenment the Natural Law is seen as universal and, thusly, the rights and liberty that they endow go to every man at every time, if they have but the wisdom to see them for what they are.  This is not a dogma but a piece of knowledge that put to an end the Divine Right Monarchy concept and helped to install a concept of sovereign power being accountable to the governed.  It is not universal because of dogma, the dogma comes from the understanding of the self-evident universality of these rights.  Clawing out positive rights from the negative power of government has been a fight going on for nearly two millennia, not since 1787 or 1776 or 1648.

In seeking censorship, Mr. Posner puts forward that 'bad ideas never die'.  That is correct.  And censorship only makes them more attractive, not less, if the Banned in Boston booklist is any measure of such things.  Bad ideas need to be countered, discussed, and the reason they are bad refreshed on a continual basis so that people know why they are bad ideas.  Not doing so, not speaking out against the atrocities of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and lesser tyrannical systems like the Ba'athists that grew from Nazism, ensures that you get lovely artifacts like a President having a Mao Christmas tree ornament in the White House, or children wearing apparel festooned with Che the torturer and killer on them.  You can't stop a bad idea by not talking about them, by not calling attention to how bad they are, by not seeking to show how bad they are by the fact that those you seek to talk to will call you racist, phobic or any of a million other names to distract from the fact they are unwilling to talk about how bad their ideas actually are.  Not talking about them allows them to spread because they are malignant and when not countered by simple logic their interior emotional venom allows people to justify all sorts of activities.

Like invading the grounds of Embassies.

Like killing Ambassadors and other protected individuals, which is an Act of War.

Like mass murder.

Like subjugation of the meek by tyrants.

In the end Mr. Posner puts this out:

The final irony is that while the White House did no more than timidly plead with Google to check if the anti-Muslim video violates its policies (appeasement! shout the critics), Google itself approached the controversy in the spirit of prudence. The company declined to remove the video from YouTube because the video did not attack a group (Muslims) but only attacked a religion (Islam). Yet it also cut off access to the video in countries such as Libya and Egypt where it caused violence or violated domestic law. This may have been a sensible middle ground, or perhaps Google should have done more. What is peculiar it that while reasonable people can disagree about whether a government should be able to curtail speech in order to safeguard its relations with foreign countries, the Google compromise is not one that the U.S. government could have directed. That’s because the First Amendment protects verbal attacks on groups as well as speech that causes violence (except direct incitement: the old cry of “Fire!” in a crowded theater). And so combining the liberal view that government should not interfere with political discourse, and the conservative view that government should not interfere with commerce, we end up with the bizarre principle that U.S. foreign policy interests cannot justify any restrictions on speech whatsoever. Instead, only the profit-maximizing interests of a private American corporation can. Try explaining that to the protesters in Cairo or Islamabad.

Again, note the bolded part of this.  Google, as a corporate entity (which is to say an incorporated person) exercised judgment and did what it thought was best.  This is a very exercise of the First Amendment right of Google which is a positive exercise of that right.  Of course this isn't what the government we currently have would have wanted, but so what?  Our rights do not come from government, we only ask that it protect those rights.  And the ability to exercise prudence, caution and adapt circumspection to individual actions is fully and completely within the realm of individuals.

But Mr. Posner decries that very 'profit making entity', which means that if Google were a charitable outfit, that its decisions would be OK?  Those are incorporated entities, as well, yet they do not seek a profit.  The implication is that the US government should impose laws on corporations to make them abide by the will of government policy.  Yet that is not a power handed to the federal government via the contract we call the US Constitution.  If the US government wishes to restrict all civil communications with certain governments then it can do so, of course, but that isn't what Mr. Posner is seeking via his construction of the equation.  He is posing that corporations should become an arm of government policy.  That means every religious organization, every charity, every small business, every thing that we do when we agree to work together and incorporate an entity comes under the control of the US government for speech and, by implication, all foreign policy.  Yet it has not the power to do so because we do not grant such powers to the government.  Nor to any government.

What you hear is the beg for totalitarianism under the guise of anti-capitalism.  Even worse it is a begging to destroy the meaning of our contracts writ small, between individuals, and writ large, between the people and their government.  Mr. Posner doesn't seek a trade in liberty for security, but a trade in liberty for tyranny with no interceding points.

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