Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Freedom of Speech

To some extent, freedom of speech is meaningless without some freedom to be heard. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, it does not matter whether or not it makes a sound.

But there are rational limits to the extent to which people have the right to be heard. Free speech is a wonderful thing, but easily abused. When it is abused, we all suffer.

In an organized society in which people respect each other, me exercising my freedom of speech need not infringe upon the rights of my fellow citizens. I can picket in front of the state capitol building, but creating a situation in which it is impossible for someone who works in that building to be able to enter it is patently inappropriate. I can make a sign and go march alongside the road, but once I step into the road and impede traffic I have rudely forced myself upon those who are unwilling to listen. Along with freedom of speech comes freedom to not listen.

Would we allow a group to commandeer all radio stations for their own propaganda efforts on the grounds that precluding them from doing so violates their freedom of speech? Of course not. Quite simply, freedom of speech is not freedom to force yourself to be heard: it is the freedom to put yourself out their so that you can be heard. You may have the right to hand out pamphlets, but you do not have the right to paint messages on people's front doors.

Protesters either know or should know this. The clever ones get themselves arrested or tear gassed because they hope to raise public sympathy for their cause. The dense ones believe that they actually have a right to make life miserable for non-protesters. Either way, they hope that public authorities will come off looking like authoritarian goons who enjoy squelching the rights of the people.

And this is where the Occupy Wall Street folks have begun to lose mainstream Americans. Most of us appreciate free speech and many of us agree to some extent that corporate greed is hurting America; but most of us do not find shutting down urban traffic, monopolizing public spaces, or antagonizing the police to be appropriate means to the desired end. Want to see a breakdown in civil public discourse? Go watch OWS protesters treat law enforcement officials like trash, milk the system for all it is worth while decrying it as perverted, and belittle hard-working Americans for going about their business.

The following are a few suggestions of things that OWS could do that might be more effective than their literal physical occupations:
1) boycotts
2) raise children who understand that no CEO is worth 2,000 times the average
employee. If you have multiple children and they have multiple children
of their own, this one pays off exponentially.
3) use gentle logic and mild persuasion to encourage fellow citizens to
understand the harm that corporate greed can do. Please wear deodorant and
a clean shirt when doing this.
4) don't let slobs and potheads represent you in front of the cameras. Whether
you like it or not, you will be judged based upon your appearance.
5) if all else fails, emigrate. I hear Burundi is looking for some experienced

America is a great place to live. It is a great place to protest. The protests of the few should not forcibly impose themselves upon the lives of the many. When they attempt to do so, they are almost assuredly doomed to failure.

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