Saturday, March 15, 2008

"Freedom Of Speech" - Just Watch What You Say...

The words of the indomitable Ice-T. In the late 80's and early 90's, "Ice" was rapping about censorship in the United States. He was particularly concerned about the suppression of artists' freedom of speech. His words were coarse, vulgar, and hard-edged... but, he was angry - and expressed it in some of the most profound political lyrics of their time (in the US, anyways).
Warning: Explicit lyrics... The following blogpost will contain some profanity that may be found objectionable by some readers. The lyrics take shots at the PMRC and Tipper Gore for her vociferous attacks on artistic freedoms in the US.

So what the heck am I talking about here, and why the reference to Ice T, the "Original Gansta"? Are threatened libel suits, and hate speech two completely different things? Actually they're quite related through our right to free speech - or lack of it. Stephen Harper and the Conservatives are intolerant of speech freedoms when it comes to criticism of their methods, or questions about their integrity - YET, they are very BIG FANS of freedom of speech when it comes to Ezra Levant's drivel, or the freedoms of various racists and other right-wing demagogues. Their message is clear: "freedom of speech" applies to right wing nut cases, the right-wing press, etc., when they want to bash gays, women, and minorities, BUT when it comes to liberal thinkers, artists, etc., then "no way".

You might think I'm getting out of hand here when I talk about the Cons suppressing artists' freedoms. Take a good long look into Conservative policy however: they have done nothing but cut funding for the arts, women's groups, and minorities, since they came into power. One way to suppress artists' "freedom of expression" is simply to cut off their funding (like funding for Canadian movies they find offensive). How do they suppress the speech freedom of critics? How about multi-million dollar law-suits. Sure, they may be using the "vehement denial and swift attack" strategy of an accused, knowing full well the courts will tie up the case for years... Still, their threat of a lawsuit has probably had the effect of culling very critical articles and news stories.

So what is right when it comes to freedom of speech? Should anyone be able to say anything they want and get away with it? Probably not. There is NO SUCH THING AS ABSOLUTE FREEDOM OF SPEECH. The moment YOUR freedom ends, is when it begins to threaten MY FREEDOM. So, for example, you can criticize me for my religious views. You can say I'm "old-fashioned", or "out-dated", or simply wrong. However, when you start to say things that MAY get me attacked physically, may result in my being discriminated against, or may result in other such suppression of my rights, then the "freedom" is being used to limit someone else's freedom - which is really limiting freedom. Clear?

In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, "Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry is own weight, this is a frightening prospect". The responsibility of freedom - one of the key responsibilities - is to ensure the freedom of others in society and around the world. So, while you may be free to say what you think of a government's actions, you are not free to make anti-semitic, anti-Muslim, or anti-(fill in the religion or gender of your choice here) remarks. These remarks can lead to discrimination, and even - in extreme cases - attacks and deaths.

Some libertarian conservatives would want NO LIMIT to freedom. This is where modern liberal society would disagree. Unfettered freedoms would lead to a dangerous and angry world that becomes fragmented and ghetto-ized, with marginalization of minorities and the weak. Civilization and civilized society has taught us to compromise to ensure the communal well-being of a population. If we can just go around taking pot-shots at others, and express our anger any way we like, we are no better than animals. So, freedom yes, but with some controls. No room for certain "ways of expression". This is why we have Human Rights Commissions. The very reason we do.

What about libelous statements? Journalists, or disseminators of news HAVE to be protected in society, in order to ensure a free media, AND to eliminate over handedness by government. Still, even they have limits. Ezra's rants against various minorities are ugly, and may do nothing but promote racism. They take it a step further than the norm. Major newspapers often run editorials that criticize the same minorities or groups, but do it in a more civilized manner, and stop short of advocating hate, or appearing hateful - or creating public perception that may create the environment for hate. Again, a body like the Human Rights Commission can and will help clarify just how far these freedoms can go. Libel, however, is a very different story. The Cons are attempting to Americanize Canada in many ways - and over-litigiousness is one of them. Threatening lawsuits is great if someone is calling you a crook without evidence, but to threaten a suit just because someone says you "knew about it", or haven't come clean about what you did know. That's not kosher. That's just trying to be a distraction.

I'm referring, of course to "Cad-scam". Mr. Harper has still not explained the tape-recording. The one with his own voice talking about financial considerations. Now, wouldn't it be fair for someone to assume he knew about the meetings, because WHEN the accusations were made, the Cons STILL DIDN'T HAVE THEIR STORY TOGETHER? They were still putting their story together when the allegations were made by Cadman's family, and the author of the book on Cadman (in a direct interview with Harper). The question is STILL out there. What did the government know? What did Harper know? When did he know it? If he did indeed know about it for months, why was it swept aside?

Freedoms for journalists, artists, and the common man asking questions, must remain. Freedoms for hate-mongers and "discriminators" cannot, and must not, be abused. A government-independent body like a Human Rights Commission is the necessary tool to ensure that the freedoms are not abused.

And with that, here are those angry lyrics about freedom of speech that got Ice T into so much trouble in the 90s... unedited to ensure creative and artistic integrity.
Warning (Parental advisory, etc.) This is X-rated stuff. This is your last warning. I've copied and pasted bits of the entire piece - uncensored, including some very (in my opinion) sexist comments. Not my favorite bit of music at all... but it makes a point. Why is it relevant? Because ultra-conservative groups in Canada - with links in this government are trying to limit a LOT of the artist's freedoms that Ice-T talks about.

"Freedom of Speech"


A-yo Ice, man. I'm working on this term paper for college. What's the
First Amendment?

[Verse 1]

Freedom of Speech, that's some motherfuckin' bullshit
You say the wrong thing, they'll lock your ass up quick
Yo PMRC, here we go, raw
Yo Tip, what's the matter?...
You're bitchin' about rock'n'roll, that's censorship,...
The Constitution says we all got a right to speak
Say what we want Tip, your argument is weak
Censor records, TV, school books too
And who decides what's right to hear? You?
Hey PMRC, you stupid fuckin' assholes
The sticker on the record is what makes 'em sell gold
Can't you see, you alcoholic idiots
The more you try to suppress us, the larger we get

[Verse 2]

[You have the right to remain silent]
Fuck that right! I want the right to talk
I want the right to speak, I want the right to walk
Where I wanna, yell and I'm gonna
Tell and rebel every time I'm on a
Microphone on the stage cold illin'
The knowledge I drop will be heard by millions
We ain't the problems, we ain't the villains
It's the suckers deprivin' the truth from our children
You can't hide the fact, Jack
There's violence in the streets every day, any fool can recognize that
But you try to lie and lie
And say America's some motherfuckin' apple pie
Yo, you gotta be high to believe that
You're gonna change the world by a sticker on a record sleeve
Cos once you take away my right to speak
Everybody in the world's up shit creek

Freedom of Speech, let 'em take it from me
Next they'll take it from you, then what you gonna do?
Let 'em censor books, let 'em censor art
PMRC, this is where the witch hunt starts
You'll censor what we see, we read, we hear, we learn
The books will burn
You better think it out
We should be able to say anything, our lungs were meant to shout
Say what we feel, yell out what's real
Even though it may not bring mass appeal
Your opinion is yours, my opinion is mine
If you don't like what I'm sayin'? Fine
But don't close it, always keep an open mind
A man who fails to listen is blind
We only got one right left in the world today
Let me have it or throw The Constitution away

[Outro (Jello Biafra)]

What they're trying to do with radio, with this, uh, McCarron-Walter
Act and a lot of other ways, is start by saying that they're
protecting the public from wicked rock bands, or girlie magazines, or
whatever. But, if you follow the chain of dominoes that falls down,
what they're really trying to do is shut off our access to information

If they can't do it by law they know there's other ways to do it.

1 comment:

Joel said...

"they have done nothing but cut funding for the arts, women's groups, and minorities, since they came into power."

Why should my tax dollars pay to hear your bullshit? You can say what you want, but don't expect us, the public at large, to pay for it.

Remember, you can say what you want, but you don't have the right to force me to listen.

And, PS, Tipper Gore and hobby Al are about as far LEFT as you can get before you become a Communist. You obfuscate the issue by politicizing it. Get real...the Con's aren't taking away your right to say what you want. They are taking away the bullshit government pork barrels what bottom feeders like you dip into to force the rest of us to listen. Exactly why liberal radio is taking it in the ass...we don't agree with your views, so we vote with our feet (i.e., we walk away).