Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Free Speech

I've heard all the accolades of the first amendment.
Here's a refresher...

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

That's a lot of conditions and I think in 1775 they had reason to fear an invasive government.

Flash forward to 2010 and I'm pretty sure this has backfired. What you have now is 300 million people with freedom of speech and we're all talking our heads off and what is happening? The Government is taking control of health care, oil spills, industry, schools, media and even investigating baseball players. We've got exactly what we were fighting against in 1776! What the fuck went wrong?

I can't answer that question right now but my instinct is like when you work at a place long enough and those emergency procedure signs sort of fade into the scenery. Or after you've flown on a 747 jet plane enough times you don't really listen to what to do in case of an "unexpected landing". It's all white noise. We've got left and right wing blowhards spouting off and stirring up shit and I don't know what is getting accomplished. I started musing on this when that story came out about Hannah Montana poisoning children. I've tried to warn people of her evil but no one listened and when the truth was finally revealed it still really doesn't matter. I realized that Hannah Montana could be filmed executing Haitian children and there would be no response except to change the channel. That's the catch with freedom of speech: opinions become meaningless.

Now, in a place like Cuba or China occupied Tibet, there is no freedom of speech. Their way of life is not dramatically different from ours minus the xbox 360 and iPhones and mobile porn surfing. They have government controlled welfare, health care and schools. The farmers produce according to demand and people shop at markets and pay what is asked. If there is a pot hole or a road washes out someone tries to fix it. The inventory of gadgets like cars and hockey equipment is not nearly as abundant as in New York, but they still have cars and sporting goods. It's a scaled down version of America...but, without freedom of speech. So, when there is a grievance like the Buddhist monks have with China then they are risking some serious injury to talk about it. The reason China wants to censor the Internet is to control information. I sympathize, but I can also say that having unlimited access to information has some drawbacks. First of all, it's too much information, from the exact cause of Gary Coleman's death (bleeding of brain) to real time video of oil destroying the gulf of Mexico, to random hateful comments on random lurid news stories ("I hope that rapist is raped with a broom stick in jail.")
Second of all, it is too much information and it all blends together like a mocha frappachino until nothing but caffeine rises to the top.

Our job is to filter out what we don't want and let in what we do, but remember the flight attendant demonstrating how to blow up your life vest? Does anyone pay attention? And that's going to save your life. So, what chance is there that we can process all this information? One generation ago saw only live television. Today, we have access to everything that was ever recorded plus millions of clips generated daily. And my conclusion is this: if one of those clips happens to be about a line of cheap jewelery promoting a fabricated pop artist, and that jewelry is toxic, then the chance of that clip generating any kind of outrage is zero...because it's one of a million million. It doesn't matter that it is outrageous. It's only one and you can change the channel.

So, what can be done? I'm in favor of freedom of speech. But I'm also in favor of meaningful speech. What we have today in the media is 99% irrelevant speech which renders 100% of media powerless. I'm pretty sure that's the strategy to keep consumers numbed to life. Thank Rupert Murdoch for that.

I heard a news story today about tar sand project in Alberta.

Here's a sample...

"Tar Sands: The Most Destructive Project on Earth
by Lloyd Alter, Toronto on 02.19.08
Science & Technology (alternative energy)

Edward Burtynsky

Environmental Defence just released a new report on the Alberta Oil Sands, calling it the most destructive project on Earth. DeSmogblog gleaned some facts from it:

-Oil sands mining is licensed to use twice the amount of fresh water that the entire city of Calgary uses in a year.
-At least 90% of the fresh water used in the oil sands ends up in ends up in tailing ponds so toxic that propane cannons are used to keep ducks from landing. "

Sigh. Propane cannons to prevent ducks from landing because the pollution will kill them on contact? What kind of sick joke is this? I decided to use my bicycle today and didn't see one other person on a bike in town. Propane cannons? That's Mad Max stuff right there.

Now, in 1750 if someone had told you that a project was underway that consumed more energy than the energy that would be retrieved then the person would say, "Are you daft?"
Today, this tar sands project news competes with stories about the amount of weight lost by Oprah and the latest celebrity baby adoption. It turns out that with enough speech going around the important news will be obliterated.

I don't think this was the original intention of George Washington and Ben Franklin. I think they saw it as a short term solution that would enable Americans to exchange ideas and opinions back in a time when no one, literally no human, gossiped about the amount of cellulite on Betsy Ross's thighs!
Well, that time has passed and our idea of freedom of speech is the mental equivalent of projectile vomit. There might be a morsel of edible hot dog, but mostly it's just vomit. Maybe in 1775 everyone said things that were important or else didn't say anything, but that's not the case today. I'm not innocent of this abuse either.

Ok, so this is the test. Is it June yet? I think so. For the month of June I'm going to pretend I'm living in 1775 and that the cost of paper and ink is so expensive that if you don't have something pretty fucking important to say then you just keep your yap shut. And when you do have something important to say then you say it and expect consequences like a battalion of Red Coats knocking down your door in the night. Freedom of speech doesn't mean I will just fart words...it means that I will ponder all the facts and then present my opinion succinctly and for eternity. I think it will be hard to do. I guess this essay doesn't count.

Also, ride your bike. We have to reduce our need for oil starting today. It's lunacy! Do it for the ducks.

I also want to point out that I'm only rephrasing the words of Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein and Lester Brown and Henry Thoreau and John Muir. They've said everything I say better but I'm adding my personal spin to it.

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