Speech codes, censorship, and self-censorship

“Censorship from the right is to be expected. Censorship from the left took me by surprise. And I’m talking, of course, about what originated as campus speech codes at eastern universities and has come to be called politically correct language. The impulse behind political correctness is a good one, but like most things America falls in love with, it has become grotesquely distorted beyond its usefulness.” –George Carlin said in a March 1, 2002 show called Speaking Freely in Aspen, Colorado.

0623-carlinThis quote is from a man, George Carlin, that some have called the godfather of free speech with his Seven Dirty Words fight against the standards of communications at the time. That monologue, officially titled Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television, led to a Supreme Court case Federal Communications Commission (FCC) v. Pacifica Foundation after which indecency regulations were established in American broadcasting.

Some have rightly argued that Duck Dynasty star, Phil Robertson, was not truly censored by GQ magazine, for that would’ve meant that the views GQ found offensive would’ve been deleted from the article. Others have rightly claimed that A&E is not engaging in true, or total, censorship of Robertson with their subsequent indefinite suspension of the man, because A&E is a private institution that can make their own decisions on what can and cannot be said in the marketplace by those being paid by A&E. Others argue the debatable point that only the government can truly censor someone, for only the government can totally remove a Phil Robertson from the marketplace, and place him in jail if they were to find his actions to be harmful to the public, but there is a wide variety of the term censorship.

George Carlin never spent any time in jail, and his monologue did not contain an official enumeration of dirty words from the FCC, or any other governing body, but the result of his monologue could be said to be a true form of censorship with a capital ‘C’, in that it resulted in an establishment of official government regulations governing communications.

phil-robertson-aeThat having been said, A&E could be said to be self-censoring the actor of their show by suspending him, and thus setting a precedent for all of the actors on their shows. This would, of course, be censoring with a lower case ‘C’ as Phil Robertson, and family, are now free to take their show elsewhere if they want.

If the word censorship is too strong a word for some, in that it involves silencing, and they believe that that strong word should not be used in reference to matters of the marketplace where societal determinations on speech are made, how about speech codes? How about saying that Phil Robertson violated the speech codes, that have been set up by the left, for which Robertson has now been penalized?

A&E, GQ, Wal-Mart, Coca Cola, Twitter, and every independent enterprise in the United States has every right to self-censor any employee, or paid representative, of their organization in any manner they choose. If a person works for a company in America today, they’re likely to be presented with a list of codes of conduct of which they must abide by if they want to continue to get paid by that company. These codes of conduct, are a method these companies use to try and control their public image by controlling those that represent their company on a daily basis. This attempt to control their image prompts broadcasting companies to qualify their controversial shows with a statement that contains the words, “The views represented on this show do not represent those of our company.” There are extremes, of course, and A&E viewed Phil Robertson’s statements in the GQ interview to be extreme. The fact that the definition of these extremes is now controlled, and consistently exerted, by the left, is what totally shocked George Carlin, and social critic and openly gay, dissident feminist Camille Paglia.

“To express yourself in a magazine in an interview — this is the level of punitive PC, utterly fascist, utterly Stalinist, OK, that my liberal colleagues in the Democratic Party and on college campuses have supported and promoted over the last several decades,” Camille Paglia said in an interview on the Laura Ingraham Show, as detailed in a Daily Caller article. “This is the whole legacy of free speech 1960’s that have been lost by my own party.

“I think that this intolerance by gay activists toward the full spectrum of human beliefs is a sign of immaturity, juvenility,” the Democrat, atheist, and lesbian Camille Paglia continued. “This is not the mark of a true intellectual life. This is why there is no cultural life now in the U.S. Why nothing is of interest coming from the major media in terms of cultural criticism. Why the graduates of the Ivy League with their A, A, A+ grades are complete cultural illiterates, etc. is because they are not being educated in any way to give respect to opposing viewpoints.

“There is a dialogue going on human civilization, for heaven sakes. It’s not just this monologue coming from fanatics who have displaced the religious beliefs of their parents into a political movement,” she added. “And that is what happened to feminism, and that is what happened to gay activism, a fanaticism.”

The reason that George Carlin, in particular, was so shocked that it ended up being the left that became the commissars of speech probably has something to do with the fact that Carlin spent the majority of his career fighting against the fervent religious definitions of morality set up by the right. It probably also has something to do with the fact that Carlin, a largely left-of-center thinker, felt a kinship with those on the left when they fought against the right’s tactics to prevent offensive speech from making it into the marketplace. His shock most certainly stemmed from the fact that once he, and his cohorts, managed to defeat those tactics, through public ridicule, that many of those cohorts turned around and used those same tactics to prevent the speech they deemed offensive from making it into the marketplace.

Carlin didn’t specifically comment on the left’s speech codes that took down some powerful people of his time, and he didn’t live long enough to see them take down Paula Deen, Alec Baldwin, Martin Bashir, and now Phil Robertson. If he had, I’m sure he would’ve personally disagreed with their specific comments, but I’m quite sure that the left exerting its muscle, in this regard, would’ve only embarrassed him further.

He saw members of the left bully and harass speakers with whom they disagree, on college campuses, before those speakers were allowed to say a word, and he saw numerous examples of the left prohibiting the free exchange of ideas in the marketplace, if those ideas happened to differ greatly from what they deemed acceptable. Had these occurrences taken place in his prime, and achieved the type of headline status that begged for Carlin to address them, I have a feeling that they would’ve spawned a passionate and characteristic “It’s not up to you!” style Carlin rant. Just to be clear, George Carlin never said this, but after watching so many of George Carlin’s shows, I imagine this is what he would say: It’s not up to you to determine how people should think, how they should speak, or what kind of information that they should receive. It’s not up to you to limit the other side of a conversation in an “open” dialogue that you fear may open peoples’ minds to bigotry. It’s up to you to have full, two-sided conversations that allow you to defeat what you deem to be small-minded thinking. It’s up to you to engage those with opposing views, no matter how extreme you believe them to be, and defeat them with your logical presentation. And, until you’re able to achieve that level of maturity in your discussions, no one should leave the determinations of what is acceptable speech up to you.


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