The War On Free Speech


In 1946, Martin Niemoller wrote a damning bit of prose to illustrate the rise of fascism and the cowardice of the intellectuals (including himself) who let it happen.  Here is one of the original versions.

First they came for the Communists —
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the Socialists —
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists —
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews —
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me —
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.

In the 21st century, they may call themselves innocuous names, profess their moral authority and say they speak for the betterment of society.  But don’t be fooled.  This is all about power.  This is about who controls the flow of ideas.  This is about silencing the opposition.  And the pattern is exactly the same.

First they came for Hate Speech —
And I didn’t speak out
Because it sounded like a good idea.

Then they came for Controversial Speech —
And a lot of people didn’t speak out
Because they didn’t want to get lynched on Social Media.

Then they came for Offensive Speech —
And most people didn’t speak out
Because the ones who did were losing their jobs.

Now they’re coming for Opinion,
And everybody is too frightened to speak out.

So when they come for Free Speech,
Don’t be surprised
When there’s nobody left to defend it.

If Thy Booze Offend Thee…?

beer5Aside from a few diehards, it’s universally accepted that Prohibition, that noble experiment in legislated sobriety, was an utter disaster.  In fact, there is a school of thought that suggests there was a lot more drinking going on after it was against the law.  I don’t think that’s true, but it does demonstrate the disdain in which we hold Volstead and its many ramifications.  However, what we conveniently forget is Prohibition didn’t come out of thin air.  The government didn’t just wake up one Tuesday morning and say, “Okay, folks!  It’s Last Call!”  No, Prohibition was at least a hundred years in the making.  It was born and incubated in the early 19th century, when well-intentioned Temperance Societies began making people aware of the evils of demon drink.  It grew exponentially as Temperance gathered the Anti-Slavery Movement, Women’s Suffrage and a lot of other activist organizations under its umbrella of social change.  Then, after the First World War, when the powers that be became acutely aware and somewhat wary of the newly minted “women’s vote,” Prohibition was no longer up for debate – it became the law.  The problem was, despite the horror stories of society’s imminent alcoholic collapse which had been Temperance’s bread and butter for generations, the vast majority of people didn’t want to quit drinking.  What our 19th and 20th century ancestors didn’t understand is that, even with the very best intentions, you simply can’t (Now hear this: can’t) legislate an idea or an attitude.

Fast forward ninety years to our current crew of quick-change social activists.  They are no longer offended by the effects of alcohol; what bugs them is what we call it.  For example, last week a batch of Ron de Jeremy rum was taken off liquor store shelves because a number of people claimed it was obscene.  The offending label showed a pen and ink drawing of Mr. Jeremy’sbeer face and the flourished name “Ron de Jeremy.”  In smaller print, it had the taglines, “the adult liquor” and “long smooth taste.”  Obviously, obscenity is in the eye of the beholder because I can’t see anything obscene here, and from the label alone, neither can you or anybody else.  The only connection between Ron de Jeremy rum and obscenity is Mr. Jeremy was once a porn star.  Anybody lodging a complaint had to know that.  Otherwise, they couldn’t possibly have been offended by such an innocuous label.  Curious circumstances to say the least!  To be fair, the rum was restocked when someone remembered to click the commonsense icon but another adult beverage was not so lucky.

Approximately twenty-five years ago, Earls Restaurants began selling a beer called “Albino Rhino.”  Obviously, it was some version of Pale Ale and it sold well enough to become Earls’ signature brand.  However, a couple of years ago, even though Earls never fundamentally changed the brewing process, “Albino Rhino” started offending people — or so the story goes.  It seems that Albino Rhino beer is now intolerably offensive to people with a rare genetic disorder called albinism (a lack of pigment in the skin.)  Apparently, the beer’s very existence demeans them.

beer2The curious thing is, though, “Albino Rhino” beer has existed for an entire drinking generation.  Literally millions of people have not only tolerated it, they’ve gone out of their way to buy it and drink it.  Up until 18 months ago, there was no measurable outrage against the brand.   Besides, the albino rhinoceros itself (a pigment-less variety of the African rhinoceros, Diceros bicornis) has existed in nature for well over 10,000 years.  If the name of the beer is offensive, I would assume the animal got there first.  Not only that, but, minority rights notwithstanding, albinism is such a rare condition that it affects only about 1 in every 20,000 people.  Therefore, statistically speaking, there are fewer than 2,000 albinos in the entire country.  Frankly, there are probably more people named Jim Beam.  The question becomes this: should a society place reasonable limits on satisfying complaints or is every unhappy voice entitled to an accommodation?

It’s all a moot point now, however, because Earls, for reasons known only to themselves, have decided to rename the beer “Rhino” and get on with life.

Prohibition failed because in their self righteous zeal to remake the world in their own image, its proponents didn’t care that we are a free society.  It’s actually our diversity of thought and opinion that is our strength – warts and all.  It’s simply point blank wrong for any group to dictate a one-size-fits-all morality for the rest of us.

Our contemporary prohibitionists, like the early Temperance Leaguers, are relatively new at this.  However, given their increasing success at imposing their will on our world, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if, in a couple of years, it becomes impossible to go to a bar and order a “Black” Russian or a glass of “white” wine.

Dare I Defend Cliches?

Normally, I’d be the first guy to applaud the death of a cliché.  As everybody within earshot knows, I’ve spent the last two decades praying that the “shocked and appalled” crowd would pack their “imagine my surprise” bag and hit the road.  However, imagine my surprise, the other night when I witnessed the sudden and painful death of “schizophrenia.”  It was a minor incident that left me shocked and appalled.  What happened was, on election night, Tom (Brokaw) and Brian (Williams) were controlling their euphoria and discussing what had just happened to the Republican Party.  It was all fun and games until Brokaw forgot it was 2012 and said something like “Voting patterns are suffering from a kind of political schizophrenia right now.”  The words were hardly out of his mouth when his eyes widened and his hand visibly twitched towards his earpiece.  Obviously, the director up in the sound booth had set off the Politically Correct alarm.  Immediately, Tom started bobbin’ and weavin’ as if he were Muhammad Ali about to tuck into Smokin’ Joe Frazier.  In less than two sentences, we learned that schizophrenia was a debilitating disease, not to be taken lightly, and that the Republicans were a deeply divided party.  Off camera, I imagine the producer was pulling his (or her) hair out as the offended Tweets started coming in, Williams exhaled a mighty sigh of relief it wasn’t he who went off the reservation (“Oops, I didn’t think that!”) and the unpaid squad of interns over at the snack table were laughing their asses off.  Such is the minefield of modern reporting.

As we all learned from Miss Allen, our collective grade school grammar teacher, clichés are bad.  If you use clichés, the rotation of the Earth will be altered and Satan will rise from Hades with his hideous minions to wage unholy war on puppies and kittens.  Just one “round as a barrel” or a thoughtless “white as snow,” and you’ll never get a good job and probably end your days a scabby crack whore, lost and alone.  Even though I know in my heart Miss Allen was right, now that the PC crew have joined the fray, my enthusiasm for the war on clichés has diminished — noticeably.  It’s no secret that the Politically Correct have been up to no good ever since they raised their mindless heads, way back in the 70s.  To say the least, I’m on the horns of a dilemma.  Perhaps clichés are actually our friends, stalwarts who have stood by us through thick and thin, ready, willing and able to quickly communicate complex information with a minimal use of words.  For example, who among us doesn’t know something that is “funny as hell?”

OMG! I may have stumbled through the Politically Correct barrier and now stand friendless in the barren wastes of independent thought.  Hell is, after all, a major component of Judeo-Christian tradition – the particularly nasty bit at the end, actually.  Logically, therefore, it follows (since “humourous Christian” is definitely an oxymoron) that I may have offended some Christians by suggesting that Hell , the ultimate punishment for disobeying God’s law, is in some way comical.  Fortunately, since Christians are pretty much the Rodney Dangerfield of the 21st century, I don’t have to apologize.  However, way more serious than that, I may have offended a myriad of other groups with more powerful friends.  There is a cornucopia of religions out there (Wiccans, Shamanists, the folks who worship Tinker Toys) who do not acknowledge the existence of Hell, and they may be offended that I had the audacity to suggest there is such a place – funny or otherwise.  Besides, there are the Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrians and the ever-offended Moslems, who might be offended that my subconscious concept of eternal fire and brimstone is Eurocentric in nature and, therefore, suggests that their Hell is not equally as funny.  And what about the Atheists or the Existentialists or the Secularists?  I may have inadvertently offended three-quarters of the people on this planet!  Hell might actually be the most offensive word in the English language!  In order to satisfy the Politically Correct Fascistas, we may have to cut Hell completely out of our vocabulary!

Hell no!  Not on my watch!

Hell is a perfectly good word, and I shall defend it until they pry the keyboard from my cold, stiff fingers.  However, I am also a caring, sharing man of the 21st century, not insensitive to the sensitivities of others.  I have a compromise.  Why don’t we tap into our proud tradition and just call it the H-word?  It could join the L-word, the R-word, the mildly confusing Other F-word and the wildly popular F-bomb in our pantheon of words we no longer say out loud.  Everyone will still know what we’re talking about, but nobody will actually hear the word.  For example, it could be “hot as the H-word, out there.” Or “If I’m ever chased by zombies, I going to run like the H-word.”  It’s a brilliant and workable solution.

Unfortunately, I’ve run out of time to deal with my cliché situation.  Isn’t it fascinating that politically correct always diverts our attention from the immediate problem at hand?