Monday, March 06, 2006

Freedom of speech - feather light or substantive concept?

In my last piece I showed freedom of speech as a very light, feathery concept. An abstract concept making noises in the brains of men intent on the battle for freedom. As such freedom of speech is part of the European enlightenment project that goes back to the 18th century. Freedom of speech is one of the basic human rights that it is worth fighting for. Without it we would not be free to criticize our government.

The opportunity to level critique at government is, however quite unevenly distributed. I can send a reader's letter to the editors of the big papers, but I have no guarantee that it will be printed. If he does not like what I write he may not publish it. I'm not a Rupert Murdoch or a Silvio Berlusconi owning a media empire with the owner's right to decide what will be published and what the media line of the empire media should be. Here we come to the substantive contents of freedom of speech. Without the resources to exert it, it may be an empty right. I can go down to the sea and yell my anger or anguish to the sea gulls. Nobody will take any heed. So sing it over the river of New Jersey:

"Libertad! Igualdad! Fraternidad!"

You sullen pig of a man

you force me into the mud
with your stinking ash-cart!

Brother! --if we were rich
we'd stick our chests out
and hold our heads high!

It is dreams that have destroyed us.
There is no more pride
in horses or in rein holding.
We sit hunched together
our fate.

all things turn bitter in the end
whether you choose the right or the left way
and-- dreams are not a bad thing.
William Carlos Williams


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