Friday, October 22, 2004

civil liberties

Some people either don't understand civil liberties or pretend not to. Here's an article about three women who claim their civil liberties were denied because they weren't allowed to stage a protest at a private event.

First of all, we have only their word for the fact that they were denied entrance and we only have their word for the fact that they didn't cause a disturbance. Furthermore, when the security people saw them wearing those T-shirts, the security only had the women's word that they weren't planning to cause a disturbance.

But besides all of that, civil liberties don't imply the right to break into someone else's forum and interrupt their speech to express your own. That's what those women wanted to do.

It really annoys me how often I've seen people whining about violation of civil liberties when nothing of the kind had happened. When someone gets critiqued for what they said, that's not violating their freedom of speech. When someone gets stopped from interrupting and interfering with other free speech, that's not violating their freedom of speech. When someone, even government officials point out some dangerous consequences of speech, that's not violating the freedom of speech.

Violating freedom of speech is what happens when the government takes away your property, freedom, or life to prevent you from speaking. For example, if a TV station is frightened away from showing a particular advertisement because they are afraid of being sued or losing their license, that's violating free speech.

The power of the government that I'm talking about is the power to use violence to enforce their will. The government can fine you or take away your license or issue a judgment against you and you have no recourse (except to go back to that same government). If you fail to cooperate, the government will send men with guns to take from you what they want, by violence if necessary, and maybe even throw you in prison. That's when free speech gets infringed, not just when you suffer consequences for your speech.

No one really believes free speech should be speech without consequences. If your local grocer puts Nazi signs up around the store, just about everyone agrees that it's reasonable and even good for that grocer to be run out of business --not by the coercive power of the government, but by the marketplace of free individuals choosing not to do business there. This is freedom vs. freedom. As long as no one has to fear violence, there is no issue of civil liberties.

But so many people today think that if their speech is unpopular, that's infringing their freedom to speak. I've got news for you: as long as you don't have to fear someone coming to your door to commit violence on you, no one is infringing your civil rights. Yes, in a pickwickian sense your freedom has been limited, but the only alternative is to limit the freedom of people who disagree with you. Should they be threatened with violence to keep you from feeling put upon?

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