Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Let them Have Pink Houses . . . (but cut off their wi-fi!)

Ben Boychuk writes a biting post over at Infinite Monkeys today talking about John Mellencamp’s recent pontificating on the First Amendment. It seems that the guy--who, as Ben points out, was happy to be somewhat less than subtle in his criticism of Bush & Co.--is now deeply concerned about the threat to liberty coming from "some guy [who] can sit in his bedroom and be mean" on his computer. Mellencamp "reasons" that the First Amendment was never intended to be an individual right but, rather, it is a "collective" right (expressed only by appointed "spokesmen," . . . you know, leading lights like rock stars) who are "able to collectively speak for a sector of people."

In Mellencamp’s America, the "home of the free" with its little pink houses would be for a freedom of speech that is more a kind of General Will voiced by the anointed tongues of a select group of American royalty. Jack and Diane needn’t trouble their little heads with worrying about the big questions. They can busy themselves with Diane’s Bobbie Brooks slacks till it "hurts so good," make a public spectacle of themselves while they’re at it, call THAT freedom of speech, and content themselves with their imagined moral courage. But if they dare to voice vigorous opposition to something like Cap and Trade and, in the course of that expression, utter an ungracious opinion about the anointed--an opinion that according to Mellencamp qualifies Jack and Diane as "a-holes" THAT will be too much because, "[n]ot being courteous is not really freedom of speech" according to the scholars at the Mellencamp School of the First Amendment.

Of course, I don’t mean to defend incivility. People who are uncivil should be called out and shamed for it whenever possible--primarily because incivility is an impediment to thought. But incivility also should be an expected part of the free exchange of ideas, even if it isn’t one of the most savory parts. It’s true that there are times and places where incivility needn’t be tolerated--i.e., when the expression of it interferes with the freedoms of others to carry on with their lives in freedom. But I tend to think that one of the least disruptive ways for a person to be uncivil is to write something. After all, no one has to read it. I do not tremble for my country when I reflect that there are weird dudes sitting around in their basements and pounding away on their keyboards with the intention of being "mean." I do not even tremble when they are mean to me. I am happy to tolerate a healthy dose of this kind of incivility in exchange for the protection of the individual right to freedom of speech.

Maybe it’s just me . . . but I tend to think that the track record for a-holes with laptops is a lot less horrifying than the track record of self-anointed "spokesmen" who sing the praises of collective rights and the General Will. Of course . . . these days, whether they chose the keyboard or the guitar, the two groups may not be mutually exclusive.

Discussions - 9 Comments

I tend to tune out incivility, which is what I also do with pop culture. Both come at us, of course. I had to google the Mellencamp references in the post, because I thought I did not have a clue. Listening, that guy's music is unavoidable. I hear his songs while out shopping, which is where most of pop music comes at me, especially since my boys grew up. (They didn't like him.) That stuff filters into our heads and whiny songs about lost youth or lost love are the last things we need in there. Yet, it seems uncivil to go about stores with Ipods plugged into your ears.

The dilemma of free speech and why every schmuck gets to have it must be something everyone thinks about as people speak about it so much. Of course, their point is always that they wish some other guy (especially the spokes-person types like Mellencamp) would just shut up. Yes, I agree with this blog essay, that people conversing by laptop are the least of our worries when it comes to political discourse, civil or uncivil.

I am at my laptop too much this weekend and being away from home and conversation, find this kind of conversation too much of a draw. I went to the "comments by our readers" option, to see if there were conversations that "required" response. What I found was spam and I wonder what is behind that kind of incivility. Then, being low-spirited this morning, I thought losing laptop conversations in the spam-weeds too suitable for words.

All he is doing is another PR campaign for the cyber bullying act which says all speech that could hurt someone's feelings is illegal, even if the the person does not file charges. The FEDs can go around reading message boards and they will determine what is thoughtcrime and you will be fined and jailed for it. Similar campaigns have already started with tween stars like Miley Cyrus. This is the end of Free speech if it is passed. Thank you for posting on this most important of issues.

Ugh, how silly. Having your cake and eating it too, eh? On an unrelated note, I love the bighollywood blog (which was linked to in the post).

All fine points by Art Deco, but they would gall if made by the more vociferous Bush critics, and gall more from the feeling that those principles would be abandoned at the election of the next Republican President - at which point the most despicable sentiments would become patriotic dissent.

In fairness to Mellencamp, so-called commentator's thinking is often hopelessly flawed and the expression of musicians is clear. Those calling for civility often are only projecting their own norms and values onto others. To say 'x is uncivil' is just to say 'I disagree with x,' or better, I seek to control x. No better way to control blacks in the 19th century than to continually chide them for their 'incivility'. Beck, Limbaugh, and O'Reilly actually seem to welcome incivility if only to calibrate their 'outrage' frequencies. When done right incivility is not an impediment to thought but actually motivates it. Maybe that is finally what got McNamara to recognize his own evil, just like one day it will with Rumsfeld. The splinter in their eye will eventually be a magnifying glass.

I'm trying to guess which incivility ren thinks is an aid to thought. I suspect it's "Chimpy McBusHitlerburton!"

And calling Cheney "Dick" seems to stir some sort of brain activity in the left, although I'm pretty sure it is not thought.

Who in the sam h double toothpicks cares what John Mellencamp thinks about anything. The guy is a washed-up Rock N Roller from the 80's.

This is why Mellencamp is talking about this and people are listening. I actualy heard is re releasing ROCK in the USA to add only if by ROCKing you don't offend or hurt any feelings. I'm not sure the new version will develop like the stadium anthem the old one was.

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