I have been a victim of censorship numerous times throughout my life. I am presently deeply involved in writing the biography of a person who has been censored so severely he had a case before the Supreme Court of the United States of America. In every situation censorship is a crime is a free society, no matter how vile the words a person says, and even their context, are to those they are meant for.
But weren’t free, are we, or not really. In these hyper-sensitive times anything that has the potential to offend anyone, over anything, for whatever reason — even if the interpretation of the censor is wrong, reading into out-of-context lines a comment that might be demeaning (is it? I don’t know, but someone might feel this way.) — seems to get suppressed in certain walks of life. And I am sorry, if a person wishes to be truly free, they must accept every viewpoint, if not as valid, at least as an individual’s right to hold.
This phenomenon has never really been an exclusively right or left-wing attitude — ‘political correctness’ goes in all directions, from the sincere right, with their ‘patriotic correctness,’ including threats, violence, and the ending of professional careers (in violation to the laws of the land. Open this door and people can be fired for having a certain religious belief, or standing behind a controversial figure for the whole world to see.)simply because a person perceived as not treating a symbol (flag? song? banner? notion?) in the way the members of a finger-snapping gang feel is correct. And by the way, those of this mindset better not be religious, because if they are they are in violation of God’s very first commandment. They are guilty of idolatry. They will spend an eternity, if Dante is correct, drowning in a mouth-high pool of shit in the coldest part of Hell). The right-wing, in this absurd violation of the Constitution they pretend to venerate, seem to believe that their own free speech is the only one that is acceptable.
The left, which once stood for pure freedom of speech, has become even more prudish than the right (which actually prosecuted people in the 1950s for having the Communist Manifesto on their bookshelves, as well as any book in or translated from Russian, including Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev — even Vladimir Nabakov, who was notoriously anti-Communist). But the left, oh boy, what has happened to the left on this once core issue of their identity?
I wonder — how does one discuss such serious issues as racism, sexism, transphobia— prejudice of all guises, without confronting it head on? In contemporary writing there seems to be a wishy-washy nervousness about potentially saying the wrong thing. About being misunderstood. About offending anyone, except for the political rivals they are convinced are wrong about everything.
I wrote a novel called Race recently. It’s premise was the police shooting of an unarmed black youth. He survives the shooting, and is elevated by political opportunists to the face of their movement. The only problem is that their new spokesperson is fundamentally the wrong person to lead a movement, a crass, vulgar, even criminal punk, who the cop was actually in the process of arresting at the time for holding up a marijuana dispensary. It attempts to confront the foundations of racism within individuals, as well as the larger society, condemning not just the practice of this social evil, but also its often flawed and overblown responses. And I wonder, how is one expected to discuss such an important topic if we are not honest about it — if we refuse to paint the racists as anything other than fellow human beings, with different flaws than our own?
The left these days seems to play an equal part in stereotyping and caricaturing those people the define as ‘lesser.’ And yet they censor themselves, refusing to include racial or sexist or homophobic (even anti-religious, unless it is against some right-wing, political form of apocalyptic Christianity) words because they make the people uncomfortable. But when you discuss any social evil, one has to pick it apart like an onion skin, peeling off the rotten patches until you reach its core, where the true meaning and deepest flavor is exposed. The things that irritate your tear ducts and cause the tears to run down your face.
Racists have a unique character, no matter how objectionable we might find them. Someone who outright loathes women — a fool, according to me — nevertheless has, perhaps deeply buried, their reasons. And we need to get at and understand those usually frantic and irrational inspirations if we are ever to understand anything about why.
Within our pantheon of questions: who, what, where, why, how, and when, it is why that has always intrigued me. Why sets the path to understanding, giving one a deeper insight into behaviors, reactions, and how the world works within any given society. And when a writer, for example, refuses to even allow their racists to call someone by their choice racial epitaph, what they are doing is deflating the importance of the thoughts and behaviors they wish to condemn, thus deflating the importance of what they are, themselves, trying to say.
All words matter, and their placement can inspire action and change. Everything that makes us uncomfortable is the best subject for a writer, and leads to an understanding of human nature. If your story is only about the impact of prejudice upon a person, and the villains are simply cardboard characters without any depth, then the message falls flat by hammering you over the head. It is a whine, a shriek, the shrill and boring rant of someone far too offended to have anything worthwhile to say.
Censorship exists as a way to avoid discomfort, or as a method of control over information. It is how nations keep their people ignorant of change, thus reducing them to the same gray and miserably discontented mass with no imagination. And this is what happens with the modern left too. They shout people down, believing that this is their own right to free speech, disregarding the fact — perhaps so riled up that they don’t even realize — that they are censoring another person who presumably has the same equal rights they are not really fighting for.
It is not the message that destroys society. It is not the message that creates hatred. It is the response. And any preemptive attack on a person’s right to express even their most horrible and stupid ideas is simply fascism, a word itself whose meaning takes on no specific political agenda. Free speech trumps (!) hurt feelings, no matter how hard you disagree with what is being said. It is the only right that truly matters, and the cause behind the great revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries. We get to think and say whatever we want. This is why liberal organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) defend Nazis’ right to march in black or Jewish neighborhoods. Because they have a right to do so. It is why virulent anti-Semites are allowed to publish racist propaganda for those like-minded enough to join their cult. Because it is freedom. And if we choose to censor ourselves, no matter how angry certain ideas make us, then we limit our understanding of the continual whys of living that we all need to answer before our time of life is done.
(Part Six of Excuses will be published tomorrow. This essay needed to be written today for person reasons that should be rather obvious by my stating this.)