Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Is Keith Olbermann Right? Is "Hate Speech" The Problem?

Last night Keith Olbermann had a special comment, his second about the Arizona shootings. In the first one, right after the shootings, he apparently called on politicians, the media, and all of us, to renounce language or communication which might be interpreted as calling for violence. He referred specifically to Sarah Palin's directive to her followers that they don't retreat, reload; her rifle-sights poster showing Democrats as the prey, apparently to be hunted down and eliminated; to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck's constant hysteria; to many politicians and their apparent intent to lie, mislead, deceive, convince the public that something false is true, and that there is a crisis, and some member of the public must stand up and apparently save the country by resorting to violence.

We all know this type of communication is rather constant from the right-wing. We all feel threatened by it. But is the solution less speech, or more?

We have freedom of speech in this country that allows people to speak openly, regardless of how stupid they area. Our media has been largely taken over by the right-wing which uses it as a neo-nazi propaganda network to spread fascism and terrorize the public. We all know that.

But is the answer less speech, or more?

We have no evidence that the Arizona shooter was influenced in any way by the media or by any politician's communications. His acts could have been simply the deranged conduct of a mentally disturbed person, the same type of thing we see from the assassination of celebrities like John Lennon: not political, but the result of an obsession and mental defect.

Since we have no evidence that the conduct of the Arizona shooter was caused by speech, then why would we use that shooting as an occasion to propose restricting speech?

I see that somebody attended a forum in which there was to be a discussion of the Arizona shooting, and this man in the audience stood up and screamed at someone on stage: "You're dead. You're dead." He was arrested. I don't think he should have been. It's a volatile subject matter, highly emotional. But I would not see those comments as being a real threat to commit an act of violence, but rather simply an emotional response to a highly-charged environment.

Should we authorize or encourage the police to arrest citizens for being stupid, or emotional? Should speech by itself be sufficient to warrant arrest and punishment? Generally, no.

Besides, this member of the audience didn't kill anyone. Isn't it more likely that common people, working people will be arrested and punished for protesting against the government, than it is likely that the powerful media personalities or the politicians will be arrested for their speech? Of course it is.

I think Olbermann got it wrong this time. The problem in Arizona is apparently that somebody who was mentally ill was nonetheless able to get automatic weapons. Shouldn't background checks include a requirement that somebody go out and interview the parents, spouses, neighbors, co-workers, teachers, fellow students of the person trying to buy the weapon, and require the persons interviewed to sign a statement under penalty of perjury saying that they have never seen the person act erratically or be drunk or drugged or threaten anyone. Is there any legitimate reason for any civilian to own an automatic weapon, under any circumstances, and why aren't they banned? Is there some reason we cannot err on the side of caution? Well yes, actually, it's the NRA which pays enormous bribes to our politicians to stop them from passing stricter background check requirements on gun dealers, and to stop them from keeping in place the assault weapons ban that we used to have.

Honestly, the problem in Arizona isn't speech, it's the unfortunate proliferation of guns and specifically of automatic weapons, and the availability even to the obviously disturbed people in our society.

As for the right-wing threats, the Democrats in national office act as if their only job is to solicit bribes from foreign countries and multinational corporations. How about if they declare one day a week that will be a Bribe-Free day, and they spend it going out to the public and speaking. More speech, not less.

Remember when the teabaggers were out brandishing weapons to intimidate their neighbors and prevent open discussion about proposed healthcare reforms? Every single Democratic politician should have been attending those hearings and directing the police in advance to arrest anybody who brandished a weapon -- waved it at anyone else in the crowd in a manner intended to intimidate. Personally I would have put the gun people in a cage, far away from the meeting, because their only purpose for being there was to terrorize their neighbors. But the Democrats should been out in force, openly speaking, confronting the lunatics, and standing up and for and beside their supporters. Instead, they remained mum, back in D.C. negotiating the exact amount of bribes to be paid by the AMA and the insurance industry for the Democrats failure to pass a non-profit option for the citizens.

We need more speech, not less. Anybody threatens violence, the response should be an overwhelming number of opponents showing up and getting in the face of those promoting the threats. Harass them for a change, go to their houses and schools and place of work with picket signs saying they are a threat and danger to the community, that they are terrorizing their neighbors. Most of these people are cowards, and if somebody got up in their face, they'd likely stop doing it.

I think Olbermann got it wrong. The problem is not speech, even "hate" speech. We need more speech, from the people who are supposed to be on our side. But the real problem is guns, particularly automatic "assault" weapons which serve no legitimate purpose except to kill other people. Maybe we could ask our politicians to start speaking out agains the proliferation of guns. Let's demand that our politicians stop taking money from the NRA, and start passing strict background checks, and a ban on automatic weapons. More speech, less guns.

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