Thursday, October 20, 2016

"Quieting Free Speech"

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, protesting what he – and others –  perceive as unaddressed racial inequity in this country is refusing to stand during the national anthem before football games. 

Kaepernick’s behavior is permitted by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, protecting free speech – defining certain “actions”, for example burning the American flag, as included elements of free speech.

What does it mean that certain behavior is “protected”? 

It means you cannot be arrested for engaging in it. 

That’s it.

Beyond that, it is “Katie, bar the door!”

Ask Natalie Maines, lead singer of “The Dixie Chicks” who proclaimed onstage that she was ashamed that (then) president George W. Bush was from Texas and her career suffered irreversible battering.  

Ask Eugene V. Debs, an early unionist (Oy!) and eventual Socialist (double Oy!), jailed for protesting America’s entry into World War I.  (Although he’s dead, and you’ll have to wait until later if death works that way and people are hanging around somewhere so you can talk to him.  Assuming Mr. Debs is still interested.  I mean, “I’m dead.  Do we really have to go into that?”  While you’re at it – because you are not all that busy when you’re dead… I imagine – ask the convicted felons of the “Alien and Sedition Acts” of 1798, which forbade, under punishment of imprisonment, well… free speech, a mere ten years after they passed a constitutional amendment saying it was protected.  (Maybe they had simply “moved on.”  “‘Free Speech.’  That is so 1780’s.”)

The Early Americans were statistically shorter than us.  I did not realize they had shorter memories as well. 

Allow me, before I begin writing in my own words again, to quote Mark Twain, tackling the “downside” of free speech, published – by deliberate design – posthumously:

“In this Autobiography I shall keep in mind the fact that I am speaking from the grave.  I am literally speaking from the grave, because I shall be dead when the book issues from the press… I speak from the grave rather than from my living tongue, for a good reason:  I can speak thence freely…. It had seemed to me that I could be as frank and free and unembarrassed as a love letter if I knew that what I was writing would be exposed to no eye until I was dead, and unaware, and indifferent.”

Twain’s Cautionary Warning:  In the matter of free speech while you are alive?  As they say in California,


So there’s that documented impediment – you speak freely and things change for you and your loved ones in a distinctly negative direction. 

Americans are by nature and temperament a reasonable people, not oblivious to core intentions fitting uncomfortably together.  “You are free to say whatever you want.”  And “We are free to make you pay for it for the rest of your life.”  A smart chipmunk can see the practical difficulty in that.    

Though apparently not the sitting members of the House Un-American Activities Committee of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. 

To name just one group of constitutional amnesiacs.

There is, however, a more subtle strategy for shutting people up, one leaving no embarrassing “giveaway signs” of blatant hypocrisy or the traditional tar and feathers.

The alternate strategy which I call, because I can’t think of what else to call it:

“The Closer Downer.”

You invalidate the utterer of unpopular – or at least unwelcome – pronouncements with labels indicating a deficiency not in their pronouncements – because that takes wisdom and work, and besides, people are free to say whatever they want to – but because of their political, cultural or temperamental affiliations, disqualifying their opinions because, based on the labeling, “What else were they going to say?”

(Note:  I am not talking about pejorative characterizations – like “idiot” or “nincompoop” – but ones that are discernably trickier to dispute.) 

Consider this (admittedly incomplete) list of characterizations capable of stopping a contrarian conversationalist’s momentum dead in its tracks.  (“Contrarians” in both directions, positive and negative.  Oh, and in the “muddled middle”, of course, as well.)

Somebody makes an assertion you diametrically disagree with.

You immediately call them:



Irretrievably brain-washed

Overly simplistic

An irredeemable optimist

A dispiriting pessimist

An insufferable “numbers cruncher.”

An equivocating fence sitter.



A killjoy  (Or, more colorfully, “Captain Bring-Down”)


Out of touch with reality

A “bleeding heart” liberal

An uncaring conservative


Painfully out of touch

A dreamer

To name just eighteen of them.

How do you successfully counter these critiques?

“No, I’m not!”

They’d just append another word to the opprobrium:


You may fight back, proudly and persuasively, but for all intents and purposes, the conversation is over.  If you’re smart, you heave a surrendering sigh and you look for your coat.

The “free speech ”exterminator.

Highly effective.

And there is nobody to blame.

Except the speaker themselves.

For foolishly opening their mouths in the first place.

Before they were dead.


The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Hi Earl.

If I may...
The US Constitution says the Federal Gov't (and any State or local govts) can not stop arrest someone for their speech.

Does this mean that anyone can say anything at any time?
It depends if they are concerned what non-govt people say.

ColinK (and other players) can make any statement they want regarding the Natl Anthem.
But they may have to listen to their Team's owners, and any rules they have.
And they may have to listen to fans who vote with their $$ and their remotes, or the people who pay for their endorsements.
Again, ColinK may not care. Maybe it makes him more popular, and its worth the gamble.
His speech is protected from the Gov't, but his speech may eventually interfere with his bank accounts.

THe DixieChicks is a different story. As country music artists, they know country music fans are generally the most patriotic of all music fans.
The problem they ran into is not just what they said, and when they said it (right as the Iraq invasion was taking place) But WHERE they said it.
They made the statements outside of the U.S., criticizing the U.S.
That's like someone talking smack about their family when they are hanging with another family. If you have something to say to your family, say it to their face, and not to or in front of others. It's the GodFather rule. (besides "You can ACT LIKE A man!", and "Keep your friends close/enemies closer")

I have more thoughts on this but now I'll be Quiet. lol

Wendy M. Grossman said...

It has long struck me as exceedingly peculiar that the US insists on playing the national anthem before sports events. Why do they do this? What possible relevance does it have?


The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Wendy... here's your answer :)