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Victimless Crime

Today, September 30, is International Blasphemy Day. There are people around the world imprisoned for blasphemy, some even marked for execution for it. PZ has a list, and there are more in the comments. People’s lives are being threatened because of something they said.

I wasn’t going to post anything for Blasphemy Day, because I’ve had this thing in my head lately that I should actually have something to say when I post, even if it’s pretty much just me thinking out loud, so to speak. Didn’t seem worthwhile to post something just to say “all gods are bastards”, really.

Two things changed my mind. The first was a quote I stumbled over, which will get its own post later. The second was thinking about free speech, which I’ll pontificate about here for a bit.

It’s important to remember that free speech is only a useful concept if it protects unpopular speech, which I’m pretty sure is the whole point of Blasphemy Day. Keep in mind, we don’t need laws to protect speech that everyone approves of.

In the United States, the freedom of speech is probably broader than just about anywhere else in the world. Courts have consistently ruled in its favor for pretty much everything short of direct threats of violence or other clear immediate dangers. The usual cliché is “Yelling ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater” to define the edges. This means that things like blasphemy, hate speech, and sedition are not crimes in the U.S.

Some people aren’t happy about that. I can sort of understand, I guess. It makes me angry when someone derides something I care about, or says hateful or cruel things about people. I suppose I can imagine how someone could shortsightedly miss the point of free speech.

See, the point is that people still get imprisoned and tortured and executed for speaking their mind. Even if you’re the kind of heartless bastard who’s okay with that as long as it’s nobody you know or care about, it’s still a practical matter for the good of everyone, because you can’t make things better if you can’t plainly say what’s wrong.

And there’s always something wrong. Always something that can be improved. How can they improve if people are afraid to speak for fear of sounding disloyal?

That’s not even getting into tyrannical rulers who casually imprison or execute anyone who shows less than enthusiastic loyalty. I remember a scene from a novel I read years ago where a kingdom was sinking into tyranny and the headsman’s axe swung like a pendulum, treason, sedition, treason, sedition… A chilling thought.

The connection to blasphemy is a simple one, every single religion has concepts and scriptures which are blasphemous to some other religion. All of them. If you were to truly enforce a blasphemy law fairly in a multicultural nation, you’d be arresting pretty much everybody. In fact, probably the only way such a law could be used with something that might, on paper, look vaguely like justice, is if there’s only one privileged religion which it is used to defend. Which will inevitably slide into treason, sedition, treason, sedition, if history is any guide.

Speech must be free. That doesn’t mean that all speech is socially equal, though. There’s a big difference between “You’re breaking the law by saying that” and “You’re being an asshole by saying that.” This really seems like it should be obvious, but I recall someone (Ann Coulter?) complaining on national television that she wasn’t allowed to say things. I don’t recall what the things were, but while complaining that she wasn’t being allowed to say them on national television she repeatedly said them, so I felt that the interview somewhat undermined her point.

The phrase “politically correct” really should have faded away soon after the movie PCU was released. All the good jokes had been made by then.

So anyway, yeah. Guess I should do some blaspheming.

All the gods and angels and demigods and saints and heroes and idols and miracles and commandments and divinity in all of existence combined are worth less than any single human being. All of them.

We are the best minds active on this world, and we are capable of so much more.  We are risen apes, and we are rising higher. We don’t need to rise above the gods, for we did that long ago, we need only rise above our own fear, anger, and weakness, and we can create a better world.

The DMCA and SOPA

I’ve been trying to read SOPA, and it’s a pain. Here’s a pdf if you want to give it a shot, maybe you’ll do better than I. I’m hosting it here because I had some inconvenience tracking it down on the Library of Congress site, so I figured I’d save you the trouble.

My trouble reading it is partly the language and partly the way it’s formatted. It’s so nested with paragraphs and subsections and clauses and sub-clauses that when it refers later to a specific clause or subsection you’re not sure which one it means. I think it would benefit from hyperlinks, or perhaps a complete rewrite by someone who knows how to communicate clearly.

I’ll rant about obfuscation in legal texts later, though. (Maybe tomorrow?) Today I want to talk about this claim made at the beginning of the document:

3 (1) FIRST AMENDMENT.—Nothing in this Act
4 shall be construed to impose a prior restraint on free
5 speech or the press protected under the 1st Amend-
6 ment to the Constitution.

It’s probably true that they don’t intend this thing to impede free speech or censor anyone. But should it pass it will be used to do that, and I know this because the DMCA is used this way. Read the rest of this entry

Busy day

Between looking after the lost dog I found yesterday, putting up fliers, returning the dog to his home, and then taking down the damned useless fliers, I didn’t really have time for much writing today.

It didn’t help that I got used to writing tomorrow’s post in the evenings, then managed to miss a day and wrote yesterday’s post yesterday evening. It was really weird when I was plotting out my evening and realized that I hadn’t posted anything yet today.

Anyways, here’s a story from London that really pissed me off. When I went to that blog just now to find that link, I saw another! So apparently threats of violence are effective at curtailing free speech in the UK. Good to know, I guess. Read the rest of this entry

#HeBlowsALot Redux: Apology Denied

Since I’m unable to sleep again, I may as well cover this. Emma Sullivan has apparently decided not to write the apology letter her disgrace of a principal, Karl R. Krawitz, demanded. Here are some links about that.

“At this time, I do not think an apology would be a sincere thing for me to do.”

Good for her! Free speech is everyone’s right, and that means not only the freedom to speak, but the freedom not to.

Especially the freedom not to write insincere, bullshit apologies demanded by some jackass who thinks he needs “damage control”. How’s that damage control going, Karl?

I don’t have much more to say on this, but something Principal Krawitz said in one of those articles stuck in my mind.

Krawitz, her principal, told The Kansas City Star previously that the situation is a “private issue, not a public matter” but didn’t return a phone message from The Associated Press at his home Sunday.

In what way is this not a public matter? Seriously, it was a publicly visible tweet, Governor Brownback and Principal Krawitz are public servants, and Shawnee Mission East is a public high school. Heck as far as I know the only private party involved is Emma Sullivan herself. (And I guess Twitter, but they’re literally just the messenger here.) If that’s a private issue, what the hell does it take for something to be public?

I’ve seen many people on Twitter calling Brownback a bully (and even reporting him as one, hilariously), but really I think Principal Krawitz is far more guilty of that charge. For all I know Brownback didn’t even know about it til the story broke. His staff clearly have the right bullying attitude, but only passed on a complaint.

It was Krawitz who took it upon himself to tell this young woman what she can and cannot say, It was Krawitz who apparently spent more words scolding her than you can fit in a tweet. And it was Krawitz who should have been defending her rights, who should be defending the rights of every student in his care, and decided shallow appearances, or maybe just his own ego, was more important.

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