Montreal, April 15, 2005 • No 153




Gennady Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist and philosophical essayist, and is Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator. He lives in Chicago.




by Gennady Stolyarov II


          In attending a February 8, 2005, conference at the Gleacher Center in Chicago, I had hoped to hear a thorough philosophical defense of free speech and its true implications for a society that valued individual rights. I had good reason to expect this, given the title of the conference: "Creative and Artistic Subversions of Free Speech Limitations."


          I instead learned that America violates free speech to a greater extent than does Fidel Castro's dictatorship in Cuba, that films made from the 1930s onward are in fact riddled with covert homosexual symbolism that only the select few initiated in this arcane lore could fathom, that an "avant-garde" artist's free speech consists of taking my tax money and having his degenerate creations funded by it through the government, and that of course the primary threats to free speech today are evil fascist corporations with intentions to monopolize the mass media and crowd out the "little guy," i.e., the "avant-garde," licentious, socialist "artist" whose "free speech" consists of using my tax money.

          Most importantly, however, I learned that the most revered elites of academia, journalism, and government have absolutely no idea what free speech is, why it is significant, what sorts of individuals truly value it, and what sort of society it would bring about.

Banning makers of toy genitalia

          The conference lasted two hours and was moderated by one, Elbio Rodriguez Barilari, in his words, "a composer and journalist from Uruguay," who lamented in depth that the ultra-socialist newspaper which employed him had, several years ago, been bought out of business by a media conglomerate. Of course, the fact that the newspaper was peacefully acquired through voluntary, consensual market exchange did not stop him from branding the transfer of ownership an atrocious free speech violation.

          Apparently, free speech for Mr. Barilari means either the prohibition of said newspaper's owners from selling their property to whomever they choose, or the prohibition of its new owners from altering its contents or purpose – never mind that they would be forced to fund beliefs contrary to their own in Mr. Barilari's favored scenario. Moreover, Mr. Barilari recalled his days as a rock musician in Uruguay during his youth, when the military government had imposed censorship to ban certain terms it deemed "subversive" from the lyrics of songs. Of course (and how could we all, with the exception of Mr. Barilari, miss this!) the Uruguayan government could only have done this because of fascist American influences behind the scenes. Never mind that "freedom" was one of the words blacklisted –Americans hate that word, right? And Americans did such a good job in concealing what they actually did that we never really know precisely how they influenced all this censorship.

          To be serious, the Uruguayan government's actions were without doubt inexcusable, no matter whom it had attempted to silence or why, but it was quite telling to note that it was not the users of the word "freedom" that Mr. Barilari focused his defense on, but rather the makers of toy genitalia who were apparently expelled from the country for lewd conduct. Thank you, Mr. Barilari, for showing us backward fascist Americans that free speech leaves the intellectual arena open to far more profound and elevated undertakings than the mere base defense of freedom!

          Next to speak on the panel was Ron Gregg, a University of Chicago "film historian" who encouraged all of us to "question" the values of monogamy, fidelity, moderation, and restraint that Hollywood films from the mid-twentieth century apparently conveyed – all a great pretense, of course, to be dispelled by the keen and superior analysis of Mr. Gregg.

          In Mr. Gregg's opinion, the primary affront to free speech was the 1930 Hayes Code, whereby Hollywood producers voluntarily agreed to abstain from filming certain obscene, vulgar, and otherwise publicly inappropriate matters. Furthermore, Mr. Gregg contended that for the "innovative" (or, to put it more properly, the perverse) there existed loopholes in the Code that could by exploited. Mr. Gregg informed us, "When watching films from this time period, audiences could ask themselves, 'Is this really a lamp, or it is a phallic symbol?'" By implication, we are supposed to assume, whenever we see a lamp in an old film, that its director was a closet homosexual creatively fighting back against brutal repression of his free speech by monogamist heterosexual prudes. I have my peculiar fixation with common sense to blame for the fact that I had not detected this myself all these years.

          Third on the panel was Achy Obejas, a Cuban-American journalist and author who first described her experiences with censorship under the Fidel Castro regime, which usually consisted of a government official informally telling the author what she could or could not write (since, by the official party line, there is "no censorship" in Cuba). Apparently, Ms. Obejas was several times a target of this censorship due to her attempts to portray genitalia in her books and "art exhibits." But, to be fair to Ms. Obejas, she can see both the bad and the good sides of the regime which had restrained her, eager to comment on the latter whenever said regime is arrayed against a far greater and more repressive evil, i.e., evil fascist Americans. It was, after all, evil fascist Americans who "stole" over 19,000 acres from Cuba after the Spanish-American War and built their Guantanamo Bay base there.

          Ms. Obejas lauded Fidel Castro's courage in staunchly refusing to accept the regular lease payments that the evil fascist Americans send to Havana in order to meet the provisions of the treaty which had originally allowed them to use the land. If Fidel does not recognize the lease payments, the land they pay for must surely have been stolen and the treaty violated… by Americans. Furthermore, Ms. Obejas recognizes that the miserable socialist poverty to which Castro's rule had relegated Cubans (and which she oddly omitted from her criticisms of Castro) pales in comparison to the unspeakable crimes being perpetrated by the evil fascist Americans within the confines of Guantanamo Bay.

          Of course, Ms. Obejas failed to enlighten us as to the nature of such crimes, but that is pardonable. After all, the U.S. military had even denied her access to the installation itself. What appalling censorship it is that every left-wing reporter who asks is not allowed to obtain and publish top-secret military information that terrorists would use against the military if they could! By implication, Ms. Obejas should also be allowed into the Pentagon's strategy sessions, just to make sure the Defense Secretary is not inflicting cruel and unusual punishment upon the women of the world by using the phrase, "the men of our armed forces."

"We are supposed to assume, whenever we see a lamp in an old film, that its director was a closet homosexual creatively fighting back against brutal repression of his free speech by monogamist heterosexual prudes."

          As an aside, let the reader be reminded that Ms. Obejas' claims of a military/government conspiracy to conceal the events at Guantanamo are absolutely false. Not long ago, the base was visited by none other than Bill O'Reilly himself, who, with extensive camera recordings as his evidence, publicly declared the facilities sound and the prisoners in good care. This type of understanding is what true free speech brings to the public. Ms. Obejas is free to deny it, of course, but the United States treats people who overtly seek to kill its citizens and destroy their property in a far more dignified and lenient manner than does the Castro regime anyone who dares utter a word in criticism of its boundless socialist wisdom (the former are given sheets of cloth to sit on while they pray; the latter are given sheets of cloth to cover their bleeding corpses).

          The fourth member of the panel was Grazyna Zajachkowska, a Polish photographer who had partaken in student demonstrations against Soviet rule in the 1980s. Unfortunately, Ms. Zajachkowska was afflicted by a cold and could therefore not speak at length about her experiences under Soviet censorship. She did, however, muster the energy to contend that the current corporate expansion into Polish media is far more dangerous than any Soviet threats to free speech had ever been. To be precise, she stated, "It is a scary, fascist world that we are entering into." One can learn much about what is truly important to a person by noting what she chooses to say and what she chooses to omit when she has only an extremely limited amount of time to speak.

Free-riding artists

          Of course, for a grand finale, any good panel on free speech limitations has to include one of those government officials who takes my tax money and uses it to fund degenerate art – obeying "community standards," to be fair, which means, whatever standards I happen not to hold. Gregory Knight heads the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, which is in charge of determining which artists get free rides on taxpayers' money.

          First, Mr. Knight lamented the significant decreases in funds available to artists through the National Endowment for the Arts as a result of changes which were instituted during the late 1990s. Apparently, the downfall of an organization that presumes that it knows better than the private consumer what said consumer's esthetic tastes should be is a bad thing.

          Then, Mr. Knight explained the intricacies of the process by which he and his fellow bureaucrats select which art will get funding and which will not. Apparently, the art cannot be absolutely inoffensive, as it would be boring and devoid of esthetic value (as defined by those who consider esthetic value equivalent to shock value), but then the art also has to be politically correct. That is, it must avoid offending certain groups of people while being allowed, nay, encouraged, to offend certain others. Namely, smearing the Virgin Mary with feces is allowed, but to depict homosexuals with anything but glorification will get one subjected to censorship (of the good, beneficent, "community standards" variety, of course), since the government does control the major museums of the city and thus holds a monopoly over most major art markets. But this is a good monopoly of the "community standards" variety, namely, a monopoly which is able to use force to compel consumers to fund it and to determine what art is and is not available to them. It is far more tolerable than the "monopolies" of the evil fascist corporations – never mind that those corporations do not and cannot control such vast portions of any market, nor that they never resort to anything but voluntary agreements with their customers and that the commodities they supply are determined entirely by said customers' demand.

          At this point, Achy Obejas chimed in with her critique of the private art market in general. Apparently, private art foundations are undesirable because they give grants to artists for limited periods of time and make these grants contingent on the production of particular works that actually reflect the esthetic preferences of said foundations' owners. After all, it is a violation of the artist's free speech for him to be paid only to represent views that his employer is willing to fund! Moreover, the heinous evil of private grants consists of the fact that there are just so many of them and the artist actually has to endure the intolerable burden of seeking them out and choosing wisely which ones to apply for!

          A much freer society is one where the government comes to you and assures your financial security for life provided you can put a few blotches on a canvas and are not one of those reactionary taxpayers whose money is being taken to finance said blotches. As to the question of why I, or you, or anybody else who is such a taxpayer, can be forced to fund these "avant-garde innovators," the answer is simple: without our "help," their free speech would be violated, since scarcely anybody on the free market would be willing to fund their twisted exercises.

More bad types of censorship

          Among the other highlights of the conference, I learned about more "bad" types of censorship, one of them being "self-censorship," i.e., an individual's mind actually screening itself for what thoughts it ought to think and express. Apparently, individual self-control, that is, anything that allows one's communication to be different from that of an "uninhibited" zombie under hypnosis, is tantamount to suppressing one's own freedom of speech! Perhaps the government should try to break up the monopoly that rationalistic, imperialistic, prudish, male-chauvinistic, Eurocentric, repressive, reactionary constructs hold on the mind of this author, much like it tries to break up the "monopolies" that corporations allegedly hold on the mass media. How easily this version of "free speech" can render itself open to the worst types of tyrannical intrusions!

          Finally, at the end of this amusing zoo of absurdities preached by the modern Left, I got to ask the panel a question: "Is it not true that, for free speech to be maintained in full principle, it is property rights which must be preserved above all? What is true free speech except for the ability of all individuals, whether they are you or Rupert Murdoch, to acquire whatever property they see fit and to use it to communicate whatever messages they see fit? And is it not true censorship to attempt to use the coercive powers of government to limit the free speech and property rights of some, namely, corporations, and redistribute wealth to others, namely artists who might or might not have received similar support were they, and the market, left to their own devices?"

          The response I received from the panel allowed me to glimpse further into their genuine mindset. The speakers, and the majority of the Left, are not opposed to censorship at all! As a matter of fact, Achy Obejas answered me with the standard Holmesian rejoinder that I do not have the right to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater. Had I the opportunity to reply to this, I would have stated that the only reason I would not be able to have such a right is because the theater (in a legitimate free-market society) would be somebody else's property, and the owner would have the liberty to expel me from his premises if he thought my actions a disturbance. In my own theater, I should be able to cry, "Fire!" as often (or as rarely) as I please.

          Then, Ron Gregg told me that the government must regulate speech on some media, because some media, such as the airwaves, must remain public. This, of course, begs the question, "Why?" What entitles "the public" to "free" or state-provided airwaves anymore than it is entitled to "free" or state-provided shoes, bread, or Internet access? Why not just privatize everything, the airwaves included, and toss aside the nasty dilemma of which absurdities the government ought to subsidize, and which intelligent, independent, courageous acts of individual expression it ought to suppress? Mr. Knight, and half the degenerate artists along with him, would be out of a job, of course, but what prevents them from experiencing an awakening of common sense and finding work that actually contributes to everybody's economic prosperity rather than sapping it?

          Finally, after learning what free speech is not, I came upon the clearest realization of all that I experienced that evening, namely, that America's Founding Fathers did not put their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor on the line so that, ten generations down the line, an elite elect of "the avant-garde" would be able to enshrine genitalia, glorify promiscuity, shamelessly utter obscene curses (as many panel members did that night), or publicly broadcast their alternative lifestyles and homosexual affairs (as two of the members did). These activities are part of a disgusting fringe that must be tolerated, true, but tolerated with what aim? Is not the only reason for the toleration of absurdity the creation of an absolute and impenetrable barrier against violations of the free speech of those who truly use it to a noble, rational, life-affirming end? After all, a free society must not allow itself to fall onto the slippery slope of certain statists claiming, "We already censor pornography on the grounds that it violates 'community standards.' Why should we then not censor laissez-faire capitalists, especially when their expressions are in even greater disagreement with 'community standards'"?

          Nevertheless, it is not the base, disgusting, and fleeting elements in life that an individual should use his inalienable right of free speech to promote; but rather the dignified, elevated, and eternal: the harmonies of classical music, the impeccable mathematics of representational art, the crisp, delightful reasoning of a 2000-year-old intellectual tradition dating from Aristotle to Ayn Rand, and beyond, the message of individual liberty in its truest sense – a liberty of property, conscience, and judgment, a liberty to toss the dictatorships, the bureaucrats, and the degenerate perverts out of one's own life and to undertake the heroic quest of finding one's own happiness in the use of one's mind.