Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Of Free Speech and Puppy Poopy

I was up much of the night with a recalcitrant pup who did not want to sleep--at least, not in his crate--and who preferred to romp and scamper and play at an ungodly hour that was good for him but not for me. I won't go into the unpleasant details (well, not all of them). Suffice it to say that, after spending at least half an hour outside waiting for him to do his business (no dice--he merely wanted to have fun, fun, fun), I put him back in his crate. Whereupon he decided to do his toileting there and then. (You know the part of the puppy manual that says pups won't poop in their own space? Apparently, he hadn't read it.) Whereupon I had to clean it all up, using balsamic vinegar instead of white vinegar since that was all I could find in the wee hours of the morning: I'll let you imagine what the piquant pong of dog poo and balsamic smells like.

Anyway, after all that I put him back to bed, and the caterwauling (pupperwauling?) continued for some time. Unable to sleep, I pulled a book at random from the upstairs library. The book: The Culture of Complaint, an anti-political correctness polemic written by Robert Hughes, who to his dying day identified as a liberal. The book was written back in 1993, which is probably the year I read it (at a time when I was liberal, too), but in these SLAPP-happy days this passage seems as relevant as ever:
If the first law of American corporate life is that deadwood floats, the corresponding rule of liberation-talk is that hot air expands. As we shall see, America has lately been full of occasions when someone prevents someone else from saying something and them denies it's a free speech issue.
...In October 1992 the Village Voice sponsored an evening's debate at the Cooper Union in New York, on the subject "Can a Liberal be Pro-Life?"...What happened instead was that a gang of pro-abortion protesters, some wearing buttons that read FUCK FREE SPEECH, took over the hall and prevented any speaker being heard, so that the debate itself was aborted. One of these, a harpy from some obscure left group, later preened herself and her comrades on this victory over free speech in a letter to the Village Voice: "When 80 to 100 antiracist and prochoice activists shut down a forum by one of the most powerful racists and sexists in America, as we and others did...it is a victory for all progressives." Except, that is, for those progressives who do not believe in the jackboot and the gag, and value debate above Brown Shirt ranting.
Robert Hughes was that sort of progressive--the sort who deplored and rejected speech codes, thought police, political correctness and the cult of victimhood. Even back in 1993, that made him something of an anomaly in progressive ranks. In our time, though, his type of progressive, one who believes that the marketplace of ideas is best served by robust and uncensored debate, is all but extinct--and that is truly tragic.

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