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June 28th, 2005

08:38 am - Freedom From Speech is freedom from freedom

Freedom of speech is the one liberty from which all the others flow. It is the head of the beast. Cut off all the other freedoms but leave that one and liberty could, given time, regenerate itself. End freedom of speech and the only option left is revolution.

Which is why I am revolted by some of the restrictions on that most basic freedom going on now in Europe and other supposedly free and democratic areas. There is nothing more unnerving than the thought that the United States, currently plagued with the corruption of growing religious fervor and run by an administration of corrupt and brutal traitors, may soon live up to its self-proclaimed billing as the shining beacon of liberty in the democratic world. If we, in our dilapidated state, are the beacon of liberty then god save the people in the darkness.

There are only very few restrictions of speech that are proper or acceptable, and those come into play only when speech crosses the line into action. For example I don't think that anyone disagrees that saying "I will give you one million dollars to kill my wife" should be a protected liberty. When we punish someone for that we are not punishing them for the words he says, though, we are punishing him for the action he is trying to induce through bribery. Likewise when someone yells "Fire" in a crowded theater it is not "Fire" we are punishing, but the fact that he is causing a panic. He could do the same thing by firing a pistol into the air or actually starting a fire.

One of the key elements of this kind of unprotected speech is that there are no ideas being expressed. Yelling "Fire" isn't intended as a form of communication at all, it's an attack. When you ask someone to commit murder you are inspiring action rather than expressing what you think or feel. "I think my wife deserves to die" and "I would be very grateful to anyone who killed my wife" are, and should be, protected forms of speech provided they are not spoken in specific circumstances (such as at a meeting with a prospective hit man.)

Beyond these forms of violent action speech there is no form of speech that does not deserve protection. That includes the most vile and disgusting form of words imaginable. In even the most repressive and unfree society it is acceptable to say "It's quite a beautiful day, is it not?" The test for freedom is the right to say things others don't want to hear. That includes racist invective, anti-religious statements, calls for revolution, and child pornography*. Freedom of inoffensive speech is not freedom at all.

And so we come back to Europe. In France it is now illegal to insult the religion of Islam. You can be fined or even imprisoned for arguing that the religion promotes violence or subjugation of women. Does it? Irrelevant. Once you declare it illegal to make that argument you can never find out, because you can't even reasonably ask the question. That's what it's all about, government control of knowledge and ideas. Once the government declares something to be the unchallengeable truth a society becomes locked in to a certain pattern of thinking from which it can not legally break free, even though whatever the government declares to be "true" almost certainly is not inarguably so. If a point were inarguable there'd be no point in legislating speech about it. No society has ever made it illegal to claim that water is dry, to do so would be absurd.

So if the only speech that a government can restrict is controversial speech then it stands to reason that the people who are most affected by these bans are those with controversial ideas. And so we start to see the sinister nature of these restrictions emerging. In Australia two pastors have been arrested and are being tried for making claims about Islam similar to those you cannot make in France. The Australian case goes one step further, though, because during the trial one of the pastors started reading from a translation of the Quran in open court in an attempt to prove that he had spoken the truth. The prosecuting attorney cut him off, arguing that to read such passages would denigrate Muslims.

When freedom of speech is restricted the truth ceases to be a defense.

This is why we must allow people to say things that we disagree with vehemently and believe to be utterly harmful lies. It is why as a Jew I favor permitting nazis to wear whatever regalia they choose and to march in the streets condemning me as a member of an inferior race who deserves to die. It is why as a gender egalitarian** I support people's rights to declare men or women inferior and outmoded. It is why as a realist I have no problem with creationists arguing their silly claptrap in the streets. If you ban the speech that you find offensive you unleash a monster that will eventually consume much of value. One man's important statement of opinion or fact is another's unsubstantiated insult or racial invective.

If the price of freedom is discomfort it is a price we should all pay gladly. If the price of freedom to say the offensive things we want to say is to have to listen to someone else say things that churn our stomach, we should slap down the money on the counter and consider it a bargain. Because once you tell a racist he can't say that black people are descended from mud and shit how long is it before you tell someone he can't argue that Islam is a violent religion, or another that he can't say lawyers are scum or etc...etc...

There is no bright line test for offensive speech, there are 6.8 billion unique definitions in this world. The marketplace of ideas must be kept free of restrictions if it is to do its job and weed out the truth from a flower bed of pleasant lies.

That is not to say, by the way, that there should never be a price for speech. Say the wrong thing to your boss and you can lose your job. That is just. Print hurtful lies about a person or business and cause them material harm and they are entitled to compensation. That is right. Freedom of speech does not mean speech is always free, but we should err on the side of caution when extracting such a price. This is why I like U.S. libel laws as opposed to the draconian ones we see overseas. Better to have a lie oft-repeated than a truth squelched because it cannot be proved.

*The production of child pornography should be illegal, because that's action not speech, and the consumption of such illegally produced material should arguably be illegal because it's accessory to a vile crime. However child pornography produced via computer or hand-drawn animation? There is no compelling reason to disallow that, however abhorrent you or I or just about anyone except rpeate might find it.

**Fuck feminism right in the ass, where you know it secretly wants to be fucked.

09:28 am

My Hetero Mancrush* Larry David has another post up on the Huffington Post. It's not exactly genius but it's an entertaining read and it ends extremely well with the one example of what the Bushies have given America in a positive way. Of course Mr. David gets my thanks for whatever he writes, because when it's genius then he has birthed genius into the world and when it's less than genius he makes me more confident. Larry David CANNOT LOSE in my book.

*A hetero mancrush is a non-sexual admiration that has many of the markings of a crush. For example you are constantly on the lookout for mention of the person, you can talk about him for extended periods of time, and the thought of meeting or speaking with him makes you both nervous and excited. It generally occurs among geeky males looking for role models who managed to make it in the world as a geeky male and produce works of genius or great aesthetic value.

06:03 pm - Is Meat Mooder?

It is one of the great ethical questions of our time. Is it okay to kill and dismember animals so that we as humans can have the pleasure of consuming their flesh? At what point is our desire for pleasant nourishment trumped by their rights as living thinking feeling beings? Is eating a heated piece of animal corpse a disgusting act of depravity, or just the natural of order of things?

There doesn't seem to be a simple answer.

Human beings don't need animal flesh to survive. While vegetarian diets may not be pleasant to the palate, and may require special planning and preparation for people to get their necessary protein allotment, they are certainly sustainable in the long run. This means that for modern humanity eating meat is an option. An option that I, like billions of others, am no stranger to. I am fully aware that animals suffer unspeakable horrors so that I might enjoy that delicious hamburger or piece of chicken. I bite into my food having been educated on factory farms and tail clipping and all the rest of the barbarism that goes on in the American meat industry.

So why do I do it? Short answer, because it's delicious. The longer answer is that I think meat consumption is a complicated ethical issue. It's not just about taking life to sustain life, all animals do that. Plants are alive and nobody sheds a tear when they are killed by the millions to make our bread and tofu and salads. So what then? Is it a central nervous system? Insects have them, but do we really care about them? Do they feel in anything like the way that humans do, in a way that requires we be ethical towards them? Most would agree they don't, they're not psychologically complex enough. They don't seem to have intelligence or feel pain. Native American cultures used to eat grubs as a treat, was that unethical? What about shellfish? Do clams feel love or pain? Where do we stop? At vertebrates? Does anyone feel sorry for flounder or trout when they end up in the pan? Perhaps some do. I don't.

Things get more complicated when you move up the food chain to mammals, specifically large ones. Certainly many people wince at the thought of eating monkey flesh since the primates remind us of ourselves. On the other hand the pig, an animal whose parts are consumed at every meal of the day, has intelligence to rival that of many simians. Do we give a second thought about biting into a piece of bacon or a pork dumpling? Pigs are raised in inhumane conditions throughout the country, force fed to be fattened up, kept snout to tail in tiny pens without the opportunity to exercise or engage in social behaviors, and shot full of drugs to mitigate the disease that can spread like wildfire through factory farms.

This is indisputable fact. I still enjoy a nice ham sandwich. Why?

Up until now I've focused on the critical arguments against consuming animal flesh, with my only argument in favor being that it tastes good. Hedonistic pleasure is not an excuse for bad behavior, but what about instinct and human nature? Humans are a flesh-eating species. Yes we are omnivores and primitive man's diet had its share of berries, roots, and nuts. On the other hand our eyes are located in the fronts of our head, a setup designed for depth-perception, the mark of a species that is more hunter than hunted (hunted animals have eyes on the sides of their heads allowing a greater angle of view so they can note predators.) We have sharp teeth in our mouths for the rending of meat, up front, as well as flatter ones in back to crush plant material. We lack the herbivore's complex digestive system to break down cellulose into digestible energy in exchange for a shorter tract that can break down protein more efficiently.

We were designed to eat meat.

And I for one crave it. I like the taste of chicken, I like the taste of beef. Don't get me wrong, a salad can be good, but it's not as savory as a nice piece of chicken. Rooting around at the bottom of the bowl for scraps of carrot or lettuce is no match for cleaning a drumstick of all edible meat and sucking the marrow from it. I don't think this is just a learned behavior. Primitive man loved meat, and the Innuit people for one live on it almost exclusively. Every other meat eating animal that can get at flesh will eat it, from omnivorous bears who could conceivably make do on foraged plant material to carnivores like the big cats of the African plains who take down zebra and wildebeest with no ethical qualms.

Indeed prey species have evolved to rely on predators for population control. In New York state farmers and ranchers shot most of the wolves and the deer have gone out of control, creating an overpopulated mess that hunting can only partially solve. Many are sick or malnourished, and they continue breed at levels that require culling that wolves are no longer around to do.The cycle of life was set up to include meat eaters.

Okay, so humans might be designed to consume flesh, but there's a big difference between a Native American tribe stalking bison and you or I eating a burger from a factory farmed cow. The killing of the bison was a ritual that indicated some sort of symbiotic relationship and respect between the two species. It didn't involve locking it in a stall for its whole natural life, mutilating it, and finally killing it and throwing away much of the carcass.

This is true, and it is also true that most people in today's urban societies have no time or skill for the hunt, not to mention that wild animal populations couldn't sustain 6.8 billion men with guns gunning for their flesh. We need farming, and we need controlled predictable sources of meat. Yet we cannot justify the factory farm unless we accept that anything that's not human is ripe for abuse and mistreatment, and that despoiling the environment and poisoning our food supply is a reasonable price to pay for cheaper meat.

I don't think it is. The solution to our current problem is, in my opinion, the traditional farm. Where I had a country home in my youth there were many of them. These were places where the cows grazed happily in the fields in the spring summer and fall, and spent the winter in a barn being fed not liquefied flesh from their brethren but rather a diet of corn and oats. From my observations as a young person cows enjoy corn and oats. They probably did receive some level of medication, but not the level of drugging that factory cattle endure, and the ranch hands who took care of them had both affection and respect for the animals. Granted these were dairy farms, but there's no reason that beef cattle couldn't be treated in the same way. In some places they are. There's plenty of open land in this country, enough that there's no reason for the factory farm to exist.

No reason except price.

The factory farm is an example of the brutality of unfettered capitalism. It's cheaper to lock cattle in tiny stalls and feed them liquefied flesh than it is to let them roam and give them corn, so the former is what we do for the most part. The beef industry doesn't really talk about it so the consumer doesn't really know, and assumes the cows he's eating have lead relatively happy lives grazing in bucolic fields before being humanely slaughtered for their meat. It's a big lie, and it works. People eat meat, most don't feel guilty, prices are low.

It's wrong. Using organic farming techniques that utilize animal waste as fertilizer it is likely that we could switch to a more sustainable and humane form of animal husbandry without sending the price skyrocketing. We'd have to cut consumption some, and pay a little more, but that would have the added benefit of reducing the obesity epidemic and creating a healthier public. It would also make a world of difference to the animals. A pig who has spent his life rutting in the mud outdoors playing with his friends in a family farm pen can be happy. When he is made into a pulled pork sandwich he shuffles off this mortal coil having spent his life happy as...a pig in shit. He is part of the grand cycle of life and symbiosis and the rest of it. A big who has his tail clipped and spends his life in a giant building being pumped full of food and drugs? That's a different story.

But Americans are consumers, and we don't really care what happens to our food so long as we don't have to see it. Cheap wins out over safe and moral. Every time. This needs to change. I don't think you can ban factory farming except insofar as it is unsafe to humans, but you can hope to create a sea change in the culture where we'll start to care more about our impact on the world than what we can acquire and how quickly we can get it.

I for one believe in small steps. I buy organic chicken and beef when I can (at restaurants it's often not an option) and if it costs a little more or I get a little less that's okay. Of course I also consume the occasional McDonald's hamburger or Wendy's chicken salad, so I'm not blameless, but it's not an all or nothing proposition. Torturing fewer animals is better than torturing more, even if torturing none would be best.

I don't think we have to be vegetarian to be an ethical society, but we do need to change the way we produce food and care for animals. A lot of animal rights activism is a little bullshitty to me, for example the cute animals get a lot more attention and work than the ugly ones who might be just as smart or smarter (See pigs) but the activists are right that we shouldn't torture and maim just because we can. How we treat animals is just a symptom of the brutal commodification of life that is 21st century America.

Here's to turning it around.

06:41 pm - For golden_lotus. Sorry, I tried

"I'm so Goth" by Sylvester LaToush age 14 and a half.

A lot of people think they're goth, but most aren't. They're just weak ass camel raising fagetass homos or some thing. Not me. Not Sylvester LaToush I'm as goth as it gets.

I'm so goth when my dad bought me the new silver Jordan shoes I went straight to the corner store to buy a sharpie and color them in.

I'm so goth I have two piercings in each ear.

I'm so goth I have a kickass band. It's called Charlie Monroe.

I'm so goth that when I go to the movies I have a hard time picking between the red and black Twizzlers because one makes your mouth look bloody and the other makes it...black.

I'm so goth my demon tattoo has his own tattoo...of a demon.

I'm so goth that when I cry during sex my girlfriend knows it's because of how goth I am and it TURNS HER ON.

I'm so goth I changed the ring on my mom's cellphone to "The Beautiful People."

I'm so goth I got fired from my job at the mall for stealing black lipstick.

I'm so goth I don't go to the beach with under SPF 100 sunblock.

I'm so goth that if I got married I would register at J.C. Penny AND Danse Macabre.

I'm so goth I cried at the end of Old Yeller, but it was about the state of our society and the meaninglessness of life, totally not about the stupid dog.

I'm so goth I failed English for turning in a paper about "Things that make me happy" blank.

I'm so goth I only drink Halloween flavored Kool-Aid.

I'm so goth everyone in the gated community calls me "That goth kid."

I'm so goth I got kicked off the baseball team for using up all the eyeblack.

I'm so goth I drew a bat blinking in a cave at night for art class.

I'm so goth I smoke just for the cancer.

I'm so goth I own a fishnet windbreaker.

I'm so goth I was into Marilyn Manson back when he was on Mr. Belvedere.

I'm so goth I got a dog just so I could steal his collar.

I'm so goth that when I draw a rainbow it's seven shades of black.

07:44 pm - Me so sogynist.

Some, or possibly none, of you may have noted that I have shifted the "targets" of my humorous screeds away from those who mock homosexuality and towards a broader range of groups, specifically anti-feminist conservatives and those who judge the poor harshly. Doing this means that, due to my current style, I'm writing more about women and heterosexual behaviors than I had been. This is for a bunch of reasons, for one writing incessantly about homosexuality seemed to be a bit too much, for another writing about women is much more fun because women are sexy and gays are...not. Women have fun parts like vaginas and breasts to think about. Gays do not. Get the picture? Finally I thought that perhaps if writing about gays attracts homosexual readers (YES) writing about women would attract women readers (NO). It was worth a shot.

Writing edgily about a group that you aren't a part of is a risky proposition in our society. There's a lot of PCness and fear of offending. I don't like getting caught up in that but I don't want to hurt people either, it's a tough line to walk. I firmly believe that the only way we can really get past prejudice is if everyone is allowed to confront and discuss it, not just members of aggrieved groups. That's why as a fat Jew I don't write primarily about fat Jewish issues. That would be ghettoizing my words into the convenient group I fit into. I don't think that's productive.

Anyway I was interested if people had any reaction to the new style and how it's working so far. So I made a poll. It's what I do. Don't judge me. The Nazis judged my people. Are you a Nazi?

Now I'm off to a Chelsea Best Buy to pick up my air conditioner I ordered. I have a feeling it's going to be like Gaymart down there. Oh well.

Poll #522358 Polls are fun

How do you feel about the shift?

I like it, it is fresher and edgier
7(41.2%)
It's okay, women are purdy
5(29.4%)
Annoying, more GAY please
1(5.9%)
Horrible, horrible, horrible
0(0.0%)
I had not noticed
4(23.5%)
I'm trying to care less, but I cannot
0(0.0%)

How do you feel about humor regarding groups one is not a part of

It's great, I'm a huge racist!
4(23.5%)
It can be good so long as it's not sincere in its prejudice
11(64.7%)
It makes me uncomfortable, too edgy, I always liked that Jay Leno
0(0.0%)
It's horribly offensive loathsome stuff.
0(0.0%)
I have no opinion on this matter. I am above the law.
2(11.8%)

Do I suck at life?

Yes
1(5.9%)
Yes
0(0.0%)
Verily
5(29.4%)
Yeah
0(0.0%)
Maybe not
11(64.7%)

Anything else to add?

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