There have been two big stories recently that have called me to question my ethics regarding the freedom of speech in America, but I emerged from my internal debate even more certain of my stance.
Many other people responded more emotionally than rationally, however, leading me to wonder where they really stand and if they’ve thought about the repercussions of the stances they’ve taken and are so vocal about.
The first news story was about an unknown pro-pedophilia ebook that was available for sale on Amazon. The company eventually took it down (after briefly upholding their views about not censoring their catalog, despite public opinion) due to the overwhelming number of complaints and threats.
The second story is about Wikileaks and whether or not Julian Assange should be charged with something for his role in the organization, especially their most recent leak of secret US Embassy cables.
Now, I don’t think you’re going to find many people who support molesting children, and if a vocal few hadn’t made so many loud noises about the ebook being on Amazon it’s doubtful that anyone would ever have purchased a copy (because of all the press, however, it shot up the rankings to become one of the top selling ebooks on the site).
But the topic of the book aside, the fact that good, freedom loving people attacked a bookstore for carrying a product they didn’t agree with is a frickin’ shame.
Where’s the freedom in that?
What’s most appalling is that these same people had the gall to say things like, “I’m all about the freedom of speech, but this is just wrong. That book should be removed.”
Oh I get it: the freedom of speech is great, so long as people are saying things that you agree with.
What’s the point of having freedom in the first place if you can’t say anything that someone else will disagree with?
As for Julian, the same ethical hypocrisy is being displayed, with people from both sides of America’s political aisle drinking up the government’s official Kool-Aid and declaring the head of Wikileaks to be a terrorist who should be imprisoned for putting innocent people in harm’s way.
Come on people, of course the government doesn’t want their hidden documents out in the open. They’re hidden because they’ve got stuff to hide. That’s the whole point.
And as for Hillary Clinton’s comments about the leaks putting people in harm’s way, consider this quote from a recent interview with Daniel Ellsberg, the guy who leaked the Pentagon Papers back in the day:
“That’s a script they roll out every time there’s a leak of any sort. The best justification they can find for secrecy is that lives are at stake. Actually, lives are at stake as a result of silence and lies, which a lot of these leaks reveal. Certainly the same charges were made about the Pentagon Papers and turned out to be quite invalid over the years.”
It’s fun to have a bogeyman to publicly flay, I know, but it’s even more fun to have the freedom to say what you want about what you want.
As soon as we start curtailing the rights of anyone, we start to curtail our own rights.
If we ban one book, we ban a lot more books in the future. Maybe your book.
If we silence one whistle-blower, we give the government powers that will allow them to silence future whistle-blowers.
If the government is watching us, shouldn’t we be watching back? We’ll lose that right if we support the government in taking down people like Julian Assange.
Think about long-term consequences and don’t base your opinions on knee-jerk reactions and biased news reporting.
The first step to losing your rights is to take them away from others. Don’t let moral revulsion result in ethical hypocrisy.
Update: February 2, 2017
It’s interesting looking back at these stories about Wikileaks, before their associations with Russia started to color their intentions.
That said, I still think the point of this post is true. I don’t think anyone has the right to your attention, and I believe that Amazon, as a company, has every right to remove whatever they like from their site, so that’s an adjustment to what I stated before. But I don’t believe books should be made illegal, and I don’t believe whistleblowers or leakers should be prosecuted, or at least not to the degree that they typically are.