So I picked up the school newspaper on my way back from class this afternoon, and perused a few of the editorials which might have been of interest. One was a little piece about voting machines, complete with an implicit conspiracy theory that (you guessed it) there was some dastardly plan by the CEO of the company that makes the blasted thing to deliver more votes to George W. Bush. Of course, one would then need to ask why this CEO was not only crooked, but lazy. After all, if you're going to deliver your man a victory, it would be a much wiser policy to make it a victory by a wider margin. But no! the theorists protest, it had to be done this way, otherwise it would've been easier to smell a rat. The fact that the results were so close, far from indicating that the democratic process was carried out, merely point to a deeper, darker plot to steal the election from an apparently unbeatable candidate, but accomplished by the smallest of margins just to keep everyone happy. What did Chesterton say about these people? But that's politics. On to more important matters.
The other issue concerned decency. Evidently, one fine representative of SUNY Geneseo's English department is miffed that obscene speech or any sort of public obscenity should be curtailed. His argument ran something along the lines that, because obscenity is so prevalent on campus, it should not be censored or circumscribed, because (evidently) prevalence indicates an acceptance of a given behavior. My own sense is that, if you can't exercise your free speech without dropping an f-bomb, you should manifestly exercise this right far less frequently, and that perhaps a better option for all concerned would be to gag such individuals with a sock. They can still rant and cuss all they want, but the sound is muffled so more intelligent and professional folk don't have to endure them. Is this sort of speech what the Founding Fathers wanted? That's doubtful. Somehow, I can't imagine any of them, even the ones touted by modern liberals, being particularly keen on the idea that a loud, obnoxious, boisterous, and insolent ruffian should be given a bully pulpit. Here, again, though, are seen two opposing views of freedom, a conflict central to the direction our society is going: Some see freedom as doing whatever you want. Others see freedom as being able to do what you ought.
Why was free speech so protected in the Bill of Rights? Was the intent really to bestow some sort of benefice on everyone to make themselves as annoying as possible to as many people as possible? No. The framers of the Constitution hated demagogues. As should we all. What, then, was the purpose of safeguarding this right? It seems much more likely that such was intended to protect the right of those who were compelled by their conscience to speak about an issue. If your government should fail to secure your interests, then you have the right to make this known. This is an altogether different (and truer) casting of freedom. It was a means of protecting the people from the encroachment of innovatory government, rather than a grant of license to behave like braying jackasses.
Sadly, though, the view of freedom as license is gaining more popularity. The problem with such a view, however, is where it ends up. When everyone is permitted to do as they want, it won't be a free-for-all for very long. Very soon, the ones who are heard are the loudest, the ones who are heeded are the most coercive, the ones who rule are the strongest, and rarely the purest. The "freedom" afforded by an anarchy is the first step towards the tyranny of the brutal. People should read Hobbes more. The state of nature really isn't that much fun.