Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Does anyone have the right to be free from criticism?

In American society, where media scrutiny is intense and 'political correctness' has become the mantra within the media, it seems to me that there's been a backlash against subjecting people to criticism for their words and actions. Unless I'm mistaken, and so far it doesn't seem so, this is still a country that guarantees freedom of the press and freedom of speech. Anyone, any action, any word is fair game, and with blogs as well as the traditional media, criticism is everywhere. You may not agree with the need for such criticism, and you're free to say so, of course. I contribute my share of criticism from time to time and in various venues. When I do so, I don't feel the need to issue some pansy-ass disclaimer, either. What I say is my opinion and I have the constitutional right to express it, even it's unpopular in some circles. I try to make my actions match my words, although I may fall short of that goal occasionally. I make no apologies about having an opinion, and I'm both willing (nay, eager) to discuss that topic with anyone who disagrees with my views and able to change my opinion if their counter-argument is sufficiently convincing.

People who do things like posing for titillating photographs in magazines, or having extramarital affairs, or espousing unpopular causes, or taking unnecessary risks, or distributing propaganda on behalf of their causes -- such folks need to appreciate that they might well be on the receiving end of criticism from those who are (a) offended by such actions, or (b) simply object to such things. My response to people who're offended by what I say or do is simple: you being offended is your choice, not mine. Hence, it's not necessarily my problem. Nevertheless, I support anyone's right to express their objections to the words or deeds of someone else, so long as their objections don't escalate to physical attacks or even threats of physical attacks (otherwise referred to as assault*) on the offending person. At that point, their own actions are illegal and no longer protected by the right to free speech.

To the best of my knowledge, there's no constitutional guarantee of freedom from criticism. If you're willing to say controversial things, or do controversial deeds, then you're likely to be the target of criticism. If you didn't know that going in ... well, too bad. Hopefully, you've learned what's in store for being controversial. I may or may not agree with your choices, but unless you break the law in the process, you'll have my support with regard to your right to make such choices. There will be no sympathy for you from me, however, if you get subjected to criticism. Deal with it.

On a somewhat tangential note, a firmly established method for expressing your concern for bad laws is to break the law, suffer whatever legal consequences befall you as a result, and make such a public spectacle of it that the problems with the law are brought to everyone's attention. This is the time-honored principle of non-violent protest used by Ghandi and M.L. King to draw attention to bad laws. But they not only had no intention of complaining about being arrested and jailed for their deeds, their tactics would have been useless had they not been arrested and jailed! The injustice of the law was propelled to the headlines where everyone could see it. If there's a bad law on the books and you're victimized by it, then you should not only be prepared to accept the consequences, you should embrace the consequences as an opportunity to attack the law! If you're unwilling to do the time, then don't break the law, okay?
* Assault is the threat of bodily harm that reasonably causes fear of harm in the victim.

1 comment:

===== Roger ===== said...

Political correctness seems to have gone so far as to frown upon blunt critique of anything or anyone, especially of the topic is controversial or the opinion bucks some prevailing, ambient trend. That's why reading both your BLOG, which I don't do as often as I probably should, and your online essays, is refreshing for the most part. Some of your opinions, I cheer aloud. Some of them stink, in my view. But you don't suffer fools, nor pander, nor get facile or squishy by employing vagueness, hinting or euphemisms to make people "read between the lines." There is no doubt on where you stand, and I admire and respect that, whatever I may like or dislike about the ideas themselves.

Criticism is important, especially when it's justified. The latter, granted, is in the eye of the beholder, but guess what: We also have the right to *ignore* what we feel is unjustified, excessive or "offensive" criticism. The constitution, mostly, grants us the right to free speech. We also have a right not to listen to speech (or read writing) that we find objectionable, instead of trying to stifle it. If I think somebody's spewing a load of crap, I'll either argue or tune it out, dependent on the situation, person and subject matter. My message to folks who get easily offended at controversial opinions: If you don't like it, you've got the option to ignore it.