Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What does freedom of speech mean to you? Part 2

Social networks allow "information" of all sorts to "go viral" and spread rapidly around the world.  An example showed up this morning on Facebook - a photo of a young man (a fool) shitting on an American flag as a crowd cheers around him.  This was attributed to a group of Occupy Wall Street protesters, so it sparked the stereotypical responses of knee-jerk American conservatives (who apparently oppose the OWS movement without really having any idea what the protesters represent), proposing that such acts should be made a felony, shoving the flagpole up the guy's ass, zapping the guy's testicles with a taser, making him "walk point", etc. 

Turns out the photo is not actually associated with the OWS movement at all, but rather with an antiwar protest in Portland, OR, in 2007 - see here.  Whoever started this photo circulating on social networks must have known this was not an OWS protester, so the obvious intent was to discredit OWS by stirring up the reactions of "patriots" who fail to understand certain key principles.  Given the speed by which misinformation spreads by "going viral," it would take time to tease out the truth, and by then, the damage to OWS credibility would be done.

I'll get to those key principles shortly.  First, however, I want to say that I find this photograph disgusting and will not share it on this blog.  Such an act of desecrating our flag is not something I condone nor do I find it particularly effective in expressing unhappiness over our participation in unwinnable, pointless wars (like Iraq and Afghanistan).  Obviously, if it were the acts of an OWS protester, it would reflect only discredit on the movement and not help their cause in any way.  Such are the deeds of a fool, no doubt carried away with the emotions of a protest and likely an attention-seeker who may be in need of some serious counseling.

Now, let's move on to the reactions to this disgusting act.  Any nation's flag, and ours is no exception, is only a symbol.  Our secular society recognizes no truly sacred objects, so while an important symbol to many, the flag is not a sacred object.  The specific symbols on the flag represent the 50 states and the original 13 colonies, but the symbolism has a deeper level:  our flag is a symbol for the freedoms we share.  The great experiment embarked upon with the founding of our nation involves protection of "inalienable rights" for all Americans.  Rule of the majority, certainly, but protection of minority rights at the same time.  That is the key element that made America unique in the world. 

Freedom of expression/speech is one of those constitutionally-guaranteed rights that many Americans have given their very lives to preserve.  And that freedom means exactly nothing if it only is extended to those with whom we agree.  Burning or otherwise desecrating our flag is a symbolic act.  It's a form of expression of opinion, and so is protected by the Bill of Rights, no matter how offended we might be by such an act.

In their haste to condemn the OWS movement, the conservatives have reverted to the 1960s:  the protesters are stereotyped into dirty, lazy, irresponsible bums who want to destroy the nation that gave them birth and opportunity.  Well, our nation has come to be dominated by wealthy, modern-day "robber barons" who've used their wealth and power to plunder the economy and walked away scot-free for the most part.  They retain their yachts, their luxury homes, their limousines, and their huge incomes despite being responsible for vast economic disruption via actions that are either illegal or only marginally legal thanks to a compliant government that has become convinced that economic stability is gained through deregulation.  It was deregulation that opened the doors for these greedy bastards that presently run Wall Street and, indirectly, the American economy.  Most of the OWS protesters are people who have suffered huge economic losses with the implosion of the housing bubble and the costly bailouts of the too-big-to-fail corporations.  It seems to me we have cause to protest what's going on, as the gulf between the haves and have-nots widens - these protests are just the beginning of what is to come if something isn't done about our present policy of "welfare for the rich".  The wealthy aren't creating jobs, aren't hiring the unemployed, and the "trickle-down" theory has been completely discredited by reality. 
The right-wing ideologues want to demonize the protesters to maintain "business as usual" for their corporate allies.  As noted, there are some parallels with the 1960s - although the government learned from the events of the 1960s not to start drafting students if they wanted to maintain peace and tranquility.  The OWS movement isn't about protesting stupid wars, but rather protests our stupid acquiescence to being fleeced by wealthy thieves who break the law with near-impunity and then have the gall to pontificate about the righteousness of the law when it's applied to protesters!

Unfortunately, the protection of the rights of such fools as this guy in Portland for expressing his opinion in a particularly disgusting way is a critical part of protecting what our flag represents.  Such deplorable acts do not touch in any way those principles that made our nation so great.  Those principles can only be hurt if we choose to abandon them in our pseudo-patriotic fervor.  The greatest desecration of our nation would be to make such acts illegal and prosecute our citizens for expressing unpopular opinions in unpopular ways.  By upholding the rights of a fool to desecrate our flag, we actually affirm the principles represented by that flag!  Surely we understand that our freedoms are quite capable of enduring the attacks of fools!