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Censorship Applies to More Than Ideas

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As many children develop their vocabulary and the context for how to utilize it, they are often taught a number of limericks to help maintain objectivity. Such as:

"I"m rubber, you're glue and whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you," and especially — "Sticks and stones might break my bones but words can never hurt me."

Although once becoming adults, it would appear that words do hurt, somehow obtaining the power to shatter social bubbles and echo chambers and the like. While the only persons with any logical right to ever feel triggered are those circus daredevils getting blasted from out of their giant cannons. Even science, which fundamentally depends on being more objective than subjective, confirms that cussing, cursing and swearing is good for our health.

When we hear about censorship in today's world, more often than not it is in reference to the censorship of ideas, specifically sociopolitical views which do not align with the status quo vigorously enough. And this is obviously problematic, as too many persons today wrongly believe that a freedom of speech guarantees an audience and/or acceptance, when the fundamental premise concerns neither. Because to mandate bent ears or concurrence, mandating responses to free speech, is yet still mandating ideas and thus runs contrary to the basic tenets of free speech. You have the legal right to say whatever you publicly wish, just as I have the legal right to publicly disagree with your remarks, with neither of us subject to prosecution for our respective ideas. Theoretically, this is how freedoms of speech are supposed to ideally work. Laws should exist to protect from legal ramifications for ideas expressed, but not to provide protection from social ramifications, because that would still be mandating which speech is permissible by law. Which is contradictory.

The general public assures itself that the censoring of mere words is the stuff of totalitarian regimes in foreign nations, that our federal government is only concerned with censoring ideas, dangerous ideas unlike how a Kardashian lives life by the seat of her pants. Wikipedia plainly states this in regards to profanity laws of the US:

In the United States, courts have generally ruled that the government does not have the right to prosecute someone solely for the use of an expletive, which would be a violation of their right to free speech enshrined in the First Amendment. On the other hand, they have upheld convictions of people who used profanity to incite riots, harass people, or disturb the peace. In 2011, a North Carolina statute that made it illegal to use "indecent or profane language" in a "loud and boisterous manner" within earshot of two or more people on any public road or highway was struck down as unconstitutional.

However, such a claim ignores how the FCC actually possesses the authority to proactively censor language across any variety of broadcasts including radio and television, as George Carlin famously mocked. And, in a Libertarian's wet-dream, state and local governments do indeed possess the authority to criminalize language.

Reporters from the Myrtle Beach Sun News, curious at their own city's ordinances against profane language, were recently able to get their hands on results from a successful Freedom of Information Act request, learning that over the last 3 years (2015, 2016 and 2017) their city council raked in around 55k just in citations and fines for lewd, obscene language. And that in 2017 alone over 300 citations for foul language were written by their local law enforcement. The thing is though, that the local government of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is not operating from inside a vacuum. Such prudery laws are on the books across the country, from the township of Middleborough, Massachusetts to the entire state of Virginia, which has separate laws against swearing in public, as well as over telephones. Virginia's state government has repeatedly blocked efforts to decriminalize cussing, going back years.

Writing for the ACLU a few years back, Simon McCormack rightly observed how New York's "aggravated harassment" statute was being erroneously implored to openly combat mere criticisms of the government. It made the claim of protecting the public from a dangerous opinion, but by condemning specific language. Even earlier, one of the few persons at the EFF not being treated to free lunches by Google's PR department rightly observed how "ancillary jurisdiction" of net neutrality regulations could and likely would be used to further incriminate language, under the guise of protecting the public from dangerous cursing while ultimately blocking alternative perspectives from enjoying equal access to the public noosphere. To that end, Microsoft's newest terms and conditions enables the corporation to ban its paying customers guilty of offensive language "from Skype, Xbox, and, inexplicably, Office".

Censoring things said is absolutely the stuff of dictatorships, even if that dictatorship insists on being perceived as a Democracy. But censoring how things are said, calls to mind other adjectives which would probably make my editors blush.

To ban colors from a painter's palette would be limiting her abilities to adequately convey her desired portraiture. Censoring ideas limits our options, in terms of both creative self-expression and for asserting our rights publicly. All of which is more dangerously harmful in the tangible sense than naughty words. Censoring words, on the other hand, limits our language regardless of context, while in any other context imaginable a limited vocabulary is seen as ignorance.

Because it helplessly is.

Author: Richard Caldwell