Thursday, July 03, 2008

Censorship, hypocrisy and consistency

It's a scenario that plays out with depressing regularity: the religious right spins a bearing and gets all exercised and up in arms about a book, record or film and tries to get it banned, burned or blasted off the shelves of some library. There was a case a couple of years ago where Walmart was selling a book deemed "offensive" by fundies. There ensued a feverish campaign of bellowing, badgering and threatening until Walmart finally caved and stopped selling the book.

So... is this censorship? And further, can people who engage in such activity simultaneously claim to champion free speech? There's an interesting discussion on this topic at Dr. Dawg's place.

In my opinion, the campaign against the "Little Black Book" was absolutely censorship. Walmart is a private business, and their buyers chose to carry the book. Those who were offended by it had the choice to ignore it and not buy it. If the book was really that offensive, all of Walmart's customers would have made the same choice and eventually the "invisible hand" would have removed it from the shelves.

But instead of exercising their freedom to ignore and letting the vagaries of the free market take care of the book, the fundies took it upon themselves to decide for everyone whether this book should be available at Walmart. When the state does that, we call it "censorship". I don't see how it's any less heinous when it's done by a private citizen or group. It's still someone else deciding for the rest of us what we should be able to read. Frankly I doubt I'd buy the book unless someone specifically asked me for it, but that's for me to decide -- I don't need some holy-rolling asshole deciding for me.

I agree with Dawg that the issue in this particular case is also hypocrisy and consistency: how on earth can anyone who engages in a campaign of censorship claim to be a proponent of free speech? It just proves what most of us have known all along -- to some people, the only "free speech" that counts is their free speech.