A rant on censorship

A bit over a year ago I went on a Twitter rant about censorship. Then I made an image of the entire text so I had it in one place and tweeted that. Today Daniel Trujillo asked me about it. I found I hadn’t ever posted it here. So I dug it up. Here it is; you may have to click on the link to see the image. Maybe later I’ll convert it to real text rather than an image.

3 responses to “A rant on censorship

  1. “Censorship is external constraint. This means if a willing author finds a willing publisher and a third party prevents them from publishing, that’s censorship. But it also means that if a publisher is unwilling but is forced to publish the author anyway, that is also a kind of censorship.”

    I think I understand the gist of what you are trying to say, but your definition of censorship is still unclear. If censorship was simply external constraint, a seatbelt may be considered censorship. Censorship is the suppression of text (words/images/ideas) by external forces. Forcing the publication of text is a related form of control, but is not the same as censorship.

    That being said, the Charlie Hebdo tragedy has made it clear that many people, journalists even, don’t understand what freedom of speech means. Most nations do not have freedom of speech, but have freedom of expression. Their freedom of expression is commonly limited by laws that restrict things, like hate speech.

    In countries that do have free speech, like the United States, freedom of speech doesn’t mean that you can say anything you want without consequences. For example, a magazine is free to publish an article that criticizes its sponsors, but the magazine’s sponsors are free to take their advertising dollars elsewhere. Publishing with an eye to the consequences of your words is a form of self-censorship. We all should (at least to some degree) self-censure in a polite society (think of the terrible movie ‘Liar Liar’).

    I don’t think that Charlie Hebdo’s lack of self-censorship was the cause of this tragedy. I don’t think many (if any) of the people, who speculate on such things, have enough information to reach any conclusion other than that it is all very sad.

  2. You make some good points, but though I hate to pick a fight with a good rant I have to say the notion that “If you can say what you want to say without being put in jail, you have free speech” seems a rather debased notion of freedom. In the U.S., at least – at least technically – the state and its institutions are set a very high bar to justify attempts to limit, restrict, punish, or (especially) regulate speech that they disagree with. Surely the power to marginalize speech can amount to censorship? At the very least, it can make a mockery of its free-ness. (Contrariwise, there are some interesting things to be said about how freedom of speech is well-served by preserving the freedom to speak, even if speaking will put you in jail.)

    Also – this may be a question of usage – it does not seem problematic to me to say that a private publisher can act as a censor with respect to the material that it publishes or does not publish; no third party need apply. Self-censorship is still censorship. So, to take your example (which I assume is Harold Pinter’s poem “American Football (A Reflection upon the Gulf War)”), if the Guardian had published the poem but redacted the swears, I’d probably say they had censored it. The same if the Guardian had published it, but omitted the bits that made it clear Pinter was writing about war and not football. In this case, though, the decisions not to publish seem much more likely to have arisen from independent and justified editorial decisions not to publish a poem that was lousy. (It also happened to be arguably obscene and perhaps slightly controversial… but mostly it was lousy.) So, not censorship.

  3. Actually, from the post title, I expected a very different sort of article. Thanks for presenting a different perspective!

    Publishers should not be bullied into publishing poor quality or inappropriate content. The author always has the option to self-publish! They have no inherent “right” to a particular publication’s readership.

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