JKSCHW at aol.com JKSCHW at aol.com
Wed Mar 22 20:13:53 PST 2000

In a message dated 00-03-22 19:42:23 EST, you write:

<< Speech is an act and should be treated like all other acts. If certain

speech acts cause harm to a certain person or group of persons those

persons need protection in the same way that potential victims of

physical violence need protection. >>

Carlin Romano ran into trouble in the PC crowd by imagining, in a review of Catherine MacKinnon's Only Words, that he was in jail for raping MacKinnon while someone else was in jail for writing this outrageous fantasy about raping MacKinnon. Are you saying that a (published) rape fantasy is equyivalent to rape?

Now, the law recognizes some classes of genuinely "harmful" words that can be proscribed. There are words that constiture crimes: "Kill my wife, I'll pay you $5,000." There are words that immediately incite to illegal conduct. "Get that Jew! Yeah, him! Kill him now!" There are libelous words: "Doug is a neoclassical economist." There are obscene words. (Oooh, baby, provide your own.) More marginal cases: Some clowns just were released after a four year prison sentence for threatening to kill the judge I work for.

All that said, speech is special. It is not an act like any other. It is a communicative act, for one thing, capable of conveying meaning and ideas. Second, because it conveys ideas, controlling speech is a way of controlling thought. In a free society, that is a dangerous proposition. Third, speech is for the most part less harmful than other kinds of actions--there are exceptions, so don't start--but in general mostt of us would rather be insulted than beaten and tortured--even insulted by an expert. That is why the Monty Python routine about Doug & Dimmesdale ("I've seen grown mean tear their own 'eads off rather than see Dougie!") is funny. ("'E used sarcasm, irony, 'e knew all the tropes.").

Grownups are presumed to have a certain skin-thickness, sticks and stones & all that. Don't run to mommy--or, more to the point, Big Brother--just because people say mean things. Even if the things are really, really mean, utterly false, and quite indefensible.


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