Freedom of Speech and Civility…

I have to admit that at first I didn’t get the punch line.

Some time ago I had received a copy of Bernard Goldberg’s book “100 People Who Are Screwing Up America (And Al Franken is #37)” as a gift. After reading the book I just didn’t get the whole bit about Al Franken ranting about people being liars. I guess I need to get out more. I relayed my confusion to a coworker, and the next day a copy of Al Franken’s book “Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them” had mysteriously appeared on my desk. Chapter six of his book was “I Bitch-Slap Bernie Goldberg”. Suddenly I got the punch line…

To this day I’m not sure what I’m more amused by–the fact that two grown men have been sticking out their tongues at one another in their books like children on a playground, or the fact that their publishers let this nonsense occur.

What made me think of these books was the recent burning of the Quran in Florida, and more importantly the reaction to it. I’m not referring to the bloodshed in Afghanistan, but rather the reaction of our own political leaders that perhaps it’s time to examine whether this type of free speech should be limited. Senator Harry Reid suggested that Congress might consider some type of investigation into the Quran burning, while Senator Lindsay Graham said “I wish we could find a way to hold people accountable. Free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war.”

Free speech is a great idea, which is why the Founding Fathers thought it was so important to include it in the Bill of Rights. Regardless of how heinous an act burning the flag or Quran might be, the last thing we want is our government deciding there are instances where that right should be taken away. Because it will only be a matter of time before publishers are told that some of the things we publish should be censored because the possibility exists that the words we publish might offend. Political correctness is never a good reason for censorship.

But the fact that we have the right to speak freely doesn’t mean that we should. Even when you disagree with the views of another person, contrary to recent media trends it is possible to express those differences without dramatic, over-the-top actions and inflammatory words. It is also possible to write a book where you disagree with another person or point of view with civility and without resorting to name calling. One has to wonder if the real reason for these types of “shock and awe” moments in the media is that, at a time when being on a reality TV show constitutes being a celebrity, these are merely attempts at grabbing 15 minutes of fame by creating controversy. This lack of civility certainly serves no useful purpose, and as publishers we should be striving to publish works which demonstrates that we can disagree while still being respectful.

One way to start doing this would be to stop publishing books where people are sticking their tongues out at one another, because our readers deserve better than that.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Freedom of Speech and Civility…

  1. Joe Mazzola

    I work in a library, and since I work very fast after all these years I engage in a lot of what we call “shelf-reading.” There are loads and loads of books that are, essentially, Us vs. Them hatemongering and various sorts of things that, if written on internet forums, would get one banned for flaming. However as an (aspiring) writer, I agree that it should not fall to the government but to the private sector to limit this sort of thing.

    The only problem is that each of these books tend to appeal to certain groups. Inflammatory works will either be sold to the people targeted through bile fascination or the people who agree. The marketability of this sort of book seems to simply be too high for the magic invisible hand to get rid of on its own, at least at the moment. The biggest problem is that they get more attention than the sort of helpful, reasonable books that try to bridge the gaps between the Us-es and the Thems, and then those ones don’t get sold. Sad thing, that.

  2. Bill Bissenas

    The unconstrained vision of man is a fallacy and will never be realized.

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