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Why I vote YES on rec.music.white-power

by Greg Swann

If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and the fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.

-- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

I vote YES on rec.music.white-power.

I find the neo-nazi movement to be utterly loathsome, but more loathsome by far are those who seek to silence speech they find abhorrent.

A Mr. Jay Betrug (Jay.Betrug@mail-e2a-service.gnn.com) spammed libernet with a message announcing a vote today on a new rec.* newsgroup charter. The new newsgroup would be devoted to discussion of "white power" music, although Mr. Betrug insists that its actual purpose will be the promotion of neo-nazi ideology. With great passion, he asks readers to vote "no". This message is clearly a violation of the "Call For Votes", which forbids politicking.

Mr. Betrug had earlier spammed the rec.music hierarchy (as jayb@aol.com), and in those posts, he said, "[A]sk yourself if this seems like an appropriate newsgroup for the rec.music hierarchy." I can think of no word less appropriate to the topic of free speech than "appropriate".

Mr. Betrug goes on to say, "Let's make this the biggest NO vote in history, and show the racists that they aren't welcome." Which is to say that the goal is not particularly to deny white power music fans a forum, but to attempt to communicate with them. Mr. Betrug seeks to use the right of free speech to deny it to others. He wants to send the neo-nazis a message, and the message is: "Shut up, or else."

The white power music fans may or may not be nazis in their words; I don't know and I don't much care. But people who strive to shout down opposition are nazis in their deeds, and I care quite a lot about that. What, precisely, does Mr. Betrug hope to oppose by opposing the dreaded neo-nazis in this way? Thugs in blue uniforms are not somehow preferable to thugs in brown uniforms, after all.

I'm sure Mr. Betrug is a decent enough person, and he probably feels he's doing the right thing. It cannot be possible that he thinks he's doing the right thing, because no one who actually troubles himself to reason can conclude that the exclusion of unpopular speech is a good thing. A person who thinks can surely realize that that which can be safely done to those nasty old neo-nazis can in turn be done to those who would loose the awful djinn of censorship.

And I must add that what we are discussing is not truly censorship. Censorship is an act of political force entailing threats and weapons and jails. The Communications Decency Act is clearly censorship, a government threat to imprison unrepentant pottymouths. The frequent meetings of the Parents and Teachers Bookburning Society at the high school gym are clearly censorship, uses of state power to prevent children from discovering the truth about the world they live in. But the horrible treatment inflicted upon Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf last week was not censorship; Abdul-Rauf is entitled to express his views however he wishes on his own time, on his own property, but he is contractually bound to do as his employer demands while on the job. And similarly, the Call For Votes in the rec.* hierarchy is not censorship; the rec.* newsgroups are a mutually voluntary association, and anyone who doesn't like the rules is perfectly free to take his bat and his ball and go up to the alt.* newsgroups, where there are no rules.

But while this attempt to deny white power music fans a rec.* newsgroup is not censorship, certainly it is priggish and childish and contemptible. A sign on the clubhouse door reading "no neo-nazis" is not fundamentally different from a sign reading "no niggers" or "no commies". Very probably, neo-nazis are everything we think they are: stupid, self-destructive, overgrown victims of child abuse spewing pointless bile as they wait out the slow process of death by alcoholism. But: so what? Speech is merely speech, and, glorious or depraved, elevating or denigrating, sublime or putrescent, it is still nothing but speech.

Censorship is an expression of utter contempt for the human mind. The would-be censor concedes that he himself is incompetent to challenge bad ideas--and he is uniquely qualified to judge the quality of his own mind. But he concludes also that no one else can stand up to nonsense and stare it down. This latter conclusion is plainly false, and the very best thing we can do to protect ourselves from neo-nazis and others who would use force to silence the voice of reason is to let them speak.

I promise you that the neo-nazis want nothing more than to be denied any forum they might seek, in the rec.* newsgroups and in all the metaphorical Skokies of the marketplace of ideas. If they are permitted to speak, to march, to pamphlet, they will be exposed for all to see as intellectual mutants of the most repulsive sort. But if they are forbidden to present their twisted views, they will be granted an intellectual cachet they could never earn on their own--censored, banned, persecuted, martyred. Would-be censors do more to promote the ideas they despise than proponents of despicable ideas could ever do on their own.

Sticks and stones, Mr. Betrug, Senator Exon, Herr Doktor Goebbles. Words will never hurt me. But those who use the power of the state or the power of the mob to deny the right of free speech to anyone, no matter how revolting his views, deny that right to everyone. The expression of an ugly idea is not a crime. But forbidding the expression of ideas, ugly or utterly radiant, is crime of the vilest sort.

Greg Swann
March 18, 1996

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