"CFR" Re: [FoRK] Michael Moore vs. the Bush Inc. subsidiary called DISNEY

Gordon Mohr gojomo at usa.net
Thu May 6 20:36:25 PDT 2004


Lucas Gonze wrote:
> 
> On Thu, 6 May 2004, Gordon Mohr wrote:
> 
> 
>>Lucas Gonze wrote:
>>
>>>What's the problem with the campaign finance law?
>>
>>"Congress shall make no law...
>>abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the
>>right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition
>>the government for a redress of grievances."
>>
>>If NRA or ACLU or Viacom or NEA or KKK or NYTimes or
>>Richard Mellon Scaife or George Soros wants to use
>>a "press" (which includes all forms of mass communication)
>>to engage in partisan campaign-related "speech", that
>>self-interested club of elected officials known as
>>"congress" should not be able to deploy state power to
>>prohibit. limit or punish their chosen forms of
>>expression.
> 
> 
> This is a naive view of democracy.  In practice the prime directive is to
> protect the democracy.  Given that there are massive imbalances in
> available money, to equate spending money with speech means that a few
> people will have all the speech, and given that ability to speak is the
> backbone of self determination, there will not be a democracy.  In fact
> this has happened already -- very few of us have a press, and the few that
> do have all the speech.

I know the argument. It's a muddled mess which assumes what
it sets out to prove, and seems to view public discourse as
a zero-sum game, and free expression as some scarce,
nonrenewable resource that must be rationed by powers on
high. I find that view abhorrent: public discourse is a
postive-sum process, and noone's mass expression subtracts
from others' small expression -- until you start punishing
people with police powers.

Where exactly is this "prime directive... to protect the
democracy" codified? I'm not familiar with it in any of
our founding documents. In fact, thsoe documents seem to
elevate certain rights higher than popular opinion, and
put a lot of roadblocks in front of "democracy".

I, for one, would rather live in a less-democratic
country which is free, stable, rich, and with a minimum
of political persecution indefinitely, than live in a
more-democratic country which devolves in a generation
into populist tyranny. Lucky for us all, the design
goals of our government included the same explicit
tradeoffs.

Certain rights -- first among them free speech,
and *especially* surrounding the democratic process
itself -- should never be subject to a vote, and neither
51% nor 99.9% majorities are justified in squelching
disfavored expression.

The imbalances you identify can themselves be remedied
as long as you retain free speech, and a diverse society
filled with competing private powers other than the central
government. When remedied, they may be replaced by new
imbalances. That's life: a significant amount of inequality
in power, influence, wealth is irreducibly part of any
complex ecosystem/economy, and trying too hard to "fix"
this can make everyone worse off and cement even larger
inequalities and inequities.

If you try to remedy the imbalances by legislative fiat,
trampling traditional prerogatives and rights, then you
set up a kind of imbalance -- centralization of power in
the hands of incumbents -- which is hard and messy to
remedy. Especially if you've already ceded to the
incumbents the power to determine what levels of expression
are "fair".

Eben Moglen of the FSF says, "Free Speech in a Technological
Society Means Technological Free Speech."

Whether that jolly and eloquent marxist agrees with me or
not, I would similarly say that Free Speech is an Expensive,
Corporatist, Mass-media Society means Expensive, Corporatist,
Mass-media Free Speech. (And I mean "corporatist" to include
nonprofits, political parties, NGOs, activist groups like
MoveOn or the NRA, etc.)

To deny these Big Players free speech doesn't elevate the
little players, it just makes the Big Game be played Dumb,
without the benefits that the open competition of ideas
and unfettered free speech brings.

> Why not just get it over with and auction the right to vote?

The right to vote should probably be inalienable but it's
a very interesting -- albeit heretical -- question whether or
not individuals and societies would get better results if
voters were allowed to sell their votes on particular issues.

- Gordon



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