"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Friday, January 14, 2011

Signposts on the Road to Serfdom

We lose our freedoms incrementally, and often with the complicity of people who believe they are doing "good."   A couple of signposts on the "road to serfdom" from recent days caught my attention.

First, there was the absolutely silly and unconscionable decision to publish a new edition of Huckleberry Finn with all uses of the word "nigger" redacted and replaced with the word "slave."   The word "nigger" is, of course, offensive and dehumanizing.   But that's the point!   Mark Twain's great masterpiece -- arguably the greatest American novel ever -- is very specifically about the struggle of a generic American (the boy Huck) to recognize and appreciate the humanity of his friend, his slave, Jim.   Huck's triumph over his own racism is the core of the book, and when Huck decides to help Jim escape from slavery, even though he knows that, given the prevailing morality of ante bellum America, what he is doing is "wrong," and he says "all right, then, I'll go to Hell," it is one of the greatest moments in all literature.   Redacting the book because of modern sensibilities -- all the while permitting the grossest filth, inevitably including the word "nigger," to be broadcast as "music" on hip-hop and rap stations across America -- is ridiculous and offensive in itself.  It defaces a great work of art, just as much as if a prude painted sweatshirts onto the torsos of every nude painting in the Louvre.

Second, there was Canada's decision to ban the Dire Straits song "Money for Nothing," because it uses the term "faggot" in its lyric.   Again, the use is literary -- the composer, the great guitarist Mark Knopfler, was miming the voice of working class British men talking about rock and roll stars they see on MTV in derogatory terms; in other words, the usage is in character and is not meant to derogate, but to describe people who derogate gays satirically.   It's a great song, and the notion that the use of a word in a literary manner in character means that the song itself is somehow homophobic is ludicrous.  Here it is, in a great live version that I'm sure my guitar-playing young-un will love:

Where are the liberals on these issues?  Where are the free speech advocates?  Where are the artists?   Where is Hollywood?   You can say practically anything about the Catholic Church or priests and no one rises up to censor you, but apparently you can get away with censoring works of art that offend blacks or gays.    (Actually, I don't think they really offend anyone.   I think the type of bureaucrats who make these decisions are just taking the path of least resistance to try to avoid any criticism should any hypothetical black or gay person ever care enough to be offended.  My common sense tells me that no one is really offended other than, perhaps, those whose living depend on being offended.)

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