Sunday, April 19, 2009

Is Government Preparing Us for Censorship?

Tibor R. Machan

In a series of articles on climate change the villain is gradually being identified as, you should have guessed it, freedom of thought!

One Jon Gertner of The New York Times Magazine wrote the other day that “What makes CRED’s work [the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions] especially relevant ... is that various human attitudes and responses--How can there be global warming when we had a frigid January? What’s in it for me if I change the way I live?--can make the climate problem worse by leaving it unacknowledged or unaddressed. Apathetic and hostile responses to climate change, in other words, produce a feedback loop and reinforce the process of global warming (4/19/09).”

The idea that thought and speech are major obstacles to doing what is right isn’t new at all. As recently as the 1980s the one liberty that liberal statists could be counted on defending, at least in the United States of America, is the one spelled out in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Alas, this was challenged some time ago by Professor Catharine A. MacKinnon of the University of Michigan school of law, in her short but prominently published book, Only Words (Harvard University Press, 1983). In it the good professor argued that words do not deserve the legal protection afforded them by the Constitution since insults and put downs, including jokes, can injure people good and hard. And such injuries should not be protected. The victims would have to pay too high a price for the fact that the law treats such injuries as “only words.”

We have heard a good deal lately about how President Barack Obama is a pragmatists, how he eschews ideology. The most sensible rendition of this sound bite is that he refuses to be bound by principles and when it comes to something as vital as containing climate change, why not toss the First Amendment and censor those who show skepticism? Professor MacKinnon wasn’t recommending tossing the principle underlying the First Amendment, only suggesting that we should not be ideological about our embrace of it. Maybe the same should be expected from President Obama when it comes to a central elements of his political agenda, namely, to contain pollution.

This pragmatism isn’t across the board for Mr. Obama, of course. As with all loyal pragmatists he, too, is willing to stick to a select few principles and refuse to give them up even in times of emergency. Consider, for example, that according the Obama & Co. there is never any excuse for using torture! I will not speculate on why in that instance pragmatism is inadequate--various suggestions present themselves and some of them aren’t pretty at all. Suffice it to note that Mr. Obama seems to be perfectly willing to toss jettison the principles of the free market--the right to private property, the right to enter into binding contracts, the right to due process. And here we have evidence that like minded folks, too, appear not to be very worried about banning certain kinds of inconvenient conduct such as speaking out against the doctrine--the ideology?--of climate change.

We should be prepared, I believe, for some movement in this direction. Apathy toward climate change isn’t tolerable, nor is skepticism. Leaving the climate problem unacknowledged or unaddressed would also count as something we ought not to tolerate--so if I speak out against recycling, for example, maybe I ought to be muzzled since not doing so will “produce a feedback loop and reinforce the process of global warming.”

Just as Professor MacKinnon’s abandoning of the First Amendment seemed to her fully justified, given how that Amendment made it possible to insult and intimidate women, so it should come as no big surprise to anyone that laws will be passed that prohibit global warming skepticism. Such dangerous conduct on the part of citizens must be arrested, or so some of the climate change fanatics could well believe now, quite seriously.

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