Daily News


October 30, 2008 By Joseph P. Farrell

Free speech is an inherent necessity in any democratic republic such as ours, and sometimes that means allowing others to express opinions we strongly disagree with, that we regard as morally repugnant, or even that we regard as irrelevant to the case or issues at hand or to the topic of a given conversation. Free speech is a spiritual discipline, in a sense a kind of askesis, and I know all too well how difficult it is to abide by that principle, for those who know me well know how impatient I am of people who cannot come quickly to a point. But I hope that my posting of others' comments here, which oftentimes entertain subjects or points of view with which I am in little sympathy or agreement, will at least attest to the fact that I am at least striving to uphold a principle.

It is therefore with some apologies to the readers of this site, who come expecting announcements of appearances or articles and discussions of alternative science and history, that I take the time here to preoccupy myself with a bit of personal triviality, and a bit of self-indulgent "venting," all of which, I hope, is to a purpose. And so, to the trivialities...

This very day I was in the chatroom of an alternative talk show network. The network's owner was present and his name was well known to all in the chatroom as belonging to that network's owner. A few regulars were also present, including a friend of mine. There was the usual individual who always lurked and never said anything; there was a housewife and her daughter, discussing their favorite recipes and generally making small talk. As for my friend and I, we often visited the chat site late at night to discuss matters of interest to us, usually music and art, but sometimes the current world situation or matters of alternative science and history.

Today that was not to be. The trivialities began when the housewife, who was listening as I was to the morning show on that network, asked a general question to the room, inquiring if anyone else noticed that the username list kept having names appear and disappear rather suddenly. It was a perfectly innocent question, and hardly critical of the network, the chatroom, or its owner. I responded to the question that I had indeed noticed that myself, and that I also noticed it seemed to happen more often in the evenings than in the mornings. I thought nothing further of it.

Much to my - and I presume others' -  surprise, the owner then launched an attack on all the people that were constantly criticizing the chatroom in its various migrations and transmutations, and the attack was so vulgar that the automatic censor blacked out what was doubtless some sallacious vocabulary. But nothing in the housewife's simple inquiry, nor my simple answer, merited such an attack. We all, I suppose, have had some experience with chatroom "drama," and since the housewife did not make an issue of it, neither did I.

But then the owner's gunsites settled on my friend, whom, I might add, was never uncivil or discourteous to anyone in the chatroom. The owner challenged him as to why he listened so little to his network, and then in what amounted to the chatroom equivalent of a very imperious and pompous tone, demanded to know from my friend what sort of contribution he felt he was making to "our cause." My friend challenged him as to why he was being interrogated(and that was his choice of words: "interrogated"). The owner, again with a somewhat snotty and pompous tone, replied that the chatroom was only for those listening to his programming and discussing the issues it raised, and not for anything else.

And so the trivialities really aren't so trivial after all, for besides singling out my friend for this sort of abuse - not the housewife and her daughter talking about their favorite recipes, nor the lurker who was always in the room but never said anything - the owner revealed what he really was: an Ayatollah, commanding that only those talking points provided by the programs on his network qualified as acceptable free speech. My friend had not violated any standard of public deceny or the accepted norms of courteous and social discouse in a free society. This implicit policy was revealed even more starkly when the owner continued his diatribe to all those in the chatroom to the effect that he monitors ALL conversations and that conversation is to be discussion of topics raised by his programs, thus usurping to himself the right to determine for others what topics or tangeantial discussions are "relevant" to what is being broadcast on air. And that, of course, is the anti-thesis of free speech, the very thing that the owner prides himself on adhering to, nevermind that half of the fundamentalist Neanderthals who host shows on his network, if ever allowed into power, would be legislating morality and speech in their own peculiarly Old Testament "Judeo-Christian" version of Sharia law. And...oh yes, I forgot to mention the fact that NO policy statements to the effect that the chatroom is only for discussion of topics raised by network programming, and at the sole determination by the owner as to their relevance, is posted anywhere on his website.

This is the essence of tyranny - whether that tyranny be on the level of a nation or a small chatroom is immaterial - the singling out of one individual for his intellectualism from some sort of "blue collar hauteur" that will arbitrate for everyone within its delusionally megalomaniacal grasp what is and is not to be discussed, and HOW it is to be discussed.

And so I have come to a series of personal decisions, not only out of loyalty to my unjustly-attacked friend, but out of adherence to the principle of free speech: (1) I will not dignify that network's chatroom ever again until an on-air apology and an apology in the chatroom is given by the owner to my friend explicitly; (2) This must be accompanied by a prolonged and sustained change in attitude to the guests in his chatroom evidencing GENUINE free speech and impartiality within the norms of courteous and affable social discourse; (3) If invited, I will not appear as a guest on any of his network's shows until these other conditions are met, or until said shows sever their connection to that network; and (4) I will quietly and privately urge my contacts within the alternative community to a similar course of action. Points (3) and (4) are difficult for me, because one of the hosts on that network I count as a good professional friend, a man of integrity and genuine humanity, and it sincerely pains me to have to do this, for I owe him much. But loyalty and principle are higher.

Granted, my "boycott of one" is not even likely to be noticed. I am only one person, and a person of not much account at that. I have my own shortcomings and those who know me well know how glaring they actually can be. I am as moody and self-indulgent as the rest of humanity. But I cannot, singlehandedly, tear down the creeping fascist culture at large. But maybe, just maybe, I can make a little dent in it when I encounter it on a smaller scale, whether in myself or my own circle of relationships. It is, after all, about the things that make us human: decency, honor, civility, graciousness, and courtesy, and the eschewing of class snobbery, whether that of the "intellectual" sneering at the blue collar worker, or that of the blue collar worker cum network owner-manager to the intellectual. The Ayatollah in charge of that network displayed none of those things, neither in his demeanor nor in the "policy statements(fatwahs)" he made to the general room after attacking my friend. Free speech, if it is to be genuinely free, must ever be about courtesy, graciousness, allowing the other his say no matter how "irrelevant" or "trivial" it may seem to us.

But in that particular Ayatollah's bleak, cratered, joyless and narrow little world, there would never be discussion of anything else but music (rock and country only), nasty international Satan-worshipping bankers, evil Democrats and wicked Republicans, herbal foods, New World Order anti-christs-in-the-wings, and other relevant "contributions to (his) cause."