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Statism in the Arts

The rise of statism in America continues to spread into the arts. Besides government-controlled or state-sponsored or favored subsidies, endowments and grants, or programs, from PBS and NPR to other funding, the influence of the government in art is pervasive and insidious. From hideous public projects to brilliant arts programming for television, its mark is everywhere, mixing the putrid with the inspired.

SXSWLogoThis week, statism infects the 30th annual South by Southwest arts conference and festival (SXSW®) in Texas, which describes itself as a “unique convergence of original music, independent films, and emerging technologies.” The March 11-19 event series in the Lone Star state capital promises “intellectual and creative intermingling among industry leaders” to learn about and trade in new ideas, arts and business.

Unfortunately, contradicting its premise and purpose, SXSW’s keynote speaker this year is the nation’s top government official: Barack Obama.

As with the improper appearances by Mrs. Obama and Joe Biden, the nation’s vice-president, at the Academy Awards, the increasing and insidious escalation of high-ranking government officials and their wives at private arts groups taints the activities. An arts event predicated on official government approval is a disturbing prospect and such a connection is insinuated or implied by these engagements. This is true in general. It was true when Ronald Reagan, a former union president, actor and Hollywood activist, was president of the United States and participated in the Oscars (and Reagan was a former Academy member). It is true now, too, more than ever, with the government imposing censorship, imposing control over every aspect of private life and actively violating individual rights, including the freedom of speech.

That the Texas festival would have as its keynote speaker a president who seeks to force an American business to violate its terms, contracts and rights and the rights of its customers is despicable (see “Apple Vs. the State“). That it would do so knowing that this president’s administration has unjustly blamed an artist for an act of war (Benghazi), sought to intimidate or initiate force against Americans including journalists for exercise of free speech, creating content and reporting facts (denouncing CNN and pressuring a preacher not to exercise his freedom of speech and burn the Koran) and incessantly seek to indiscriminately spy on all Americans (persecuting Edward Snowden for whistleblowing) is impossible to ignore, deny or evade. The people who run SXSW should disinvite President Obama, who opposes individual rights, and replace him with an individual who respects individual rights, including and especially the right to freedom of speech.

Otherwise, this festival is, like the presidential frontrunners for bigger, more controlling government (Clinton and Trump), a farce and a fraud.

Defending Bob Hope

BobHopeAirportAfter I read that the local government is considering removing Bob Hope’s name from Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport, I wrote an op-ed for the local newspaper (read my article here). My theme is that Bob Hope Airport is a name that honors the city, the man and the airport. Citing history, I explain that each has similarly capitalist origins which ought to be properly named, recognized and revered. My article caught the attention of a local news producer for an L.A. NBC News affiliate, who wanted to interview me for the evening telecast, though I was unable to do so. But I’m glad the op-ed was noticed and I hope that my activism helps Bob Hope Airport retain its rightful name.

Taylor Swift’s Activism for Apple

TaylorSwift on TimeWhen an individual moneymaker takes a moral stand on principle, realizes it with action and wins, the activism ought to be studied as an example in success.

This week, recording artist Taylor Swift provides such an example. Swift, a pop country music star, recently took to Tumblr (a blogging platform) to write a letter of activism (read Swift’s letter here). Swift explains that Apple’s new Apple Music streaming service precludes payment to artists in the first three months. Swift argues that this is wrong. In a persuasive, simple letter implicitly based on egoism, not altruism, because she predicates the letter on achieving her own values in an explicit expression of magnanimity, Swift makes the case for what amounts to intellectual property rights. Swift advocates what Ayn Rand called the trader principle, the essence of capitalism. As Swift concludes her letter to Apple: “Please don’t ask [artists] to provide you with our music for no compensation.”

Besides Swift’s fundamentally acknowledged fact that Apple’s terms are Apple’s to set, what distinguishes Swift’s activist letter from other forms of celebrity activism is her recognition of the good for being good. Swift does not malign Apple. In fact, she titles the post “To Apple, Love Taylor” and proceeds to express her “reverence” for Apple’s innovation and achievements. This demonstrates an understanding that acting in accordance with the company’s professed philosophy of human progress through new ideas is consistent with trading value for value. Harnessing the power of an artist that leftists and racists should regard as a beneficiary of “white privilege” or being among some inexplicably causeless “one percent” of wealthy millionaires, Swift, who has previously expressed support for Barack Obama, offers a perfectly rational example of selfish activism.

The letter is selfish, as against self-centered (as she points out when she writes that the issue of paying artists “is not about me”, which in this context is true), because in writing it she seeks to gain, keep and advance her values; in this case, the ability of artists to earn money to create. In a wider sense, the successful artist posting such a letter deepens the bond with fans and adds credibility to his brand. Swift’s letter succeeds on a number of levels in dispelling the myth that capitalism and benevolence are incompatible. Swift gains value as described, the struggling, unknown writer gains, her competitors also gain, and so do her patrons, employees and partners. The customer gains with greater funding for all artists which leads to more creation, variety and competition. Apple, too, gains from the compliments, publicity and Swift’s endorsement for the new platform and a better grasp of what top artists want and how they may communicate.

Capitalism is, in fact, win-win.

Taylor Swift’s letter displays an understanding of this principle. She does not seek the unearned. She also does not merely “kill them with kindness”, as a cynic might claim. The letter, praising Apple for allegiance to progress and innovation, is not structured for unearned guilt, vanity or opportunism. Swift’s letter ends with a thought which begins with the word ‘please’ extended as a courtesy, not with an arbitrary demand that Apple has a moral duty to serve others and sacrifice its profit. Swift backs her words with action, withholding her property on principle. This is the essence of good, selfish, rational activism (read my thoughts on activism here) in a dispute among good, selfish, rational men.

Those inclined to flame, troll or otherwise rant against anyone who deviates in the slightest degree from one’s values ought to look at Taylor Swift’s letter and learn from her example. This is activism that succeeds. As Apple executive Eddy Cue posted today on Twitter (and, as I teach in my social media course, social media is a crucial, legitimate tool for selfish communication), after granting Swift’s request: “We hear you, [Taylor Swift]…Love, Apple.” The exchange, namely that they are free to have it, is why I love capitalism.

Opposing Censorship

From whom do you gather what you know from today’s media? Increasingly, today’s news media is driven by independent bloggers and freethinkers, reporting facts and disclosing news that drives what the individual ends up reading or hearing second and third-hand.

For example, whistleblower Edward Snowden, who released government documents proving that the U.S. government indiscriminately spies on Americans—documents first published by the Guardian on this date in 2013—has direct, measurable impact on Americans’ lives, more than major news outlets. Majors, such as Fox News, CNN and the Washington Post, are capable of good work, too, and aggregate media services such as Drudge and Google News serve an important function. But more than ever, the independent, individual thinker enlightens the West.

Much of today’s relevant news involves national security and arbitrary, indiscriminate government control, which is why one’s life depends upon the freedom of speech. This is why it’s crucial to support absolute free speech and its corollary, the free press, and actively oppose censorship. I recently applied and was admitted as a member of PEN American Center, which awarded its courage award to Charlie Hebdo in defiance of Islamic jihadists and their apologists, such as Joyce Carol Oates, for this reason.

Today’s podcaster, columnist or blogger, probably working with limited resources, risks incurring the wrath of barbaric religious fanatics, New Left radicals and smearmeisters in the media. But they do so to provide today’s individual with knowledge of tomorrow’s planned dictate, control or impending attack and the potential remedy, resistance or escape. It’s often been said before by many others, though, today, it bears repeating on this blog: when you support free speech and patronize the freethinking press, you act in your self-interest. According to my philosophy, this is the highest virtue. Egoism begins with a mind that’s free to think. In a world where the freedom to know what you know about current events is diminishing, the egoist goes out of his way to rally behind the writer, creator and thinker brave enough to buck the trend.

Assault on Free Speech in Texas

Today, a free speech event in Texas was attacked by two gunmen, who were shot and killed by police when the attackers opened fire and injured security guard Bruce Joiner (read the event and assault details here). Because the event, featuring a speech by a member of Dutch parliament, involves a cartoon award bestowed for the best drawing of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, the assault must be presumed to be another Islamic terrorist attack.

Despite—or due to?—the nature of the event, there is no mention of Islam or Moslem terrorism by the statement issued by the conservative, Republican governor of Texas, which mimics every Obama administration knee-jerk response to an act of potential Islamic terrorist violence and merely refers to a “senseless act”.

In fact, before the event, which is sponsored by an activist against Islam who says she sought to exercise free speech on principle, the Texas town’s residents denounced the event on principle, comparing its intent and purpose to shouting ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater and denying even the fact that it is an exercise of free speech. One resident spoke out against the anti-Islamic event, which is currently protected by the First Amendment, as a threat to “public safety”. Of course, the oft-cited fire in a theater claim is also a distortion of the freedom of speech; it is totally justifiable to speak up in case of one’s belief that there is an impending emergency, such as a fire, even if one turns out to be wrong.

There is more to learn about today’s attack, such as who sponsored it, the motive of the attackers, and why the government failed again—as in Boston, Benghazi and on September 11, 2001—to stop an act of war by Moslem radicals in spite of mass, unchecked surveillance of the entire U.S. population and government control of travel.

Whatever the specific facts about today’s act of war against America and the individual liberty America once stood—and, still, mostly stands for—May 3, 2015 marks a major turn for the worst for liberty in the United States. Americans should already know that we are at war with state sponsors of Islamic terrorism. Americans should already know that we are in conflict with our own American government, which sanctions, appeases and actively supports state sponsors of Islamic terrorism and seeks to control the everyday lives of Americans.

With this news of an assault on a cartoon event in America’s Lone Star state, especially after the Paris attack on Charlie Hebdo, a mass murder of artists for cartoon depictions of Mohammed, Americans can no longer deny, ignore or evade that more Americans—the most religious, Christian, conservative Texans—oppose the freedom of speech. After today, in my estimation, more bad Americans will follow and rise to oppose the freedom of speech in the name of “public safety” and the fire-in-a-theater nonsense.

Today’s attack should motivate defenders of liberty. However, as seen by the town’s opposition to this event, it is likely to motivate the advocates for censorship.

This should make the good Americans and those who support the absolute freedom of speech, such as PEN American Center, CNN‘s Christiane Amanpour, Salman Rushdie—who this week came out in support of PEN’s courage award for Charlie Hebdo—focus and fight more strongly and with more passion and reason while speaking out more often than ever. As Pamela Geller, the organizer of the anti-Islamic event, said and asked: ‘This is a war. This is war on free speech. What are we going to do? Are we going to surrender to these monsters?”

The few and best Americans must rise to defend today’s artists and thinkers and oppose the voices for tyranny—on the right, on the left and especially those waffling in the middle of the road—with a united and uncompromising stand for reason, egoism and individual rights. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, the rational American must never surrender—and never submit to silence, censorship or the sickeningly insidious attack on free speech. This is the real fight of the century. Liberty must be avenged.