Posts Tagged ‘censorship’

 

“This Christmas season finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night. Our world is sick with war; everywhere we turn we see its ominous possibilities. And yet, my friends, the Christmas hope for peace and goodwill toward all men can no longer be dismissed as a kind of pious dream of some utopian. If we don’t have goodwill toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power.”— Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Christmas Sermon on Peace”

To a nation of snowflakes, Christmas has become yet another trigger word.

The latest Christmas casualties in the campaign to create one large national safe space are none other than the beloved animated classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (denounced for promoting bullying and homophobia) which first aired on television on December 6, 1964, and the Oscar-winning tune “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (accused of being a date rape anthem) crooned by everyone from Dean Martin to Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel in the movie Elf.

Also on the endangered species Christmas list are such songs as “Deck the Halls” (it supposedly promotes “gay” apparel), “Santa Baby” (it has been denounced for “slut shaming”), and “White Christmas” (perceived as being racist).

One publishing company even re-issued their own redacted version of Clement Clarke Moore’s famous poem “Twas the night before Christmas” in order to be more health conscious: the company edited out Moore’s mention of Santa smoking a pipe (“The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, / And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath.”)

Oh the horror.

After a year plagued with its fair share of Scrooges and Grinches and endless months of being mired in political gloom and doom, we could all use a little Christmas cheer right now.

Unfortunately, the politically charged Right and Left have been trying to score points off each other for so long, using whatever means available, that even Christmas has been weaponized.

Yet just because the War on Christmas has been adopted as a war cry by Donald Trump doesn’t mean that it’s not real.

Look around you.

When I was a child in the 1950s, the magic of Christmas was promoted in the schools. We sang Christmas carols in the classroom. There were cutouts of the Nativity scene on the bulletin board, along with the smiling, chubby face of Santa and Rudolph. We were all acutely aware that Christmas was magic.

Fast forward to the present day, and there is a phobia surrounding Christmas that has turned it into fodder for the politically correct culture wars.

Indeed, in its “Constitutional Q&A: Twelve Rules of Christmas,” The Rutherford Institute points out that some communities, government agencies and businesses have gone to great lengths to avoid causing offense over Christmas.

Examples abound.

Schools across the country now avoid anything that alludes to the true meaning of Christmas such as angels, the baby Jesus, stables and shepherds.

In many of the nation’s schools, Christmas carols, Christmas trees, wreaths and candy canes have also been banned as part of the effort to avoid any reference to Christmas, Christ or God. One school even outlawed the colors red and green, saying they were Christmas colors and, thus, illegal.

Students asked to send seasonal cards to military troops have been told to make them “holiday cards” and instructed not to use the words “Merry Christmas” on their cards.

Many schools have redubbed their Christmas concerts as “winter holiday programs” and refer to Christmas as a “winter festival.” Some schools have cancelled holiday celebrations altogether to avoid offending those who do not celebrate the various holidays.

In Minnesota, a charter school banned the display of a poster prepared to promote the school’s yearbook as a holiday gift because the poster included Jack Skellington from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and other secular Christmas icons, not to mention the word “Christmas.”

In New Jersey, one school district banned traditional Christmas songs such as “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night” from its holiday concerts.  A New Jersey middle school cancelled a field trip to attend a performance of a play based on Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” because some might have found it “offensive.”

In Texas, a teacher who decorated her door with a scene from “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” including a scrawny tree and Linus, was forced to take it down lest students be offended or feel uncomfortable.

In Connecticut, teachers were instructed to change the wording of the classic poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to “Twas the Night Before a Holiday.”

In Virginia, a high school principal debated about whether he could mention Santa or distribute candy canes given that they were symbols of Christmas.

In Massachusetts, a fourth-grade class was asked to list 25 things that reminded them of Christmas. When one young student asked if she could include “Jesus,” her teacher replied that she could get fired if Christmas’ namesake appeared on the list.

Things are not much better outside the schools.

In one West Virginia town, although the manger scene (one of 350 light exhibits in the town’s annual Festival of Lights) included shepherds, camels and a guiding star, the main attractions—Jesus, Mary and Joseph—were nowhere to be found due to concerns about the separation of church and state.

In Chicago, organizers of a German Christkindlmarket were informed that the public Christmas festival was no place for the Christmas story. Officials were concerned that clips of the film “The Nativity Story,” which were to be played at the festival, might cause offense.

In Delaware, a Girl Scout troop was prohibited from carrying signs reading “Merry Christmas” in their town’s annual holiday parade.

While the First Amendment Establishment Clause prohibits the government from forcing religion on people or endorsing one particular religion over another, there is no legitimate legal reason why people should not be able to celebrate the season freely or wish each other a Merry Christmas or even mention the word Christmas.

The Rutherford Institute’s “Twelve Rules of Christmas” guidelines are helpful in dealing with folks who subscribe to the misguided notion that the law requires anything Christmas in nature be banned from public places.

Yet here’s the thing about this so-called War on Christmas that people don’t seem to get: while Christmas may be the “trigger” for purging Christmas from public places, government forums and speech—except when it profits Corporate America—it is part and parcel of the greater trend in recent years to whittle away at free speech and trample the First Amendment underfoot.

Claiming to promote tolerance and diversity while seeking a homogeneous mindset, many workplaces, schools and public places have become intolerant of any but the most politically correct viewpoints.

Anything that might raise the specter of controversy is avoided at all costs.

We are witnessing the emergence of an unstated yet court-sanctioned right, one that makes no appearance in the Constitution and yet seems to trump the First Amendment at every turn: the right to not be offended.

In this way, emboldened by phrases such as “hate crimes,” “bullying,” “extremism” and “microaggressions,” free speech has been confined to carefully constructed “free speech zones,” criminalized when it skates too close to challenging the status quo, shamed when it butts up against politically correct ideals, and muzzled when it appears dangerous.

This is censorship, driven by a politically correct need to pander to those who are easily offended.

Where you see this “safe space” mindset really play out is in the nation’s public schools, which continue to adopt policies—such as zero tolerance policies—that promise to steer young people clear of anything that even hints at danger, controversy or non-politically correct thinking.

Unfortunately, all too often it is common sense and individual liberty that get trampled underfoot: a student gets suspended under the school’s zero tolerance policy against drugs for chewing on a Certs breath mint; a kindergartner is suspended under the school’s zero tolerance policy against violence for playing a make-believe game of cops and robbers using his finger as a gun; and a school trip to see “A Christmas Carol” is cancelled because of the school’s zero tolerance policy against anything that is in any way offensive.

What’s worse, the motto today seems to be “When in doubt, throw it out.”

At the slightest hint of trouble, government officials (and corporations) are inclined to chuck anything that might be objectionable. So whereas Mark Twain’s classic “Huckleberry Finn” used to at least make the list of banned books every year, it now rarely even makes an appearance on school reading lists. It has been scrubbed out of existence.

See how that works?

Zero tolerance policies are ultimately about programming people into compliance with the government’s dictates.

The government doesn’t care about Christmas. It cares about control.

By government, I’m talking about the entrenched government bureaucracy that really calls the shots no matter what political party controls Congress and the White House.

Never forget, the police state wants us to be a nation of snowflakes, snitches and book burners: a legalistic, intolerant, elitist, squealing bystander nation willing to turn on each other and turn each other in for the slightest offense.

All of the petty sniping over Melania Trump’s red-themed Christmas decorations?

That plays perfectly into the Deep State’s efforts to keep the citizenry at odds with each other and incapable of presenting a united front against the threats posed by the government and its cabal of Constitution-destroying agencies and corporate partners.

You want to know why this country is in the state it’s in?

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the answer is the same no matter what the problem might be, whether it’s the economy, government corruption, police brutality, endless wars, censorship, falling literacy rates, etc.: every one of these problems can be sourced back to the fact that “we the people” have stopped thinking for ourselves and relinquished responsibility for our lives and well-being to a government entity that sees us only as useful idiots.

The Greek philosopher Socrates believed in teaching people to think for themselves and in the free exchange of ideas. For his efforts, he was accused of corrupting the youth and was put to death. However, his legacy lived on in the Socratic method of teaching: posing questions that help young and old discover the answers by learning to think for themselves.

Now even the Socratic method is in danger of extinction.

As Rod Serling, creator of the classic sci-fi series Twilight Zone and one of the most insightful commentators on human nature, once observed, “We’re developing a new citizenry. One that will be very selective about cereals and automobiles, but won’t be able to think.”

We face an immense threat in our society from this drive to obliterate our history and traditions in order to erect a saccharine view of reality. In the process, we are creating a schizophrenic world for our children to grow up in, and it is neither healthy nor will it produce the kind of people who will be able to face the challenges of a future ruled by a totalitarian regime.

You can’t sanitize reality. You can’t scrub out of existence every unpleasant thought or idea. You can’t legislate tolerance. You can’t create enough safe spaces to avoid the ugliness that lurks in the hearts of men and women. You can’t fight ignorance with the weapons of a police state.

What you can do, however, is step up your game.

Opt for kindness over curtness, and civility over censorship. Choose peace over politics, and freedom over fascism. Find common ground with those whose politics or opinions or lifestyles may not jive with your own.

Do your part to make the world a little brighter and a little lighter, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll have a chance of digging our way out of this hole.

WC: 2014

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People  (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at http://www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

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John W. Whitehead’s weekly commentaries are available for publication to newspapers and web publications at no charge. Please contact staff@rutherford.org to obtain reprint permission.

 

 

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“What are the defenders of free speech to do? The sad fact is that this fundamental freedom is on its heels across America. Politicians of both parties want to use the power of government to silence their foes. Some in the university community seek to drive it from their campuses. And an entire generation of Americans is being taught that free speech should be curtailed as soon as it makes someone else feel uncomfortable. On the current trajectory, our nation’s dynamic marketplace of ideas will soon be replaced by either disengaged intellectual silos or even a stagnant ideological conformity. Few things would be so disastrous for our nation and the well-being of our citizenry.”—William Ruger, “Free Speech Is Central to Our Dignity as Humans

As a nation, we have a tendency to sentimentalize cultural icons in death in a way that renders them non-threatening, antiseptic and easily digested by a society with an acute intolerance for anything controversial, politically incorrect or marred by imperfection.

This revisionist history—a silent censorship of sorts—has proven to be a far more effective means of neutralizing radicals such as Martin Luther King Jr. than anything the NSA, CIA or FBI could dream up.

In life, King called for Americans to rise up against a government that was not only treating blacks unfairly but was also killing innocent civilians, impoverishing millions, and prioritizing the profits of war over human rights and dignity. This was a man who went to jail over racial segregation laws, encouraged young children to face down police dogs and water hoses, and who urged people to turn their anger loose on the government through civil disobedience. King actually insisted that people have a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.

In death, however, King has been reduced to a face on a national monument and a national holiday, neither of which even hint at the true nature of the man: fiery, passionate, single-minded in his pursuit of justice, unwilling to remain silent in the face of wrongdoing, and unafraid of offending those who might disagree with him.

A contemporary of King’s, heavy-weight championship boxer Muhammad Ali followed a different path as a social activist and “breaker of boundaries.” Like King, Ali didn’t pull any punches when it came to saying what he believed and acting on it. Yet already, in the wake of Ali’s passing, we’re being treated to a sentimentalized version of the heavy-weight boxer.

In life, Ali was fast-talking, fast-moving and as politically incorrect as they come. He became an early convert to the Nation of Islam, a black separatist religious movement whose membership at one time included Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan. He denounced his “slave name” (Cassius Marcellus Clay) and refused to be the “white man’s Negro.”

He was stripped of his boxing title, arrested and threatened with five years in prison and a fine of $10,000 after refusing to be drafted into the Army as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. “My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America,” declared Ali. “And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. … Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”

As First Amendment scholar David L. Hudson Jr. notes, “Ali’s remarkable career and life placed him at the vortex of these First Amendment freedoms… Ali freely exercised his religious faith. He regularly spoke provocatively on a variety of topics. The press was abuzz with coverage and criticism. Thousands assembled in support of him, and the champion himself took part in rallies, parades and marches. Some petitioned the government to redress the injustice of his conviction for refusing military service, which resulted in his being exiled from the boxing ring for his beliefs.”

It took a legal battle all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court for Ali’s religious objections to serving in the Army to be given credence and his First Amendment arguments to prevail. The case was Clay v. United States.

That was in 1971.

Forty-five years later, Ali is dead, fear is alive, and free speech is being dealt one knock-out punch after another.

Indeed, talk-show celebrity Piers Morgan has been soundly trounced and roundly censured for daring to suggest that Ali—a champion of the First Amendment who liberally peppered his speech with words (nigger and Uncle Tom) and opinions (“the white man is the Devil“ and “I’m sure no intelligent white person watching this show … want black boys and black girls marrying their white sons and daughters“) that would horrify most of his politically correct fans—made more “inflammatory/racist” comments than Donald Trump.

Speaking of Trump, in Fresno, California, a third-grader was ordered to remove his pro-Trump “Make America Great Again” hat because school officials feared for his safety. The 9-year-old boy refused, citing the First Amendment.

That was the same argument—a concern for safety—officials used in 2010 when they ordered several high school students to remove their t-shirts emblazoned with the American flag. The concern: wearing the flag on Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican day of celebration, might offend Hispanic students attending the school. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the school’s logic. Coincidentally, that same week, the high court also ruled against Confederate flag license plates on the grounds that they constituted government speech and might be offensive to African-Americans.

For those of us who came of age in the 1960s, college campuses were once the bastion of free speech, awash with student protests, sit-ins, marches, pamphleteering, and other expressive acts showing our displeasure with war, the Establishment and the status quo.

Today, on college campuses across the nation, merely chalking the word “Trump” on the sidewalk is enough to have student groups crying foul and labeling it as hate speech in need of censorship. Under the misleading guise of tolerance, civility, love and political correctness, college campuses have become hotbeds of student-led censorship, trigger warningsmicroaggressions, and “red light” speech policies targeting anything that might cause someone to feel uncomfortable, unsafe or offended.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this doesn’t even begin to touch on the criminalization and surveillance of various forms of speech that the government deems to be hateful, anti-government, extremist, bullying, dangerous or inflammatory.

One could say that we have allowed our fears—fear for our safety, fear of each other, fear of being labeled racist or hateful or prejudiced, etc.—to trump our freedom of speech and muzzle us far more effectively than any government edict could.

Ultimately the war on free speech—and that’s exactly what it is: a war being waged by Americans against other Americans—is a war that is driven by fear.

America is in the midst of an epidemic of historic proportions. The contagion being spread like wildfire is turning communities into battlegrounds and setting Americans one against the other. Normally mild-mannered individuals caught up in the throes of this disease have been transformed into belligerent zealots, while others inclined to pacifism have taken to stockpiling weapons and practicing defensive drills.

This plague on our nation—one that has been carefully cultivated and spread by the powers-that-be—is a potent mix of fear coupled with unhealthy doses of paranoia and intolerance, tragic hallmarks of the post-9/11 America in which we live.

Everywhere you turn, those on both the left- and right-wing are fomenting distrust and division. You can’t escape it. We’re being fed a constant diet of fear: fear of terrorists, fear of illegal immigrants, fear of people who are too religious, fear of people who are not religious enough, fear of the government, fear of those who fear the government. The list goes on and on.

The strategy is simple yet brilliant: the best way to control a populace is through fear and discord. Confound them, distract them with mindless news chatter and entertainment, pit them against one another by turning minor disagreements into major skirmishes, and tie them up in knots over matters lacking in national significance. Most importantly, keep the people divided so that they see each other as the enemy and screaming at each other so that they drown out all other sounds. In this way, they will never reach consensus about anything or hear the corporate state as it closes in on them.

This is how a freedom-loving people enslave themselves and allow tyrants to prevail.

This Machiavellian scheme has so ensnared the nation that few Americans even realize they are being manipulated into adopting an “us” against “them” mindset. Instead, fueled with fear and loathing for phantom opponents, they pour millions of dollars and resources into political elections, hoping for change that never comes. All the while, those in power—bought and paid for by lobbyists and corporations—move their costly agendas forward, and “we the suckers” get saddled with the tax bills.

We have been down this road before.

A classic example is the fear and paranoia that gripped the country during the 1950s. Many huddled inside their homes and fallout shelters, awaiting a nuclear war. It was also the time of the Red Scare. The enemy this time was Communist infiltration of American society.

Joseph McCarthy, a young Republican senator, grasped the opportunity to capitalize on the popular paranoia for personal national attention. In a speech in February 1950, McCarthy alleged having a list of over 200 members of the Communist Party “working and shaping the policy of the U.S. State Department.” The speech was picked up by the Associated Press, without substantiating the facts, and within a few days the hysteria began.

McCarthy specialized in sensational and unsubstantiated accusations about Communist infiltration of the American government, particularly the State Department. He also targeted well-known Hollywood actors and directors, trade unionists and teachers. Many others were brought before the inquisitional House Committee on Un-American Activities for questioning. Regarded as bad risks, the accused struggled to secure employment. The witch hunt ruined careers, resulting in suicides, and tightened immigration to exclude alleged subversives.

“McCarthyism” eventually smeared all the accused with the same broad brush, whether the evidence was good, bad or nonexistent. McCarthy, like many do today, appealed to the low instincts of envy, paranoia and dislike for the intellectual establishment.

“The real scoundrel in all this,” writes historian David Halberstam, “was the behavior of the members of the Washington press corps, who, more often than not, knew better. They were delighted to be a part of his traveling road show, chronicling each charge and then moving on to the next town, instead of bothering to stay behind and follow up. They had little interest in reporting how careless McCarthy was or how little it all meant to him.”

However, on March 9, 1954, Edward R. Murrow, the most-respected newsman on television at the time, broke the ice. He attacked McCarthy on his weekly show, See It Now. Murrow interspersed his own comments and clarifications into a damaging series of film clips from McCarthy’s speeches. Murrow ended the broadcast with one of the greatest news commentaries of all time, also a warning.

We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine; and remember that we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were for the moment unpopular.

This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home. The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it—and rather successfully. Cassius was right. ”The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” 

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Whether you’re talking about free speech, surveillance, police misconduct or some other symptom of a government that has grown drunk on its own power, the answer is always the same: “we the people.”

We need to reject fear as our guiding principle, and restore freedom to its rightful place at the center of our republic.

As William Ruger writes in a powerful editorial for Time:

We must vigorously re-make the case for free speech. We must recur to its great defenders from ages past and reintroduce their ideas to our fellow Americans. The wisdom of John Milton, John Locke and John Stuart Mill—not to mention that of Americans like George Mason and Justice Louis Brandeis—is as true today as it was in their times. We just have to remember it… we must transmit an understanding of the value of free speech to today’s Americans in order to ensure that it is protected for future generations. And perhaps even more importantly, we need to demonstrate a vigorous commitment to free speech. America’s success depends on whether we continue to embrace this fundamental freedom.

“The most striking fact about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not that he slept 20 years, but that he slept through a revolution. While he was peacefully snoring up on the mountain, a great revolution was taking place in the world – indeed, a revolution which would, at points, change the course of history. And Rip Van Winkle knew nothing about it; he was asleep.”—Martin Luther King Jr., Commencement Address for Oberlin College

The world is disintegrating on every front—politically, environmentally, morally—and for the next generation, the future does not look promising. As author Pema Chodron writes in When Things Fall Apart:

When the rivers and air are polluted, when families and nations are at war, when homeless wanderers fill the highways, these are the traditional signs of a dark age.

Those coming of age today will face some of the greatest obstacles ever encountered by young people. They will find themselves overtaxed and struggling to find worthwhile employment in a debt-ridden economy on the brink of implosion. Their privacy will be eviscerated by the surveillance state.

They will be the subjects of a military empire constantly waging war against shadowy enemies and on guard against domestic acts of terrorism, blowback against military occupations in foreign lands. And they will find government agents armed to the teeth ready and able to lock down the country at a moment’s notice.

As such, they will find themselves forced to march in lockstep with a government that no longer exists to serve the people but which demands they be obedient slaves or suffer the consequences.

It’s a dismal prospect, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, we who should have known better failed to guard against such a future.

Battlefield_Cover_300Worse, as I document in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we neglected to maintain our freedoms or provide our young people with the tools necessary to survive, let alone succeed, in the impersonal jungle that is modern civilization.

We brought them into homes fractured by divorce, distracted by mindless entertainment, and obsessed with the pursuit of materialism. We institutionalized them in daycares and afterschool programs, substituting time with teachers and childcare workers for parental involvement. We turned them into test-takers instead of thinkers and automatons instead of activists.

We allowed them to languish in schools which not only often look like prisons but function like prisons, as well—where conformity is the rule and freedom is the exception. We made them easy prey for our corporate overlords, while instilling in them the values of a celebrity-obsessed, technology-driven culture devoid of any true spirituality. And we taught them to believe that the pursuit of their own personal happiness trumped all other virtues, including any empathy whatsoever for their fellow human beings.

We botched things up in a big way, but hopefully all is not lost.

Not yet, at least.

Faced with adversity, this generation could possibly rise to meet the grave challenges before them, bringing about positive change for our times and maintaining their freedoms, as well.

The following bits of wisdom, gleaned from a lifetime of standing up to injustice and speaking truth to power, will hopefully help them survive the perils of the journey that awaits:

Wake up and free your mind. Resist all things that numb you, put you to sleep or help you “cope” with so-called reality. From the day you are born, enter school, graduate and get a job, virtually everything surrounding you is not something you entered by free will. And those who establish the rules and laws that govern society’s actions dictate what is proper. They desire compliant subjects. Those who become conscious of the chains that bind them and free their minds and decide to disagree are often ostracized and find themselves behind bars. However, as George Orwell warned, “Until they become conscious, they will never rebel, and until after they rebelled, they cannot become conscious.” It is these conscious individuals who change the world for the better.

Be an individual. For all of its championing of the individual, American culture advocates a stark conformity. As a result, young people are sedated by the flatness and predictability of modern life. “You can travel far and wide and have a difficult time finding a store or restaurant that is even mildly unique,” writes Thomas More in The Care of the Soul. “In shopping malls everywhere, in restaurant districts, in movie theaters, you will find the same clothes, the same names, the same menus, the same new films, the identical architecture. On the East Coast, you can sit in a restaurant seat identical to that you sat in on the West Coast.” In other words, the repetition that is modern life means the death of individuality.

Resist the corporate state. Don’t become mindless consumers. Consumption is a drug. It makes us unaware of the corruption surrounding us. As Chris Hedges writes in Empire of Illusion:

Corporations are ubiquitous parts of our lives, and those that own and run them want them to remain that way. We eat corporate food. We buy corporate clothes. We drive in corporate cars. We buy our fuel from corporations. We borrow from, invest our retirement savings with, and take our college loans with corporations and corporate banks. We are entertained, informed, and bombarded with advertisements by corporations. Many of us work for corporations. There are few aspects of life left that have not been taken over by corporations, from mail delivery to public utilities to our for-profit health-care system. These corporations have no loyalty to the country or workers. Our impoverishment feeds their profits. And profits, for corporations, are all that count.

Realize that one person can make a difference. If we’re going to see any positive change for freedom, then we must change our view of what it means to be human and regain a sense of what it means to love one another. That will mean gaining the courage to stand up for the oppressed. In fact, it’s always been the caring individual—the ordinary person doing extraordinary things—who has made a difference in the world. Even Mahatma Gandhi, who eventually galvanized the whole of India, brought the British Empire to its knees, and secured freedom for his people, began as a solitary individual committed to the idea of nonviolent resistance to the British Empire.

Help others. We all have a calling in life. And I believe it boils down to one thing: You are here on this planet to help other people. In fact, none of us can exist very long without help from others. This is brought home forcefully in a story that Garret Keizer recounts in his insightful book Help: The Original Human Dilemma. Supposedly in hell the damned sit around a great pot, all hungry, because the spoons they hold are too long to bring the food to their mouths. In heaven, people are sitting around the same pot with the same long spoons, but everyone is full. Why? Because in heaven, people use their long spoons to feed one another.

Learn your rights. It’s easy to complain, throw up your hands and just accept the way things are. Unfortunately, for all the moaning and groaning, very few people take the time to change the country for the better. Yet we’re losing our freedoms for one simple reason: most of us don’t know anything about our freedoms. Lest we forget, America is a concept. You have to earn the right to be an American, and that means taking the time to learn about your history and the courageous radicals who fought and died so that you and I could live in a free country. At a minimum, anyone who has graduated from high school, let alone college, should know the Bill of Rights backwards and forwards. However, the average young person, let alone citizen, has very little knowledge of their rights for the simple reason that the schools no longer teach them. So grab a copy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and study them at home. And when the time comes, stand up for your rights.

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Speak truth to power. Don’t be naive about those in positions of authority. As James Madison, who wrote our Bill of Rights, observed, “All men having power ought to be distrusted.” We have to learn the lessons of history. People in power, more often than not, abuse that power. To maintain our freedoms, this will mean challenging government officials whenever they exceed the bounds of their office.

Don’t let technology be your God. Technology anesthetizes us to the all-too-real tragedies that surround us. Techno-gadgets are merely distractions from what’s really going on in America and around the world. As a result, we’ve begun mimicking the inhuman technology that surrounds us and lost sight of our humanity. If you’re going to make a difference in the world, you’re going to have to pull the earbuds out, turn off the cell phones and spend much less time viewing screens.

Give voice to moral outrage. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” There is no shortage of issues on which to take a stand. For instance, on any given night, over half a million people in the U.S. are homeless, and half of them are elderly. There are 46 million Americans living at or below the poverty line, and 16 million children living in households without adequate access to food. Congress creates, on average, more than 50 new criminal laws each year. With more than 2 million Americans in prison, and close to 7 million adults in correctional care, the United States has the largest prison population in the world. At least 2.7 million children in the United States have at least one parent in prison. At least 400 to 500 innocent people are killed by police officers every year. Americans are now eight times more likely to die in a police confrontation than they are to be killed by a terrorist. On an average day in America, over 100 Americans have their homes raided by SWAT teams. Since 9/11, we’ve spent more than $1.6 trillion to wage wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It costs the American taxpayer $52.6 billion every year to be spied on by the government intelligence agencies tasked with surveillance, data collection, counterintelligence and covert activities.

Cultivate spirituality. When the things that matter most have been subordinated to materialism, we have lost our moral compass. We must change our values to reflect something more meaningful than technology, materialism and politics.

Standing at the pulpit of the Riverside Church in New York City in April 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. urged his listeners:

[W]e as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motive and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

We didn’t listen then, and we still have not learned: Material things don’t fill the spiritual void.

Unfortunately, our much-vaunted culture of consumerism and material comforts has resulted in an overall air of cynicism marked by a spiritual vacuum, and this generation of young people is paying the price. For example, at least one in 10 young people now believe life is not worth living. A survey of 16- to 25-year-olds by the Prince’s Trust found that for many young people life has little or no purpose, especially among those not in school, work or training. More than a quarter of those polled feel depressed and are less happy than when they were younger. And almost half said they are regularly stressed and many don’t have anything to look forward to or someone they could talk to about their problems. Equally alarming is a recent report by The Washington Post indicating that the U.S. suicide rate has increased sharply since the turn of the century, particularly among women.

No wonder many young people have such a pessimistic view of the future. But that can change. As King said, we have to start putting people first.

Pitch in and do your part to make the world a better place. Don’t rely on someone else to do the heavy lifting for you. As King noted, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” In other words, don’t wait around for someone else to fix what ails you, your community or nation. As Gandhi urged: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Finally, you need to impact the government, be part of the dialogue on who we are and where we’re going as a country. It doesn’t matter how old you are or what your political ideology is. These are just labels. If you have something to say, speak up. Get active, and if need be, pick up a picket sign and get in the streets. And when civil liberties are violated, don’t remain silent about it. Take a stand!

The only way we’ll ever achieve change in this country is for this generation of young people to say “enough is enough” and fight for the things that truly matter.

I shall end as Dr. King ended his commencement address to the graduates of Oberlin College in June 1965:

Let us stand up. Let us be a concerned generation. Let us remain awake through a great revolution. And we will speed up that great day when the American Dream will be a reality.

“If you can’t say ‘Fuck’ you can’t say, ‘Fuck the government.’” ― Lenny Bruce

Not only has free speech become a four-letter word—profane, obscene, uncouth, not to be uttered in so-called public places—but in more and more cases, the government deems free speech to be downright dangerous and in some instances illegal.

The U.S. government has become particularly intolerant of speech that challenges the government’s power, reveals the government’s corruption, exposes the government’s lies, and encourages the citizenry to push back against the government’s many injustices.

Indeed, there is a long and growing list of the kinds of speech that the government considers dangerous enough to red flag and subject to censorship, surveillance, investigation and prosecution: hate speech, bullying speech, intolerant speech, conspiratorial speech, treasonous speech, threatening speech, incendiary speech, inflammatory speech, radical speech, anti-government speech, right-wing speech, extremist speech, etc.

Yet by allowing the government to whittle away at cherished First Amendment freedoms—which form the backbone of the Bill of Rights—we have evolved into a society that would not only be abhorrent to the founders of this country but would be hostile to the words they used to birth this nation.

Don’t believe me?

Conduct your own experiment into the government’s tolerance of speech that challenges its authority, and see for yourself.

Stand on a street corner—or in a courtroom, at a city council meeting or on a university campus—and recite some of the rhetoric used by the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, John Adams and Thomas Paine without referencing them as the authors.

For that matter, just try reciting the Declaration of Independence, which rejects tyranny, establishes Americans as sovereign beings, recognizes God as a Supreme power, portrays the government as evil, and provides a detailed laundry list of abuses that are as relevant today as they were 240 years ago.

My guess is that you won’t last long before you get thrown out, shut up, threatened with arrest or at the very least accused of being a radical, a troublemaker, a sovereign citizen, a conspiratorialist or an extremist.

Try suggesting, as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin did, that Americans should not only take up arms but be prepared to shed blood in order to protect their liberties, and you might find yourself placed on a terrorist watch list and vulnerable to being rounded up by government agents.

“What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance. Let them take arms,” declared Jefferson. He also concluded that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Observed Franklin: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!”

Better yet, try suggesting as Thomas Paine, Marquis De Lafayette, John Adams and Patrick Henry did that Americans should, if necessary, defend themselves against the government if it violates their rights, and you will be labeled a domestic extremist.

“It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government,” insisted Paine. “When the government violates the people’s rights,” Lafayette warned, “insurrection is, for the people and for each portion of the people, the most sacred of the rights and the most indispensable of duties.” Adams cautioned, “A settled plan to deprive the people of all the benefits, blessings and ends of the contract, to subvert the fundamentals of the constitution, to deprive them of all share in making and executing laws, will justify a revolution.” And who could forget Patrick Henry with his ultimatum: “Give me liberty or give me death!”

Then again, perhaps you don’t need to test the limits of free speech for yourself. One such test is playing out before our very eyes in Portland, Oregon, where radio “shock jock” Pete Santilli, a new media journalist who broadcasts his news reports over YouTube and streaming internet radio, is sitting in jail.

Santilli, notorious for his controversial topics, vocal outrage over government abuses, and inflammatory rhetoric, is not what anyone would consider an objective reporter. His radio show, aptly titled “Telling You the Truth…Whether You Like It or Not,” makes it clear that Santilli has a viewpoint (namely, that the government has overstepped its bounds), and he has no qualms about sharing it with his listeners.

It was that viewpoint that landed Santilli in jail.

In early January 2016, a group of armed activists, reportedly protesting the federal government’s management of federal lands and its prosecution of two local ranchers convicted of arson, staged an act of civil disobedience by occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Oregon. Santilli, who has covered such protests in the past, including the April 2014 standoff in Nevada between the Bundy ranching family and the federal government over grazing rights, reported on the occupation in Burns as an embedded journalist, albeit one who was sympathetic to the complaints (although not the tactics) of the occupiers.

When asked to clarify his role in relation to the occupation, Santilli declared, “My role is the same here that it was at the Bundy ranch. To talk about the constitutional implications of what is going on here. The Constitution cannot be negotiated.”

Well, it turns out that the Constitution can be negotiated, at least when the government gets involved.

Long a thorn in the side of the FBI, Santilli was arrested by the FBI following its ambush and arrest of key leaders of the movement. He was charged, along with the armed resistors, with conspiracy to impede federal officers from discharging their duties by use of force, intimidation, or threats—the same charge being levied against those who occupied the refuge—which carries a maximum sentence of six years in prison.

Notably, Santilli is the only journalist among those covering the occupation to be charged with conspiracy, despite the fact that he did not participate in the takeover of the refuge, nor did he ever spend a night on the grounds of the refuge, nor did he ever represent himself as anything but a journalist covering the occupation.

Of course, the government doesn’t actually believe that 50-year-old Santilli is an accomplice to any criminal activity.

Read between the lines and you’ll find that what the government is really accusing Santilli of is employing dangerous speech. As court documents indicate, the government is prosecuting Santilli solely as a reporter of information. In other words, they’re making an example of him, which is consistent with the government’s ongoing efforts to intimidate members of the media who portray the government in a less than favorable light.

This is not a new tactic.

During the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, numerous journalists were arrested while covering the regions’ civil unrest and the conditions that spawned that unrest. These attempts to muzzle the press were clearly concerted, top-down efforts to restrict the fundamental First Amendment rights of the public and the press.

As The Huffington Post reports:

The Obama administration’s treatment of reporters has caused controversy before. In 2009, the Department of Justice targeted a Fox News reporter in an investigation. Three years later, DOJ seized Associated Press reporters’ phone records. After that, former Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a review of the Justice Department’s news media policies. DOJ employees must consult with a unit within the Criminal Division before they arrest someone when there is a “question regarding whether an individual or entity is a ‘member of the news media,’” according to a January 2015 memo from Holder to DOJ employees.”

That the government is choosing to target Santilli for prosecution, despite the fact that they do not recognize new media journalists as members of the mainstream media, signals a broadening of the government’s efforts to suppress what it considers dangerous speech and stamp out negative coverage.

The message is clear: whether a journalist is acting alone or is affiliated with an established news source, the government has no qualms about subjecting them to harassment, arrest, jail time and trumped up charges if doing so will discourage others from openly opposing or exposing the government.

You see, the powers-that-be understand that if the government can control speech, it controls thought and, in turn, it can control the minds of the citizenry.

Where the government has gone wrong is in hinging its case against Santilli based solely on his incendiary rhetoric, which is protected by the First Amendment and which bears a striking resemblance to disgruntled patriots throughout American history.

Here’s what Santilli said: “What we need, most importantly, is one hundred thousand unarmed men and women to stand together. It is the most powerful weapon in our arsenal.”

Now compare that with the call to action from Joseph Warren, a leader of the Sons of Liberty and a principal figure within the American Revolution: “Stain not the glory of your worthy ancestors, but like them resolve never to part with your birthright; be wise in your deliberations, and determined in your exertions for the preservation of your liberties. Follow not the dictates of passion, but enlist yourselves under the sacred banner of reason; use every method in your power to secure your rights.”

Indeed, Santilli comes across as relatively docile compared to some of our nation’s more outspoken firebrands.

Santilli: “I’m not armed. I am armed with my mouth. I’m armed with my live stream. I’m armed with a coalition of like-minded individuals who sit at home and on YouTube watch this.”

Now compare that to what George Washington had to say: “Unhappy it is, though, to reflect that a brother’s sword has been sheathed in a brother’s breast and that the once-happy plains of America are either to be drenched with blood or inhabited by slaves. Sad alternative! But can a virtuous man hesitate in his choice?”

And then there was Andrew Jackson, a hothead if ever there was one. He came of age in the early days of the republic, served as the seventh president of the United States, and was not opposed to shedding blood when necessary: “Peace, above all things, is to be desired, but blood must sometimes be spilled to obtain it on equable and lasting terms.”

This is how freedom rises or falls.

There have always been those willing to speak their minds despite the consequences. Where freedom hangs in the balance is when “we the people” are called on to stand with or against individuals who actually exercise their rights and, in the process, push the envelope far enough to get called out on the carpet for it.

Do we negotiate the Constitution, or do we embrace it, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel, no matter how hateful or ugly it gets, and no matter how much we may dislike its flag-bearers?

Comedian Lenny Bruce laid the groundwork for the George Carlins that would follow in his wake: foul-mouthed, insightful, irreverent, incredibly funny, and one of the First Amendment’s greatest champions who dared to “speak the unspeakable” about race, religion, sexuality and politics. As Village Voice writer Nat Hentoff attests, Bruce was “not only a paladin of free speech but also a still-penetrating, woundingly hilarious speaker of truth to the powerful and the complacent.”

Bruce died in 1966, but not before being convicted of alleged obscenity for challenging his audience’s covert prejudices by brandishing unmentionable words that, if uttered today, would not only get you ostracized but could get you arrested and charged with a hate crime. Hentoff, who testified in Bruce’s defense at his trial, recounts that Lenny used to say, “What I wanted people to dig is the lie. Certain words were suppressed to keep the lie going. But if you do them, you should be able to say the words.”

Not much has changed in the 50 years since Bruce died. In fact, it’s gotten worse.

What we’re dealing with today is a government that wants to suppress dangerous words—words about its warring empire, words about its land grabs, words about its militarized police, words about its killing, its poisoning and its corruption—in order to keep its lies going.

As I document in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, what we are witnessing is a nation undergoing a nervous breakdown over this growing tension between our increasingly untenable reality and the lies being perpetrated by a government that has grown too power-hungry, egotistical, militaristic and disconnected from its revolutionary birthright.

The only therapy is the truth and nothing but the truth.

Otherwise, there will be no more First Amendment. There will be no more Bill of Rights. And there will be no more freedom in America as we have known it.

As the insightful and brash comedian George Carlin observed:

“Rights aren’t rights if someone can take them away. They’re privileges. That’s all we’ve ever had in this country, is a bill of temporary privileges. And if you read the news even badly, you know that every year the list gets shorter and shorter. Sooner or later, the people in this country are gonna realize the government does not give a fuck about them! The government doesn’t care about you, or your children, or your rights, or your welfare or your safety. It simply does not give a fuck about you! It’s interested in its own power. That’s the only thing. Keeping it and expanding it wherever possible.”

Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours. There is no need for wardens or gates or Ministries of Truth. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; a culture-death is a clear possibility. — Professor Neil Postman

If there are two spectacles that are almost guaranteed to render Americans passive viewers, incapable of doing little more than cheering on their respective teams, it’s football and politics—specifically, the Super Bowl and the quadrennial presidential election.

Both football and politics encourage zealous devotion among their followers, both create manufactured divisions that alienate one group of devotees from another, and both result in a strange sort of tunnel vision that leaves the viewer oblivious to anything else going on around them apart from the “big game.”

Both football and politics are televised, big-money, advertising-driven exercises in how to cultivate a nation of armchair enthusiasts who are content to sit, watch and be entertained, all the while convincing themselves that they are active contributors to the outcome. Even the season schedules are similar in football and politics: the weekly playoffs, the blow-by-blow recaps, the betting pools and speculation, the conferences, and then the final big championship game.

In the same way, both championship events are costly entertainment extravaganzas that feed the nation’s appetite for competition, consumerism and carnivalesque stunts. In both scenarios, cities bid for the privilege of hosting key athletic and political events. For example, San Francisco had to raise close to $50 million just to host the 50th Super Bowl, with its deluxe stadium, Super Bowl City, free fan village, interactive theme park, and free Alicia Keys concert, not including the additional $5 million cost to taxpayers for additional security. Likewise, it costs cities more than $60 million to host the national presidential nominating conventions for the Republicans and Democrats.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that there is anything wrong with enjoying the entertainment that is football or politics.

However, where we go wrong as a society is when we become armchair quarterbacks, so completely immersed in the Big Game or the Big Campaign that we are easily controlled by the powers-that-be—the megacorporations who run both shows—and oblivious to what is really going on around us.

For instance, while mainstream America has been fixated on the contenders for the Vince Lombardi Trophy and the White House, the militarized, warring surveillance state has been moving steadily forward. Armed drones, increased government surveillance and spying, SWAT team raids, police shootings of unarmed citizens, and the like continue to plague the country. None of these dangers have dissipated. They have merely disappeared from our televised news streams.

In this way, television is a “dream come true” for an authoritarian society.

Television isolates people so they are not joining together to govern themselves. As clinical psychologist Bruce Levine notes, viewing television puts one in a brain state that makes it difficult to think critically, and it quiets and subdues a population. And spending one’s free time isolated and watching TV interferes with our ability to translate our outrage over governmental injustice into activism, and thus makes it easier to accept an authority’s version of society and life.

Supposedly the reason why television—and increasingly movies—are so effective in subduing and pacifying us is that viewers are mesmerized by what TV-insiders call “technical events.” These, according to Levine, are “quick cuts, zoom-ins, zoom-outs, rolls, pans, animation, music, graphics, and voice-overs, all of which lure viewers to continue watching even though they have no interest in the content.” Such technical events, which many action films now incorporate, spellbind people to continue watching.

Televised entertainment, no matter what is being broadcast, has become the nation’s new drug high. Researchers found that “almost immediately after turning on the TV, subjects reported feeling more relaxed, and because this occurs so quickly and the tension returns so rapidly after the TV is turned off, people are conditioned to associate TV viewing with a lack of tension.”

Not surprisingly, the United States is one of the highest TV-viewing nations in the world.

Indeed, a Nielsen study reports that American screen viewing is at an all-time high. For example, the average American watches approximately 151 hours of television per month. That does not include the larger demographic of screen-watchers who watch their entertainment via their laptops, personal computers, cell phones, tablets and so on.

Historically, television has been used by those in authority to quiet citizen unrest and pacify disruptive people. In fact, television-viewing has also been a proven tactic for ensuring compliance in prisons. “Faced with severe overcrowding and limited budgets for rehabilitation and counseling, more and more prison officials are using TV to keep inmates quiet,” according to Newsweek. Joe Corpier, a convicted murderer, when interviewed said, “If there’s a good movie, it’s usually pretty quiet through the whole institution.”

In other words, television and other screen viewing not only helps to subdue people but, as Levine concludes, it alsozombifies and pacifies us and subverts democracy.

Television viewing, no matter what we’re collectively watching—whether it’s American Idol, the presidential debates or the Super Bowl—is a group activity that immobilizes us and mesmerizes us with collective programming. In fact, research also shows that regardless of the programming, viewers’ brain waves slow down, thus transforming them into a more passive, nonresistant state.

As such, television watching today results in passive group compliance in much the same way that marching was used by past regimes to create group indoctrination. Political advisor Bertram Gross documents how Adolf Hitler employed marching as a technique to mobilize people in groups by immobilizing them. Hitler and his regime leaders discovered that when people gather in groups and do the same thing—such as marching or cheering at an entertainment or sporting event—they became passive, non-thinking non-individuals.

By replacing “marching” with electronic screen devices, we have the equivalent of Hitler’s method of population control. Gross writes:

As a technique of immobilizing people, marching requires organization and, apart from the outlay costs involved, organized groups are a potential danger. They might march to a different drum or in the wrong direction….TV is more effective. It captures many more people than would ever fill the streets by marching—and without interfering with automobile traffic.

Equally disturbing is a university study which indicates that we become less aware of our individual selves and moral identity in a group. The study’s findings strongly suggest that when we act in groups, we tend to consider our moral behavior less while moving in lockstep with the group. Thus, what the group believes or does, be it violence or inhumanity, does not seem to lessen the need to be a part of a group, whether it be a mob or political gathering.

So what does this have to do with the Super Bowl and the upcoming presidential election?

If fear-based TV programming—or programming that encourages rivalries and factions—makes people more afraid and distrustful of one another, then our current television lineup is exactly what is needed by an authoritarian society that depends on a “divide and conquer” strategy.

Moreover, according to Levine, authoritarian-based programming is more technically interesting to viewers than democracy-based programming. War and violence, for example, may be rather unpleasant in real life. However, peace and cooperation make for “boring television.”

What this means is that Super Bowl matches and presidential contests are merely more palatable, less bloody, manifestations of war suitable for television viewing audiences.

This also explains why television has become the medium of choice for charismatic politicians with a strong screen presence. They are essentially television performers—actors, if you will. Indeed, any successful candidate for political office—especially the President—must come off well on TV. Television has the lure of involvement. A politically adept president can actually make you believe you are involved in the office of the presidency.

The effective president, then, is essentially a television performer. As the renowned media analyst Marshall McLuhan recognized concerning television: “Potentially, it can transform the presidency into a monarchist dynasty.”

If what we see and what we are told through the entertainment industrial complex—which includes so-called “news” shows—is what those in power deem to be in their best interests, then endless screen viewing is not a great thing for a citizenry who believe they possess choice and freedom. Mind you, the majority of what Americans watch on television is provided through channels controlled by a corporate elite of six megacorporations with the ability to foster a particular viewpoint or pacify its viewers on a large scale.

Unfortunately for us, the direction of the future, then, may be towards a Brave New World scenario where the populace is constantly distracted by entertainment, hooked on prescription drugs and controlled by a technological elite.

Freedom, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, is an action word. It means turning off your screen devices—or at least greatly reducing your viewing time—and getting active to take to stave off the emerging authoritarian government.

Battlefield_Cover_300Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, and the countless science fiction writers and commentators have warned that we are in a race between getting actively involved in the world around us or facing disaster.

If we’re watching, we’re not doing.

As television journalist Edward R. Murrow warned in a 1958 speech:

We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.

March on Albany

March on Albany, NYPL Digital Collection, Image ID 1602566

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”― George Orwell

Free speech is not for the faint of heart.

Nor is it for those who are easily offended, readily intimidated or who need everything wrapped in a neat and tidy bow. Free speech is often messy, foul-mouthed, obscene, intolerant, undignified, insensitive, cantankerous, bawdy and volatile.

While free speech can also be tender, tolerant, soft-spoken, sensitive and sweet, it is free speech’s hot-blooded alter ego—the wretched, brutal, beastly Mr. Hyde to its restrained, dignified and civil Dr. Jekyll—that tests the limits of our so-called egalitarian commitment to its broad-minded principles.

Unfortunately, our appreciation for a robust freedom of speech has worn thin over the years.

Many Americans have become fearfully polite, careful to avoid offense, and largely unwilling to be labeled intolerant, hateful, closed-minded or any of the other toxic labels that carry a badge of shame today. We’ve come to prize civility over freedom. Most of all, too many Americans, held hostage by their screen devices and the talking heads on television, have lost the ability to think critically.

Societies that cherish free speech relish open debates and controversy and, in turn, produce a robust citizenry who will stand against authoritarian government. Indeed, oppressive regimes of the past have understood the value of closed-mouthed, closed-minded citizens and the power inherent in controlling speech and, thus, controlling how a people view their society and government.

We in the United States have a government with a ravenous appetite for power and a seeming desire to turn the two-way dialogue that is our constitutional republic into a one-way dictatorship. Emboldened by phrases such as “hate crimes,” “bullying,” “extremism” and “microaggressions,” the government is whittling away at free speech, confining it to carefully constructed “free speech zones,” criminalizing it when it skates too close to challenging the status quo, shaming it when it butts up against politically correct ideals, and muzzling it when it appears dangerous.

Free speech is no longer free.

Nor is free speech still considered an inalienable right or an essential liberty, even by those government entities entrusted with protecting it.

We’ve entered into an egotistical, insulated, narcissistic era in which free speech has become regulated speech: to be celebrated when it reflects the values of the majority and tolerated otherwise, unless it moves so far beyond our political, religious and socio-economic comfort zones as to be rendered dangerous and unacceptable.

Consider some of the kinds of speech being targeted for censorship or outright elimination.

Offensive, politically incorrect and “unsafe” speech: Disguised as tolerance, civility and love, political correctness has resulted in the chilling of free speech and the demonizing of viewpoints that run counter to the cultural elite. Consequently, college campuses have become hotbeds of student-led censorship, trigger warnings, microaggressions, and “red light” speech policies targeting anything that might cause someone to feel uncomfortable, unsafe or offended.

Bullying, intimidating speech: Warning that “school bullies become tomorrow’s hate crimes defendants,” the Justice Department has led the way in urging schools to curtail bullying, going so far as to classify “teasing” as a form of “bullying,” and “rude” or “hurtful” “text messages” as “cyberbullying.”

Hateful speech: Hate speech—speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as gender, ethnic origin, religion, race, disability, or sexual orientation—is the primary candidate for online censorship. Corporate internet giants Google, Twitter and Facebook are in the process of determining what kinds of speech will be permitted online and what will be deleted.

Dangerous, anti-government speech: As part of its newly unveiled war on “extremism,” the Obama administration is partnering with the tech industry to establish a task force to counter online “propaganda” by terrorists hoping to recruit support or plan attacks. In this way, anyone who criticizes the government online is considered an extremist and will have their content reported to government agencies for further investigation or deleted.

The upshot of all of this editing, parsing, banning and silencing is the emergence of a new language, what George Orwell referred to as Newspeak, which places the power to control language in the hands of the totalitarian state. Under such a system, language becomes a weapon to change the way people think by changing the words they use. The end result is control.

In totalitarian regimes—a.k.a. police states—where conformity and compliance are enforced at the end of a loaded gun, the government dictates what words can and cannot be used. In countries where the police state hides behind a benevolent mask and disguises itself as tolerance, the citizens censor themselves, policing their words and thoughts to conform to the dictates of the mass mind lest they find themselves ostracized or placed under surveillance.

Even when the motives behind this rigidly calibrated reorientation of societal language appear well-intentioned—discouraging racism, condemning violence, denouncing discrimination and hatred—inevitably, the end result is the same: intolerance, indoctrination and infantilism.

Thus, while on paper, we are technically still free to speak, in reality, we are only as free to speak as a government official or corporate censor may allow.

Battlefield_Cover_300The U.S. Supreme Court has long been the referee in the tug-of-war over the nation’s tolerance for free speech and other expressive activities protected by the First Amendment. Yet as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the Supreme Court’s role as arbiter of justice in these disputes is undergoing a sea change. Except in cases where it has no vested interest, the Court has begun to advocate for the government’s outsized interests, ruling in favor of the government in matters of war, national security, commerce and speech. When asked to choose between the rule of law and government supremacy, this Court tends to side with the government.

In the 225 years since the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted, the rights detailed in that amendment—which assures the American people of the right to speak freely, worship freely, peaceably assemble, petition the government for a redress of grievances, and have a free press—have certainly taken a beating, but none more so than the right to free speech.

Nowhere in the First Amendment does it permit the government to limit speech in order to avoid causing offense, hurting someone’s feelings, safeguarding government secrets, protecting government officials, insulating judges from undue influence, discouraging bullying, penalizing hateful ideas and actions, eliminating terrorism, combatting prejudice and intolerance, and the like.

Unfortunately, in the war being waged between free speech purists who believe that free speech is an inalienable right and those who believe that free speech should be regulated, the censors are winning. Free speech zones, bubble zones, trespass zones, anti-bullying legislation, zero tolerance policies, hate crime laws and a host of other legalistic maladies dreamed up by politicians and prosecutors have conspired to corrode our core freedoms.

If we no longer have the right to tell a Census Worker to get off our property, if we no longer have the right to tell a police officer to get a search warrant before they dare to walk through our door, if we no longer have the right to stand in front of the Supreme Court wearing a protest sign or approach an elected representative to share our views, if we no longer have the right to voice our opinions in public—no matter how misogynistic, hateful, prejudiced, intolerant, misguided or politically incorrect they might be—then we do not have free speech.

What we have instead is regulated, controlled speech, and that’s a whole other ballgame.

Just as surveillance has been shown to “stifle and smother dissent, keeping a populace cowed by fear,” government censorship gives rise to self-censorship, breeds compliance, makes independent thought all but impossible, and ultimately foments a seething discontent that has no outlet but violence.

The First Amendment is a steam valve. It allows people to speak their minds, air their grievances and contribute to a larger dialogue that hopefully results in a more just world. When there is no steam valve—when there is no one to hear what the people have to say—frustration builds, anger grows and people become more volatile and desperate to force a conversation.

The problem as I see it is that we’ve lost faith in the average citizen to do the right thing. We’ve allowed ourselves to be persuaded that we need someone else to think and speak for us. The result is a society in which we’ve stopped debating among ourselves, stopped thinking for ourselves, and stopped believing that we can fix our own problems and resolve our own differences.

In short, we have reduced ourselves to a largely silent, passive populace, content to watch and not do. In this way, we have become our worst enemy. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once warned, a silent, inert citizenry is the greatest menace to freedom.

Brandeis provided a well-reasoned argument against government censorship in his concurring opinion in Whitney v. California (1927). It’s not a lengthy read, but here it is boiled down to ten basic truths:

1. The purpose of government is to make men free to develop their faculties, i.e., THINK. 2. The freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are essential to the discovery and spread of political truth. 3. Without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile. 4. The greatest menace to freedom is a silent people. 5. Public discussion is a political duty, and should be a fundamental principle of the American government. 6. Order cannot be secured through censorship. 7. Fear breeds repression; repression breeds hate; and hate menaces stable government. 8. The power of reason as applied through public discussion is always superior to silence coerced by law. 9. Free speech and assembly were guaranteed in order to guard against the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities. 10. To justify suppression of free speech, there must be reasonable ground (a clear and present danger) to believe that the danger apprehended is imminent, and that the evil to be prevented is a serious one.

Perhaps the most important point that Brandeis made is that freedom requires courage. “Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards,” he wrote. “They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty.” Rather, they were “courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government.”

In other words, the founders did not fear the power of speech. Rather, they embraced it, knowing all too well that a nation without a hearty tolerance for free speech, no matter how provocative, insensitive or dangerous, will be easy prey for a police state where only government speech is allowed.

What the police state wants is a nation of sheep that will docilely march in lockstep with its dictates. What early Americans envisioned was a nation of individualists who knew exactly when to tell the government to go to hell.

“If the freedom of speech be taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”—George Washington

The architects of the American police state must think we’re idiots.

With every passing day, we’re being moved further down the road towards a totalitarian society characterized by government censorship, violence, corruption, hypocrisy and intolerance, all packaged for our supposed benefit in the Orwellian doublespeak of national security, tolerance and so-called “government speech.”

Long gone are the days when advocates of free speech could prevail in a case such as Tinker v. Des Moines. Indeed, it’s been 50 years since 13-year-old Mary Beth Tinker was suspended for wearing a black armband to school in protest of the Vietnam War. In taking up her case, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

Were Tinker to make its way through the courts today, it would have to overcome the many hurdles being placed in the path of those attempting to voice sentiments that may be construed as unpopular, offensive, conspiratorial, violent, threatening or anti-government.

Consider, if you will, that the U.S. Supreme Court, historically a champion of the First Amendment, has declared that citizens can exercise their right to free speech everywhere it’s lawful—online, in social media, on a public sidewalk, etc.—as long as they don’t do so in front of the Court itself.

What is the rationale for upholding this ban on expressive activity on the Supreme Court plaza?

“Allowing demonstrations directed at the Court, on the Court’s own front terrace, would tend to yield the…impression…of a Court engaged with — and potentially vulnerable to — outside entreaties by the public.”

Translation: The appellate court that issued that particular ruling in Hodge v. Talkin actually wants us to believe that the Court is so impressionable that the justices could be swayed by the sight of a single man, civil rights activist Harold Hodge, standing alone and silent in the snow in a 20,000 square-foot space in front of the Supreme Court building wearing a small sign protesting the toll the police state is taking on the lives of black and Hispanic Americans. [You can watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xy1HQm67b2c]

My friends, we’re being played for fools.

The Supreme Court is not going to be swayed by you or me or Harold Hodge.

For that matter, the justices—all of whom hale from one of two Ivy League schools (Harvard or Yale) and most of whom are now millionaires and enjoy such rarefied privileges as lifetime employment, security details, ample vacations and travel perks—are anything but impartial.

If they are partial, it is to those with whom they are on intimate terms: with Corporate America and the governmental elite who answer to them, and they show their favor by investing in their businesses, socializing at their events, and generally marching in lockstep with their values and desires in and out of the courtroom.

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 9.56.09 AMTo suggest that Harold Hodge, standing in front of the Supreme Court building on a day when the Court was not in session hearing arguments or issuing rulings, is a threat to the Court’s neutrality, while their dalliances with Corporate America is not, is utter hypocrisy.

Making matters worse, the Supreme Court has the effrontery to suggest that the government can discriminate freely against First Amendment activity that takes place within a government forum. Justifying such discrimination as “government speech,” the Court ruled that the Texas Dept. of Motor Vehicles could refuse to issue specialty license plate designs featuring a Confederate battle flag because it was offensive.

If it were just the courts suppressing free speech, that would be one thing to worry about, but First Amendment activities are being pummeled, punched, kicked, choked, chained and generally gagged all across the country.

The reasons for such censorship vary widely from political correctness, safety concerns and bullying to national security and hate crimes but the end result remains the same: the complete eradication of what Benjamin Franklin referred to as the “principal pillar of a free government.”

Officials at the University of Tennessee, for instance, recently introduced an Orwellian policy that would prohibit students from using gender specific pronouns and be more inclusive by using gender “neutral” pronouns such as ze, hir, zir, xe, xem and xyr, rather than he, she, him or her.

On many college campuses, declaring that “America is the land of opportunity” or asking someone “Where were you born?” are now considered microaggressions, “small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless.”  Trigger warnings are also being used to alert students to any material or ideas they might read, see or hear that might upset them.

More than 50 percent of the nation’s colleges, including Boston University, Harvard University, Columbia University and Georgetown University, subscribe to “red light” speech policies that restrict or ban so-called offensive speech, or limit speakers to designated areas on campus. The campus climate has become so hypersensitive that comedians such as Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld refuse to perform stand-up routines to college crowds anymore.

What we are witnessing is an environment in which political correctness has given rise to “vindictive protectiveness,” a term coined by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and educational First Amendment activist Greg Lukianoff. It refers to a society in which “everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression or worse.”

This is particularly evident in the public schools where students are insulated from anything—words, ideas and images—that might create unease or offense. For instance, the thought police at schools in Charleston, South Carolina, have instituted a ban on displaying the Confederate flag on clothing, jewelry and even cars on campus.

Added to this is a growing list of programs, policies, laws and cultural taboos that defy the First Amendment’s safeguards for expressive speech and activity. Yet as First Amendment scholar Robert Richards points out, “The categories of speech that fall outside of [the First Amendment’s] protection are obscenity, child pornography, defamation, incitement to violence and true threats of violence. Even in those categories, there are tests that have to be met in order for the speech to be illegal. Beyond that, we are free to speak.”

Technically, Richards is correct. On paper, we are free to speak.

In reality, however, we are only as free to speak as a government official may allow.

Free speech zones, bubble zones, trespass zones, anti-bullying legislation, zero tolerance policies, hate crime laws and a host of other legalistic maladies dreamed up by politicians and prosecutors have conspired to corrode our core freedoms.

Battlefield_Cover_300As a result, we are no longer a nation of constitutional purists for whom the Bill of Rights serves as the ultimate authority. As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we have litigated and legislated our way into a new governmental framework where the dictates of petty bureaucrats carry greater weight than the inalienable rights of the citizenry.

It may seem trivial to be debating the merits of free speech at a time when unarmed citizens are being shot, stripped, searched, choked, beaten and tasered by police for little more than daring to frown, smile, question, challenge an order, or just breathe.

However, while the First Amendment provides no tangible protection against a gun wielded by a government agent, nor will it save you from being wrongly arrested or illegally searched, or having your property seized in order to fatten the wallets of government agencies, without the First Amendment, we are utterly helpless.

It’s not just about the right to speak freely, or pray freely, or assemble freely, or petition the government for a redress of grievances, or have a free press. The unspoken freedom enshrined in the First Amendment is the right to think freely and openly debate issues without being muzzled or treated like a criminal.

Just as surveillance has been shown to “stifle and smother dissent, keeping a populace cowed by fear,” government censorship gives rise to self-censorship, breeds compliance and makes independent thought all but impossible.

In the end, censorship and political correctness not only produce people that cannot speak for themselves but also people who cannot think for themselves. And a citizenry that can’t think for itself is a citizenry that will neither rebel against the government’s dictates nor revolt against the government’s tyranny.

The end result: a nation of sheep who willingly line up for the slaughterhouse.

The cluttered cultural American landscape today is one in which people are so distracted by the military-surveillance-entertainment complex that critical thinkers are in the minority and frank, unfiltered, uncensored speech is considered uncivil, uncouth and unacceptable.

That’s the point, of course.

The architects, engineers and lever-pullers who run the American police state want us to remain deaf, dumb and silent. They want our children raised on a vapid diet of utter nonsense, where common sense is in short supply and the only viewpoint that matters is the government’s.

We are becoming a nation of idiots, encouraged to spout political drivel and little else.

In so doing, we have adopted the lexicon of Newspeak, the official language of George Orwell’s fictional Oceania, which was “designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought.” As Orwell explained in 1984, “The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc [the state ideology of Oceania], but to make all other modes of thought impossible.”

If Orwell envisioned the future as a boot stamping on a human face, a fair representation of our present day might well be a muzzle on that same human face.

If we’re to have any hope for the future, it will rest with those ill-mannered, bad-tempered, uncivil, discourteous few who are disenchanted enough with the status quo to tell the government to go to hell using every nonviolent means available.

However, as Orwell warned, you cannot become conscious until you rebel.