You cannot travel far in this great country without hearing someone mention the Freedoms that Americans enjoy. In my eight years as a resident, husband, father and taxpayer, it is one of the most common refrains. References to European countries are often disdainful. I have heard criticisms of a population living under the baleful glare of closed circuit television (Britain), although that doesn't appear to extend much to New York, or any other city where you can barely move fifty yards without being recorded by cameras, cell phone towers even chips in your car.
Nope, that is a European disease, not an American one because here we are free.
My contention is that it is an illusion of freedom. That the 1st Amendment is the greatest illusion of all, and that it is broadly used to systematically strip away all the other rights that Americans think they have.
The 1st Amendment is a beautiful construction. It is visionary and it is right and proper that it takes its place at the top of the Bill of Rights. One might imagine that it is the pillar on which a great democracy could, and should be built:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.One sentence that sums up and codifys the essence of freedom in a free society. Yet there can be little doubt that this society is no more free than many others, indeed, in some respects one might reasonably argue that the very thing that was meant to ensure the freedoms, it the biggest single mechanism being used to undermine them.
Let's deal with the easy bit first. The only industry specifically granted freedom in the entire tapestry that is a modern economy, is the freedom of the Press. Clearly someone thought this important. No other enterprise existing at the time the constitution was ratified was so protected. No, it was the ability of the press to act as watchdogs, behave as a check on the possible burgeoning power of a new government. Their unique ability to hold the rich and powerful account that was recognised as one of the cornerstones of the preservation of freedom. That is why the press are enumerated here.
So how did the rich and powerful respond?
They bought the press. It really was that simple. They bought the press and the later established means of mass communication, and made it their own ... and no one stopped them.
The following chart shows the concentration of ownership that began in the seventies, and really took off following that. From 123btes.org:
From the same organisation is this one, which shows where it all went:
It really is beyond argument that if you control the messaging, you control the message. From the press barons of old, to the modern corporations, it has always been the case that media owners have a very powerful platform. Indeed, that is why they were protected in the first place.
While these organisations grow ever larger, more powerful and more "corporate" in their message, the one area that might challenge the single message is that of Public Broadcasting. The aforementioned downtrodden Brits have the BBC. While not entirely free of government, the BBC is a regular and persistent thorn in the side of the UK Government, and seen as a model of impartial broadcasting the world over. Not so NPR/PBS here in the US, yet they are a possible way forward. Don't misunderstand me, I am not suggesting that the BBC is some paragon of investigative virtue, but it is better than anything the US currently has in the field of impartial reportage.
The situation here is simply that virtually unfettered capitalism has allowed the capitalists to own the very organs that should be responsible for maintaining checks on the over-reach of both them, and government.
The ill-fated "Fairness Doctrine" was an attempt by the FCC to impose at least some journalists integrity on the broadcast media. It was the last bastion of those who felt that the airwaves, and the very loud megaphone they provided, should make some attempt to be "fair and balanced". When that disappeared in 1989, the gloves came off and we are left with right wing talk radio polluting the airwaves virtually unchallenged. It's not surprising that people vote against their own interests when those same people listen to Rush Limbaugh et al, and think they are listening to the news.
Once the oligarchs owned the propaganda, and it's ability to reach all of the population, then Supreme Court rulings that Corporations are people, my friend, and the equating of money with speech; were simply a matter of time.
The argument that the internet is a valuable resource that can be used to fight this growing domination is a good one. The internet gives a new voice to the opponents of concentrated power. The internet is able to disseminate information very widely, and at great speed. If you want to know how important the oligarchs consider this to be, one has to look no further than their attempts to stifle free speech online, and corral, and own the internet for their own purposes.
Net neutrality is not simply a laudable aim, it is a vital component of freedom in this country. If we lose that battle then every progressive goal will become much harder, if not impossible. If a handful of corporations is allowed to throttle the internet, then why would a single politician ever listen to the people, when the people cannot be heard.
From the EFF
From the Internet to the iPod, technologies are transforming our society and empowering us as speakers, citizens, creators, and consumers. When our freedoms in the networked world come under attack, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is the first line of defense. EFF broke new ground when it was founded in 1990—well before the Internet was on most people's radar—and continues to confront cutting-edge issues defending free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights today. From the beginning, EFF has championed the public interest in every critical battle affecting digital rights.This lack of an alternate voice has significantly affected the manner in which the 4th Amendment has been attacked. It has also impacted on the 5th, and currently the 14th is coming under fire. Without a robust 1st Amendment, all of these attacks carry more weight than they might were we able to truly inform the people of the implications.
If we were able to expose the Religious zealots, then living free from religion might become a real possibility. Were we able to do that, then religions could exist in a tolerant society. If we could gain a voice loud enough to stop the hate speech, the deliberate lies and obfuscations, we would be rid of the Westboro Baptists and the American Family Association. Those organisations are not a product of free speech, they are an example of what happens when free speech is hijacked and use to suppress reason.
In R.A.V. v. City of St Paul (1992), Justice Scalia writing the majority opinion said:
"A State may choose to prohibit only that obscenity which is the most patently offensive in its prurience — i.e., that which involves the most lascivious displays of sexual activity. But it may not prohibit, for example, only that obscenity which includes offensive political messages. And the Federal Government can criminalize only those threats of violence that are directed against the President, since the reasons why threats of violence are outside the First Amendment (protecting individuals from the fear of violence, from the disruption that fear engenders, and from the possibility that the threatened violence will occur) have special force when applied to the person of the President"I know I am only a Blogger, and not a Justice of the Supreme Court. I also know that other Bloggers and commenters will not necessarily agree, but Justice Scalia was wrong. Not just a little bit wrong. Not just wrong in his angle. He was fundamentally wrong. Wrong on a level that harms society. Wrong in a way that informs us that he might understand the law, but he has absolutely no understanding of society.
What this ruling, and other like it do, is drive a stake into the very heart of the constitution. You know, that bit that assert that "all men a re born equal" and "a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"
They are not enumerated rights. They do not form the Bill of Rights, they are more fundamental than either. Those words are there because they are the reason that the constitution was written .... to ensure all men are equal and that each has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
When hate speech is legally protected, it strikes right at the very epicenter of those aims. It condemns men, women and children to live in fear. If that is what the 1st Amendment has become, then it either needs to change, or it has long passed its "use-by" date.
One final point.
Along with, and at the same time as there is a concerted attempt to roll back various rights contained in the constitution, there is an equally vociferous campaign to extend and increase the scope of the 2nd Amendment.
Do not think for a single moment that this is forever. Once the oligarchs have firmly stripped away most rights, and cemented their hold on the levers of power, the only thing standing in the way of making this a permanent arrangement will be you and your guns, and the freedom of thought they confer on the citizens.
Do not think that they will not, at that point, come after your guns, because they will. Every last one of them and they will be able to do it not by the convoluted legislative process; they own the means of production and will simply shut off the supply.