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October 16, 2010

Dear Tides Foundation

Rob @ 4:30 PM

By way of a few friends of mine as well as some news sources I follow, I was pointed toward this news story quoting Drummond Pike, CEO of progressive nonprofit The Tides Foundation. According to the article Byron Williams, a listener to Glenn Beck's program on Fox News, attempted to assault Pike and his colleagues at Tides last Summer. In subsequent jailhouse interviews, Williams cited Beck's show as the inspiration for his actions. Now Tides has published an open letter asking Fox's advertisers to pull out, citing the attempted assault and jailhouse interviews with Williams.

That makes me very angry.

Much as I loathe Glenn Beck and everything he stands for, I find the idea of censoring somebody because of what they might inspire some other lunatic to do far more offensive than anything Beck could possibly say. Killers and other violent criminals throughout modern history have blamed their actions on TV personalities, film stars, video games, rock and roll music, space aliens, and their neighbor's dog. Should the claims of distubed individuals result in the punishment of said scapegoats, or can we continue to hold individuals responsible for their own deeds?

It's all well and good to boycott those profiting from things which offend you, and if the Tides Foundation were just calling for a boycott of those advertisers for advertising on Fox News I wouldn't mind at all. Though I generally don't think much of the efficacy of such boycotts, I'd probably be all for it in principle; I'm certainly no fan of Fox News or Beck. However, Pike and Tides' particular citation of Williams' deeds as the reason for this is entirely ridiculous and offensive to me on every level. Williams was not working for Beck or for Fox, and nobody deserves punishment for Williams' deeds but Williams himself.

Take me, for instance. My blog has a decent amount of readers and lurkers. My creative work has a growing audience. I've spoken at large events, I play in some popular forums, and I'm part of a popular talk radio program on a progressively-minded station. I find myself with something of a loud voice, and it's not my place or desire to control who it reaches. If someone hears me call somebody else an idiot on the radio and then decides to go take a shot at them on what they imagine to be my behalf, am I responsible? If someone thinks they hear demonic voices coming from a painting I made which tell them to do something terrible, is that my fault? I've written, said, and created things which anyone could take as inspiration to go out and do any manner of things but ultimately, here in real life, we can only take responsibility for our own actions.

Freedom of speech is precious. The fight to ensure and protect freedom of speech is one of the most important elements of civilized life today. This is a fight which only matters at all if you are willing to protect speech you disagree with as strongly as you would your own. Pike claims in his open letter that "while we support progressive values and goals, we respect the rights and voices of those with whom we disagree on issues." The rest of the letter flatly contradicts this by attempting to use the crime of an unaffiliated third party as an excuse to block the rights and voice of someone with whom they disagree quite a bit, with complete disregard for the implications of using that as a tool. The instant it becomes acceptable to blame the actions of a disturbed individual on something they read, saw, or heard someone else say, any and all speech will be potentially hazardous. Freedom of speech will be a memory.

The antidote to bad speech is never censorship; instead it's better speech. I urge the Tides Foundation to reconsider whether its efforts to curtail Beck's speech based on the actions of a member of his audience are compatible with its stated goals, or with any kind of free society.

2 Responses to “Dear Tides Foundation”

  1. Johnny Monoxide says:

    I want to censor Mara's reply. Twinkies are misunderstood and should not be blamed at all.

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