No one hates what Sarah Palin stands for more than I do. But freedom-loving bloggers and activists need to take a step back and look in the mirror. You can’t defend freedom of expression without defending it for the views you hate most. That means defending the right of free expression for nutjobs too. You can’t have your freedom and deny it to others without falling into the most embarrassing of contradictions.
The idea that putting an image up on your web site will cause someone to shoot up a grocery store follows the very same line of argument that underlies all justification for censorship. It assumes that there are things people want to say about society that they shouldn’t be able to express, either through words, bad Photoshopping or awkward facial expressions. So Sarah Palin likes guns and thinks that visually depicting a massacre on a map is classy. This is something I want to know about her. I don’t want the public to find out about her intellectual deficiencies the hard way, in practice; I want to see them in full view. This gives way to the most powerful argument against censorship there is: Silencing the opinions of a nutjob forces her to blend in, thus masking her intentions and character. These are things better known than hidden. You can’t refute an argument you haven’t heard and you can’t fight an enemy you don’t know is there.
Transparency allies are rightly fond of the view that knowledge and information must roam freely. Yet you can’t really grasp what that means unless you acknowledge the link between open access to information and freedom to voice your opinions. That means also having the freedom to voice your stupidity, if you’re so inclined.
I venture to affirm that no one has ever shot up a grocery store on the sole basis of having looked at an image or listened to Marilyn Manson. Of course you might think the public is incompetent to make up its own mind about what they should be taking in. This may be partly true. The problem with acting on that truth is that when you take away a person’s right to decide what she can and cannot read, hear or see, you are by the same token handing that power over to someone else. Who’s it going to be? Your government? Law enforcement? The army?
Sarah Palin’s web site is in poor taste, as is much of her demeanor and attire. No one wishes more than I do that she would go away, or at least stop talking. But if you want her to disappear, ignore her. If you want to change her, buy her a book so she can learn to use proper terminology. Don’t flatter her with a fallacious argument for censorship that depicts her as having the power to turn a sane human being into a killer. It just doesn’t work that way.
If you really understand the concept of freedom of expression, then you’re as glad as I am that Sarah Palin had the opportunity to put her twisted world view on display for everyone to see.