A brilliant ol' Brit who calls himself Banksy took his paints and went down to the 450-mile long, 38 feet high "sectional anti-insurgency installation" (Oldspeak: wall) the Israelis put up around the Palestinians. On the wall, he painted the grafitti in the graphic at right, along with a good many other examples. He was able to pull it off because he's white and not Palestinian, but even so it took a fair bit of bravery and a lot of skill to graphically exercise his disagreement with Israel, to metaphorically breach the walls of the neo-Fort Apache protecting the West's migrant homesteaders out there in Injun Territory.
For many people, freedom of speech is far less important than economic prosperity or physical security. As they say behind the DC-Beltway- equivalent in every country, "You go along to get along." In other words, shut up, don't point out what's wrong, say what they want to hear and you'll get promoted. You'll be an insider. That's often true, but it's odd how often the countries with the least freedom of speech are those where, if you don't "go along," you're most likely to be picked up and jailed, tortured, or killed. I remind myself of that pronounced tendency every time I see the First Amendment compressed further, like a balloon does when it's being dragged further down into ocean depths. Like my lungs do. Speech is freedom. Being able to speak freely and honestly to your friends without fear is the breath of life itself.
It's the worst of times for free speech, as commenter Still Life Living points out:
The main print and TV media outlets have, after all, exhibited a strong editorial bias toward the current party in power. The press has sat on or issued false stories about WMDs, wiretapping, and torture. Only one writer at the Boston Globe is still pursuing stories on Bush's unconstitutional Signing Statements. Overall, the press (or the editors) have exhibited a collective proclivity to "helping or not embarrassing the White House." And when the embarassing stories have come out, the writers' patriotism has been ridiculed!!!Half the people are looking to an authoritarian government to solve what they perceive as their biggest fears, and that authoritarian government cloaks its gargantuan, leering will to power in starry-eyed idealism. The US Constitution is hanging by a thread. And why not? It's just a goddamned piece of paper. Pieces of paper have to be re-validated, fought over every now and again to have any meaning, and we'd rather let our country devolve from a merely frustrated Empire into a brutal one rather than risk condemnation, because we aren't real victims yet. All of us only have to give up just a little, year by year. Yes, and one of the biggest mass murderers in the past century was a draft-dodging beatnik who found refuge in drawing and who hung out with artists and libertines. Another went to Jesuit seminary, had a beautiful voice, sang in the choir, and his mother was sure he would become a priest. Our leader tortured frogs, was a mean drunk, got girls in trouble, and always had his parents get him out of it. Go along to get along, like the free press did.
We no longer have a free press. We have a corporate press that is supported by corporate ad revenue. This is not good for democracy and yes it should be investigated. But of course, that is just my personal Jeffersonian fantasy that the American Myth has a basis in reality.
When it comes to speech, the world is under a twisting vortex at a crossroads of uprooted street signs. It is the best of times, of a radically new kind of expression summed up by a company I'm proud to know: Liberated Syndication. Moral technologists like Tim Berners-Lee, Linus Torvalds, and Dave Winer have taken the fight for free speech into the very heart of authoritarianism. They're not only lauded for it by people everywhere, they've made a buck or two doing so. An army has gathered at their backs building ramparts and engines the sort Gutenberg never dreamed of. The Bazaar has spilled into the Cathedral, and the sclerotic old molesting clergy is desperately calling out the King's guards. The opportunity for commoners to cause a ruckus is unprecedented, and the technology available to surveill upon them is infinite. But how many guards has the King? And are the guards allowed to voice an opinion, too? Now they are, and now they can.
Maybe the coming fight won't be on the cobblestones in front of a real cathedral. Maybe it will be virtual, fought by new privately owned presses. Netwar, indeed. Maybe the re-birth of democracy will come by the lights in the Long Tail of its people, people who simply claim their right to call what they're being fed "Bullshit!" and who find their own voices. When they find their own voices, they'll find each other. When they find each other, they'll find incredible strength, whether it's across borders or across the street. They are their content, and unlike the no-longer-free press, one day they and their audiences will choose their ads together, and make their press together. Blogs and podcasts and YouTube, there are a billion cats out of the bag already and every one is an Andrew Warhola. Every citizen will be a journalist, every citizen a star, an artist, an insurgent, a fact-checker. We're coming into the era of transparency, and Orwell's era of opacity is being shuffled painfully off. One day the corporate press and corporate advertisers will respectfully bend their knees to the micro-masses, or they will be gone. Get ready for the Age of Liberated Syndication.