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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Intellectual freedom in Canada and elsewhere ...

As Americans cope with the recent assassination attempt (?) on an Arizona Congresswoman, there are predictable demands for “control”: Jonah Goldberg notes,
Misplaced panics like this have a momentum and logic all their own. Already, Rep. Bob Brady (D-Pa.) has drafted legislation to ban the use of symbols (crosshairs on a map, for instance) or language ("lock and load!") that could foster violence. "The rhetoric is just ramped up so negatively, so high, that we have got to shut this down," he told CNN.

That opens the bidding. The question is, where will it end?

If the alleged shooter had been inspired by a movie or TV show -- as any number of murderers have been over the years -- would those blaming the tea parties join with social conservatives in blaming Hollywood? Would they celebrate new laws to "shut down" such fare?

Mark David Chapman, who murdered John Lennon, claimed to be in part inspired by "Catcher in the Rye." Should that be banned? Or if not banned, should we "dismiss" from public life anyone who doesn't denounce J.D. Salinger?
Funnily enough, I remember when J. D. Salinger was denounced by little old ladies in church hats who did not want his works available in school libraries. That seems like a golden age now, because we were free to just ignore them. No so with those who would bring about a near-utopia through legislation, who have a panicked public demanding that the government “do” something.

As I observed earlier, assassinations have declined markedly in the past three decades in the United States, due in no small part - in my view - to the rise of new media, including personal social media like the now much-blamed Facebook. People who can just say it, overwhelmingly, tend to just forget it after a while.

Yes, better security played an important role.* But, in reality, a free world politician can’t just hide from the public. Elected representatives have logged how many minimal security public appearances across the United States, with how many assassination attempts? Let’s do the math: Very few

Probability thinking has its uses, and freakout avoidance is one. That is, if avoiding a freakout, rather than cultivating it, is what we want to do.

Here’s Jonah Goldberg on the smiley-face fascism of “let’s-just-ban-whatever” that poses a significant concern today.

*As a young teenager, I saw the Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald shot by local “hanger about the police station” Jack Ruby in Dallas while he was in custody. (It was accidentally captured on TV.) The consensus then - since acted on - is that security matters. But other things matter too.

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