The Gravity of Black and White
If you followed the situation with Amazon.com last week, you saw the power of social media and the Internet in action. Amazon decided it was okay to release and sell a book that was a self-proclaimed guide for pedophiles. Needless to say, the resulting uproar changed their minds and it didn't take long. But the damage is already done. Numerous organizations are organizing boycott Amazon campaigns and based on the comments on the website - I'd say these folks are serious. But that's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about all the comments that related this book to Free Speech. I was appalled at the number of comments in support of Amazon – all pointing to the First Amendment in all its glory. In their black-and-white approach to applying the First Amendment – somehow think these commenters lost the point of the Constitution. The First Amendment protects free speech. According to Wikipedia, "Criticism of the government and advocacy of unpopular ideas that people may find distasteful or against public policy, such as racism, sexism, and other hate speech are generally permitted." Wikipedia goes on to note: "There are exceptions to these general protection, including the Miller test for obscenity, child pornography laws, speech that incites imminent danger, and regulation of commercial speech such as advertising. Within these limited areas, other limitations on free speech balance rights to free speech and other rights, such as rights for authors and inventors over their works and discoveries (copyright and patent), interests in "fair" political campaigns (Campaign finance laws), protection from imminent or potential violence against particular persons (restrictions on fighting words), or the use of untruths to harm others (slander). Distinctions are often made between speech and other acts which may have symbolic significance. My points? • The First Amendment is not a blanket rule that allows anyone to say or do anything they feel. There are exceptions – as there are with any rule. The First Amendment does not protect obscene, potentially harmful or inflammatory speech. It certainly does not protect a book that is noted to be for the purpose of helping pedophiles "lighten their sentence," any more than it protects me from teaching someone how to kill you. That's not free speech! • Do we think that our founding fathers intended for the First Amendment to protect a pedophile? Do we think our founding fathers ever imagined a world where a perpetrator of such heinous crimes against children could publish and promote a book on the Internet? I don't think so! • Has anyone thought about the responsibility that comes with freedom, of speech or otherwise? With our freedoms come responsibilities to consciously apply those freedoms in appropriate and positive manners. Amazon failed in its responsibility – rather their lawyers made a really poor choice. That's the danger with black and white thinking. When we apply rules and regulations (or status quos and knowns) in their black and white forms – we miss the nuances of the situation, and we avoid our responsibilities as human beings. It's easy to step up and say "Free speech at all costs. Just look at that censorship!" I call that hiding behind the rules. We all do it – but it's not always the best result. Unfortunately the world isn't that cut and dried. It's certainly not as simple as it was for our founding fathers. But just because it's complicated doesn't mean we are allowed to ditch our responsibility, stand behind the rules, stop thinking and act like sheep going to the slaughter. I'm a big proponent of freedom of speech. I'm also a proponent of common sense – including a sense that knows what is good for humanity; what is right and what is just. When you apply common sense and responsibility to freedom of speech – there is no way that book should be published. It's dangerous to our children, it violates child pornography laws, and it does not qualify as free speech. Sometimes you have to stop hiding behind the rules, taking the easy way out – and step up. Sometimes you have to just take a stand for what's right - regardless of the black-and-white. I'm glad Amazon finally did.