24 June 2010

good times, thanks Supremes

So speech is political. But political speech is not secret. There's some elements to this that might be concerning to some Americans who think their views should be private. In that regard, I'd say their views should be private.

What concerns me is that somehow people would believe that political activism be private and non-transparent, non-verifiable, etc. So long as political activism, even of deeply minority views that may be widely considered abhorrent (as some of mine no doubt are to many people), is peaceful and Constitutionally and legally protected against reprisal and detention, individuals should have no need to fear the government being aware of it. The general public may be another story, but here again, the government may protect the minority against aggressive private reprisals (but perhaps not any economic disadvantages of publicly stating views of an unpleasant nature). Certainly if people begin to harass and protest against the affirmative views of an otherwise private person, that might be deeply upsetting, particularly given that most of us may hold some deeply private views that we may find, sometimes to our surprise, upset others. And certainly there is much lacking in the quality and context of debates in the world and political environment (though whether this is a modern development or not is an open question). But I find it hard to see how we could form a debate where the parties are not disclosed to one another and find it much more likely that people would participate in an informed and passionate manner where their views are combated in a healthy fashion. Or they may refrain from such participation and maintain their views as privately held. Given voice only through the modest activism of the ballot rather than the demonstrator.

However, in this case, where it is the laws themselves being debated, it is not merely their views being combated. It is the laws and the conduct required of others in upholding those laws. We should have every right to challenge each others' views over the laws before they are put in place because following such laws is incumbent on all of us under their jurisdiction. Laws which are harmful, hard to overturn, and often counterproductive should be combated even after they are put in place and, indeed, laws which we merely have a personal disagreement with may be combated in like manner through demonstration and further political actions (such as peaceful assembly to demand a redress of such grievances).

It is indeed disturbing that such disagreements cannot be disagreed agreeably and without undue harassment, and on that front we have legal channels that may be made available. Certainly people should not be free to protest (and potentially cause damage) on private property for example. And while engagement with individuals is, at times, an effective means of challenging perspectives, it does those of us who would seek to challenge those minds no credit to do so rudely and without invitation.

A person willing to sign a petition for referendum has, in effect, offered a public invitation by commanding a vote over the extended rights and privileges of themselves and others. That should be understood when signing it for a variety of reasons. It should be understood for example that such votes should not be a casual affair and that the highest and best arguments should be marshaled in its support if it is indeed worthy of our collected legal action. This will not happen in an environment of non-engagement. Likewise it must be understood what those arguments are such that they may be engaged by the best and highest arguments against it, and not a descent in madness and proclamations of bigotry or fascism or whatever the political insult de jour that may be ill-placed (or may be entirely accurate, but are often unpersuasive arguments against all the same to those who hold such views). To me, the greater chilling effect is that persons should seek to conceal their views and yet still command them into legal action and not that persons should be compelled to make public their views when they command them into legal force. We have a secret ballot still (or rather, now, it wasn't always so). And so our final judgments and assessments on issues may remain secret and private, counted and levied into laws all the same. But if we are so motivated as to want a law to exist, we should have to be open to the possibility that others will seek out our motivations.

As a libertarian, it comes up consistently that my views on the role of the state governing (or rather, not governing) subjects such as personal consumption of narcotics or the private contractual arrangements of marriages/civil unions (including those of adult homosexuals) and the accessibility of abortions underlie some suspicious or somehow nefarious personal motivations. It does not shock me any longer that this is so, even though it is still greatly aggravating to have to explain each time that my support of homosexual rights to marriage is not based upon some personal gain I might receive from a victory on the issue or that legalisation of marijuana (to say nothing of cocaine or heroin) is not because I want legally accessible dope for my own use. I can hold these views as things I would not do personally without requiring like minded actions as binding on others, others who might gain enjoyment and happiness from their pursuit. When I do require some like minded action of others, I feel I have to summon strong arguments (public goods, externalities, social cohesion from collective protections against crime or war, etc) rather than my private and personal apprehensions. Perhaps those personal apprehensions are more valid than I give them credit, but if they are all that is called upon to compel me to share in them by law, I am skeptical that someone has raised the best possible case in support of their desired (moral) arrangements.
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