Lately I’ve come to the realization that a few of the people I know, and I get the feeling that a lot of society as a whole, are casual fascists.
That’s quite a bold statement, so let me clarify:
The bill of rights has really been a hot topic these past 10 years since 9/11, and especially so now given the Occupy Wall Street protests. What does free speech entail? Are there limits to it? Are there limits to freedom of assembly? If so, what are these limits, and how do we decide where they lie?
I guess I would call myself a First Amendment purist. I recognize that you can’t shout fire in a crowded theatre when there is none and claim free speech, but other than that, have at it. I also recognize that you can’t invade someone’s private property and claim freedom of assembly, but as long as you’re on public property, anything is fair game.
The issue that has raised the most conflict between me and the people I know is what the First Amendment rights were meant to protect. For me, the first amendment rights were created to protect the people you disagree with the most, the people who disgust you, those whom you might even hate. The rights are there to protect those people and what they might say. Popular speech does not need protecting from the majority that supports it. For me, and many of my liberal friends, the people we find to be disgusting and repulsive tend to be people like Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Bachmann, Glenn Beck, religious fundamentalists, anti-feminists, anti-choicers, and the Westboro Baptist Church.
For my conservative friends, they might be disgusted and repulsed by Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, Bernie Sanders, Julian Assange, etc.
I know people on both sides of the aisle that would have no problem curving, if even only slightly, the rights of those with whom they vehemently disagree. I, on the other hand, find this equally disgusting. For example, while I might despise the Westboro Baptist Church and anyone else who stands on the street corner shouting, “Fags go to hell!!”, I would never want to see their rights curbed.
A few people who I’ve talked to about the OWS movement mentioned that the freedom of assembly does not include disrupting traffic and the daily business activities of a city. Wrong: the freedom of assembly exists to protect exactly this kind of unpopular assembly. If the goal of the protest is to shatter your comfortable sense of normalcy in order to make you wake up and see an issue, then they have every right to be an inconvenience. We wouldn’t need freedom of assembly if everyone protested in designated little corners, far removed from the people they’re protesting.
I would like to make an important distinction here that often gets thrown up as a straw man. There is a saying that goes, “my rights end where your nose begins.” Meaning, my rights do not include physically harming you or your property. People have the right to assemble wherever they want on public property as long as they are not destroying things.
When I use the term “casual fascist” to describe someone, I don’t mean that they’re a Nazi storm trooper that wants to beat people they disagree with, or that they condone full scale censorship. No, what I mean by that is simply that, while they might be perfectly nice people, they are alright with the erosion, however gradual, of the rights of the people they disagree with.
“I believe in the first amendment, but….”