Carol Platt Liebau: The Price of Censorship

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Price of Censorship

Peggy Noonan gets it perfectly right:

Our country now puts less of an emphasis on public decorum, courtliness, self-discipline, decency. America no longer says, "That's not nice." It doesn't want to make value judgments on "good" and "bad." We have come to rely on censorship to maintain decorum. We are very good at letting people know that if they say something we don't like, we'll shame them and shun them, even ruin them.

But censorship doesn't make people improve themselves; it makes people want to rebel. It tells them to toe the line or pay a price. People who are urged in the right direction and taught in the right direction will usually try to discipline and improve themselves from within. But they do not enjoy censorship from without. They fight back. They are rude in order to show they are unbroken.

In a sense, the entire matter is reminscent of what's happened in the relationship between the sexes. Now, we are told, we need an extensive network of laws regulating sexual harassment and the like -- and why? Because a generation of men were allowed to believe that simple politeness, chivalry, and regard for women were passe, the marks of a phallocentric, hegemonic, male-dominated society. When inner controls (the mechanisms of self-control) are eroded, external controls end up replacing them.

And rarely for the better.


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