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NYU Freedom of Speech as Mythology

NYU Freedom of Speech as Mythology

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Judith Gelernter Reisman, Ph.D. on Aug 20, 2012
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03/03/2013

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Reprinted
from
the
New
Y
rk
University
Review
of Law
and
Social
Change
Freedom of Speech
as
~ythology, r"Quill Pen and Parchment Thinking"
in
an Electronic Environment
Judith Bat-Ada (Reisman)
Volume VIII 1978-
1979
Number
2
 
FREEDOM OF SPEECH
AS
MYTHOLOGY, OR
"QUILL
PEN ANDPARCHMENT THINKING" IN ANELECTRONIC ENVIRONMENT
This article deals with the reality underlying a popular American myth-the myth that freedom of speech and of the press exist in this country.
I
con-tend that they do not exist, but are cleverly scripted into contemporary folkmythology; freedom of speech is a media illusion. Extensive research into cen-sorship and mass media controls, into the "language" of sexual pornography,and into the impact of that language upon women, children, and men hasforced me to reach this unequivocal conclusion. The following discussion doesnot concern itself with an evaluation of the pornographic language; that evalua-tion must be postponed for another time. This discussion instead focuses uponthe manipulation of communication and persuasion in modern society; the con-trol of ideas and expression by the "Fourth Estate" in the service of the cor-porate oligarchy.
I
suggest that this control has become so powerful as to con-stitute censorship;
I
suggest that this control has become so powerful thatfreedom of speech and of the press have been consumed by it, and now onlyexist as
part
of our contemporary mythology. With regard to pornography,
I
maintain that distorted and injurious images of women and children are com-monly exploited to suit the private purposes of those corporate interestscontrolling the mass media.
I
assert, moreover, that a pornographic environ-ment by its very nature is undemocratic and antidemocratic and a threat to freespeech and to humane survival.Before we can begin to understand the freedom of speech mythology, wefirst must understand the meaning of the words "freedom of speech." Twenty-three centuries ago, Aristotle defined "speech" both as the spoken symbolsthat characterize mental experience and as print, which symbolizes speech.'
Web-ster's
New
World Dictionary
defines "freedom" as "the ability to act, use,etc., without hindrance; ease of movement; exemption from a specified obliga-
1.
ARISTOTLE,THE
WORKS
F
ARISTOTLE
6(a)
(W.
Ross
ed.
1928).
27
1
 
272
REVIEW
OF
LAW AND SOCIAL CHANGE
[Vol. Vll1:271
tion; a political libert~."~ristotle said that the function of speech is persua-sion and the function of persuasion is to promote the realization of a certaindecision, "for when we know a thing, and have reached a decision about it,there is no need of further argument."' In examining the meaning of the firstamendment right, we must conclude that "ease of movement without hin-drance," as a component of freedom of speech and of the press, implies anequality of persuasion opportunities, or an equal opportunity to communicateand be heard, for all citizens. Similarly, "exemption from a special obligation"implies a principle of equality, without which first amendment freedoms wouldbe limited to members of a certain ruling class or profession, or to those of theruling color or sex.Freedom of speech, therefore, may be defined as the equitable, unhinderedopportunity of each citizen to persuade others in a "free marketplace ofideas." The goal of such equality of opportunity is a well informed citizenrywhich makes decisions based upon "knowing" a thing, upon informed debateresulting in appropriate, fully considered citizen action. As John Dewey stated,"The foundation of democracy is faith in the capacities of human nature; faithin human intelligence and in the power of pooled and cooperative experi-en~e."~ooled and cooperative experience thus should be realized throughfree speech and free press. But does such "pooling" take place in today's so-phisticated electronic environment? Is speech really free? Or is certain speech"permitted" by a ruling commercial oligarchy which carefully limits the reachand effectiveness of its opposition?In hindsight, it is easy to recognize the vested interests of past ruling clas-ses. It seems extremely difficult, however, to examine the present power struc-ture vis-a-vis freedom of speech and of the press. I assert, however, that thevested interests of a gargantuan, moneyed, male power structure today definethe scope of free speech. Speech is "permitted" by a wealthy oligarchy thatcontrols and directs a media monopoly through various techniques, one ofwhich is censorship. Ours is an image-addicted environment in which the con-sumer public tends to respond to classical Pavlovian conditioning, that is, con-'tinuous repetition of stimuli coupled with promises of emotional rewards orpunishment. Through a successful public relations effort conducted by this cor-porate oligarchy, censored and controlled communications have been used toparalyze freedom of speech and of the press, causing these to become mere il-lusions, a part of a mythology the oligarchy strives to perpetuate.In speaking of the abuse of freedom of speech, Wilbur Schramm, seniorstatesman in the mass media communications field, warned:
2. WEBSTER'S
EW
WORLD ICTIONARY74 (1%7).
3.
ARISTOTI.E,
HE
RHETORIC
F
ARISTOTLE4
1
(L.
Cooper trans. 1932).4.Address by J. Dewey,
Democracy
(1937),
reprinted
in
READINGS
N
PHILOSOPHY48 (2drev. ed.
J.
Randall, Jr.,
J.
Buchler
&
E.
Shirk
eds. 1950).

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