How Much Property Should You Lose for Thinking the Wrong Thing?

Bill Maher

I’ve gone back and forth on this whole Donald Sterling mess. On the one hand, he’s a well-known bigot who more or less brought all this on himself. On the other, the actual event that could bring him down was a taped (possibly illegally, maybe not) conversation in private between two people in some sort of (possibly sexual, maybe not) relationship. We know for sure, though, that the taped conversation was not intended for public broadcast. I have a hard time working up the psychic energy to defend Sterling, but it’s worth acknowledging that there’s something deeply icky about the way he’s been cornered.

Fortunately Bill Maher has enough psychic energy for the both of us. On Real Time this week he closed the show with an extended defense of Sterling’s right to privately hold thoughts and opinions the rest of us might disagree with and, further, to be able to speak freely in private without fear of those words being splashed on the front page of every newspaper in America. Fast forward to the 2:15 mark:

Maher served some special scorn for Kathleen Parker, who wrote, “If you don’t want your words broadcast in the public square, don’t say them … such potential exposure forces us to more carefully select our words and edit our thoughts.” Maher unloaded on Parker, asking if we should all be forced to talk as though we’re in the middle of a White House press briefing even at home. Maher went on:

Does anyone really want there to be no place where we can let our hair down and not worry if the bad angel in our head occasionally grabs the mic? What about the bathroom? Not a public bathroom, of course I expect to be taped and photographed in there. But my bathroom at home, would it be okay if that was kind of a cone of silence, where I could invite friends in to speak freely? Who wants to live in a world where the only privacy you have is inside your head? That’s what life in East Germany was like. That’s why we fought the Cold War, remember? So we’d never have to live in some awful limbo, where you’d never know who, even among your friends, was an informer. And now we’re doing it to ourselves! Well don’t. Don’t be part of the problem.

Now, I’m sure that Elias Isquith and the outrage-mongers at Salon and elsewhere will be happy to simply dismiss Maher as some sort of crypto-racist defender of bigotry (without actually having the guts to call him a racist, natch). But Maher’s right: Parker’s writing is almost literally Orwellian. From Mr. Blair’s most famous work:

Even now, of course, there’s no reason or excuse for committing thoughtcrime. It’s merely a question of self-discipline, reality-control. But in the end there won’t be any need even for that.

INGSOC’s solution to the problem of thoughtcrime in 1984 was to pare the English language down so drastically that it became literally impossible to express an unacceptable thought. In America, the left has decided to coopt the market, rather than the language, as the mechanism with which they will control what private thoughts and secret utterances are acceptable. “Oh, this isn’t a First Amendment issue or a Fourth Amendment fight!” they will sniff as they wave their hands. “It’s the market. We are simply voting with our dollars. It’s a private, not public issue.” This is true, but, as I’ve written, it utterly misses the point. If you believe you have the right to curtail another’s speech by destroying his livelihood, you don’t believe in free speech at all. You believe in speech you agree with, full stop. As a friend asked,* “How much property should you have taken away from you for thinking the wrong things?” After all, that’s what this comes down to: stripping someone of their property and relieving them of their livelihood for thinking the wrong thing.

*Well, a Facebook friend. And I’m paraphrasing; I can’t remember who said it or what the exact quote was.