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Communication is an inalienable right

Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years, 2 months ago

Communication is an inalienable right

December 1st, 2006

From Josh's Father Len

Posted to:



Note: I’m Len, Josh’s Dad. Was discussing things with Josh recently and he suggested I post my thoughts here…


The San Francisco Chronicle of November 22, 2006 ends its article on Josh’s recent hearing with this quote from Judge Alsop: “This great country which has allowed you to be a journalist — sometimes your country asks for something back,'’ Aside from its fragmentary grammar, it’s an interesting statement with a flawed, if commonly accepted, premise: that the US “allows” the existence of the press. It doesn’t. Freedom of speech and press is not a right granted by the state, but one of those “certain unalienable rights” mentioned in the Declaration of Independence.


Like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the right to speak or write publicly can and has been abridged by the state at various times throughout history. At this moment Josh’s liberty is denied him and his pursuit of happiness seriously curtailed, for example. So, what exactly is meant by that word “unalienable”, or, in today’s usage, “inalienable”? Websters defines “inalienable” as “incapable of being alienated, surrendered, or transferred.” An inalienable right is something that we’re born with, live with, and carry with us until we die. It’s a part of who we are.


Certainly that is true of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is equally true for our ability and need to say what we feel and to report what we see to others. Journalists and journalism are the public voice of the collective understanding. They both shape and articulate that understanding and are a necessity in any society, especially one that pretends to freedom.


The measure of an inalienable right, I believe, is the perseverance with which it is pursued when it is abrogated. No one can die by wishing it so. No one can eliminate her desire to do what she wants even when that is forbidden. No one can willfully choose to abandon happiness or what appears to bring happiness for the sake of suffering. And no one can silence their own voice forever nor can any society silence the voice of the press.


It was this understanding that prompted some of the founding fathers of the US to declare that the Bill of Rights was unnecessary, not because it was too “radical” or provided “too much freedom,” but because it was so obvious, so basic, that it seemed unnecessary to codify. We are fortunate that these were in the minority, else who knows what abuses might we presently endure. Or, perhaps, we are not so fortunate, because sufficient abuse of the inalienable rights of people leads to them taking corrective action, and such action is long overdue in the US.


I see bloggers and vloggers such as Josh being just such a corrective. The corporate media in today’s US is simply a more sophisticated version of the state media in the Soviet Union. Mussolini defined fascism as “corporate socialism”. It is the marriage of state and capital. This definition is fully apt with respect to the United States, and has been for quite some time. So there is no need for state-run media in this country. In fact, given the possibility of citizen oversight and engagement, which is at least nominally possible, state media could be problematic. For a while it looked like NPR, for example, might just escape from the bag. Much better to put the same companies that sell us everything else in charge of selling us the “truth”, manufactured, spun, and edited to fit between commercials and guaranteed to end on an upbeat most every night.


While it is far more sophisticated than Soviet media, the US product is no less controlled and controlling. As people in Russia began to realize their press was anything but truthful, they ceased believing the official stories and began producing their own newspapers, called samizdat. Samizdat were typed pages of real news that wasn’t available in Pravda or Ivestia. Sometimes they were even written by hand. They were reproduced on photocopiers, mimeo machines, or hectographs, and were sometimes copied like medieval manuscripts if nothing else was available. Samizdat were left in public places or distributed to friends and passed from hand to hand, reader to reader, until they were no longer legible. Eventually they became the real source of news in the Soviet Union, and were read even by Party members.


Today we have the internet and blogs and vlogs. Amidst the banality of people aping the competitive consumer culture the media purveys, we find individuals like Josh and many others, all across the political spectrum, who speak the truth they know, report the facts they unearth, and provide their opinions on current issues. This is the function of journalism and these are the real working journalists today. They cannot be silenced because communication is an inalienable right. They are not “allowed” to do this. They just do it. If the state attempted to disallow their voice, they, like the publishers of samizdat would find another way to speak.


As for this “great country…(asking) something back,” Josh is giving something back right now in standing up for his inalienable rights regardless of the opinions of the state. He is giving something back in filling in some of the gaps left by the managed media. He is giving something back by not dropping a dime on a bunch of idealistic, if ineffectual kids who themselves believe in something much better than what we live under today and do what they think might help achieve it.


If this really is a “great country”, it is its people, not its government which is that greatness. From Haymarket to Selma, both before and after, it has always been the people who called the nation to greatness. The sad progression of administrations have no truck with greatness, but pursue instead the dollar and the status quo, leaving it to Josh and his peers to remind us that greatness should be what we seek.

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