Sunday, February 26, 2006

George's Will

Washington Post columnist George F. Will has another piece of angry, angry writing today. It's the most consistent trait in his writing. But today, he takes up a point that (surprisingly) I tend to agree with. He writes about the need for an open society to be open. How constraints of free speech really aren't doing anything to promote a concept of openness.

Amongst the constraints on free speech are laws in 13 countries on 3 continents making it illegal to deny/minimize, etc. the holocaust. I generally agree with Will on this point: It's hard to convince Muslims around the world that Europe (or the West, generally) has a commitment to free speech when it's convicting a guy for exercising free speech--even when it's speech we disagree with. In a sense, the conviction of David Irving in Austria this week is just a state-sponsored version of the protests roiling parts of the Muslim world.

While I agree with him in principal (which is shocking enough) I'm not sure how I see the practice of this free speech playing out. Because free speech has consequences, and it isn't always part of a society's collective response to ensure the truth is told. Take Japan for exampe. In the 61 years since the end of the second world war in the pacific theater, Japan has never fully apologized to it's neighbors for acts of barbarism and policies of institutionalized dehumanization. This "free speech" by the Japanese has led to decades of luke-warm relations with its neighbors throughout the region, and jeapordizes numerous efforts in Asia. So, I guess the question is, "are we willing to live with the consequences of free speech?"

Later, Will brings up the idea of campaign finance reforms as impingments on free speech. Maybe they are, maybe they're not. But maybe we're looking at this the wrong way. If politics is about a marketplace of ideas, and a market is something that is most effective when there is maximum information parity, wouldn't we want as many people as possible participating in the political process? Not just the 50% who vote, but say, everyone who could vote? Why don't we treat politics like a market (not in the sense of buying and selling votes) but in the sense of offering incentives to people to participate. One of the easiest ways seems to me, to lower the barriers to entry. Make it so that a $50 dollar contribution is the largest amount that can be contributed. Is this a restriction on free speech? States, counties, and cities do it all the time. Why can't we pursue this at a federal level--getting more people involved in our political process, and hopefully making it stronger as a result.

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