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Another Speaker in the Stocks

        It’s not often that you get to write about celebrity gossip in a civil liberties blog, so I can’t quite pass up the opportunity to comment on the speech-phobias implicit in the outcry over actor Alec Baldwin’s angry voicemail message to his daughter.  Put aside the obvious and predictable hypocrisy of people who profess concern about the girl's welfare but think nothing of her privacy as they broadcast his outburst worldwide.  Consider, instead, the source of their “concern” – the widespread view of angry or insulting words as dangerous weapons, which inflict deep psychic wounds on children when wielded by their parents.  Baldwin’s words were treated like a punch in the gut (as Imus’s words were treated like virtual rape.)

        Why, after all, is yelling at your daughter news?  Yes, I know that people have an unabashed interest in the daily routines of celebrities (their Starbucks stops are chronicled,) but Baldwin’s voicemail message was framed as kind of crime -- a speech crime -- a felonious verbal assault.  It violated shibboleths about the need to praise children constantly, whether or not they deserve it, in order to build their self-esteem.  Indeed, to people who believe that self-esteem develops only in the warm glow of adulation, there’s no such thing as not deserving praise.   (The Wall Street Journal recently considered the workplace expectations of 20 somethings accustomed to being complimented effusively for doing what might be expected them.)
       
        Of course, it’s also not news that the therapeutic culture is phobic about whatever is deemed uncivil or demeaning speech, (never mind the presumed harm caused by “hate speech,” broadly defined.)  It’s not news that contemporary censorship campaigns, right and left, dating back some 20 years, have borrowed liberally from popular therapies in order to explain the harm of speech that they seek to ban, whether through campus speech codes, laws against pornography, or workplace harassment policies that prohibit merely “offensive” or “unwelcome” speech.  The public shaming of Alec Baldwin, who apparently felt compelled to ask the slimy Dr. Phil for help, (maybe in lieu of rehab,) is just another reflection of a cultural obsession with policing speech, which civil libertarians should heed.  It sometimes translates into law.



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