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This Title is a Lie

March 24, 2011

In today’s world of epistemological relativism, lovers of truth may be worried about the mostly lax treatment the mainstream media give to lies and the lying liars who tell them.  However often it may seem like a particular party is prone to (consciously) adopting flawed or disingenuous arguments or positions, nobody holds a monopoly on truth.  And that’s probably for the best.  Any notion of a determined Truth in a political arena almost necessarily smacks with authoritarianism and possibilities of censorship.  As I’ve argued before, any coherent notion of the freedom of speech requires the freedom to be wrong.  Otherwise, the party/entity in control of what consists of the Truth can begin to scrutinize speech with the aim to change or influence it.

Alex Kozinski, the 9th Circuit’s charismatic Chief Judge, has an excellent and hilarious concurring opinion pointing out why our white lies should be eligible for “protected speech” status, joining in the opinion that strikes down the 2005 Stolen Valor Act (the Act that makes it a crime to lie about military decorations).

If false factual statements are unprotected, then the government can prosecute not only the man who tells tall tales of winning the Congressional Medal of Honor, but also the JDater who falsely claims he’s Jewish or the dentist who assures you it won’t hurt a bit. Phrases such as “I’m working late tonight, hunny,” “I got stuck in traffic” and “I didn’t inhale” could all be made into crimes. Without the robust protections of the First Amendment, the white lies, exaggerations and deceptions that are an integral part of human intercourse would become targets of censorship, subject only to the rubber stamp known as “rational basis review.”

If our taxonomy of speech allows any form of speech that can be defined as a “lie” to receive “non-protected” status, then legislatures can basically legislate however they want with respect to those lies in increasingly authoritarian ways.  As Kozinski points out, getting laid would get a lot more difficult for some guys if they could be jailed for lying about certain things.  I’m not saying one should lie about whether or not one has an STD when trying to get laid, but the more overtly offensive act there is the consummating sexual contact/assault (e.g., being ordered to pay $4.3 million for giving a girl herpes), and not the speech itself.  In any event, I think the greater cause for concern is the potential that cover stories or false pretenses (often used in the pursuit of legitimate journalism) could be made illegal.  Trust me, lovers of truth, you don’t want demographics and established interests to determine veritas.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. rose permalink
    March 25, 2011 12:29 pm

    The Lawyers’ Waysby Paul Laurence Dunbar

    Paul Laurence Dunbar
    I’ve been list’nin’ to them lawyers
    In the court house up the street,
    An’ I’ve come to the conclusion
    That I’m most completely beat.
    Fust one feller riz to argy,
    An’ he boldly waded in
    As he dressed the tremblin’ pris’ner
    In a coat o’ deep-dyed sin.

    Why, he painted him all over
    In a hue o’ blackest crime,
    An’ he smeared his reputation
    With the thickest kind o’ grime,
    Tell I found myself a-wond’rin’,
    In a misty way and dim,
    How the Lord had come to fashion
    Sich an awful man as him.

    Then the other lawyer started,
    An’ with brimmin’, tearful eyes,
    Said his client was a martyr
    That was brought to sacrifice.
    An’ he give to that same pris’ner
    Every blessed human grace,
    Tell I saw the light o’ virtue
    Fairly shinin’ from his face.

    Then I own ‘at I was puzzled
    How sich things could rightly be;
    An’ this aggervatin’ question
    Seems to keep a-puzzlin’ me.
    So, will some one please inform me,
    An’ this mystery unroll—
    How an angel an’ a devil
    Can persess the self-same soul?

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