Saturday, January 15, 2011

Threats to Diverse Opinions

THREATS to DIVERSE OPINIONS: Domestic terrorism has a long and rich history in America. -- Now, with Congresswoman Giffords, Judge Roll and others -- in the past, Dr. King, the Kennedys, Oklahoma City, Birmingham, Watts, etc. The extent of the threat is not only against the well-known ((such as those in Sarah Palin's "cross hairs"), but citizens who voice opinions. They are targeted too. For example, when the New York Times published my letter to the editor (May 26, 2009) questioning Mr. Netanyahu's intention that Israel be the exclusive nuclear weapons power in the Middle East, I was assauted by murderous threats which alarmed the police and required my physical disquise to protect my safety. This kind of domestic terror is a source of self-censorship and the expression of differences that head America toward a dysfunctional democracy.


  1. Hi Baylis! Congrats on the first blog post!

    But how does one draw a precise line between "threats" and "voicing opinions"? Is a threat not merely an extremely harsh and aggressive way to express an opinion?

    Also, I believe that Sarah Palin's "Cross-hairs" were in very poor taste in retrospect and I was disappointed that she did not apologize for this unfortunate choice of visual; however, I sincerely doubt that her intention was to imply that somebody should shoot Rep. Giffords. I believe they were purely a metaphor for targeting seats in the next election. Censoring Palin's "Crosshairs" would also suggest censoring other metaphorical threats such as "We're coming for you!" or "Watch out!"


  2. I think that there is a continuum of speech that starts with the clearly reasonable:

    (A) I disagree and here is my thoughtfully constructed argument explaining why I disagree

    and ends with a clear threat:

    (C) I disagree and intend to injure you.

    Obviously (C) is intimidating and stifles debate, and while I am not an attorney, I think that statements such as (C) are probably illegal. I think that what is open for debate are statements that express disagreement but also attempt to dehumanize the opposition. These are statements like:

    (B) My opponents are not only wrong, but only a Nazi would think as they do and they must be stopped at all costs.

    In addition to the obvious Godwin’s rule issue (how is it that so many people engaged in political debate today are unfamiliar with Mike Godwin?) this kind of speech is intended to stifle debate. While legal, I would assert that statements of type (B) do not contribute to intelligent debate or forming a coherent informed national opinion and are therefore irresponsible.

    Of course, if one is in the business of manipulating people (think marketing) then contributing to intelligent debate is not the goal, selling the product is. In addition, fear and passion sell newspapers (and keep eyeballs tuned to cable networks) while calm rational debate stirs viewers to switch to the NFL playoffs. (Where, I observe, the dose of violence seems to be diluted this year, so I expect cage fights to be resurgent soon.)

    We should expect yellow journalism from those in the business of selling ”news,” but we should expect thoughtful debate from politicians who aspire to be states-men or -women. Perhaps, this is the way to tell the difference:

    Makes thoughtless inflammatory statements = cable news personality
    Presents arguments based on values backed up with facts = worthy of voting for.

    This might be more fun than a family Thanksgiving dinner.