Saturday, October 07, 2006


The Sunday, October 1 STAR TRIBUNE headline, "Lawsuit puts free speech online to test," despite its ominous sound, did not report on a threat to internet free speech. Aaron Clarey, a Libertarian who blogs under the name, Captain Capitalism, is suing a California graduate student, Sanjay Krishnaswamy, for impersonating him on the internet. Clarey, who has expressed views not exactly in favor among the hyper politicaly correct, , such as that American culture is superior to Somali culture, has been impersonated by Krishnaswamy when he writes posts about "miserable brown wetbacks," and why "blacks are more likely to commit crimes than whites."
Krishnaswamy's lawyer, Aaron Scott, has characterized Clarey's lawsuit as "a frivolous attempt to bully a grad student who lives thousands of miles away from him. He's trying to silence someone who is listening to his deliberatly controversial, inflammatory statements and putting up their own opinions." The whole tone of the STAR TRIBUNE article is that free speech will be suppressed if people become afraid of being sued if they express their opinions.
The despicable character of Mr. krishnaswamy's action can be thrown in relief if we ask how HE would feel is Aaron Clarey had published a blog impersonating him and under his name expressing joy and gloating over the painful and horrible deaths of the nearly 3000 people who had died in the World Trade Center. I assume that Mr. Krishnaswamy would be repulsed by such opinions. So how would he feel if Aaron Clarey impersonated him and expressed such opinions while posing as him?
The argument that people will be inhibited in their legitimate actions if they have to conform their actions to the law, in this case to the law on libel, just doesn't cut it. That argument reminds me of the arguments of a local conservative columnist, Katherine Kersten. When I first read that she would be a conservative columnist for the STAR TRIBUNE from the Center for the American Experiment, I expected she would be expounding somewhat intellectually respectable conservatice opinions, views with which I would disagree but which would require some intellectual work before I disentangled, analysed and refuted them. I was surprised and shocked when she expressed opinions and arguments that made it seem like she was trying to act out the stereotype of a right wing, wacko conservative. But I was shocked anew when she came out against the attempt to curb police brutality. Using as her mouthpiece, a policeman who had assaulted and bloodied a 14 year old Black youth for wearing a do rag on his head, she quoted him as the purported voice of experience about how police officers would be afraid to do their job if they were always worried about being charged with brutality.
I immediately thought of a parody column by a Katherine Bersten going on about how auditors and accountants would be afraid to do their job if they were in continual fear of being charged with embezzelment and other financial fraud. The possibilities for further columns by Katherine Bersten are just endless. Just imagine how everyone will be afraid to go about their daily business if they always have to worry about being charged with assault, burglary, rape and murder!
If I had written a column that was clearly a parody under the name of Katherine Bersten, she would have no grounds to sue, no matter how angry the parody made her. But if I had written a blog while impersonating Katherine Kersten arguing that the laws against murder made people afraid to go about their daily business, that would be libel and she would have grounds to sue.
Just ask Mr. Krishnaswamy how he would feel if Aaron Clarey had impersonated him and something Clarey had written had put him in danger of being expelled from school. The legal duty to not libel others imposes no restriction on legitimate speech and the argument that laws against illegal actions will paralyze people with fear about going about their legal activities just doesn't cut it.
One of Clarey's employers took one of his finance courses off of their online data base until Clarey explained the situation. He was lucky. Many people who are fired by their employers for political opinions that are either their own or mistakenly attributed to them are not even told the reason for their dismissal by their employer and therefore do not even get a chance to explain. This highlights one of the problems with Captain Capitalism's libertarianism. As a libertarian I assume Mr. Clarey believes an employer has the right to do whatever he or she wants to do with their property, including dismissing an employee for any reason, whether arbitrary or not.
This brings us to the reason why there are legal restrictions on an employers power to hire and fire. There must be limitations on a property owners right to do whatever he or she wants with their property or other people will be hurt. If a property owner decides to disconect from the sewer system, for instance, neighbors will be be discomforted and endangered by the foul smelling and disease causing deposits on the property owner's lawn. Similarly, when there is an unpopular minority that has trouble obtaining employment or renting housing from majority property owners, the toxic social results are all too familiar to us. There are thus laws against refusing to hire, rent to or provide public services and accommodations to people because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or other protected status. Clearly, expression of opinion needs to be protected also for the same reasons. Free speech means little if, even if you are protected from legal sanctions for expressing your opinion, you may still be condemned to starvation and homelessness if you express it. Libertarians may say what they will about the unfettered rights of property owners but, if we are going to have a society where freedom of speech means anything, Mr. Clarey's employers should not have been allowed to terminate his employment because of the opinions he expressed, even if he had actually expressed the opinions Mr. Krishnaswamy impersonated him as expressing. And the same protections should be available to Mr. Krishnaswamy if Aaron Clarey had impersonated him as expressing some outrageous opinion.
Meanwhile, Mr. Krishnaswamy needs to get over the true believing fanaticism typical of many hyper politically correct people. Mr. Clarey's opinions are not necessarily racist, even if they do not conform to every jot and title of what you, Mr. Krishnaswamy, consider politically correct. and even if they are, you do not have the right to do anything you want to him. Not the ethical right and, as far as consequences to you are concerned when it comes to libel, not the legal right.
But this whole matter of the need for limits on the unfettered right of property owners points up a fundamental problem with libertarianism. I assume Mr. Clarey agrees with other libertarians in being able to go on at great length about the unfair advantages that moied interests have been able to lobby out of the government. But what he and other libertarians do not realize is that as long as you have a society in which private individuals have been able to amass vast concentrations of wealth and property, such individuals will be able to lobby the government for unfair advantages in additions to the advantages they may or may not have gained through free competition. You may say that the government shouldn't grant such unfair advantages and that private interests shouldn't try to influence the government to grant them such advantages. But saying that will not change the fact that as long as there are individuals with the wealth to successfully lobby for unfair advantages, that is what the WILL do, no matter what you say.
That is why we need a socialist society in which the property involved in production is owned colectively in a society with even more of the protections for democracy and civil liberties that our present society has in imperfect form. We can no more expect to have true democracy coexisting with vast private concentrations of wealth than we could have expected to have true democracy under feudalism.
Robert Halfhill


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