National Security & Defense

Censorship Is a Good Deal Scarier than Bigotry

The British government has arrested a 28-year-old man for the high crime of making an obnoxious video:

A YOB has been arrested after a video of a dog giving Nazi salutes to anti-Jewish slurs sparked outrage. 

Markus Meechan, 28, was nicked after the horrendous clip was viewed more than a million times on YouTube. 

It shows pug Buddha being taught to respond to a revolting anti-semitic phrase and raising its paw to “Sieg Heil”. 

Meechan spent a night in the cells after cops swooped on a house in Coatbridge, Lanarkshire. 

I watched the video, and it is indeed pretty “revolting.” And yet, unpleasant as they undoubtedly are, Markus Meechan’s words are far, far less chilling than these:

Police said the arrest should act as a warning that offensive videos would not be tolerated.

Or these:

“The clip is deeply offensive and no reasonable person can possibly find the content acceptable in today’s society.”

Or these:

“This arrest should serve as a warning to anyone posting such material online, or in any other capacity, that such views will not be tolerated.”

Once again, the British have failed to distinguish between the role that must be played by civil society and the role that must be played by the state.

For what it’s worth, I agree with the police department’s assessment: the clip is “offensive,” and nobody should find its “content acceptable.” But, in a free country, it is Meechan’s peers who must decide which speech is worth listening to and which is not, not parliament or the cops. You will presumably have noticed that in none of the police reports is there any suggestion that Meechan’s video was likely to incite violence, and nor is there any hint that his actions had put anyone else at risk. Rather, the police made it clear that he was arrested because he was channeling opinions that the majority considers to be ugly. In so doing, they appointed themselves as arbiters of the national taste.

Apologists for the legal status quo like to explain that censorship in Britain is “different” because it is advanced in favor of “democracy” or “national values.” In practice, however, this means nothing less than “on behalf of the majority” or “in order to satisfy the preferences of the state.” And in neither case is the tendency a sign of confidence. No intellectually secure culture thinks to use the force of arms to silence its eccentrics, just as no confident people accepts the proposal with alacrity. The power to excise is, inevitably, the power to curate. What self-respecting person wants others to do that for him?

Were I to find myself near him, I doubt that I would friends with the maker of this video. Were he to start a business, I doubt I’d frequent it. Were he to run for office, I daresay that I’d vote for his opponent. But to see him “arrested” — and in my name, to boot — is an unmitigated disgrace. Pity him as I may, I am not scared of Markus Meechan. Irritate me as they might, I am not troubled by the handful of human beings who share his silly views. But men with night-sticks and uniforms and the right to dictate what is “offensive” and what is “reasonable”? That is the stuff of nightmares.

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