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Posts Tagged ‘Bill of Rights’

Writers are arrogant pretenders.

We freely usurp identities, characteristics, ideas, thoughts, voices of people we imagine as characters in our books and stories. These are all part of our craft—our toolbox—of storytelling.

We step over the boundary between reality and fiction when we decide we also have the right, indeed the obligation, to speak for others. Two recent articles in the RWA’s Romance Writers Review December issue are cases in point.

Both articles address a “social” issue and make it a “creative” issue by assuming the right to tell us—their colleagues—what we should be writing.

I personally experienced this “presumption of right” while writing an American historical romance set in post-Civil War New England. I was told by another writer, “You had better be on the right side of history.”

This response shocked me and was meant to silence any disperate interpretation of history that clashed with her “accepted” impressions.

I had thoroughly researched my historical setting and was aware of both sides of the Constitutional as well as the moral arguments. I chose the path that best represented my understanding of events 150 years before my time.

A writer must always be free to express ideas, regardless of the perceived “right side” of any matter. Any attempt to silence a writer’s voice is dangerous. Attempts to place filters and constraints on writers goes entirely against our hard-won freedoms, the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights and has the odor of censorship, which we all must resist.

These writers may have had the best of good intentions in mind, but unfortunately, they both chose to suggest (dictate is perhaps too strong a word but comes readily to mind in the case of one of these articles) that we, their colleagues, follow an essentially censored path to “diversity” and “inclusion.” What they both failed to realize was that they were leading the way along the path to restriction of freedom of expression in order to placate the thought-police of “social justice.”

They also did not/do not understand that their “suggestions” assume a superiority and usurption of freedom of expression over the very voices they are claiming to enfranchise.

My case in point is a novel which became a best-selling book and critically acclaimed film written by a New York writer in which the writer, through the female protagonist, assumed the voices of domestic servants, spoke for them, recreated their lives in the writer’s imagination and had them act according to the writer’s own expectations for them in their situation. In doing so, the New Yorker took their voices, capitalized upon them, without regard for their personal reality, all in the name of “giving the disenfranchised a voice”—the writer’s voice, the writer’s reality.

Writers do that. We speak for men, for women. We speak for children. We speak for ourselves, our neighbors, our enemies and our siblings.

Where we cross the line is when we take the truths of others, altering them to our own version of reality and claim the moral high ground. By doing so, we assume the gratitude of the “disenfranchised.” We assume only we are capable of speaking for them—a particularly arrogant point of view.

We do not need to make our writing “inclusive” or change our truths to the alternative reality of what anyone else thinks or believes. If we have any responsibility as we write, it is to be always and completely true to ourselves, to speak our reality, our truth, thoughts and ideas—never to bow to the dictates of “accepted” speech, “accepted” truths, “accepted” history and never to allow anyone to determine what is acceptable content.

Once we bow, we betray all the writers, artists, journalists, dramatists, philosophers, scientists and women & men who have fought and sacrificed more than we will ever be asked to sacrifice, in the name of these freedoms. Protecting our creative freedom is crucial, regardless of our subject or genre.

Only we can accomplish that—for ourselves.

We do, indeed, live in “the land of the free because of the brave.”

Freedom is not without cost or sacrifice. Giving even a fraction away for the sake of expediency or personal comfort, results in expedited erosion of the whole, as the tide erodes the shore.

 

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When I was a young writer, my mother gave me good advice: “Never put in writing what you don’t want people to read.” Now that I am employed in a law office, that advice is reinforced on a daily basis. Every word must be scrutinized with the matters of law and interpretation firmly in mind.

This is a hundred times more critical on the Internet.

However, the freedom of speech is too important to be undermined by the actions of those who disagree with any given personal opinion. As Voltaire declared, “I may disagree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

The recent vilification of Brendan Eich for expressing his personal opinion in the form of a political donation is only the latest example of the infringement of freedom of speech by those who disagree with him. In my opinion, this can only be seen as another form of fascist bullying.

No matter how much our opinions may differ, none of us have the right to silence anyone. Neither do we have the right to hound another person into submission. Those who do this are guilty of the same behavior of which they accuse others.

The more we attempt to silence one voice, the easier it becomes to be silenced ourselves. And if we allow others to be silenced, we have no right to claim the freedoms granted by the Bill of Rights for ourselves.

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“I may not agree with what you say,
but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

François-Marie Arouet, (1694 – 1778)

There can be no more important sentiment than Voltaire’s commitment to the freedom of speech. Once we have lost this, we have committed ourselves to imprisonment of mind, soul and spirit. Here, in our country, this commitment is enshrined in our Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,
or the right of the people peaceably to assemble,
and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

First Amendment, The Bill of Rights, The Constitution of the United States

The moment we allow others to silence us, or deny any other person their right to speak their mind, we lose our fundamental freedom to express ourselves. The loss of this freedom, or any other in our Constitution, will destroy our reason to write, to think, to speak.

We may not like what others say, but we must not deny them the freedom to express their opinion. If we silence those with whom we disagree, we will be silenced in our turn.

Along with the freedom to speak goes the freedom not to listen.

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