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Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Dixie Chicks, Free Speech and the Flat Earth Society

One irritating feature of the contemporary media is the credence they give to the views of celebrities. There is often a kind of unwritten assumption that because a person is a good actor or singer, his or her views on politics, morality and ethics somehow carry more weight.
Case in point is the enthusiastic reporting of the Dixie Chicks at the Grammy awards. The ODT triumphantly records them as saying, "I think people are using their freedom of speech with these awards. We get the message."

A few years ago, the Dixie Chicks made critical comments about George W Bush. As a result numerous radio stations and other people decided to stop playing and listening to their records. At that time, the complaint was made that this violated the Dixie Chicks right to freedom of speech.

The reference to ‘freedom of speech’ is of course an allusion to this complaint. In reality, the Dixie Chicks rights were not violated. The clause, ‘freedom’ in freedom of speech at most refers to freedom from coercion either from the state or from individuals. It forbids people being prevented by force and coercion from expressing their opinion. It does not mean that everyone has a duty to buy your tapes or play your records when you ask them to. To require this would, in fact, be forcing people to express the Dixie Chicks opinions either in their homes or on their privately owned radio stations. It would be coerced speech.

Suppose one puts this to the side, suppose one grants that the Dixie chicks won a Grammy because now more people agree with their ‘message’ than previously. So what exactly? If a statement I make is true, then it is true even if every other person disagrees with me. If its false, it does not become true because other people start believing in it.

Victoria University recently ran an ad claiming that in the 14th century people believed the world was flat. This claim is false, medieval scholars almost unanimously taught that the world was round. However, suppose that Victoria University were correct and 14th century people did widely believe this does that mean that the world was in fact flat in the 14 century and if later the consensus changed and people believed the world was round. Did the world suddenly change shape? Of course not.

Now if the Dixie Chicks or anyone for that matter, had a well thought out case against the invasion of Iraq then by all means report it so ethicists like myself can consider it. However, simply telling me that this country singer thinks this, her music sells well when a few years ago it did not tells me nothing. One suspects some left wing media commentators never grew out of their teenage years. "Hey you should hold these opinions because these three attractive chicks hold it and they are really popular right now."

When peoples support for life and death decisions (like war) are based on banalities like this there is good reason to be concerned.

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