The American Dissident: Literature, Democracy & Dissidence

Testing the Waters of Democracy

Censorship and general disdain for vigorous debate seem to have become the rule, not the exception.  With this regard, academics, librarians, poets, editors, teachers, and others far too often knee-jerk dismiss disturbing criticism, under the guise that the critic failed to express it, in some undefined correct tone.


To stand alone as an individual who speaks overtly his or her own ideas and opinions demands a certain degree of courage when those ideas and opinions question and challenge business as usual.  Alone, one does not have a support group to bolster morale, which forcibly takes a beating upon discovery of how most purportedly educated people react to such questioning and challenging.  Alone, however, one does not have to worry about offending a support group's particular stance.  Alone, one may speak the "rude truth in all ways, as Emerson called it. 


The links in the center column of the main page of this website constitute a list of "cases" that sadly support the editor's hypothesis that most poets, librarians, academics, and editors disdain criticism, cannot deal with criticism, and react to criticism with an uncanny inability—and absence of concern—for formulating cogent counter-argumentation. Instead, the reaction tends almost always to be deafening silence or, at best, immature name calling and/or outright censorship.  


The "cases" are presented not in a display of base egotism, but rather to serve as concrete examples of what occurs when one does buck the system and otherwise go against the established-order grain. Thanks to the Internet, not to the press, they are now part of the public record. By the way, conflict with power has always stoked the editor's flames of creativity.  Question and challenge, then write (or draw satirical cartoons), do not be afraid to name names (quality control demands it), then send what you create to the person, persons, or organizations targeted!  What would you dare not write? Think about that. Then write it! RISK! Far too many academics, poets, and others dare not RISK anything in their writing. Truth should be more important than career! Truth can kill careers. The editor's career as an academic is all but dead now because I have stood up, kicked myself in the ass, done what I knew would hurt career, but did it because it needed to be said for the sake of truth. Those links on the main page prove the assertion.


The "cases" include accounts of the editor being banned (Academy of American Poets), censored (Inside Higher Ed and AAP), filtered out (New Pages, Poets & Writers, Poetry Foundation, Arts & Letters), prohibited (Watertown Free Public Library), arrested and incarcerated (Walden Pond State Reservation), purposefully ignored (PEN New England, Concord Festival of Authors, Massachusetts Poetry Festival, Concord Museum, Thoreau Institute, and many, many universities and colleges), rendered politically ineligible (Concord Cultural Council) and low-budget ineligible (Massachusetts Cultural Council), deemed "low" and "poor" (National Endowment for the Arts), dismissed as not "family friendly" (Sturgis Library, etc. 


Democracy in America:  Questions and Answers                                     

In an age of political correctness, authoritarianism is where right and left meet.  Conservative and liberal censors alike target whatever speech derides or offends their respective constituent groups.

            —Wendy Kaminer, Worst Instincts


What characterizes the kind of "democracy" our presidents seek to export?  The nation's universities and colleges have become bastions of ideological thought, while virtual enemies of free speech and vigorous debate, democracy's cornerstones.  Most of the following material was obtained thanks to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.  For other material, consult the case studies listed on the main page.  For pertinent statements, consult Quotes on Censorship.  This page will be growing as more information is obtained and will be incorporated into any English courses I teach as a professor. 



On Defamation: 

1.  What is wrong with the following statement made by writer Nancy Hendrickson as published in Writer's Digest (March 2005)? 

"Dishing dirt about private citizens can be cause for libel or defamation-of-character charges, regardless of the truth."

On Sexual Harassment: 

2.  What is wrong with the following sexual harassment policy statements issued by Vanderbilt University? 

"Remarks or jokes that denigrate because of gender" and "[i]nappropriate or offensive behavior that is not necessarily threatening, but usually produces feelings of discomfort in the person toward whom it is directed."

3.  What is wrong with the following statement made by an anonymous student regarding Vanderbilt University's harassment statement? 

Many of my male friends make gender-related comments and jokes all the time. I don't see that as sexual harassment. Neither would Vanderbilt because I am not complaining about it. However, if I did feel uncomfortable, I am glad to know that I can take advantage of my rights by telling someone, and I know that the offender will face consequences. This person should face consequences, according to the Bill of Rights, because my right to the pursuit of happiness would be hindered. Thus, the Student Handbook is merely trying to protect our rights by making sure others do not abuse their right of free speech.


On Defamation:   

1.  “A truth statement, no matter how damaging, can’t be libelous.”  (Bunnin and Beren, Writer’s Legal Companion)

"The concept of defamation includes both libel (usually, written defamation) and slander (spoken defamation), although the two are frequently confused and lumped together.  […]  If you are accused of libel, don’t panic.  Although defamation is one of the most frequently made claims in law, it is also one of the most frequently dismissed.  […] If a statement is true it is not defamatory.  […]  A statement of opinion, by itself, cannot be defamation.  […] In other words, defamation is about objective harm, not about subjective hurt."  (Constitutional lawyers French, Lukianoff and Silverglate, FIRE’s guide to Free Speech on Campus)


More questions and answers to come...