Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Thoughts from a burning theater

We admit that in many places and in ordinary times the defendants in saying all that was said in the circular would have been within their constitutional rights. But the character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which it is done. The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from an injunction against uttering words that may have all the effect of force. The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree. When a nation is at war many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right. Schenck v. U.S. , 249 U.S. 47 (1919) Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Someday, I find it fun to imagine, Philosophy students might study a issue from the distant past- the idea that use of the term "recession" (in this case "impending $ collapse") causally effects the economic outcome MORE than the policies of the government in charge of regulating it. Conversely, if current policies and past practices had been such as to maintain an external surplus, would shouts that "the US$ is crashing" cause it to happen?

Luxuriating in the metaphor (a phrase I borrowed from the late William F. Buckley) these days I feel as if I am caught in a crowded theater (today's showing: Titanic), which has caught on fire- a fire, mind you, that was the result of too much dry paper hidden away by the theater owners. Yet, the theater owners have sent men to vent out the smoke, and hide the flames from those within. The illuminated sign on the exit door- the golden exit door- has been turned off and armed men are dissuading people from leaving (but not, as yet, forcibly preventing their exit). Those who shout "fire" are quickly drowned out by the refrain of "the US has a strong $ policy" broadcast ludly over the, very Hi-Tech, sound system

On second thought, I don't feel as if I'm in the theater. I'm outside the theater, but live in the neighborhood, and know many people on the inside. I'm concerned that a burnt theater in the center of town will be a drag on commerce until it is rebuilt. I've given up, however, on trying to put out the fire, it is already too big, and I was always too small regardless.

Now, I'm concerned about my friends still inside. I'm calling them on my imaginary cell phone (in real life I haven't owned one this century) and suggesting they use the golden exit door. But most are dissuaded by the armed men- the interveners- who ask that they go back to their seats.

The line from Hotel California comes to mind: you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

Except you can. Get real, leave the theater of paper- a very flammable substance- that leaves nothing but ash.