Volume 92, Issue 70

Tuesday, February 2, 1999


Clarifying the meaning of censorship

The only solution

Giving Exhibition a much better ending

Pointless football

Unnecessary grunting

South central vision

Clarifying the meaning of censorship

Re: Hustler yanked by stores because of contest, Jan 15.

To the Editor:

In light of the recent spate of letters dealing with the Sheila Copps controversy, I wanted to correct a serious error everybody seems to be making about the meaning and implications of censorship.

A store removing a magazine from its shelf is emphatically not censorship. Business owners have every right to determine how they will make money and if a proprietor is offended by the contents of a magazine, be it Hustler or Field & Stream, they get to yank it. That's the prerogative of a property owner and in a civilized society, you don't have any say in the decision other than by taking your business elsewhere.

Contrast this, an act of individual discretion about the use of private property, with censorship. Censorship is the government, or any other band of armed aggressors, deciding FOR you and me what we may not see. The essence of censorship is the use or threat of force against people expressing ideas – against our absolute individual right to the peaceful, self-directed use of mind and property.

This is an important distinction. One of the first tasks of totalitarians, as Orwell went to great lengths to illustrate, is the blurring of concepts and the destruction of words' specific meanings. When censorship, a violent crime rightly associated with evil men like Hitler, Mao and Stalin, is conflated with peaceful decisions about the disposal of private property, the word loses its meaning and becomes a vague rhetorical club. I could cite many other examples in contemporary Canadian politics, but not without touching a whole other set of nerves.

You would become a "criminal," classed with violent people like armed robbers and murderers. Your right to trade with other consenting adults would be abridged at the whim of an uninvolved, interfering third party. Now, that is clearly a criminal act, even if the perpetrators call themselves "the government" and claim to be acting in the name of some ineffable being called "society."

But a Hasty Market owner removing the magazine from his shelves is not aggressing against anyone. No force is involved in his decision – he buys from a supplier and pays the rent on his shop and spends his hours running it. You may disagree with his removing the magazine, but you have no recourse other than buying it elsewhere if some other store owner is willing to carry it. If no one is, you can start up your own shop and sell it yourself.

Again – no force, no coercion. No censorship.

Hence it is possible and I believe correct, to hold my position – that the store owners are perfectly in the right to remove the magazines if they choose and that an accusation of censorship is completely inappropriate.

That's freedom and that's how civilized people resolve disagreements: peacefully, without resorting to violence at the hands of a "government."

Mike Davidson
Computer Science III

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Copyright The Gazette 1999