The Difference Between Censure and Censor

The other day while perusing the pages of that vile hive of scum and villainy, otherwise known as File 770 (fan news since 1978!) I ran across a great comment:

“What the Right calls ‘censorship’ is usually actually censure – people meeting them with strong disapproval.

What the Right calls for in return is usually actual censorship – asking ruling bodies and institutions to limit the freedom of expression.”

The commenter posting that stated they’d read it (or something substantially like it) elsewhere on the web.  No link there, and a search for the entire phrase in Google turned up no results.

It was posted in reference to a story about someone who was planning on protesting at Worldcon76 over perceived hurted feels.

I strongly suspect that “republican”, or, more precisely, alt-rtian confusion over these words and their meanings is almost entirely due to not realizing that they are actually two separate things, spelled entirely differently.

Of course, they do derive from the same Latin root, and in a field that focuses on literature, you’d expect this not to be an issue.  And it’s a bit odd too, considering that the word is originally related to “incendere”, meaning to “set on fire”.  But then, I think we’ve pretty much come to realize that this whole megilla (going decidedly non-Latin at this point) is full of ignorance, illogicality and insulated, selective reasoning.

Censor, in the modern usages of the word, essentially means to suppress.  Censure (which is a word hardly used anymore) means to register strong disapproval.

It’s the difference between “I really don’t like that” and “You may not have this”.

In light of this, I thought the entirely futile gesture of trying to explain the difference would be an appropriate subject to address.

But then I realized that this was a largely pointless exercise, mostly preaching to the choir.

I’ll persevere for a few more lines however.

One of the focii of this – let’s call it what it is – ham-handed quasi-political stunt – is the 1st amendment’s guarantee of Freedom of Speech, more modernly referred to as Freedom of Expression.

The only place where the 1st amendment enters the picture here is the intersection of the City of San Jose and those who are planning on using its public access ways for protest activities.

Inside the convention?  Not so much, except to the extent that science fiction conventions are altars of free expression and the vast majority of their attendees personally believe that folks are entitled to their say, especially in areas of disagreement.

What they also know and most believe is that they don’t have to listen.  I’ve now read that amendment through from beginning to end:

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.

They must have made Jefferson take out the part that said “Congress shall make a law that compels all citizens to listen to speech they consider to be idiotic, ill-informed, self-aggrandizing, anti-thetical to their own personal beliefs and which is just plain wrong”.  Either that, or Congress is falling down on the job.

The very first act of Fannish “censure” clearly illustrates this point.  A rival political faction within Fandom, the Futurians, took their grievances with another fan group, New Fandom, who were the defacto con committee for the very first Worldcon, to the convention and they were summarily ejected from the con.

Now, had this been a case of “Censor”, New Fandom would have exercised their unbridled control of the entire science fiction field and would have gone, not just medieval, but near BIBLICAL on their asses, and would have engaged in the kind of erasure that Egyptian Pharaohs seemed to have been quite fond of.  Decades later the only history available to us would have been that written by the “victors” of that first kerfuffle.  (Future fan archaeologist: Look!  I found a nose!)

Clearly, this is not the case.  Otherwise, we’d never have heard of the likes of Damon Knight, Frederic Pohl, Isaac Asimov, David  Keller, Donald Wollheim….

The repercussions and ripples of that alternate time line are…disastrous…for the field.  No DAW books.  No Cordwainer Smith.  No SFWA.  No Grand Masters.  No Foundation trilogy.  No sign telling you where you can’t sit.  Disastrous, as I said.

There’s another amendment (actually several) and that other amendment says:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

and an earlier one says:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

Which, together, strongly suggests (if not makes law) that when it comes to the free expression of ideas, the government can’t interfere, but the people sure as heck can.  Figuratively speaking,. they can do so by going inside their houses and programming their TV remote controls to block the Fox News Channel; similarly, they can tell others to get the eff off of their property and can then place speakers in their windows and play AC/DC very loudly (or whatever band they suspect will annoy the piss out the former trespassers).

(In case you didn’t know, the Bill of Rights did not have bolded text, so all of the emphasis has been added by me.)

Moskowitz and crew were definitely WRONG, but there was no Constitutional issue involved.  Wollheim did not bring his case to Federal court (he brought other cases to other courts).  Instead, he and his crew engaged in a time-honored (even more so now than then) tradition of EXPRESSING themselves through other outlets, and at other conventions, and, by becoming the leading editors in the field, leading writers in the field, leading critics in the field, leading fans in the field, leading….

Of course it goes almost without saying that there’s no “leading” anything that’s going to emerge from this particular exercise of free expression.  The analogy most definitely falls apart on that score. In fact, the complete opposite will result.  The only way to make that first Worldcon a reflection of this year’s it would have had to have been the Futurians kicking New Fandom out of the con…(and yeah, no doubt some folks will say “that’s exactly what’s happening!”, but they’re the ones who keep on insisting that their First Amendment Rights are being violated, so yeah, but no.)

So, what does this all mean?  If you are attending Worldcon this year, take the opportunity to exercise your right to free expression and ignore the trolls.  (And if you need an extra boost, try reading this short story.)


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