Christopher G. Moore’s Blog

Asia Fiction is a chronicle of the Bangkok nightlife and the dark side to Expat Life in Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, and Vietnam

Mark Twain: Talking and Writing from the Heart

As we soon depart from the world of 2008 and enter the new world of 2009, the question for writers around the world is: how much truth will the people and authorities tolerate? Are modern times less tolerant than before, or have we always lived side by side with the forces of intolerance circling thinkers and writers, banishing writs and decrees, threatening punishments, exile and disappearance from words that speak of things that are decreed to be unspeakable.

 

On Maud Newton’s literary blog, I came across the excerpts from Mark Twain’s “The Privilege of the Grave” which can be found in the New Yorker archives.

 

Its occupant has one privilege which is not exercised by any living person: free speech. The living man is not really without this privilege — strictly speaking — but as he possesses it merely as an empty formality, and knows better than to make use of it, it cannot be seriously regarded as an actual possession. As an active privilege, it ranks with the privilege of committing murder: we may exercise it if we are willing to take the consequences. Murder is forbidden both in form and in fact; free speech is granted in form but forbidden in fact. By the common estimate both are crimes, and are held in deep odium by civilized peoples.

            * * *

Sometimes my feelings are so hot that I have to take to the pen and pour them out on paper to keep them from setting me afire inside; then all that ink and labor are waste, because I can’t print the result…. It does my weather-beaten soul good to read it, and admire the trouble it would make for my family.


Mark Twain would fully understand that free speech in many parts of the world during our times has not advanced beyond the speech restriction he lived with inside his own world. Indeed an argument might be advanced that Mark Twain’s pre-technological world, had more tolerance for dissenting views than our own. But an argument can be made that with the Internet the floodgates to carry expression of all sorts have opened and to contain the roaring rage of words swirling around the earth can no longer be successfully tamed. But for every technological tool that increases the reach of speech, there are new tools to restrict, control, monitor and censor. It is unclear how the tension between the freedom to discuss and dissent and the urge to restrict the scope of discussion and stifle dissent will play out. Like any cat and mouse scenario, we will likely find that the mice continue to take more than their share of causalities.

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December 26, 2008 - Posted by | CGM Talk |

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