Tuesday, February 21, 2012


In Soviet Russia, toys protest you!

Courtesy the Volokh Conspiracy we get this story out of Russia. Apparently the Siberian city of Barnaul is frustrated with the level of corruption and voter fraud in the Putin government and had a protest. However, knowing that the mob runs the government, they were disinclined to show up personally, and besides its winter in Siberia and nobody sane stands around outside. So they set up toys and gadgets holding signs instead as a proxy. Kevin O'Flynn at the Guardian writes:
At the time, Russian authorities in Barnaul declared the protest "an unsanctioned public event".

Now a petition to hold another protest featuring 100 Kinder Surprise toys, 100 Lego people, 20 model soldiers, 15 soft toys and 10 toy cars has been rejected because the toys have been deemed not to be "citizens of Russia".

"As you understand, toys, especially imported toys, are not only not citizens of Russia but they are not even people," Andrei Lyapunov, a spokesman for Barnaul, told local media.
Those crazy Russians, how silly. As Ilya Somin writes at Volokh:
It’s easy to see the flaw in Lyapunov’s reasoning. Yes, toys are not people. But owners of toys are. The toy protest is an exercise of the owners’ rights to freedom of expression, not the rights of the toys themselves. Banning a toy protest because toys are not people is much like banning the publication of antigovernment articles in a newspaper on the grounds that newspapers are not people.
And its true. You can use another structure to represent your speech, even in protest. That's why lobbyists exist, that's why you can hire a lawyer to speak for you or use a spokesman. The understanding is that something else, even an inanimate object such as a pamphlet (or even blog) can represent your voice.

I think everyone can agree to that principle, its well established and reasonable - people hold placards at protests so that they have a voice all can read without having to yell over each other's voices.

And that was the reasoning behind the Citizens United decision at the Supreme Court of the United States: corporations are plainly not people, but they represent people, they are a structure which humans create and can use to represent their interests. Hence, banning their use in political advertising is silencing people and their political speech, and a violation of their 1st amendment.

Now it is true that the government creates corporations through law, but those corporations are still human representatives. The truth is, spending money to pay for advertising and campaigning is political speech. You can tell everyone agrees with this because if you banned individual people from doing so, everyone would insist this is a violation of free speech in the political realm which is the specific arena the founders particularly wanted to protect with the 1st amendment.

So doing it through a corporation is just one step removed, like holding up a sign or printing a pamphlet. And when someone like Steven Colbert, who is paid by a corporation to make political speech, says its wrong for a corporation to pay for political speech, you know they're either not thinking very keenly or they're just advocating for silencing their opposition.

1 comment:

JoelT said...

Freedom of Expression, in Russia? Really?