Shouting Fire in a Crowded Theater

Posted: September 15, 2012 in Ethics and Morality, News and politics
Tags: ,

Before I googled fire in a crowded theater I was ranting about the awful video that went viral and created a fire storm in the Muslim world because it was disrespectful to The Profit. I likened the video to this over used metaphor that has become descriptive of free speech that has catastrophic results. The rant would go something like this:

“People, we live in a crowded theater! Mass communications have evolved to the point that almost everybody in the world immediately hears an utterance that any fool can make that has resonance. That being the case the person who produced the video and the person who posted a clip of that video made a statement that so enraged the Muslim world that (like a tinder box) a firestorm of protest ensued. Those who blasted our administration for saying that we considered the video awful because we “apologized” for a citizen’s exercise of his free speech are employing such convoluted logic that it boggles the imagination. I suppose it would be an unwise political move to arrest the s. o. b. who created this piece of shit; but there could be precedence when you consider the fire in a crowded theater metaphor.”

Then I did a bit of research and decided I really needed to change my approach to better use the metaphor. The first citation I followed was via Wikipedia. Its short history of the phrase was useful. Then I went to: is it legal to shout “fire” in a crowded theater? yields:

Though the image often represents illegal speech, “shouting fire in a crowded theater” refers to an outdated legal standard. At one point, the law criminalized such speech, which created a “clear and present danger.” But since 1969, for speech to break the law, it can’t merely lead others to dangerous situations. It must directly encourage others to commit specific criminal actions of their own.”

This answers the very important question which answered would make us aware that inhibiting, or sanctioning, the video’s distribution would be outside our legal system. Some in the Arab world would have us publicly execute the perpetrator of such a dastardly deed. Of course that brings us to one of the main distinctions between our and the radical Muslim world.


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