Friday, December 22, 2006

PUSHING THE ENVELOPE: NONPROFIT CENSORSHIP?

PUSHING THE ENVELOPE: NONPROFIT CENSORSHIP?
(originally posted 1/25/06 and cross posted on El Loro)
by pam ashlund


This post is the first in a series on censorship, free-speech, and the power of ideas

Are nonprofits censored or controlled by government funding?

After 1989, if your nonprofit accepts a federal contract of over $100,000, you are subject to the Drug Free Workplace Act. In a "Drug-free workplace", the employer has taken steps and initiated policies to ensure that employees, vendors, and customers are not:
  • taking or using alcohol or drugs,
  • selling drugs, or
  • affected by the after effects of indulging in alcohol or drugs outside of the workplace during non-work time.
Here's the funny part: Does the Act require employees to do drug testing? Nope. Does this mean if we are implementing a drug testing program to comply with the act that we are censoring ourselves? Maybe so.

Just as an examination of anti-depressants can easily turn into a conversation about the nature of the self; or to the spectre of a society ruled by drug induced contentment (or dare I say happiness) turn into a discussion of governmental mind control? How soon after asking the question “what exactly is the difference between using alcohol or using cocaine or marijuana?”, does the conversation become a polemic on why the government spends billions of dollars fighting the war on drugs? Once you get there, you are only a hair away from joining the conspiracy theorists.

The problem with letting the little problem become either philosophical or political is that you risk loosing credibility.

Feel free to talk about how serotonin levels change in a group of subjects taking an SSRI, but ask which is the real you-- “the depressed, angry cynic” of before or the “cheerful, open, calm” person after—and you are in for trouble. In trouble because--it makes people uncomfortable. No one wants to be happy if it is “just” because of a drug.

“But it isn’t real” I hear time and time again. Why do you use the modifier “just” I would ask. “How do you define real?” etc. etc. I might as well be the mad hatter for all the agreement I've received.

Speaking the unpopular is the same basic mistake Galileo made. If he had stopped with some diagrams and theories about the planets revolving around the sun he might not have raised the hackles of the Church. If he had stopped there he wouldn’t have been very different from Copernicus. Instead he “went political”, making comments to the effect of:

“the Bible is written in the language of the common person who is not an expert in astronomy.”

And:

“Scripture teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”


(quotes from “The Galileo Project”). Obviously he was crusin’ for a bruisin’ .

An aquaintance (and I cannot confirm this originated with him) defined culture as “An unwritten set of rules, which serve no necessary function, but if not followed, result in being ostracized from the culture.” He used as examples “eating left handed in the Middle East” and “having anything other than a 'positive attitude' in the US”.

The first resonates because we have distance from the other culture, the second is abrasive because we have no distance from our own culture. Most of us do take for granted that “having a positive attitude” is a desirable thing and from the perspective of a person from another culture (the French let’s say) this is viewed as patently ridiculous.

My question tonight: how far can you push the envelope before they either ostracize you, jail you, or just plain kill you???


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