As a child I remember reading about how in the Communist and Fascist countries years ago you had to be careful not only about what you said in public but what you said even in the privacy of your own home to your own family.
You could be overheard by neighbors, who could be rewarded for turning you in for making inappropriate remarks about the government. You could even be denounced by your own children, who were routinely encouraged by their schoolteachers to turn in their parents if things said showed them to be enemies of the people. We were solemnly assured that such things couldn’t happen here, as in the U.S. we respected both the privacy of the home and the right to free expression of opinion.
Well, folks, we were wrong: it is happening here. Donald Sterling, an aging troglodyte who still lives in the 1930s, has been fined $2.5 million by the NBA and banned from NBA league activities – for having been “outed” as a racist. Punished with fines, limits on his activities and public humiliation; not for having done anything to anyone but for expressing, in the privacy of his own home to a single other person, certain opinions and viewpoints.
Opinions publicly expressed, with the apparent purpose of attempting to persuade other people to a point of view or influence the actions of others, are fair game for criticism, rebuttal, debate, and (if evil or stupid enough) humiliation and condemnation. Arguably even such public speech should be free from fear of actual punishment with fines and limits on activities. Private conversations, however, surreptitiously recorded and then publicized, are definitely not such fair game.
The public distribution of private conversation recorded surreptitiously is itself contemptible. Regardless of how loathsome the opinions expressed, when we start punishing people for the opinions expressed in private, we are entering the world of the thought police.