The Latest: A “Right” to Quiet Movies

Should the government decide how loud movies are?

Connecticut is attempting to outlaw movies that are above a certain noise-level.

Associated Press reports:

The legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee is considering the bill, which would prevent theaters from showing a film or preview that exceeded 85 decibels. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends noise should be kept below 85 decibels for workers for eight hours to minimize hearing loss.

“Hopefully this will be a wakeup call to the theater owners and the MPAA to get their act together and do something that’s good for the public and still will satisfy their needs,” said William Young, a Stamford resident and chemical industry consultant who has pushed the measure. “Why they need such loud sounds is beyond me.”

At this point, most people will try to argue the supposed merits or demerits of listening to noise above a certain level. Of course, the vast majority of us have no expertise on this matter. If we don’t like loud movies, and if we fear there could be some damage to our ears, we are certainly free to not go to the movie theater.

Will anybody even consider arguing that the government shouldn’t be involved in this matter? That private property and self-determination of theater owners and customers trump the supposed “right” to only hear quiet movies when you go to the theater?

Of course not. It’s a matter of “public safety.” Well, it’s perceived public safety. And this busybody in Connecticut obviously cares about public safety. He has nothing to gain financially by this matter, so that’s proof he’s being objective.

Oh, really? Let’s consider the probable motives of a busybody, by definition. How about a twisted need for power over others? How about a neurotic need to be perceived as caring by his peers, because he gains his sense of self-respect and self-importance not from rational things, but from the approval of others?

These are not gains in any rational sense. But in his mind, they’re gains.

This Connecticut resident makes a very revealing comment. “Why they need such loud sounds is beyond me.”

Right here, in this one phrase, you capture the essence of dictatorship. The all-but-spoken assumption here is, “I don’t like this activity. You don’t need it. Therefore, it should be against the law.”

Contrast this with the attitude, “I don’t understand why people like those loud movies. Not for me.” And that’s the end of it.

Dictatorship? Isn’t that strong language when applied to a law against loud movies? Isn’t this like calling it dictatorship when the government outlaws diet soda above a certain size?

To ask this question is to fail to understand the principle at stake. The principle is individual sovereignty over your own body and mind.

The motion picture industry has a right to manufacture products that people wish to buy. People who don’t share your preferences are entitled to indulge what they wish, regardless of how you feel about it.

Others have a right to do anything — I mean anything — they damn well please, as long as they don’t coerce another or provably commit fraud against another.

You’re free to attend or reject any movie you wish. You’re free to stay home if you read a study on the impact of volume levels on hearing. But you’re not entitled to have movies be a certain way. Movie theaters are not your property. And movie content is not your prerogative. You control these things by your decision to spend money on the movies, or put that money elsewhere. You don’t have a right to any particular kind of movie.

And for you busybodies out there: You’re not entitled to gain pseudo-self-esteem, or some ridiculous and immature sense of power, by telling yourself, “I care about others. That makes me a good person. Why, there ought to be a law against anything I dislike, especially when I gain the approval of others for supporting it.”

To think in principle means to substitute the loud movie law — just like the diet soda law — with anything else imaginable.

If you simply laugh at, or even agree with, the government’s directive to regulate movie volume, then what’s to stop the government when it wishes to violate self-determination or property rights in some other way? This includes smoking pot; having sex with the consenting adult of your choice; reading the books or websites you choose; driving the kind of car you like; even whom you marry, how many children you have, or where you choose to live.

Many will be quick to reply, “Not the same thing. This is America. We’ll protect the health of consumers. But we don’t dictate to them.” But “protecting” is precisely what dictators do. They regulate or restrict the content of what you do, read, watch or drink/eat in the name of what’s best for “the public.”

Every dictatorship in history has been rationalized in the name of protecting us from ourselves. Who are you, a mere individual claiming sovereignty over his own body or mind, to question what’s best for the public?

That’s dictatorship, in a nutshell. The rest are the details and the extent of the dictatorship, over time.

Once you dictate in some areas, or even one area, then the way (in principle) is clear to dictate in all areas. There’s no way to stop the government from telling you what movies you may watch other than making the case that would undermine this Connecticut law, or any law like it.

People unwilling or unable to think in principle are putty in the hands of a government all too ready to take care of us — and define what that “caring” is in any way it chooses.

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