David Mamet is known for plays like Glengarry Glen Ross and Speed-the-plowmovies like The Spanish Prisoner and Anywherebooks like About directorial film and The Evil Sonand last week, a short story about a lost plane pilot filed as a legal letter in support of social media regulations in Texas.
Mamet’s amicus briefing is titled “Lessons from Air Navigation,” and as it is… two pages longYou should really just read it. Here’s an example of the prose:
The map is not the area. The territory is the territory. The pilot’s answer to the question “where am I?” is not on the map, but out of the windshield. That’s where he is. No matter where he calculated he should be, the area below him is where he is.
In case you’re wondering, the map is a metaphor for the Internet. The implicit legal argument is that social media platforms have distorted “the map” by moderating content in a way that Mamet – a vocal supporter of former president Donald Trump, which has been banned from major platforms – objects to it. In response, Mamet supports HB 20, a currently blocked law in Texas intended to discourage web services from moderating conservative posts and users. This will become more explicit later:
Navigating requires proper use of tools. The confused citizen has a map. But if he worked back from his observations, he might find that he can’t find his position there.
For example, if he looks outwards, he might see a free, prosperous and good country, where there was little real poverty, little racism and no “systemic” racism, where minorities and women were treated preferentially rather than discriminated against. (This belief may be right or wrong, but unless we prefer a Ministry of Truth, the belief is his own and he is certainly entitled to it.)
Referring back to his “information”, the citizen may not be able to correlate it with his observations. He knew where he was because he had just looked around. But he didn’t find a corresponding position on his map.
But along the way, you can also find distractions, such as an etymology lesson referring to Greek mythology:
I report as an outdoorsman that Panic is real. It is the loss of mind and will for Pan, God of the Woods. The afflicted loses his mind and runs around, unable to recognize those actual signs (a road, his own footprints), which might bring him back to safety.
Mike Masnick from tech dirt has dissected Mamet’s argument (including a non-fictional preface) and his decision to copyright the legal filing – something theoretically possible, but quite rare. In summary, Mamet’s logic hinges on a partial government ban on moderation by private companies as a safeguard against government censorship, somewhat dubiously calling web platforms “companies that control information channels and are privileged and subsidized by the government”.
At the risk of saying the obvious, a judge is unlikely to get carried away with a legal letter that doesn’t contain any real legal references or arguments. On the other hand, if the state legislature causes me to continue to deal with ill-considered and potentially unconstitutional social media laws, I won’t. in person complain about writers throwing some flowery allegorical prose into the mix.