David Mamet files new as brief supporting Texas social media law

David Mamet is known for pieces like Glengarry Glen Ross and Accelerate the plowmovies like The Spanish Prisoner and Flightbooks like On making movies and The naughty sonand as of last week, a short story about a lost airplane pilot was filed as a legal brief supporting social media regulation in Texas.

Mamet’s amicus memoir is called “Lessons from Aerial Navigation” and since it’s two pages, you really should go read it. Here is a sample of the prose:

The map is not the territory. Territory is territory. The pilot’s response to the question “Where am I?” is not on the map, but on the windshield. That’s where he is. No matter where he calculated he should be, the territory below him is where he is.

In case you were 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 staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, who has been banned from major platforms – s oppose it. In response, Mamet supports HB 20, a currently blocked Texas law that aims to discourage web services from moderating conservative posts and users. This becomes a little more explicit later:

Navigation requires the correct use of tools. The confused citizen has a map. But, if he worked from his observations, he might find that he cannot find his position represented here.

Looking out, he might, for example, see a free, prosperous and good country, in which there was little real poverty, little racism and no “systemic” racism, where minorities and women, rather than be discriminated against, were treated preferentially. (This belief may be correct or incorrect, but unless we prefer a ministry of truth, the belief is his and he is surely entitled to it.)

Referring then to his “information”, the citizen might not be able to correlate it with his observations. He knew where he was because he had just looked around. But he found no corresponding position on his map.

But along the way, you may also find diversions like an etymology lesson referencing Greek mythology:

I report as an outdoorsman that the panic is real. It is the loss of the spirit and the will of Pan, the god of the woods. The affected loses his mind and runs without recognizing the actual signs (a road, his own footprints), which could lead him back to safety.

Mike Masnick of Techdirt dissected Mamet’s argument (which includes a non-fictional preface) as well as his decision to protect legal deposit – something that is theoretically possible but quite rare. To sum up, Mamet’s logic relies on a partial government ban on moderation by private companies as a safeguard against government censorship, somewhat dubiously calling web platforms “the companies that control the channels of information, and are privileged and subsidized by the government”.

At the risk of stating the obvious: a judge is unlikely to be swayed by a legal brief that does not include any actual legal references or arguments. On the other hand, if state legislatures are to force me to keep covering up ill-conceived and possibly unconstitutional laws on social media, I’m not going to personally complain about writers who throw flowery allegorical prose into the mix.

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