Thursday, November 20, 2003
Little Longer Than Expected...

Heh. Well, it would appear "a few hours" means "a few days," at least when I've got three papers due over the weekend! So yeah, it took a little longer than I thought; but I'm still gonna write a piece on this whole 'Free Speech' controversy. And ya know what? I'm gonna do it right now.

The links are below, and hopefully you've done your 'homework' already, but just in case, I'll repost them to make sure:

Philadelphia -- This is the one that first got my attention. You know, there's not much to say about the issue at large that hasn't already been discussed by these articles. Obviously (given my occupation - student - and my desired vocation - writer) I have a vested interest in securing the right of free speech. But I'm not going to talk about that, exactly, because everything's really been said already (if not about this specific situation then about others), and it really seems like a no-brainer decision on the behalf of the universities - overturn the rules. What does strike me as 'post-worthy,' however, is the series of events that led us to this point.

It seems to me that we started out well enough, in that the purpose of the 'Free Speech Pavillion' (and other locations like it) was originally intended to protect the freedom of speech. And in actuality, it still does, at the expense of making every other area of the campus a de facto 'Free Speech' null zone. When you combine this kind of limitation with a codified expression of Political Correctness (a blight upon culture if ever there was one), things get out of hand, and the errors inherent in the original decision become glaringly apparent (as evidenced by the recent rulings in cases like Harrisburg's Shippensburg University).

So what's wrong with wanting to protect people from slur-filled speech? Or desiring that everyone be able to go through campus life in a comfortable, non-offensive environment? Well, nothing. These are all good and desirable things. But they are not the 'highest' good. The 'highest' good arises when we uphold the ideals set out in our Constitution - freedom of speech (no matter what is said, who is saying it, or why it is being said), freedom to peaceably assemble, freedom of the press (which, by the way, we all are, in the 'new world' of the Internet blog), etc.

It's been said before, but I'll say it again. There are rights that we have, and rights that we don't. I have the right to speak my mind. You have the right to disagree and speak yours. Part and parcel with that, however, comes a right that neither of us have: the right to go through life un-offended. If we disagree, then I may very well be offended by your opinions (heck, Canadians have practically made it a sport -- for more information read either of these books). To that I say: "Tough." It's not a right we have, nor is it one we want to have - not really.

If you think about it, the 'right' to be un-offended is a 'right' to live an unstimulated life. A life where nothing you ever read or see causes you to rethink your positions and opinions. A life of rather bland prospects, at least intellectualy. I know that if I had the right to be un-offended, then I certainly wouldn't change my mind (and we all know how disastrous that would be), because I wouldn't be presented with alternate opinions. There are even facts that offend me - the fact that people don't view communism in the same family as naziism offends me, for example (and yes, for those of you who don't know, Evan's post is a joke - it's rather obvious).

I had a discussion last night, during the weekly small group I attend, that moved into the realm of 'hate crime' and 'hate speech.' It will soon be illegal here in Canada (and it already is in British Columbia), just as it is in Sweden. On the topic, a friend of mine said something that I very much agree with:

"I think the government does have a responsibilty to protect those individuals who are in a position of weakness, or are threatened by others."
However, I don't think that classifying 'hate speech' a crime is the right way to go about doing that (anyone see the movie Equilibrium?) As has been stated before, by people like Mark Steyn and others (yes, I work at plugging him every chance I get, what of it?), the basis of 'hate crime' legislation is the judgement of your mental processes by a government body. It's frighteningly close to telling us what we can and cannot think. I may not like it that people hate, but I certainly can't claim to be without that feeling myself. Am I to be condemned, then, because my brothers are really making me angry? Are politicians to be condemned for 'hating' their opponents? Are anti-war protestors to be condemned for 'hating' President Bush? Are Iraqi citizens to be condemned for 'hating' Saddam Hussein (hmm...perhaps!)? How about Jewish people and Hitler? The list goes on and on.

Do I have a solution? I think so. Let the current, existing legal code (pre-hate speech) deal with offenders as it has done for decades. We already have different degrees of criminal activity (Assault in the First Degree, Second Degree, etc.), and I feel they are sufficient. Perhaps a consideration of the defendant's mental state is in order, but only during sentencing - not during the actual trial (and this may be a place where I'll examine and reexamine my position and find that I change my mind -- it happens quite often).

This post has been running long for a while now, but I think it's worth it (and I'm free to do both!). Free Speech means Free Speech. It's not without its limits (you can't yell 'Fire!' in a crowded theater, and not be held accountable), but those limits must be incredibly broad. They're guaranteed to be so. Let's not undercut that by trying to examine and pass legal judgement on thought.
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A webjournal of ideas, comments, and various other miscellany from a Texan university student (with occasional input from his family) living in Toronto, Ontario. Can you say "culture shock?"

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