Free speech must remain free
The latest gladiator sport offered to Americans has been a new round of fighting around the issue of free speech. The Tucson incident, whereby a crazed man with a powerful weapon appeared to have been encouraged by hyperbolic political language to kill a bunch of people, has sparked another inning.
I’m coming up to bat and saying if we have to put up with pornography in the name of free speech, then we must permit political hyperbole to continue. Most people are not compelled by pornography to kidnap and murder young women; but a few will be. Most of us are not compelled by political exaggerations to kill a bunch of strangers, but a few will be. The crazed will latch onto any idea that fits into their fantasy life.
Attacking free speech won’t solve the problem of the insane who live among us. Our country has not dealt with insanity since most mental institutions were closed during the Reagan years. Inmates were released, but the promised medical support, drugs and social services were un-funded.
It presents a thorny question of personal freedom. We must decide if and when a person should be hospitalized as a preemptive measure. No one would call for a return of the ‘snake pits’ of the ‘50s or questionable incarceration a la “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” but this yells for a public health solution. Surely, as a nation, we are compassionate enough to take care of the walking wounded, and smart enough to protect ourselves from the seriously demented. But we don’t protect ourselves by limiting free speech.
Language is the hallmark, the epitome of human achievement. Everything we have accomplished flows from this astounding invention that promotes communication. That some of us are urged to violence by language is a problem of ‘us’. Some of us have not developed a skeptical ear. Some of us are not critical readers. Some of us are lunatics.
Don’t blame the words—instead roll ‘em around and think about what is being said and not said and why. I was expelled from eighth grade because words I wrote in a notebook were later read by a teacher when I accidently left my notebook on a shelf under the chair. The principal and my parents might have asked why I had written such a rude and nasty comment about the teacher, but they weren’t critical readers, just critical adults. Abject apologies and a year’s probation got me back in school.
In an effort to be politically correct, some of our schools have banned Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn because of the ‘N’ word. Give us a break! This novel was written just after the dark days of slavery wherein Twain broke with the popular opinion by writing about the friendship between a white boy and a black man. In order to make this novel accessible to school children, one semi-scholar has rewritten Huck Finn changing the ‘N’ to slave. Come on. Keep the book as written and pretend it is banned. Children are usually attracted to banned objects.
You know when a word is being used cruelly whether flung as mud or hidden in a joke. A couple years ago, I decided I wouldn’t let ethnic or racial jokes slid by. I get a lot less jokes sent to my inbox and perhaps a few people have reconsidered their sense of humor.
First there was writing, then the printing press and now communication has taken another quantum leap forward with the new technology of Internet, iPhones and Facebook. No one could have imagined that a popular revolt against a powerful dictator would have been brought about through instant communication. It is telling that the government of Egypt shut down their Internet. In the old days, it would have been the radio stations that were closed.
Implicit in all of our freedoms listed in the Bill of Rights is the belief that the individual has the intelligence and content of character not to misuse these rights. Don’t call ‘fire’ in a crowded theater, and, I would suggest, don’t draw targets over politicians’ faces.
Free speech is like our other freedoms—it requires personal self-control.