when free speech ain’t free

This past Wednesday, February 1, Milos Yiannopoulos, the editor of Brietbart, a conservative news and opinion network, which some describe as trafficking in right-wing propagandist and, equally purposefully, incendiary misogynistic, racist, and xenophobic rhetoric, was scheduled to speak at the University of California Berkeley. Demonstrators gathered to protest his appearance. Outside agitators unaffiliated with the university committed acts of violence. A number of people were hurt and multiple thousands of dollars of damage done to buildings and grounds. University administrators, citing the concern for public safety, cancelled the event.

Speaking always and only for myself…

For nearly 65 years (and, blessedly, day by day, I continue to count!) I have slogged through the twilight and, at times, illumined trenches of my thinking, the fetid and, at times, fecund furrows of my feelings. I (in addition to being unabashedly alliterative!) am a theological existentialist and a socio-political progressive with dyed-in-the-wool-of-my-soul-and-spirit pluralist and inclusive leanings. In all this, I recognize, indeed, respect “the other”; all those who think and feel differently. In this, I believe in the freedom of speech, even when it offends my sensibilities and sensitivities.[1] I believe in the free exchange of ideas, even those that provoke my anger. I believe in granting others, through the courtesy of civility, a hearing, even when I disagree and, perhaps especially, when I disagree strongly.

Why?

Because I live to seek truth; that which I consider “real” that allows me to make meaning for my life, to make sense of my existence. And my quest for my truth is constant. And, as I cannot think and feel all things and as I share this planet with countless folk who think and feel differently, I strive, sometimes with ease, sometimes with difficulty, to remain open to what I might, indeed, can learn from others with other worldviews, and

Because, though I constitutionally do not agree, verily, viscerally cannot agree with Mr. Yiannopoulos, to prevent him from giving air to his views eventually, inevitably restricts the right of free speech for all. For to deny any one the occasion for expression, at whatever time and for whatever purpose or cause, is to promote an atmosphere where another at another time for another purpose or cause can be denied that opportunity, and

Because I think that an environment characterized by fierce animus toward “the (whoever and whatever) other” encourages the identification of persons chiefly by their perspectives or positions on issues, which, in turn, nearly inexorably leads to the denial, dismissal of their essential humanness, and

Because I feel, I fear that in this fractious time in the history of a fractured America a climate of the demonization of “the other”, especially those who dwell on the far reaches of either side of the philosophical-political continuum, will compel moderate voices to withdraw from the public arena of engagement and debate, thus impoverishing our civic discourse, and

Because, then, freedom of speech won’t be free…

But perhaps it never is. Freedom of speech bears the cost of the sacrifice of those in ages past who offered it as bequest to their heirs of future generations and of those in this day and time. Again, speaking always and only for myself, freedom of speech bears the cost of my sacrifice of the security, even sanctity of my worldview by having occasion to listen to those whose words do not substantiate or justify my truth.

 

Footnote:

[1] I also recognize that freedom of speech (indeed, any freedom) is not absolute. And though there are historically, legally accepted limits on human expression (e.g., libel, slander, obscenity, and sedition), my taking offense is not one of them!