Yesterday, I had an encounter with a belligerent drunk person in my hall. He was pissed off by what he saw as the misleading and dishonest message of the flyers that several people – myself included – had put up in the area. His response was to tear down the flyers, and rip them to shreds.

This is not the first time that this has been an issue for me personally. Last semester, Rivka and I passed an anti-guns petition around in our history lecture. Some [insert word here] who obviously disagreed with the petition decided that he felt offended enough that he actually crumpled up the sheet of paper and tore it. I should mention that the petition had names on it – the names of people who I and several others worked hard to reach, and whose names were lost probably forever because of one person’s knee-jerk hostility.

I don’t pretend that I agree with the message of all flyers. I want to deface the Republicans’ posters as much as anyone else, but I don’t. What I fail to grasp is the concept that anyone who simply disagrees with a flyer, or a petition, or an event, would actually expend the effort and saboe it. What does this accomplish? The only utility it serves, as far as I can see, is a greater sense of control and empowerment, in the negative sense (over other people). I aim to demonstrate that such narrow-mindedness actually has the opposite effect.

A fundamental principle that allows freedom of expression to thrive is the exercise of self-restraint. This is basic reasoning: If I act on my urge to interfere with someone else’s message, then I give license to that person to silence me (unless, of course, I believe that I am somehow above that person and can do what I want while they cannot). By ripping up my flyers, this person opened the door to his own muzzling. The logical extension of this situation is that the mutual attacks on expression will metastasize into a broader trampling on open expression within the community at large. Thus, the community should take notice; what seems small truly has great consequences.

I fear where these small incidents can lead. I urge you all to be vigilant and to stand up to what is effectively barbarism, and defend everyone’s right to free speech.

2 comments on “Suppressing Speech: An Appeal to Reason and Self-Interest”

  1. Sahar Says:

    Good post!

    I’m surprised that this is happening on campus, though I guess I shouldn’t be.

    Nice framing – self control is very important.

    And people who feel the need to “silence” others hate freedom of expression, and therefore must hate America. 😉

  2. Sahar Says:

    Come to think of it, take the example of that poster of Al Franken that we set up in Lower Usdan that one time. I turn my back for five minutes and when I come back it’s defaced with a mustache, earrings, etc.

    Some people are just jerks.