Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Free Speech at the UW and Beyond

I am a fairly tolerant guy, I really am. Sure I get surly about some things, but I have learned that getting pissed about minor stuff is pointless

But this raging debate about free speech concerning the Boyington Memorial is really starting to irritate me. The matter itself is simple enough to understand. They debated a proposed memorial, and in the process a couple of people spoke their minds. The details of those comments were heard by a larger audience, who expressed disapproval and outrage. The memorial was defeated and that drew more outrage.

Suddenly, it was not about respect, or race, (re: the comments by the students) it was all about free speech, and suddenly the bloggers and talk radio were under attack as trying to tamper with the opinions of the students, and we are being disrespectful.

Can you say "blame shifting"?

Lee Dunbar is quoted as saying:

...He has been witness to blatant disregard and disrespect toward students and their right to express themselves freely.

...

He said he would do everything in his power to prevent such blatant disrespect for student's opinions.

Roadkill Blog, in a post that minimalized the students as just silly, but criminalized the critics as "not quite Nazis" and chickenhawks, shows his dissatisfaction of the wider debate thusly:

(speaking of the bloggers and radio shows)...But not to the war party. They just couldn't wait to put a jackboot on somebody's neck because they cannot tolerate any more dissent, especially now, that their Iraq escapade is in tatters. It's not quite a NAZI attitude, but it's on the path to it. Since the wars this fallen Nation chooses to embroil itself in no longer have any real honor, the war fanatics fight at every turn to stoke the inherently tarnished, diminished honor of the volunteers who have chosen to follow our misleaders.

and in my comments:

There is something fundamentally tainted about raising a ruckus to force - coerce, actually - someone to support an honor they would freely choose not to support.

When this thing is built - I will assume it will be - people will walk by and remember this was the one the military mob forced down the Senate's throat. The conflict will be recalled before the medal winners, which is a shame. The assault on free speech will be remembered and the assaults on the Solomons forgotten... Again.

You know, what the UW really needs is a monument to the futility of force...

Now would Possum, the noble MINO* please answer me a question? How is the act of protest and debate an act of forcing, and as any true moderate should know, is that any different then the attempts to drain the memorial of its substance by watering the language? Did they not just force that issue, then kill it when they couldn't contain it?

Rather hypocritical, really. If you say it, it is free speech, and protected and sacred, and magic and special, but if *I* disagree, then *my* speech is disrespectful and coercive.

Sweet...

Um, this is a debate gang, of course it's coercive! The whole point of debate is to oppose the other sides arguments and convince the undecided to support *you*. Is that not what happened? Hello? Bueller?

What pisses everyone off is that the debate continued after the resolution was killed. Rather then simply slink away, tail between legs, cowed for having the audacity to propose a memorial, the sponsor refused to give up, and now the students face a consequence that they seem to feel they are above: A few are being held accountable for their words.

Nicole Brodeur stated it well in her Seattle Times column:

(Speaking of Senator Jill Edwards)

Bloggers jumped all over her, one writer suggesting a Pappy Boyington Memorial Scholarship at UW for U.S. Marines or their children.

...

Edwards had a few things of her own to post on a UW page: "I talked more than I ever have before and realized exactly why I never talk. I am thouroughly (sic) regretting opeining (sic) my mouth."

And therein lies the irony. Guys like Pappy Boyington won her the freedom to do that.

What you do with that freedom can carry consequences. The trick is to learn from those mistakes Â? and from the people who made such lessons possible.

Bingo. In case you missed it, here is the short version:

Free speech isn't really free.

First of all, people like Pappy died to win you that freedom, and second, free speech is not an absolute. There are some restrictions on it, regardless of what you or the ACLU may say. Oh, not just the tired old "shouting Fire in a crowded theater" example. Remember hate speech? Threatening the president? What about preaching sedition? Are those free speech? Nope, all illegal.

Oh, don't get me wrong, the examples are limited for a good reason. Free speech must exist in as much freedom as it can, or we are not free.

So, what is free speech really?

It is certainly easy to open your mouth and spew out anything you want, that's true. But that really isn't free speech. Free speech doesn't happen until you are wildly disagreed with, but your right to say what you did is respected. Free speech is not saying what everyone around you agrees with, it is saying what they intensely disagree with, and them allowing you to disagree.

Missed it again? Free speech is not about words, it is about ideas. It is about conveying an idea, and the Courts protect it when it isn't even in words. It is about communication.

So a few students protested their opinion of unworthiness of the honoree. Totally acceptable free speech. So some bloggers and radio shows expressed that they thought the students were ignorant and disrespectful. Also protected free speech.

So a debate began to continue the project anyway, a perfect example of effective communication and, as anyone who passed Civics might know, a perfect example of the continuing evolving legislative process.

The students understand coercion, they passed this resolution endorsing Lobby Day, and they passed this one opposing Denial of Federal Financial Aid due to drug convictions, in which they encourage people affected to contact the ACLU and don't forget the Resolutoin currently in consideration to Admonish Military Recruiters.

The even have a Lobbying Blog: http://asuwogr.blogspot.com/

Isn't that the sweetest little bit of irony? They are complaining that bloggers are trying to coerce them, operate a blog detailing their attempts to coerce (lobby) the State Legislature. I love it.

They obviously get it. They use it. They work to influence the world around them through debate and resolution, through communication of ideas. They just don't like it when the world tries to influence them back; then they call it unfair and disrespectful.

Ya know what? Grow up. I repeat: Grow up. You don't like being called petulant, then don't whine.

Free speech is all the rage when the people agree with you, isn't it? But is sure sucks when it comes knocking on your door with it's own opinion, and you sure don't like when it disagrees with you.

Yes, this post is very cynical, I admit it. But the whining is growing tiresome.

To Jill and Ashley: You said it, now own it and deal with it.

And I again categorically condemn any hate mail you, or anyone else received.

To the UW Senate: Keep it up. Debate hard, and loud, and with passion. Influence the world around you, but remember you do so in what Lee Dunbar called "A center of the community." You would be well advised to remember that the community extends beyond the campus to the world around you. You know this, because you lobby to change that world. If so, then you have to accept that the world is also watching and will try to influence you.

Don't get snarky about.

Communicate.

*MINO= Moderate In Name Only...Fair is fair, he calls me a Moderate in Training. If he is an example of a trained moderate, God Help us.