Saturday, February 26, 2005

Freedom of Speech

It seems to me that many people extend freedom of speech to the speech that they like. There is an excellent juxtaposition in the media. The first example is the professor from Colorado, Ward Chruchill. What this guy said was offensive and horrible. I think nobody should ever invite him to their school. The next example is Larry Summers. I know their situations aren't the same because one is a tenured professor at a public university and the other is a president of a private university, but I think the reactions are a neat juxtaposition.
The conservative reaction: they treated Ward Chruchill like the terrible person he is. He called innocent civillians 'little Eichmanns' and all sorts of other terrible things. Many, not all, conservatives called, and are still calling, for him to lose his job. They say various things such as that taxpayers should not be paying for this and people have a right to free speech, but not to be heard. A lot is going around, but the gist is he should lose his job. When Larry Summers said what he said the conservatives said that people need to chill out. He was trying to be provocative and he was citing a study. Conservatives are saying that all this uproar about what he said is ridiculous and they should be talking about the substance of his speech and not about him keeping his job.
The liberal reaction: They are championing Ward Churchill as a bastion of free speech. They purposely avoid talking about what he said but they viciously defend his right to say it. They try to use it as an example of how the right is restricting speech. They stand behind this guys right to say what he wants. In regards to Larry Summers they treat him as a bigot. They hold meetings and want to have a vote of no confidence for him. They think he is terrible and anyone that says anything like him should automatically be ousted from their post.
I know this doesn't begin to show the whole gamut of responses, but these are the troubling responses. Both groups, conservative and liberal, have decided that somewhere free speech should be put down. I think this is horrible. As soon as you start curtailing others free speech you are inviting others to restrict your speech. I think the power of our country is that you can say horrible vile things and we have to let you. We can not make content based restrictions on speech. I think tha is a beautiful thing and as I get older I believe in it more and more. If conservatives want to quiet Churchill then they have no right stading up for Summers. Vice Versa for the liberals.
So what do I think? I think Ward Churchill said some terrible things. I think he should have never gained tenure at the university in the first place. He is a liar, attributing to himself a false relationship with and Indian tribe. I hate what he said and I think it causes considerable pain for those involved with September 11th. Should he be fired? No ofcourse not. They can fire him for lying on his application, but Tenure is a contractual relationship and the University gave it to him. They should have to live with it and learn not to tenure crazies in the future. I hate to say it but I hate what he says but I will voraciously defend his right to say it.
It goes the same way, almost, with Larry Summers. He brought up a controversial viewpoint. I know his situation is different because the private college has a lot more leeway in hiring and firing whomever they want for whatever they want. That said I think he should be championed by all free speech advocates. He made a statement that has taken a lot of flak. The problem with his statement is that liberals automatically object to that type of statement whether it is backed by empirical evidence or not. I think he has created a ton of discussion and debate on the issue and that is exactly what you want. I think anyone that champions his free speech has to do the same with Ward Churchill. It is a terrible double edge sword, but one that I like. Not only do I have to allow the speech that I think is useful and good, but I also have to allow the speech that I hate and think is counter productive.
I also think that the really interesting part of this is the liberal and conservative split on these issues. They are basically mirroring each other. I am just curious as why one group always protects a certain kind and the other seems to gravitate to the exact opposite kind. I guess it is good because that protects people the most.
In the end I just don't want to end up like Canada. I know a lot of people like Canada, but it really does curtail a lot of freedoms that we think of as basic, unalienable freedoms. Two of these are free speech and double jeapordy. I'll put a link to an article here in a minute, but I think stories like these make me proud to be living in America and happy that we can debate these issues openly. I think that is the strenght of our system. Again I do not condone the speech that these people were making. They were saying horrible things, but since there is no immediate threat I can't see disallowing them the right to free speech. Also they were acquitted and that should have been the end of it.


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