Measured Against Reality

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Intolerance at Stanford and Free Speech

It's no secret that I'm very pro-free speech, so I feel I have to comment on this Stanford Daily article, about a project highlighting intolerance. The project has an admirable goal: to get people to think about intolerance at Stanford and in general. I think it can something that we don't think about too much, and there were some nasty incidents near me this year.

But I really disagreed with this part:

“Our goal is to make the process of reporting acts of intolerance more transparent and more effective,” Diana Huynh [one of the coordinators] said. “We also hope to raise awareness and encourage people to speak out against acts of intolerance.”


That seems innocuous enough, but that part about reporting acts of intolerance rubs me the wrong way. It seems to me that most of these acts are harmless, in that there's no actual threat, and people are just exercising their free speech rights, albeit in incredibly unfortunate ways. It seems to me that unless the act is intended as a threat, there's nothing to report.

Granted, it's unfortunate that there are closed-minded people in the world, but even they have a right to their opinions, no matter how repugnant they are. Unless they cross the line and actually violate a law, I feel really strongly that there should be no action taken against them.

Maybe that's what the group meant. But for some reason I doubt it. The people running colleges seem to have this idea that free speech doesn't apply to things that make people uncomfortable, or even to things that are downright hateful. But it does. We take away the right to say those things, and we can kiss goodbye all of our rights. It won't be immediate, and you might not even notice it, but once the right to free speech starts to erode, it will be eventually evaporate, and it will take democracy with it. You might think that's hyperbole, but I am utterly convinced that we cannot budge an inch in our defense of free speech, and I think that

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