Friday, December 15, 2006

President Brody is a Dumbass

draws attention to a fascinating column by William R. Brody, the president of Johns Hopkins University. Defending the punishment of a student for posting a racially offensive party invitation on facebook, Brody offers a fascinating theory of free speech.

Brody declares that free speech only applies when the speech meets a "standard of seriousness of purpose or intent." Funny, the First Amendment doesn't include an exception for non-serious speech. In fact, the Supreme Court explicitly protects parody, whether it has a serious purpose or not. Should non-serious writing be prohibited from campus? Will all satire be banned? Should we only read Shakespeare's dramas, and not his comedies?

When I say, "President Brody is a Dumbass," am I making a serious point in an oh-so-ironic way, or am I violating the rules protecting only serious speech? And who exactly should we allow to determine this? The dumbass?

Brody claims that it is "not a courageous trespass of taboo speech but rather a fundamental breach of civility." Ah civility. I think we need to do everything we can to eradicate civility from college campuses, at least in narrowminded sense of stopping disagreements. True civility comes from the conflict of opinions, not the suppression of it.

Brody goes on to quote a campus expert on civility who advises, "Respect for others is the core principle of civility. And it's all-inclusive. You don't pick and choose when it comes to respect." This is exactly right, and it explains why Brody is absolutely wrong. Allowing freedom of expression is one way we show respect for others, and ourselves. We don't pick and choose what speech deserves protection, or limit it to "serious" speech. We protect all speech, and rely upon counterspeech, not punishment, to express our disagreement and disgust.

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