Foothill Technology High School

What disagreement should look like

Violent. Bitter. Acerbic. Divisive.

Although these adjectives characterize America’s disagreements today, it doesn’t represent what disagreement should look like. Disagreement should advance democracy and widen the scope of our perspectives. The fundamental differences in the ideological and political agendas of America’s bipartisan government lead to disagreement that can be channeled to create balance and productivity. Nowadays though, people have forgotten how to disagree and that stems from the lack of respect for the right to freedom of speech.

In February of 2017, political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos had his event at the University of California, Berkeley, canceled after a violent demonstration of “antifa.” A few months later a similar case occurred with political commentator Ann Coulter who was also scheduled to give a speech at the university but was unable to due to threats of violence which caused the conservative groups sponsoring her to withdraw. Ironically, UC Berkeley was the origin of the Free Speech movement in the 1960’s. Coulter was correct when she pulled out of the speech saying, It’s a sad day for free speech.”

The most critical part of disagreement is allowing both sides to have their voices heard. The fact that the liberal bastion of free speech prevented free speech proves we don’t know how to disagree. Instead of real conversations, people try to drown each other out (whether with violence or other means) to make their voices disproportionately more heard than the other side. Without the basic ability to listen there is no basis for disagreement.

In recent decades, the political polarization gripping the nation has resulted in extremist views and antipathy. The outcome is both parties are less willing to listen and more willing to enact violence. Social media sites may be partly responsible for this as corporations like Facebook keep us insulated in our respective ideological bubbles.

Unfortunately, the same lack of disagreement has become part of my academic life. In my government course, the whole class took a survey on whether hate speech should be protected under the First Amendment, with options ranging from strongly agree, somewhat agree, to disagree. Incredibly enough, not everyone chose strongly agree. Freedom is an inclusive definition, a fundamental right protecting all speech and even certain expressions with political meaning.

Hate speech goes under the category free speech. It may incite violence and it may be impossible to intellectually disagree with someone who is expressing themselves through hate speech but when we start picking and choosing what kind of speech is allowed and isn’t, problems arise. No matter how much we despise the opposition’s opinion, we can’t obstruct the right to an opinion, and more importantly, the right to express that opinion. If we don’t even respect people’s ability to express themselves, how can we even begin to disagree?

As Voltaire said, “I may not agree with what you have to say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

There are some cases involving the most extreme racism, sexism and bigotry where it seems like one’s political ideology makes it impossible to live with a conservative under the same sun or vice versa. But I know at least some inkling of what it’s like to face discrimination, so while I sympathize with the urge to drown out all the other voices out there, I should not, cannot override, either by actions or words, those who oppose me.

–Becka Shuere

Featured Image: Jordyn Savard

1 Comment

  • Reply Douglas Campbell October 24, 2017 at 8:26 pm

    Your position can be aptly illustrated by the confrontation between Professor Gregory Thatcher at Cal State Fresno and the Students For Life at that university. The students obtained permission from the facilities organization at the university (I assume this means that whatever they did could be quickly reversed without damaging university facilities) and proceeded to chalk some anti-abortion messages on the ground. Professor Thatcher had an 8AM class on that day, and ordered his students to go out and erase all the messages on the ground. In addition, he himself was filmed erasing one. When confronted, Professor Thatcher said, “You had permission to put it down. I have permission to get rid of it. This is our part of free speech.” What the professor was indicating was that the “heckler’s veto” of speech was valid — if I don’t like your speech, I can prevent others from hearing it by doing something to quash it.

    When informed of this event, the President of Cal State Fresno, Dr. Joseph Castro, quickly countered:
    “The students who wrote the chalk messages received prior university approval and were well within their rights to express themselves in this manner. Those disagreeing with the students’ message have a right to their own speech, but they do not have the right to erase or stifle someone else’s speech under the guise of their own right to free speech.”

    Dr. Castro had his work cut out for him in the matter of Professor Lars Maischak, who tweeted the equivalent of “Trump must hang, as must those who support him”. Dr. Castro said the following in response to that comment by Professor Maischak: “Fresno State understands the deep concerns that have been shared as a result of personal comments made by Professor Lars Maischak, who is a lecturer in the History Department at Fresno State. In response to these concerns, we have conducted a preliminary review to ensure that it is clear that the statements made by him were as a private citizen, not as a representative of Fresno State. Professor Maischak’s personal views and commentary, with its inclusion of violent and threatening language, is obviously inconsistent with the core values of our University.”

    But what is most important is what he did not do — sanction Professor Maischak, as many conservative outlets thought ought to happen.

    As a conservative, I’m deeply impressed with Dr. Castro’s commitment to free speech, even when that speech is “inconsistent with the core values”. He sided with conservatives on the matter of free speech, and he sided with progressives when it mattered. Indeed, he’s well in tune with the Supreme Court’s findings on the matter of limits to be placed on the 1st Amendment.

    Of course, with that said, I’d have a big problem if I were in any of Professor Marchaik’s history classes. The temptation to go off-road in terms of what the good Professor wants to hear from the sheep in his class might be too great.


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