Monday, March 17, 2003

T-shirts and Free Speech: This column goes out of its way to be evenhanded. It's about a high school student who wore a shirt stating that our president is an "International Terrorist." (This is going to be come the new coin of the realm in politically conscious circles, particularly liberal ones, where the practice of calling you enemy a "Nazi" is getting a bit musty.)

Now, I tend toward a certain free-speech absolutism; that is, I think any doubt in a given situation must swing toward a presumption of legitimacy. However, the speech in this case makes for an interesting quandry. I am not of the opinion that Bush is a terrorist. I suppose this student is. (I am also not of the opinion that all anti-war protesters are "unpatriotic," although others do believe this. I've lately been told, though, that anti-war protesters think this epithet is grossly unfair.) Hmmm... Where does that leave us? Suppose the student wore a shirt that bore a picture of his principal, accompanied by the label "Pederast." That the student might actually hold this opinion seems irrelevant. Certainly, as the column points out, supposedly "liberal" administrators get their panties in a bunch when the free speech invades the zone of the politically correct.

I suppose I have to side with the free speechers on this one, though I lament that the parents allow their children to parade about with so little dignity. It's part of the complaint that I've voiced before that the rise of the "personal is political" ethos, and the resulting bumper-sticker culture, is really inimical to the idea of a civil society. It's a sign of those who are convinced, to the point of gross misperception, that their opinions on various political and social matters are of the deepest concern to their neighbors. It correlates highly with liberalism (i.e., showing your community how evolved you are, how correct your opinions are, how devoted you are to recycling); jingoism, in which it is usually voiced as a threat ("Don't tread ..." and all that); and religion (I need not lay out examples on this one). The connection is that all three are examples of people holding self-righteous beliefs, however irrational, that they seem to be repeating, mantra-like, as if determined to shout down any doubts that might creep into the fringes of their minds. I don't doubt that the desire to proselytize is at work here, though I suspect that the tendency to "spread the word" on any issue is based on a psychology that moves in deeper waters than the simple conviction of correctness.

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