free speech, ralph waldo

The price of free speech: We can dish it out, but we also have to take it

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By Michael d’Oliveira

Kanye West’s string of Trump-supporting tweets sparked the reaction you probably expected from the rest of social media. Liberals mocked and criticized him. Conservatives praised him.

The reaction to the reaction was also predictable.

In defense of her husband, Kim Kardashian West tweeted, “He’s a free thinker, is that not allowed in America? Because some of his ideas differ from yours you have to throw in the mental health card? That’s just not fair. He’s actually out of the sunken place when he’s being himself which is very expressive”

Some of what she said is valid – such as not calling someone crazy just because they have different ideas. Unfortunately, like so many others, she also played the victim card when she said, “He’s a free thinker, is that not allowed in America?”

Time and time again, people of all political stripes and ideology, including conservatives and liberals, play the victim card and act like people reacting harshly to what they say is akin to throwing them in a Soviet gulag in Siberia. Yes, being a free thinker is still allowed in America, Kim. That’s why Kanye isn’t in jail or being chased by an angry mob of fans who feel betrayed. Kanye is free to say whatever he wants.

But, Kanye is not free from the consequences of his words.

In a country founded upon the principles of free and open speech, the price of that open speech is others have the right to challenge you and your beliefs. They also have the right to go further and openly mock you and disrespect everything you hold sacred.

People calling Kanye stupid and crazy isn’t an attack on Kanye’s freedom. It’s a feature of their freedom to express their ideas. It’s literally the machinery of freedom working itself out – the marketplace of ideas in action. It’s pretty awesome and we take it for granted way too much.

Not only do we have the right to offend people, we have the right to intentionally offend them. It’s not nice, but, thankfully, the Founding Fathers were concerned with rights and not feelings.

Essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson lived in the 1800s. Way before our current victim card culture. But, even in only that second century of the American experiment, the values and merits of free expression were already strong and cherished. Emerson and many others knew and accepted all the complicated nuances of free speech. We can dish it out, but we also have to take it.

“Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted,” wrote Emerson. Kim Kardashian needs to read more Emerson. Maybe she can fit him into her selfie schedule soon.

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