Thursday, March 15, 2012

freedom means the right to say hurtful things

I've spent a week coming to terms with this subject. all the mishigas that's been thrown at obama since his inauguration--the posters and the comments and rush limbaugh playing "barack the magic negro"--has always struck me as a uniquely american prejudicial reaction to a situation the people making the comments can't deal with. I haven't been unaware of the ratcheting up of conflict between ultraorthodox and the increasingly more secular israeli government. but the almost casual use of neonazi symbology, spoken and visual, is new to me.

if making hitler accusations were only by younger israelis who have only glancing contact with actual victims of nazis, that could be almost understandable, at least from the perspective of terms being used for emotional value. but to shout "nazi!" and use swastikas in a nation where 200,000 holocaust survivors, presumably many of them grandparents and aunts and uncles, goes beyond simple shock value into the arena of oedipal conflict.

but I'm not comfortable either with outlawing their use. doing so is the social equivalent of telling your rebelling teen he can't swear and usually has about the same outcome. I'm not a free speech purist--it's wrong to shout "fire!" in a crowded building even if the place is on fire, and I don't care how much evidence you might have amassed, the world is not run by jews--but I have to agree with the statement on the israeli civil rights website, that "freedom of expression means the right to say difficult things that even might be hurtful." in the u.s. this can mean letting neonazis march in skokie where a lot of holocaust survivors settled after release or letting the phelps family protest at military funerals. the activities aren't comfortable situations and in fact spit in the faces of their targets. similarly, rush limbaugh's calling an otherwise unknown law student a slut should be as allowed as the choice of his advertisers to drop his show. but if freedom of speech means anything it means allowing offensive things to be said (but as seen in the case of limbaugh also means there ought to be consequences). but I don't think the consequences should be legal.

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