(from The Best American Essays 2007)
"When a touchy subject can no longer be openly and rationally discussed, it is left up to the bigots to talk about it irrationally."While I read this essay, my thoughts swirled around the last couple months of the 2008 presidential election. Some of the author's points were captured perfectly at that time. Emotions were at a fever pitch on both sides. If you ridiculed Sarah Palin, you were sexist. If you criticized Barack Obama, you were racist. In reality, this kind of thinking goes on all the time. People are accused of homophobia, misogyny, prejudice or any number of other epithets for not liking, disagreeing with or questioning another person's words, beliefs or actions. And fear of being labeled as such can stifle or shutdown potentially educational discussion.
-- Ian Buruma
Part of living with the freedom of speech is understanding that not only do you get to speak freely, but so do others. And you might not like what they have to say. Granted, and most unfortunately, there is plenty of homophobia, misogyny, prejudice, etc., etc., alive and well in our society, but "[w]here exactly is the border between criticism or ridicule and 'stirring up hatred?' " When the speech is your own, you know on which side your meaning lies. If it's someone else's, how do you know? And what is the proper response?
The author does not answer these questions, but the point is made: Our right to free speech, which many people in many countries do not have, does not include the right to not be offended. However, we can talk about it! :-)