Thursday, March 22, 2007

The limits of speech and open dialogue

My previous post dealt with speech around the morality or immorality of homosexuality. Gavin and Angeli provided for a good discussion. I was commenting on an article that was reporting on the fallout for Barack Obama's failure to speak out against the comments of a member of the joints chief of staff. I saw the article in a portion of a newspaper left on the train, and now do not remember whether it was the Tribune, Sun-Times or the Red Eye. The reporting was focused on supporters of Obama who were objecting that he did not speak out against this individual saying that homosexuality was immoral. The implication of the article was that this statement in and of itself was beyond the pale of public moral discourse. I was responding to this and not directly the remarks of the official who made the remarks and I had missed the incident prior to reading the article this morning.
Given the context in which I encountered the controversy, that is criticism of Obama's lack of response, and that the issue was contextualized as one concerning the morality of homosexuality and that it should be seen as without saying that asserting anything other than that homosexuality is acceptable moral behavior is verboten.

I had not thought about the broader contexts of those remarks and that it was in the context of military policy. However, neither did the article mention this, which seemed to be sympathetic to Obama's critics. Also, what was reported of these critics did not reflect this context but only a general disapproval of a particular moral stance.

Let me also say that I had not intended to defend the position of the official, nor any statements that would generalize about homosexuals as persons, ie. as untrustworthy or as immoral in their persons. Which if Gavin's memory served him correctly it appears the official went beyond the sort of discourse I was and would defend. Such discourse I would agree can and most likely would lead to violence against persons.

So, I agree that the official should have refrained from making those comments. and that his actions are worthy of criticism, perhaps even censure and discipline. The degree to which is language tended towards stereotyping homosexuals as persons or if he generalized about homosexuals in a derogatory manner I would agree that he had stepped beyond the bounds of what is appropriate for he or even of most people to speak. I though would still make the distinction between that speech and speaking to the morality of homosexuality.

However, I am still left a bit troubled by how the left deals with speech and dialogue around moral issues. And the remarks of Obama's critics seemed to indicate that they were more concerned with the fact that someone had said that homosexuality was immoral, than the other possibly more inflammatory remarks beyond expressing a valid(in my opinion, though I disagree with it) moral stance. And that Obama was being called to condemn was that moral stance without qualification and was being criticized for not condemning said moral stance. Now it is possible, maybe even probable, that the article completely misrepresented Obama's critics and completely missed the point. However, I believed the representation because more and more I have been encountering this attitude of complete mystification by some "liberals" that any intelligent morally sensitive and fully developed human being could hold to traditional sexual morality, let alone other views not held by the liberal. I find this disturbing because it is exactly the same attitude I found amongst conservatives in my turned fundamentalist church I was a member of in college. They couldn't believe that I would listen to those "liberals" and how I, a good Christian sensitive and intelligent could take seriously "those views".

So, I agree that there is certainly speech that can have destructive ends. And certainly there is the limit of free speech. For example it is not an exercise of fre speech to yell fire in a crowded theater when one knows that there is no fire. But that seems to be an example of speech one knows to be false and also should know that there will most likely be negative consequences. It is different from yelling fire because one smells and sees smoke , but where there is no dangerous fire. In this case one is speaking what one thinks to be true but is also able to be falsified. Then there is speaking what one believes to be true knowing that it is more dangerous for certain individual for one to speak than it would be for one to not speak. Given what Angeli and Gavin have said it appears this seems to be where the officials statements fall. But what of speech in which one believes it is equally dangerous to speak or not to speak. And are we not on thin ice when we expand the ring of dangerous speech from what clearly will and is intended to do harm, to less clear instances of danger or because speech may cause soemone to react in a harmful way.

I am seeing the that traditional Christian discourse is slowly being seen as dangerous speech. The question of the morality of homosexuality touches on one aspect of traditional Christian discourse and teaching. I also cannot ignore that the suppression of what is suspected or might possibly be dangerous discourse is also the obsession of totalitarian regimes.
So, as I see it the issue of speech and allowing open dialogue while I agree there are limits I will also assert that we need to be equally critical of attempts to control speech we deem to be possibly dangerous. I feel that I am seeing a lack of this vigilance and and an unwillingness to critique desires control what is deemed to be potentially dangerous speech on the left that leaves me ready to defend speech I may otherwise disagree with or even feel to be dead wrong.