Monday, January 17, 2011

Qualifying Speech

The question proposed by Moss in DL1 about whether free speech should be limited in light of the events in Tucson has been on the lips of reporters and politicians across mainstream media, but as Richard Stengel, Time magazine's managing editor, put it in the most recent issue "that discussion has quickly fallen into predictable patterns: the left blaming the right for inflammatory rhetoric, the right blaming the left for unfairly singling it out" (Stengel). Even in a discussion about how divisive speech may in part have led to the violence of the Arizona shootings, politicians are dividing along party lines--demonizing the other side--creating an "us" and a "them." Each side has its own motivations for limiting the speech of the other, and if either managed to push their agenda forward I doubt it would be in the interest of all people. In October of 2010, John Stewart led the "Rally to Restore Sanity" where he called for simple changes to the media's rhetoric. Instead of totally demonizing the other side, Stewart suggested people try things like: "I disagree with you but I am pretty sure you're not Hitler" (Adams). Rather than searching for ways to limit free speech, we should look for ways to better speak to each other.

In a recent paper on the concept of good development, I wrote this:
//A development project in Cote d'Iviore, a country that has faced a rise in gender based violence in the aftermath of war, simply provided women in three different villages cameras and asked them to "make a record of their daily lives" (Jones) as a way to "give them time... to discuss what they would like to change" (Jones). Women in all three of the villages—who at the beginning of the project “feared they couldn’t do what they would be asked to do” (Jones)— stood up in front of their villages, displayed their photos, and spoke for change (Jones). In one village—upon seeing a photo of a battered woman’s leg— the old chief called for violence of any kind to stop (Jones). In the second village, a woman who had been badly beaten by her husband showed her photos to the village and that night, “for the very first time, he gave her money to buy food for the children” (Jones). In the third village, where six different languages were spoken, the men were not so receptive—yelling over the women—but the women still spoke. Men, under the lens of a camera, learned to see themselves and to see their wives. Women holding a camera found their voices. While this approach might not work in the United States where photographs are often retouched and used to sell rather than to communicate, in Côte d'Ivoire a camera bridged some of the distance between men and women. Simply speaking in public “left the women exuberant” (Jones).// (Stokes)
We must pioneer ways for people to communicate and thus remind ourselves of our similarities rather than our differences: not to reduce speech, but to create more productive dialogue. By seeing each other as people instead of competition, by defining ourselves through similarities rather than differences, we can better our and one another's lives. I hope to use this class to produce space online that allows for this kind of productive interaction: a space where "people are reminded of their collective humanity and responsibility to that humanity" (Stokes).

Works Cited

Adams, Richard, and David Batty. "Jon Stewart Rally- As It Happened." The Guardian. 30 Oct. 2010. Web. 17 Jan. 2011

Jones, Ann. War Is Not Over When It's Over: Women Speak out from the Ruins of War. New York: Metropolitan, 2010. Print. 15-55.

Stengel, Richard. "After Tuscon." Time [New York]. 16 Jan 2011. 2. Print.

Stokes, Jessica S. "Good Development: Perception and Practice." International Grassroots Development. University of Michigan, 2012.


  1. How do we learn that freedoms do not come without both consequences and responsibilities?

    That we have freedom of expression does not mean that everything expressible should be expressed in all the ways possible for expression —freedom of expression includes a choice of not expressing.

    I am a fan of Morgan Spurlock's attempts to champion tolerance through a 30-day , experience of someone else's point of view, lifestyle choices, belief systems, etc. in his series 30 Days. In one episode, for example, a Christian spends 30 days with a Muslim family, 30 days in which the Christian man must live as a Muslim, must practice tenets of Islam. In most cases, the experience is transforming in a way that uplifts humanity.

    Thanks for this post.

  2. I applaud your hope for usage of this class.

    By the way, because Limited Fork Theory believes in both the collaborative nature of all things, and that all things, because of that collaborative nature, are already connected; what remains to be done, therefore, is the activation of paths of connection that are in place.

    Also: in its broadest definition, competition is a form of collaboration —hmm...

  3. I actually watched that specific episode of the Christian man who becomes Muslim for 30 days. Years after viewing it, I still remember the scene where the man refuses to pray with the rest in the congregation. Although he believes in God, he does not think that Muslims are following the same God as him. This scene was especially interesting because his refusal to simply meditate (which is largely a part of prayer) was astounding. In some ways, he was holding onto his beliefs for fear of losing them to a new experience. It was as if he would be betraying himself by contemplating within the mass. I wonder what it must be like to pray within a congregation of other followers who are whispering in ancient and unknown tongues?

    Perhaps, our freedom of speech and likewise our criticality of it is linked to out incessant need to gain a different perspective while holding steadfast onto our own.