Opinion: Free Speech – The Key to Growth


Image: Jenna Eason

Photo by Jenna Eason

When conservative commentator Ben Shapiro arrived at U.C. Berkeley on Sept. 14, 2017 he was greeted by a crowd of ravenous protestors, many of whom pledged allegiance to the left-leaning organization of Anti-Fascists (ANTIFA).

According to the New York Times, $600,000 in security was spent on that event alone with nine arrests taking place. The same thing happened to political commentator Ann Coulter when she went to speak at UC Berkeley.

Similarly, a few years prior, when disgraced alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos did an event at Depaul University, he was met by an angry mob that seized the stage during a Q&A session hosted by the College Republicans.  

These two events are a variation of a larger illness that has struck Western society and college campuses in particular; an unwillingness to entertain opposing views. With a refusal to listen comes an inability to grow. If the scientist never considered hypotheses other than his own, would he be able to recognize the flaws in his experiment?

Growing is two-fold; it is both advantageous and detrimental to you. It is advantageous because it allows you to go beyond your current situation and take hold of new ones. That can lead to new opportunities, skills and other things that help progress us as individuals.

The detriment? It can shatter your preconceptions of the world and lead to cognitive dissonance. Thinking is a very difficult endeavor, one we typically shy away from in favor of expediency and simplicity.

In an industrialized society such as ours, where we have machines, apps and other gizmos that make our life much easier, things that require a significant amount of effort, mental or otherwise, become secondary.

That is the affliction that many who shut down repulsive views suffer from; the world, in their mind, is meant to operate in a particular way and any detraction from that is a threat.

But is it really? Sure, there may be some unsavory worldviews out there, many of which I detest. An example of which is the idea of ‘race realism,’ which contends that certain races are genetically superior to others.

That perspective is detestable in my mind and the minds of many others – but would I truly grow if I didn’t take time to learn why people think this? Would it really distort my values or my worldview to see an idea contrary to my own?

Unless you are so feeble-minded and weak-willed that you’d buckle under the pressure of having your views questioned, challenges to your ideas should be embraced. You and your worldview will be better for it.

In the pursuit of truth, struggle becomes critical. Just as the scientist should embrace different experiments to obtain the answer to what he’s trying to test, we should do the same to unearth the truth.

We will never be able to do that if we alienate certain perspectives from the conversation. The “truth” will become but an empty platitude to satisfy illusion of it being chased, and our dialogue will center around canned talking points and demagoguery.

Regardless of your perspective, it is my hope that you, as a human being, will join me in the quest for truth. It is my dream that you, as an existing soul, will entertain perspectives you find reprehensible and refine those you find agreeable. It is my hope that you, as a college student, will not contribute to the climate of speech oppression that consumes western society. If we keep these things in mind, we will all grow together.