OPINION: The Importance of Debate and the First Amendment

By Cassander Garduña
April 10th, 2018

As an artist and as someone who cherishes my individual liberties, the first amendment which upholds the freedom of speech and the freedom of expression is of the utmost importance to me. If I agreed with a political party in every other regard I would still abandon that party if they advocated for the violation of the first amendment, and the silencing of any group or individual who were acting in accordance with the law. I want to be very clear when I say, “any group or individual” that this is precisely what I mean. I am not solely in support of the free speech rights of those with whom I am ideologically in alignment with, but instead I also support the free speech of those who hold ideas and beliefs which I am vehemently opposed to, ideas and beliefs that offend me to the core. I can not emphasize this enough, it is not only okay to be offended, it is good to be offended. If you’re offended then you’re passionate, and if you’re passionate you should want those ideas and beliefs that you’re passionate about to be challenged, as this is the only way to know if they will hold up to scrutiny. If you’re passionate about an idea you should know the oppositions beliefs and arguments against this idea better than they do, this is how you win a debate with intellectual integrity. On the other hand, silencing people you disagree with through disruption or worse violence is not how you win an argument.

Preventing someone from speaking does not in anyway make their ideology go away, especially when these people have access to the internet, and can reach far more people through it than they could on any street corner or college campus. If you think their beliefs are vile, wouldn’t it be better to let them publicly show their vileness? If you give the people you disagree with a platform to speak, you then have the opportunity to prepare yourself for debate, show up and publicly destroy your opponent peacefully with reasoning, facts and evidence. This is how you sway the public. This is how you make real change. If you make debate impossible you have not only silenced your opponent you have in turn silenced yourself. If you use fascist tactics to silence those you disagree with you have shown yourself to be a fascist. If you use defamation and insults to demonize and to silence your opponent you have shown yourself incapable of debate. Again, this is not how you win an argument.

I personally have always been fairly uncomfortable with confrontation. I don’t feel the need to always be right, and I will not argue over trivial slights or disagreements, but there are times when my comfort becomes unimportant, where freedom of expression, freedom of speech, and the importance of civil, open and public debate outweighs feelings. It is only through free speech and debate that we can truly put our ideas to the test. Be wary of insulating yourself in an ideological echo chamber. Once you have silenced everyone else no progress can be made, you’re simply talking to yourself. Be wary of laws, groups and individuals that attack our first amendment rights. However good their intentions may be at first this can only lead us down a pernicious and dangerous road to an Orwellian state where none of us have a voice. Be wary of identity politics used to divide us. You are more than the color of your skin. You are more than your sexual orientation, your social class, your religion or atheism. You are more than your gender, and you are certainly more than your political party affiliation. Remember that you are an individual, and that we are all human beings. So let us act humanly to our brothers and sisters. Let us show civility towards those we would otherwise disdain. Let us respect ourselves and others enough to conduct ourselves with dignity, and then lets meet on the public square and debate, not with the intention to win for the sake of winning, but instead with an open mind, the humility necessary to listen, and the goal of making our society better.