Tyler Middlestadt

It seems like this quarter, more than most, students have been inundated with ideologies about what to believe and why, where to find the facts to support the argument and the consequences of complacency. Part of me can understand why apathy kicks in when students are besieged with propaganda, but another part of me believes that is what America is all about.

Whether or not you enjoy the presence of aggressive evangelists, pro-life advocates, anti-war demonstrations or political pundits, the bottom-line is that free expression is a hallmark of a free society and is constitutionally protected. For the First Amendment to remain intact, we must protect the speech most that we like the least.

With that said, the protection of controversial speech creates an obligation for free-thinking citizens to ensure that different perspectives are represented in the debate. If you personally feel strongly about an issue, it’s your responsibility to ensure that the public is educated. Hence, the pro-life demonstrations, Arlington West war casualty displays and the shouting evangelicals that tell us all that we’re probably going to hell.

While some of us might disagree with these views, hopefully we can all agree that everyone has a right to speak their mind. If someone is advocating for an issue and you fall on the other side of the debate, it’s your responsibility to make an effort to represent the other half of the story which is missing. Hence, the frequent counter-demonstrations such as tables and banners erected adjacent to the pro-life displays proclaiming support for a woman’s right to choose.

These are important examples of democracy at work. Once again, it’s not about who’s right or wrong, it’s about the responsibility of citizens to ensure that the public is fully informed, and the responsibility of the public to make educated decisions.

This ‘tit-for-tat’ game though, can sometimes be extremely distasteful and counterproductive. Shouting matches at the site of a display or demonstration and insulting letters to the editor are examples of this. The only benefit of these emotional battles is that, “you cannot truly know your opinion until you are forced to defend it against someone who disagrees.”

Anyone who has ever been in a heated debate understands the value of these exchanges. The drawback is that these often turn into mud-slinging fights and evolve into personal attacks against the character of the person speaking for one side of the issue or the other.

Free speech is one of the pillars of free-society and a hallmark of the American heritage. Clearly it opens doors for endless controversy and debate regarding the merit and limits of such a broad individual right. Most importantly, it creates a duty within us all to stand up for our beliefs and prevent any ideologue from shaping our opinions from a biased perspective.

Finally, we must remember that regardless of an individual’s opinions and how they align with ours, they deserve the respect and dignity that each of us expects for ourselves. Let us not get bogged down in the desire to make a fool out of people whose perspective we disagree with; instead, let us attempt to share our own perspective in such a way that the facts speak for themselves. People for the most part are very clever even without you telling them how, why and what to be clever about.

Tylor Middlestadt is the ASI president and Mustang Daily columnist. He can be reached at 756-5828, tmiddles@calpoly.edu, AIM: CPASI President

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