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There Is No Right to be Exempt From Criticism

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As part of her excellent take on the racist email send by a student at Harvard Law School, Jill identifies another excellent example of Sarah Palin’s theory of free speech, i.e. that the First Amendment means that your arguments can’t be criticized. In this case, the argument is that “we should be able to debate all issues rationally, vigorously and openly, without having to worry about offending anyone.” As Jill says, “part of the consequences of raising controversial (or idiotic) arguments is that people will become annoyed, angry or offended.” That’s what free speech, inside or outside an academic setting, means.   You have the right to express yourself, not to control the reactions of others.

Of course, the relentless invocations of “political correctness” are, in themselves, a means of stultifying debate. The underlying premise — made rather openly in this case — is that one should be able to express bigotry while being exempt from criticism that might make the person expressing the bigotry uncomfortable. And going along with this is the even sillier assumption that people who defend existing social privileges are the real iconoclasts. Please.

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