What Did You Say?
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The Spectator
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 by Laramie Boyd
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         The "stubborn, incorrigible, non-conformist" Albert Einstein had an interesting view about freedom of speech, but there are those who don't seem to share his feelings. During the days of Senator McCarthy's hunt for Communists in government, Einstein felt that anyone who wished not to testify in a court of law should use the 1st Amendment, not claim the 5th. He felt freedom of speech was of paramount importance and was what made America the unique land it is. He believed there was a huge difference in saying "I am refusing to speak because I have that right" as opposed to "If I tell the truth I might incriminate myself."
         The great scientist was invited to live on the campus of Princeton University and was pretty much free to come and go as he pleased while he pondered the Universe. And he felt Americans should refuse to testify in the McCarthy hearings if they chose not to. His position was that Americans should "not let fear of any dogma or nationalistic propaganda cause them to surrender their civil rights and freedoms." He felt that neither silence nor personal opinions were crimes. There were some who protested his remarks and said he should go back to where he came from because he was living off America while sharing "un-American views." In a round-about way, though, Einstein helped the U.S. keep Adolph Hitler from doing who knows what if he had not been defeated, so he was not "un-American," but rather grateful to be under the wing of America's freedom rather than Hitler's regime.
         Today, it seems that America is headed in a direction that is not easy to understand or explain. Consider the string of expressions of personal viewpoints, some surely politically incorrect, whatever that means, and not necessarily wrong or right, but opinions nevertheless, and the punishments meted to those who were not thinking the way those in power thought they should think.
          The President of the Professional Golfers Association of America called Ian Coulter, a European golfer, a "lil girl" for acting like a "little girl squealing during recess." Coulter had made some complaining remarks about another golfer during the Ryder Cup tournament. The head of the PGA lost his job. It used to be you could call someone a "sissy" without fear of that kind of recrimination.
         And we are all well aware how Donald Sterling lost his sports team and much of his income for telling his girl friend how he felt about her black friends. And this was in a private conversation, while she secretly had a tape recorder running all the while. Should we accept one black reporters analysis that Sterling received a "just" sentence, because "it might look like an invasion of privacy to some, but to others it was merely the truth?"
         Now, I have no love for Russian Communists. And Russia is surely not a role model for giving civil rights benefits to its citizens. But a top executive on the Russian Olympic Committee made some remarks about the Williams sisters of tennis fame that caused him to be booted out of his job. He referred to the sisters as "brothers" and said "It's scary when you really look at them." One of the sisters, Serena, said the remark was "sexist, racist, and bullying." In the Webster dictionary, "bully" is defined as one who is habitually cruel to one who is weaker; a hired ruffian; a fine chap. ( The Williams sisters weak?) Also, racism requires a belief that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of one particular race. None of the Russian's remarks fall in this category.
        A while back a noted Los Angeles Dodger executive suggested that black athletes were bred to be faster and stronger than white athletes . He was fired for his beliefs. Is there anyone out in the sports fan world that doesn't see that black athletes, more often than not, are faster and stronger? Here we have a white man, the Dodger executive, saying black athletes are superior? Is that racism? Is it "merely the truth?
         Prejudice and discrimination are wound tightly around the words bully and racist and sexism, and their meanings are sometimes hard to agree to. Obviously these terms can be looked upon as value judgments, not cut and dried. What one person believes is true, another doesn't. Must we now be coerced to believe in a certain way, to have our opinions and word meanings categorized by all minorities to fit their agenda?
         Mr. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, in a recent interview, said women should not ask for raises, but rather have "faith that the system will give you the right raise" in due time and through due process. As the "boss," couldn't we agree that Nadella calls the shots when and why raises are to be given out? Isn't that the way businesses are run? He was soundly criticized for his viewpoint.
         If you want to know who is racist, log on to an Al Sharpton site on the Internet and get a glimpse of some troubling racist dialogue and what is not being done about it. "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts" is a famous quotation that fits well for those who want to punish or criticize someone for not believing in a certain way, their way. A big issue involved in a discussion of the right to freedom of speech, and believe me it is an issue nowadays, is whether it is proper to narrow that right if it in any way is done so with a view to serve a political agenda or infringe upon rights to privacy. Which "right" takes precedence, freedom of speech or privacy? Does the government have a right to clamp down on private statements made in one's home or any other private sector criticizing or belittling minorities, or the government, or religions? Who can really judge when a person's personal opinion, when given, carries the weight of censure, job loss, financial ruin, and loss of property. Should a comment, like "I don't like white people, or black people, or a minority or the majority, for whatever reason, qualify for the kind of devastating ruin that has been handed out lately for stating an opinion? And, is there uniform enforcement of racist and sexist remarks and bullying, let alone uniformity in the meaning of the words themselves? Or is it a one-way street?
          Too many questions, not enough answers. But one thing seems true. When speaking your mind these days, in public or even in private, there is a certain sense of oversight and censorship that may not be what the founding fathers had in mind about freedom of speech, and it is no doubt adversely affecting the country. You couldn't speak your mind in Nazi Germany, and can't now in Communist China or Russia and elsewhere. Does that speak well for the road America is going down?
          There are probably those who believe the answer is just to stay quiet, don't say what you think or express an opinion that conceivably might be taken as racist or sexist, under the current "politically correct" boundaries. But might it be better, in the long run, to seek ways to change the way people feel about other races and ethnicities, and gender in general, so that there would be no need or desire to express unacceptable prejudice. Somehow, I'm not sure how that would happen but isn't it a nice idea? As one John W. Gardner wisely said, "We are continually faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems." Are racism and sexism "great opportunities?" And Thomas Paine: "Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it."