The following story, originally titled Land of the Free, Home of the Brave is based on recent events on America’s college campuses. Enjoy . . . and do not forget to leave a comment and subscribe to receive future updates!
The older man carefully positioned the last of his displays in the free-speech zone of the university campus. Students passed by, disturbed at the imagery and the message. A growing tension filled the open area. It was almost palpable, as though a collective consciousness was forming words: Wasn’t anyone going to do something?
Finally a young man stepped forward. “You need to take those down right now.”
The older man stood up. “Why?” he asked.
“You need to take those down right now or I am taking them down for you.” Other college students began to applaud. The young man was standing up for justice.
“You have not answered my question,” the older man asked. “Do you have no answer?”
“Of course I do,” the young man said. “It is because they are offensive. They are disgusting. They are promoting hate and bigotry. We do not want bigots around here.”
The older man studied the young man’s face for a moment. “Do you know what free speech is?”
“Do not lecture me on free speech, old man. I know what free speech is. This is not free speech. This is bigotry and hate pretending to be free speech. This is bigotry under the guise of religious freedom. This is plain wrong. Take your displays down or I will take them down for you.”
“Have I said I hate anyone? Besides, I do not believe you understand the principle of free speech or the principles that have governed this nation, or the or the right of its citizens to speak the truth — ”
“F*** truth,” the man said. Look, I told you once already. What you are doing here is wrong. I don’t have time to dialog about ideas and principles and truth. I stand for justice.” The college students applauded again. They agreed. Now was not the time for a lecture on freedom. Now was the time to stand up for what was right.
The older man looked to the crowd. “Would you like me to take my principles and ideas about truth —”
“Bigotry you mean!” A student yelled from the crowd. Like the young man, he was also brave. He was willing to stand up for what was right.
The older man continued, “Would you like me to take my truth and leave this campus and never return?”
“Yes!” the crowd answered with even greater applause.
“Tell you what,” the older man responded. “I will do exactly that. I will even burn these displays myself and never prop them up on any public space again. I will remove myself from your presence completely.” The crowd cheered even louder.
“Provided,” the older man continued, turning to the young man, “you can tell me why what I am doing is wrong, and why what you are doing is right.”
The crowd said, “Do it! Tell him! Yeah, do it!” But the young man just stood there and then said, “I don’t have to stand around here and ‘reason’ with you.” But the crowd said, “No do it, man! Give him hell!” He was their hero.
The older man responded, “You stand for justice, don’t you? Your desire is to see bigotry stamped out in this nation, wherever it exists? Then this is a deal of a lifetime. You can tear down all my displays today, and I will have them back up tomorrow, here or at another campus. You can extinguish my presence here, but I will establish my presence somewhere else.
“But you have my word: If you show me why your are in the right and why I am in the wrong, I will never show my face again, anywhere. So which you rather have, justice for a day, or justice for a lifetime?”
The crowd continued to prod the younger man. Do it. Tell him. “Okay,” he said. You are on.”
“Good. Now the only thing I ask is that you refrain from the following words: Bigotry, Hate, Intolerance, and anything ending in the word ‘-phobia’.”
“And why should I do that?”
“Because they are imprecise terms, that is why. They are merely labels, and slapping labels on someone or something is not an argument. Calling me a bigot may serve to justify your rage, but it does nothing to convince me what you stand for is right, and what I stand for is wrong. Deal?”
The crowd had gotten just a few decibels quieter. They were good at denouncing things, so they liked labels. They were less capable of forming arguments. “Don’t do it man,” some said. “He’s just trying to trick you.”
But the older man turned to the crowd and responded, “How am I trying to trick you? You are university students, are you not? This is a place of higher education, is it not? Even Kindergartners can master the art of name-calling. Certainly your skills to formulate what you believe and why you think you are on the side of justice has developed past that stage?”
The crowd was silent, but they were now offended. They were good at being offended.
“At any rate,” he looked back at the young man, “you calling me a name is not the same as you telling me why I am wrong and you are right. But I will perfectly understand if you simply are not able to tell me. In which case, my displays remain.”
The younger man hesitated, so the older man continued. “This should be an easy thing for you. After all, you clearly feel strongly about this; otherwise you would not be here. Certainly you are able to explain to me, and to all of us, why you feel you are the champion of justice, and why what I am doing is, as you say, ‘wrong’.
“But who knows? Maybe your sense of what is right and what is wrong runs no more deeply that your ability to slap labels on people who are different from you. Maybe you do not stand for justice at all. Maybe you are the one who is a bigot.”
“You better watch what you say, old man.”
“Or what?” the older man responded.
The younger man did his best to look intimidating but his opponent apparently had been at this game longer than he had.
“Now this is interesting. I have come on this campus peacefully to engage students with an important issue. So far I have been told my right to free speech does not matter, but apparently yours does, since you have had no problem calling me hateful and a bigot. But when I suggest that perhaps you are the bigot, exercising the very same right you have just exercised, you threaten me with violence.”
The older man then turned to the crowd. “I must admit,” he continued, “I expected more from college students. But go ahead: Tear down my displays. Violate the exercise of free speech in the one place in this country that should stand for tolerance, open dialog and the free exchange of ideas. Maybe that is the best you can do. Maybe the real truth is you are incapable of formulating an argument. Perhaps you have no idea why you believe what you believe. That is why you must silence and shut down those who disagree with you: It is your only line of defense.”
He then turned back to the younger man. “Or am I wrong about you?”
The crowd of students which had steadily grown was silent for a brief moment. Several of them had broken out their phones and were now recording the event. The older man had a frail look about him, but not as frail as he had seemed. The younger stood not far from him. Behind both, the students could clearly see one of the displays. It was offensive. It was disgusting. It was mentally distressing and emotionally violent. It was a violation. It was wrong.
The younger man looked back at the man. “Yes, you are. And I will show you for the ignorant bigot you are.”
*** to be continued ***
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