Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Anger and Free Speech

A couple of weeks ago, I was visiting the "I Support the Iowa Supreme Court's Unanimous Marriage Decision" Facebook group and, using what is perhaps a real name and profile, I came across this:


Assuming this kid's profile is legitimate, I find it sad that someone somewhere taught him that gay people are "sick mother fuckers" and that we "deserve to die." While most people who leave such hateful comments only do so anonymously, this kid's beliefs are perhaps so self-evident to him as universal truths that he has no qualms with being associated with such beliefs. It's not surprising that he thinks gay people are "sick." People dedicate their lives and internet presences to telling us this every day. We are sick, wrong, unnatural, immoral, perverted, and worse. Is it really that far of a leap for young kids to go from these beliefs to the idea that these Very Bad Humans or People Who Engage in Very Bad Behavior deserve to die? I don't think so. I think too many people who claim to have a monopoly on righteousness are rhetorically reckless when it comes to their obsessive demonization of the Other.

I recently read about the case of Luis Ramirez and was reminded of this teenage boy's hateful rhetoric. A group of drunk, white, male, teenage "football stars" beat Ramirez, a Mexican immigrant, to death while shouting racial slurs. A couple of weeks ago, their all-white jury acquitted these boys of all serious charges. The facts indicate that the boys provoked the man into a fight by shouting ethnic slurs at him and the confrontation quickly escalated into physical violence.

I don't want to think that anger, violence, and hatred is a problem of testosterone-fueled boys and men, but hearing accounts such as these and witnessing young males declare that some people need to die honestly does make me wonder what the fuck is wrong with dudes? But then, of course, I remember that every human being has the capacity for violence. And personally, other than the people who have informed me that the Bible commands the death of homosexuals, some of the most vicious people I've encountered on the internet have been radical feminist women espousing their anti-transgender ideologies. Many people believe that anger, violence, and hatred are problems only of, what they call, "the other side." In reality, anger and hatred are human problems and we all have the capacity for acting these emotions out. Unfortunately, we exist within a framework that finds aggression acceptable in males and unacceptable in females. The sports industry, video games, movies, music videos, and every other piece of information that tells boys how to be Real Men water these seeds of violence every day.

Anger is a legitimate and oftentimes perfectly justified response to violent words. Yet, we all have to take responsibility for recognizing our anger and not acting it out, in return. In this country, we can pretty much say whatever we want. But that always begs the question, just because we can, does it mean we always should? When so much of what people say contributes to the cycle of violence, when so much of what is said is unskillful, is speech really "free"?

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