OPINION: Free Speech in America

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In its latest annual compilation of hate crimes, released just last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) identified 6,121 criminal incidents in the year 2016 motivated by “bias toward race, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender, or gender identity,” a five percent rise in hate crime compared to the year 2015. Of these crimes, 6,063 were single bias incidents, incidents motivated by primarily one bias; 58% of such crimes were linked to racism, 21% to religious discrimination, and the other 21% to prejudice regarding sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and gender.

Although groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center find it easy to attribute this uptick in hate crimes to the election of our current president, Donald Trump, I find that this is an overgeneralization; granted, President Trump’s rhetoric has been spun in the past to fuel hate groups like the Neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, but to place the blame completely on the Right would be unfair: Donald Trump himself does not condone Nazism or white supremacy. Sometimes, the left is to blame as well: as for actual hate crimes, the aggressor is always to blame, but both sides of America seem akin to two ships on a collision course, and both of the captains have blindfolds on.

A common criticism from right-leaning groups is that the American left is too abstract, but this abstraction can be attributed to a common issue in both parties: the “us versus them” mentality. Both sides fall victim to this: often in debates, opponents of the left will be called bigoted, xenophobic, or fascist. Opponents of the right, primarily the alt-right, will be subjected to comments calling them sheep or questioning why they haven’t “taken the red pill.” Calling opponents these terms serve no constructive purpose in the dialogue our United States Constitution facilitates. Rather, they create a culture of animosity, one that will almost inevitably result in crime, as seen in the aforementioned report. Earlier this year, Brian Resnick of Vox identified that schadenfreude, pleasure derived from someone else’s misfortune, can be a primary drive that results in controversial political outcomes like Brexit and the 2016 presidential election just last year. This “collective narcissism,” as Resnick called it, “predicted hypersensitivity to insults, and a propensity to retaliate, in a sample of nearly 1,600 people across the globe.” And although it may, at times, be entertaining to see other groups fail, prioritizing narcissism over societal productivity results in unhappiness for both sides.

Thus, a better question to ask ourselves is not “which side is to blame?” but rather, “what do both sides share in common?” Getting caught up in how to dismantle our political opponents’ views is not the answer, especially in such a partisan environment as America; the left and the right are both a part of a bigger picture we both call America, and when one side decides that the current form of America must be completely abandoned, the country will fall apart. We all need to recognize each other’s humanity in order to come together to embrace productive dialogue, and that dialogue begins with a common set of values. In the words of philosopher John Stuart Mill, “The right to swing my arms in any direction ends where your nose begins.” The common value of safety and the mutual desire to not do harm to societal welfare should serve as a stasis point for debates.

Instilling in its students the value of peaceful conduct and mutual respect, Loyola High School has consistently been a provider of that common set of values. It has been this very reason that members of school clubs like the Cubs United CLC, Young Conservatives Club, and Bipartisan Club have not devolved into verbal bouts. Loyola’s campus remains a microcosm for optimal conduct in America; let’s keep it that way.


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