Joetopia

Cal Poly club’s ‘Free Speech Wall’ is literally asking for trouble — as it should

Regarding the furor over the Cal Poly College Republicans’ “Free Speech Wall,” I can only ask: What did anyone expect?

If you’re going to erect what amounts to the inside of a bathroom stall in the middle of campus, you can’t be surprised when some people treat it like a toilet.

Frankly, everyone should be happy the thing ended up as predominantly positive as it was, because part of the ultimate goal in an experiment like this, however unspoken, must be to accommodate the unsavory thoughts that lurk beneath the surface within certain segments of society.

The Republican club might not acknowledge that in so many words, but it is a core accommodation of free speech in America.

We can’t thoroughly empower all of the good words without somewhat empowering the bad as well.

To put it another way, sometimes because we can’t see the rats, we forget they’re there. That is, until you put out the tasty morsel of an open comment wall and the least of their number come scrambling from their holes, unable to resist the chance to spew their ignorant biases.

The end result from this exercise, then, should be a proper level of disgust and condemnation — but not surprise.

Nobody should be surprised.

I’m actually somewhat amazed the bigotry was as limited as it was.

In the grand scheme of things, this is a blip, much ado about very little. You can hardly click twice online without encountering 10 times the intolerance that we saw on this wall at Cal Poly.

But it does illustrate the impartial strength of the First Amendment, and ultimately, the greatest lasting impact we can seize from displays such as this is to reveal the bigots for what they are. Maybe not in name, but at least in spirit.

From a practical perspective, the activity at its essence is as much an unfettered celebration of expression from any corner as it is an illumination of light into darkness.

The true power of free speech is as a cleansing agent, where inclusivity scours out intolerance, acceptance bleaches divisiveness, truth exposes falsehood.

Even if this were just a couple of jokers trolling for cheap laughs, they could learn to grow up a bit. They don’t need their lips sewn shut when a soapy mouthwash will do.

So when someone scrawls a nasty message on a public wall, many others can respond oppositely.

While it was encouraging to see students from different backgrounds stand up to shout down hate, we must remember that this action — and not trying to ban speech — is the proper response.

The tenacity of the U.S. Constitution lies in its capacity to encourage self-regulation on a mass scale, and that is a unique characteristic we must never undermine.

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