written about recently. It might seem difficult to come up with many good reasons for supporting rude behavior and hate speech, in light of recent violent events in this country. On the other hand, watching events in Egypt this week might give some support to the idea that there is an important place for raucous, uncivil, marching in the streets kinds of protest.
The teams I judged took a slightly different approach. The prop side advocated stricter controls on violent actions, and new laws against inciting violence against members of Congress, thus, they argued, providing more safety for plain old uncivil speech that does not incite violence. The opp side wanted to ban all kinds of uncivil speech, such as political attack ads, thus biting off a lot more than they needed to chew. I was amazed to see just how quickly both teams were ready to address this problem by proposing new laws outlawing something we don't like. This is especially troubling when I saw how readily these kids cut back First Amendment freedoms, one of the cornerstones of our whole political system.
The students' solutions echo proposals we see advanced every day in Congress to remedy one problem or another, by simply banning it. The right is unhappy about the health care reform act and liberal abortion laws. So they are pushing through Congress even more draconian provisions forbidding insurance companies from covering abortions. They are not coming up with alternative ways to provide better health care for more people. They are not making much effort to prevent unwanted pregnancies or care for abandoned babies. The left is unhappy about liberal gun laws. So they are talking about bans on ammunition clips or automatic weapons, or stricter regulation of gun sales. They are not making much effort to provide training in gun safety for all of the millions of gun owners out there.
A lot of problems can be addressed without jumping to the conclusion that we have to outlaw whatever it is we don't like. Incivility in political discussion is only one of them. It would be a nice change to see people think first about positive changes we could make to deal with whatever social problem is irking them, rather than immediately jump to the conclusion that whenever we see something going on that we don't like, we have to make it illegal.
(Still from the film Rocket Science)