Earlier today, I was sitting on the first floor of the UGLI revising my essay for our first assignment. Like most students, this word document was not the only thing displayed on my computer screen; I also had my Twitter application running along with my Facebook page and my Spotify account. All around me I heard buzzing about a protest that had been taking place in the Diag today. In fact, I had even received an email from one of my fellow sorority sisters with the headline “disturbed by the display in the Diag?,” but I did not open it. I was somewhat curious as to what was going on, but I didn’t want to pack my things up and go see for myself. However, this curiosity of mine kept me sidetracked. I started to peruse my Twitter timeline to see if anyone was commenting on the disturbance in the Diag. Although I didn’t find much, there was a comment that read:
“I would really avoid the Diag today if you’re not really into the whole abortion/genocide/child abuse/other-disturbing-and-disgusting-things display situation going on.”
Now I know that all of these situations are constant political debates that people struggle to side with. This struck an interest, so I opened that email from my friend and read on to find out more about the display. This particular email emphasized the importance of voicing our opinions on politics, such as the issue of pro-choice/pro-life, and to go and vote on it. I found it very ironic how as I am writing a paper in support the freedom of expression, an act such as this completely questions all the ideals of the essay.
This irony gave me the motivation to go and check out the display for myself. Immediately as I walked out the doors of the UGLI, I saw the protest. The entire Diag seemed to be blocked off with larger than life posters upon posters portraying extremely disturbing images of aborted children and genocide acts that have taken place around the world. As, I approached the actual display to check out more, I noticed things that went against many of my beliefs. Personally, I believe in the statement “it’s my body and i’ll do what i want with it” and am very pro-choice. As I briefly stated previously regarding the first assignment, I am in support with John Stuart Mill in exercising our natural rights to freedom of expression. For this exact reason, I could not get angry at what was being exercised in the Diag today. However, the fact that I couldn’t be angry, just made me even more angry.
Perhaps it was the reference that the display was trying to get at that hit home for me: abortion is the United State’s form of genocide. Genocide is not something that I take lightly. My family was a part of the Holocaust, a genocide that this particular display targeted often. The protest basically stated that having an abortion is the same thing as massacring 6 million Jews. This statement had me fuming for not only did it relate something I strongly believe to something that hits home for me, but, to me, this statement is very much not true. The Holocaust along with other type of genocide such as lynching and Darfur, are hate crimes. But, abortion is not a hate-crime, it falls under our freedom of choice.This protest is offensive because it minimizes the planned strategic annihilation of an act of genocide by equally comparing it to a women’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. This protest implies that someone who is pro-choice is also pro-genocide.
This particular protest shared opinions that are very disrespectful towards a lot of different people. First off, it is disrespectful towards the entire female population because it somewhat manipulates them into being pro-life by sharing disturbing photos. These photos, in essence, make all women feel like they are performing an act of genocide if they are pro-choice. This especially targets those women who have had abortions. Abortion, whether you are pro or not, is still a very touchy subject. Those who have had to have one still struggle with it and harbor a lot of emotions as a result. This protest specifically targets those who have had abortions, and is disrespectful towards their choice regardless of their situation. Lastly, this protest is offensive to those who are personally touched by acts of genocide.While it is evident that this protest is offensive on many levels, I don’t necessarily belief that John Stuart Mill would agree. Unfortunately, I do not think that Mill does the best job of expressing his opinion on offensive speech simply because he feels that all opinions, right or wrong, help to improve knowledge and thus should be expressed.
Because I believe in freedom of expression,I would be acting hypocritical if I were to say that this type of freedom of expression is not allowed . However, the protest got me thinking. Is this type of protest a violation of context-based arguments because it isn’t necessarily done in a respectful manner? In my opinion, I think this protest without a doubt is a violation of context-based arguments. Context-based arguments allow us to share any opinion as long as it is done so respectfully, depending on where or when it is done. Just based on location, I do not feel the center of the Diag is the most respectful place to put this protest. When walking to and from class it is very hard to avoid passing through the Diag, something that many people felt they had to do when this display was up. Students should be able to feel comfortable on their own campus, but this display harmed their comfort zone.
At the scene of the protest there was a “Freedom of Expression” board where people were able to share their own feelings in regards to the display. I noticed as I approached the board that people were actually responding to the comments on the board. I can not tell if this action within itself is okay or not. While having the board up there is helpful because it allows common passer-bys to share their response to the protest, if people are responding to their comments it somewhat seems to defeat the purpose of “freedom of expression”. Obviously, they have the right to respond to such opinions based on freedom of expression, but it seems disrespectful for it tries to prove these opinions as incorrect, causing almost a dismissive dialogue. This is where Mill and I differ on the idea of freedom of expression. While Mill sees arguments as a way to help find a more preeminent truth, I see argument as a violation of freedom of speech and expression since each individual has their own right to express how they feel and what they believe to be true whether or not the majority is in agreement with them or not. Mill predicts that having an argument helps to inevitably create a better truth.When it comes to issues that will never be agreed upon such as when does life start? or should women be allowed to have an abortion?, Mill gives us a false hope that dialogue will produce an evolution or learning. But, as seeing on freedom of speech wall, such debatable controversies seem to only cause arguments that are very elevated.
Building off of Mill and in regards to the recent essay for this class, how would he respond to such protests? Would he be in support of them simply because what these people are saying support some sort of “truth”? My opinion on this was briefly stated when discussing the offensiveness of relating abortion to genocide of the Holocaust or Darfur or even Lynchings. I feel that Mill wouldn’t necessarily be as taken-aback in the same way that I was. While this particular protest could have had more of a personal affect on me, it bothered me more because the whole display went against my beliefs. However, we can not say that this would be the same case for Mill. Based on his arguments in On Liberty, Mill doesn’t seem to be one to take one side of an argument. He bases the truth to be made up of partial opinions and truths; thus inferring that the argument of pro-choice/pro-life is not simply one sided. In fact, this display did cause a lot of confrontation among students for the days it was in existence; it got people talking. Through the discussion of the protest, people were able to gain knowledge and find more truths. This type of interaction alone could influence Mill to support this specific protest.
It is acts like these protests that make the question of freedom of expression so controversial. In fact, before experiencing this, it was hard for me to see any negative side effects to freedom of expression. But, after experiencing this protest, it made me hate that people are allowed to share such absurd beliefs freely without caring if they are hurting others.If I am to part with one question that would sum this entire protest up it would be: Is Mill’s prediction about what dialogue produce happen when we have such contentious issues, like the one expressed through this pro-life protest?