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The Paradox of Free Speech

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The Paradox of Free Speech

As American people, we know that we are entitled to certain rights according to the constitution; one of which is freedom of speech. In Civility and Its Discontents, Leslie Epstein explores the limits and contradictions of this much cherished right when considering whether he would expel a student who wrote racial slurs in the dorm rooms of a University if it was up to him. He discusses this situation and topics that stem from it in an analytical yet somewhat emotionally involved tone and makes the reader reflect on the wide range of information presented about the issues of political correctness, freedom of speech, expulsion, and racism.

In the beginning of the essay, Epstein presents the "moral puzzle" (459) which he has set for himself. Should he expel a student who has written racial slurs on the walls of a dorm hallway? When first considering the issue, most people would have no qualms choosing the option of expulsion. But as the essay progresses, readers are introduced to the many factors which keeps the author from making a rash decision that could affect a student's life in a large way, which in turn makes the reader think about and understand how the 'not expel" option can be supported. Epstein expresses some strong emotions when thinking about his first reaction to the situation. Statements like "I expect my reactions would be something like this: ...rage...zeal for reformation..." and "my emotions boil at the prospect of having to share a campus with such bad apples in it" (459)

leave the reader to believe that he is most definitely going to expel the student. However, then he brings up points about how he has a concern, as a writer, for "minimizing censorship in American life," how he doesn't want to seem hypocritical if he expels the student since he himself was expelled twice when he was in school for exercising his right to free speech. He also quotes one black Yale student who stated that "It's much better for people of color to know what people think of us" (462). Pieces of evidence like the latter would lead us to believe that Epstein will not expel the student. This "back and forth" feeling of the essay is present non-stop, and it keeps the reader interested in the outcome of the discussion as well as the journey towards the outcome, filled with thought-provoking investigation.

I found it funny that while reading the first page or so of Epstein's essay, I was very curious--perhaps you could even say fixated--about which outcome he was going to choose. His stance on the subject is very complex, which is evident in the whole essay. I noticed that by the time you get to the end, you really don't care very much about the fact that Epstein ultimately decided he would expel the student, because in comparison to the broad span of intellectual and heated discussion topics brought forth in Epstein's essay, the initial question of 'to expel or not to expel" (459) seems somewhat trivial.

Now take a moment to consider how many people in America would openly declare dislike for freedom of speech. Not many, if not none. Of course freedom of speech is something to be fond of since it enables us with the ability to say whatever we want and having our own opinions without worrying about it. However, everything has limits, and we haven't set limits for this idea, which leads to confusion and controversy. The idea of freedom of speech is often stretched and distorted beyond to be used as an excuse, for example in hurled racial slurs. No matter how racist or hurtful a comment, who ever declared the said comment can play the "I have a right to say whatever I want" or "everyone is entitled to



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