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In light of the recent controversy regarding the confederate flag, it may prove useful to consider some basic aspects of free speech.

Freedom of speech does not exist unless it is applied to the least popular and most detestable opinions; in a word, the right to free speech is necessarily universal.

Once free speech is qualified, however slightly, a spectrum of acceptable opinion is thus created, which signals the demise of free speech, and it is a small comfort to consider that ours is a wider spectrum than Honduras or Saudi Arabia.

By that rationale, every society in human history has had freedom of speech; it is only a question of how wide or narrow the acceptable spectrum has been.

Unpopular and controversial opinions -- regardless of their truth -- are useful to a society. They disrupt the complacency of consensus and compel individuals to question their beliefs.

There are those who believe this particular social malady to be an exclusively “liberal” tendency, but to be judicious it applies to most people, though its forms vary.

A supposedly liberal person may dismiss a position as racist or sexist, just as a supposedly conservative person may dismiss a position as anti-American or un-American.

Though they may appear to differ, their thought processes are identical: After being exposed to an unacceptable opinion, the person does not take the time to disprove the unacceptable opinion in a rational manner, but rather resorts to offhanded dismissal accompanied by ad hominem condemnations.

Jacob Wandschneider, Tomah

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