Disabled Free Speech

I have written frequently about how words said in jest or ignorance have influenced my life. One of my purposes in this endeavor to raise awareness about Erythropoietic Protoporphyria has been to shed light on how careless or harmful words can affect the perception, attitude, and even life course of a person, especially the young.

Lately the nation and world has reacted over recent political events, bringing the most defining values of free people into the spotlight for discussion and criticism. So far, I have refrained from delving into the political spectrum, and I intend for it to stay that way. But I feel that, during this time of political discourse, lest my audience think otherwise, it is imperative for me to clearly, unequivocally endorse and defend the right to freedom of speech as used by those to ridicule me for my disability, even though I would criticize such people for that behavior.

I acknowledge fully that what others have said to me has affected me (as far as I have allowed, but that is worthy of a separate blog post). Even though my life has been publicly subject to countless instances of verbal abuse and social misconduct, I would defend the right to spout off stupidity with my life.

For whom is it that defines what is stupidity? At one time, a person who believed the earth was round would have been labeled the village idiot at best or a heretic worthy of death at worst. Just because something is true or factual does not make it accepted to say. Indeed, freedom of speech is the right to speak out against that which is acceptable as defined by society regardless of truth. Thus actual truth is irrelevant in the discussion on the merits of free speech, for one’s perception and acceptance of truth differs from another’s.

Many who espouse the prohibition of harming or insulting language often argue that they are trying to protect the little guy from the violence of ignorant masses or individuals who are easily manipulated. What such people fail to understand or admit is that the suppression of free speech serves to harm those in the minority, not defend them.

Free speech can be defined as the right to openly condemn any behavior, to offend or insult any ideal or theory or person, regardless of whether or not it is good or bad, true or false. What is overall accepted as inoffensive is determined socially by the masses and, where free speech is permitted, the loud, not always by the virtue of truth.

As a modern and personal example of this dichotomy, it is socially unacceptable to wear a full mask, a wide brimmed hat, heavy clothing, and gloves on a hot day, despite the unknown truth that a medical condition demands it. As far as I can tell, it is socially acceptable to mock in ignorance the wearer of such clothing for the amusement of one’s friends. It is socially unacceptable (the evidence being that some form of bravery or disregard is required) for the person being mocked to walk up to the mockers and explain to them why their behavior is rude, perhaps embarrassing them and their friends in the process.

What would happen if freedom of speech was restricted in my situation? The virtuous suppressor of freedom of expression would say that in a situation such as mine, of course I could defend myself, because the goal is only to ban that language which is harmful or offensive. Yet harmful or offensive to whom, as defined by whom? Using the example above, could it not be considered harmful or offensive to the psyche of more victims to be publicly shamed by one unknown weirdo with a fetish for darkness?

It may be reasoned, and indeed has been, that the one culpable is the supposed victim of alleged mockery because he clearly has some form of mental instability that might cause him to irrationally outburst; indeed, the visible evidence points in that direction.

The suppressor of free speech would further argue that, with harmful language silenced, I need not worry about someone offending me for my disability. This argument is empty and foolish for so many reasons. Perhaps the most powerful reason for me is that, without the right to promote that which is unacceptable to society, the seeds for the discovery of EPP could never have been sown by those who first, in what could be interpreted as offensive self-advocacy, asked those uncomfortable questions which led to the understanding of diagnosed conditions that explain unusual behavior by legitimizing medical differences. Thus the argument becomes self-contradictory, because without the freedom to offend it would have been impossible for offensive people such as myself to self-advocate enough for this argument against offense to even be made.

No one can truly be a defender of truth if they seek to forcibly suppress anything because it is insulting or offensive, because truth has historically been categorized as insulting and offensive by cultures, religions, and nations all over the world. Ironically, those who altruistically seek to suppress free speech in order to defend the oppressed can and will only ever further the very oppression they denounce.

I cherish that I live in a country where anyone can do their best to express either stupidity or intelligence on every scale. This right is one that many take for granted and do not seem to fully understand. How many disabled people have been silenced, persecuted, or even killed because they live in a country where their right to speak against those around them, to self-advocate even at the risk of offense, is not acknowledged and protected?

Despite the fact that one such as I could potentially find terms such as “cowboy” and “train robber” offensive, I treasure and defend the right of such people to thus insult me and direct this harming language at me. I treasure and defend the right of anyone to be wrong.

For in defending their right to insult me I simultaneously defend my own right to openly challenge their bias. Rather than silencing the ignorant with laws or rules, I would empower them with knowledge as passed on using my sacred freedom of expression and the demands of their own conscience. And for those that choose to blind themselves against awareness or differing perspectives, refusing to even hear a view which is too uncomfortable for them or which they dislike, I defend and respect their right to maintain their ignorance in continuing to deem those they do not understand as unworthy of them.

It then becomes not only my right to influence others with my own words, as they have influenced me, but my privilege to disseminate my own cognitive bias back into that which would suppress: not with violence or force to suppress in kind, but with powerful language infused in truth.

For the sake of the continuing health and self-advocacy rights of the disabled, please share this post with any that value their freedom of speech.

Picture of the American flag taken by Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs Office , Senior Airman Dennis Sloan, Oct. 2, 2012 and distributed under the Creative Commons License from Wikimedia Commons.

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