Saturday, March 24, 2007

Vanilla Thinking

A case that is currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court involves the unfurling of a banner by a high school kid in Alaska which said something like "Bong Hits 4 Jesus". The high school principal ordered the removal of the banner on the grounds that its drug message ran counter to the school's efforts to fight drug usage. The principle of a second high school in Connecticut just this week banned the showing of a play written and directed by students which depicted the impact of the Iraq war on soldiers of that war. The reason given for the banning was that someone was likely to be offended by the message. A high school student whose brother was in Iraq apparently complained about the play. These situations got me thinking about the nature of our right of freedom of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment. Somewhere along the way, the notion of political correctness has crept into the application of the right. This notion that it is wrong to express one's thoughts forcefully if they are likely to offend one or another portion of the persons exposed to the thoughts is what I call "vanilla thinking". A case in point: In the run up to the Iraq war, anyone who expressed a negative opinion about what our country was intgending to do was labeled a coward, or worse. The stinging voice of dissent was effectively quashed by the vanilla thinking of unquestioning devotion to authority. The French, by way of example, were vilified because that country took a stance at odds with what we were doing. Congress went so far as to change the name of French fries on the menu of the Congressional diner to Freedom fries. By far the best examples of vanilla thinking are to be found in the statements of our politicians as well as athletic coaches before a big event. They couch words and phrases in a meaningless jumble calculated so as not to offend anybody, particularly the American electorate or the opposing team, lest they get mad and vote for the other guy or kick the stuffings out of the coach's team. What this country needs is a plain talker. One who can tell it like it is. One who can disagree and express that disagreement in plain jargon. The give and take of vigorous dissent is healthy and good. The exposure to the other side of what one thinks is good and correct is essential. My wife and I went to a horrible movie last night. Was it a waste of time? In terms of entertainment, most certainly. However, it served to remind me that in order for one to completely understand and appreciate excellence in any of its manifestations, one has to occasionally see the other side. Good thinking, like pudding, comes in a lot more flavors than vanilla.

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