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The Crazy Guy on the Diag

March 29, 2011

Maybe it is just me, but whenever I walk by that man on the Diag that chants at people saying, “You are all going to hell!” I get a little embarrassed. Even though he is directing his speech at everyone, I still can’t help but think, “what did I do?” In John Stuart Mill’s writing, On Liberty, he explains how all opinions matter, even the wrong ones. Mill explains how, “…there must be discussion to show how experience is to be interpreted” (pg. 602). Do I think this crazy man is right? No, but now that I think about it, I do appreciate his expression of liberty. The reason I say this is because it reminds me of the great country I live in today. A country where I can do whatever I want (to an extent) as long as I do not harm others. Yes, his raves and others that are similar to his might make us somewhat uncomfortable but, to me, this is the ultimate sign of freedom. People can stand in a public place and go off about something that probably almost no one believes or agrees with him on, and be perfectly right in doing so. As Mill explains, “…the only permanent and unfailing source of improvement is liberty” (pg. 628). I would say this is a pretty good indication of liberty, wouldn’t you?

The crazy guy allows me to use my opinions to say that he is wrong. Mill would also point out that the crazy guy’s speeches allow me to examine myself and consider what I believe to be the truth and why. For me to have the opinion that I am not going to hell is one thing, but it really doesn’t mean much until I consider why I believe that I am not going to hell. The crazy guy on the Diag allows me to reflect on my opinion and not just take it as given. Wouldn’t Immanuel Kant feel as though this brings about enlightenment because I reflect on my own opinions and not just take them as given?

Yes, I agree that some of the people who yell out hate speech are wrong, but I do not think that I have the right to tell them that they cannot believe that way. If it is directed at a particular person, that is one thing, but can I tell him that he has to stop directing his speech towards a group of people? What do you think? How do we know when someone has overstepped the boundary of professing his or her opinions and is stepping on our rights? Do you think people like the crazy guy are a good sign that we have a great deal of liberty in our personal fulfillment or do you believe that the cost of hearing such people talk outweigh the good?

Sources:

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Wootton, David. “John Stuart Mill, On Liberty.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 2008. Print.

7 Comments
  1. Rian Handler permalink
    March 29, 2011 11:10 AM

    The title of your post caught my eye. Whenever I pass this “crazy guy” I can’t help but stay there for a while and listen. His claims are so outrageous and offensive. Why does he feel the need to come and yell at college students who, for the most part, think he’s out of his mind? I agree with you that this is a sign that we have liberty. Yes, some people may be deeply offended by what he is saying, but I still do not believe his right to say these things should be taken away. When I pass people holding signs with a Hitler mustache painted on Obama’s face I get really heated, but then I realize that this is their right and I can choose to ignore it (or use my freedom of speech/expression right back at them).

  2. timothyhall permalink
    March 29, 2011 12:40 PM

    “Mill would also point out that the crazy guy’s speeches allow me to examine myself and consider what I believe to be the truth and why.”

    This. Beyond having a strong hunch about being right in what we believe, how else do we justify our beliefs but by knowing that the opposite is wrong? Beyond our inherent care for our fellow man, how do we know tolerance and acceptance is right and just? Because genocide is not. Because slavery is not. I agree with Mill’s encouragement of total freedom of expression, as well as your post, because to arrive at truth I think one needs to encounter cracked folk like this one to realize they’re going in the right direction–away from him.

  3. kkokotil permalink
    March 30, 2011 11:10 AM

    I agree. Mill states, “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind” (Mill 600). While I might not agree with what the crazy guy is saying, he has the right to say what he feels. I have not had much interaction with this man but this post makes me wonder if he would be as tolerating with my opinions as I am with his. Would this man give me the time of day to state what I believe to be the truth and how would he react to it? Because while I am open to other’s opinions and ways of thinkings, people in return can sometimes be very hypocritical by not doing the same for me.

    Wootton, David. “John Stuart Mill, On Liberty.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 2008. Print

  4. Monica Fadanelli permalink
    March 30, 2011 4:05 PM

    I am definitely a supporter of Mill’s ideas because as the original author said, hearing different opinions makes one examine the basis of his/her own beliefs. As a result, the foundation of those beliefs is usually strengthened.
    On the other hand, when this ideology is put it into practice it can be difficult to accept, especially when dealing with “the crazy guy” or that super opinionated individual who can become overbearing.
    When it comes down to it though, opinions are a subjective and one has to take them with a grain of salt. Sometimes they may be correct, other times not, but if we do not welcome the opportunity to evaluate them we are really only hurting ourselves. Like Mill said,”…the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race…if the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth…” (Mill,p.33).

    It can be irritating, but listening to that guy can add some strong evidence to your opposing argument. Then next time you run into someone with a similar belief you can give them your two cents.

  5. Katarina Evans permalink
    April 3, 2011 10:15 AM

    This is a thoughtful, interesting piece. But, why is there a distinction between talking to a group or talking specifically to you? Suppose that you were the only one walking on the diag for 100 yards ahead and behind, would that have made a difference? What would you do if the crazy guy insulted you in other more hurtful ways besides calling you a sinner? What if he said you were ugly, or fat, or stupid looking? What if he referred in a demeaning way to your ethnic background, your sexual orientation, or your mother’s proclivities? I guess what I am asking is, are there limits to what the crazy guy can say? Free speech does have some limits, such as the cliché “shouting fire in a crowded theater.” But are there really limits if someone speaks in a seriously insulting way, specifically to you?

    • Nicholas Steiner permalink
      April 4, 2011 8:02 AM

      Katarina,
      The reason I made the distinction is that if his words were directed at me then it would have a grater chance of being a nuisance. As far as where the line would be on what is considered to cause me harm, this is the great debate. I feel that we could argue anything could be harmful to a certain extent and say that Mill would not approve. If we consider when it is that the crazy guy would be stepping on my rights and not allowing me to exercise them, then he really dosen’t do so by trying to offend me personally. I personally believe that as long as someone is not stepping on my rights, I can not really tell them that they can or cannot do something.

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