A few things worth mentioning here:
- Duncan was not acting in a hostile or abusive manner to the driver or his fellow passengers.
- Duncan was not threatening the president (or past presidents), which as we all know is a federal offense, even if the president in question, past or present, kinda sucks. Which he quite possibly does. Warren G. Harding, I’m looking at you.
- Duncan was not shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, which is considered a no-no if the theater is not, in fact, on fire.
We here at Bowling in the Dark tend to swear fairly often, but despite our personal flaws, we aren’t big fans of vulgarity. We’re saddened when we hear it from the mouths of children (except when it’s funny), and believe that excessive use of profanity is embarrassing and usually a sign of a limited vocabulary. But the unpleasant nature of naughty language doesn’t give us the right to control anybody’s language but our own.
An official statement from the Milwaukee County sherriff’s department addressing the matter claims that “people should be able to ride the bus without feeling intimidated by someone’s language or behavior.” Bus passengers interviewed after the incident tended to agree:
“You can’t swear. A lot of people don't like all the ‘f’ words and ‘s’ words around their kids, and there’s a lot of elderly people on the bus, and you have to respect your elders so, that’s what he gets.”—bus passenger Ebony Jett6
“I think he should have got [the ticket]. Kids be on the bus, families be on the bus. Nobody wants to hear that kind of language.”—bus passenger Jean Jones
“People should not get on the bus having to hear disruptive conversations. You can get a fine for that. It’s the law. You can’t do that.”—bus passenger Tiffany Coo
In the interest of giving equal time to opinions actually worth having, though, let’s hear from somebody who actually fought for others’ liberties instead of trying to whittle away the ones he didn’t like:
We admit that General Washington didn’t specifically say “and that includes naughty words, too,” so it could be argued—albeit very stupidly—that he may actually have approved of stomping on certain folks’ rights when he didn’t like what he was hearing, despite having clearly stated the opposite. Fortunately, other smart folks have chimed in on the subject over the last 2,300 years:“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”—George Washington
“Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself.”—author Salman RushdieSalman Rushdie, as you should well know, has more experience than most anybody at being persecuted simply for expressing himself; Aristotle, while perhaps better known for having married Jackie Kennedy, also dabbled in education, science, government, philosophy, politics, and ethics,7 and is known for knowing a thing or two; and it could be argued that a U.S. Supreme Court Justice with more than three decades of judicial experience has a better sense of what’s appropriate, legally and Constitutionally speaking, than the Milwaukee County Sherriff’s Department or a bunch of schmucks on a bus.
“The basis of a democratic state is liberty.”—Aristotle, 384 BC-322 BC
“The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is besides the point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech.”—U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy
But ignore all their qualifications if you like, and instead just boil down the comments from each group to their basics, and decide which attitude sums up what this country and its citizens’ attitudes on free expression should be. In fact, skip that first part; we’ve boiled it down for you:
- “You must be allowed to say what you want, even if I don’t like it.”
- “You can’t say what you want because I don’t like it.”
|Figure 1.1: the two ends of the spectrum of opinions on freedom of speech.|
Pick a side.
(Hint: the guy on the left is very unlikely to advocate killing the douchebag on the right.)
1. We use the word speaking here for convenience; it’s a handy way to represent the much more cumbersome phrase exercising one’s once-Constitutionally-protected right to free speech.
2. If you’re offended that we typed out the words “fuck” and “shit” instead of a more family-friendly “f___” or Beetle Bailey-style “@$#!” . . . well, frankly, it’s a little surprising that you allow yourself to have unmonitored access to the internet, but nevertheless we sincerely apologize for having troubled you with language that, admittedly, can occasionally or even often be inappropriate or offensive. You’d be well within your rights to ask us to tone it down, and it’s quite possible that we’d oblige—we may be jerks, but we don’t like looking like jerks. On the other hand, if you think you have or deserve the right to prevent us from using this kind of language, you can go fuck yourself.
3. Duncan said he used “two words,” which could mean that he swore only twice or that he swore multiple times, but used only those two particular words—the articles we’ve found haven’t been particularly clear on this point.
4. Here we’re trying to use irony,5 but it’s a slippery concept that we can usually recognize but can’t really define and rarely use properly.
If we haven’t pulled it off correctly, and you’re not sure what we’re getting at, contact us privately and we’ll send you a copy of our extensive notes.
5. Some might say that we’re not being ironic, we’re just being pricks. That’s probably fair.
6. We here at Bowling in the Dark have no way of knowing whether this person’s name really is “Ebony Jett,” but we promise you that we weren’t the ones who made it up.
7. No real footnote here, we’re just a bit giddy to see the words politics and ethics in the same sentence. It’s like spotting a unicorn.