Re: hi (Josef Pauli on "permitted speech")

Tom Boland (
Wed, 17 Jun 1998 00:04:00 -0700 (PDT)

"A robust civil society can withstand the rude and offensive; a
compassionate society will embrace rude and incohate manifestations from
the witless alienated.  There is nothing to be gained from setting the bar
for permitted speech so high as to suppress expression which would
discomfort, even offend.  More, there is much to lose:  who cannot speak
suffer within, and society suffers therby; and some of those denied their
voices, they eventually find their arms... that said, the citizen's role
is not merely to suffer the lout and boor; but to draw him out into
constructive engagement, and thusly leaven the community."
-- Josef Pauli, "Civics"

Pauli is essentially right, I think, desp9ite some choces of words which I
think are elitist and disdainful of the dispossessed.  Free speech is
precious and needed in any society or group that aims for freedom and
creative, workable solutions to semingly intractable social problems, such
as poverty and homelessness.

Everyone occasionally engages in labeling and name-calling, expecially when
we and poople like us continue to suffer privation and scorn.  But, with
effort, we can make this tendency in ourselves the exception and not the

Sionce everone on HPN list has been homeless, I suspect that we have all
been the scapegoated outcast in some group in out lives.  My hope is that
here,on a list that is ours alone, we can all feel safe in our diversity.
Here, we replicate the human tendency to scapegoat individuals for the the
social processes which (I think) keep us down.

One thing I've hated about most advocacy groups and hearings on
homelessness is that speech - and who gets to speak - is subtly (or
blatently) "screened" to fit the middle-class sensibilities of the more
powerful.  I repeatedly tell advocates that they will _never_ hear what
homeless people _really_ feel if they can not endure - even welcome - some
tears and rage and heated dispute from us.

The last thing I want to do on this list is to limit it's membership to
people who see things exactly as I do.  (Sure, I'd like you to agree with
me, and act in ways I think will help us as a calss, but that's another
part of the story.)

We are in a war of ideas, some of which I think do mortal harm to poor and
homeless people.  But I do not choose to silence those whose ideas I fear
do us harm..  Rather, I choose to reason with them and , if reasoning
together seems impossible, to usually let pass without comment any false
claims or labels about me personally.

This permission to speak freely does not limit me from arguing agianst what
I think are bad policies and practices.  Nor does it prevent me from
engaging, as I often have, in nonviolent direct action with like-minded

No person, I think, is our enemy.  Rather our adversary is oppressive
social processes, which indeed we have a responsibility to challange.  We
can witness and work against injustice without personal attacks.  And maybe
- just maybe - we can learn some new truths from those we think are dead

If people want to label people, I offer myself as a target.  (I can take
it, although it wouldn't be what I prefer to undergo.)

Am I a "smarmy, mealy-mouthed liberal apoligist for the facist status quo"
for thinking like this, even after 30 years of activism?  No, I've decided.
But you can decide for yourself.

Go ahead, flame me!--Tom B

Sandy wrote (in part):
>Anyway, what I wanted to say is that I really believe we are all trying!
>And if people get their feelings hurt sometimes...I don't believe any of
>us wishes this to happen. This is one place where I would hope we'd all
>feel safe enough to post our opinions, and in order to make it safe *all*
>of us (those who post often especially) need to try to write with care.
>One thing I have discovered is that truly heartfelt statements sometimes
>come across as being the most critical.
>Once I remember writing an impassioned plea for something (not on this
>list) and found myself perceived of as having written a one-sided attack.
>What a surprise!
>If you feel thing to do is to try to imagine the
>person who wrote it. That person may well be a real sweetie in person.
>Anyway, please keep writing, all of you, we are doing a good job here.

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