Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Ranting is free speech, has value


Last week’s CVN contained a letter titled “Run the town, don’t stir the pot.” The commenter stated that “stirring the pot” with rants and misinformation polarizes and divides the community, and that running the town requires working together through “communication, coordination and compromise.” While I agree working together is important, I would offer there is First Amendment value in “stirring the pot,” whether from provocative opinionated speech or from reasoned fact-based argument.

In Terminiello v. Chicago, the Supreme Court stated, “The function of free speech in our society is to invite dispute.” The court continued, “Free speech may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.” Moreover, the court stated speech is often “provocative and challenging,” and “may have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea.” Thus, provocative speech serves a purpose in our society.

By its nature, provocative speech may include rants containing passionate opinion, misinformation or misrepresented facts. Provocative speech provides value to the public discourse by offering opportunity for counter speech to argue opposing positions and viewpoints. Ultimately, then, “stirring the pot” with provocative speech can help our society with political and social decisions.

Provocative speech, like fact-based argument, is communication. Both have value by allowing hearers of information to make informed decisions. Therefore, we must be cautious that in our quest for working together we don’t lose sight of the value in provocative, opinionated speech.

Mike Denker


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