Opinion and Forefront

MACALLISTER: Not every free speaker is esteemed

October 5, 2013

MacAllisterWe Americans pride ourselves on free speech and demonstrate that privilege—vocally, written, cartooning, tweeting, publishing, televising, on billboards, and through movies, TV shows and publications.

It’s a great privilege, free speech. It helps us see varied sides of a given issue, brings up details and ideas we’d never considered, and sometimes even changes opinions.

The major weakness in all this is not merely endless volume, but also paucity of substance. A bit like the “Let It Out” column in the Star where a series of quips are reported daily, expressing viewpoints.

It’s typical free speech, primarily opinions.

And more prejudice, snap judgments, misunderstandings and personal pique.

I’d feel better about the whole matter if we imposed some qualifying criteria. Like acknowledgement from he who speaks that it is his opinion rather than eternal, and based on conviction and not fact.

We ought to grant, as well, that any who disagree are not necessarily idiots.

The most exacting rule, however, ought to require some personal qualification, some experience of he who speaks.

What drives me up the wall are the complaints of those who malign politicians and crucify businessmen but who have never worked in government or a political campaign, never done a ruddy thing in the political process. Never owned … or worked … in a business.

I recall an ancient quote that speaks to that issue, iterated by Lucius Aemilius Paullus around 168 B.C., who was engaged in a major battle with the Macedonians.

His point is mine:

“Commanders should be counseled chiefly by persons of known talent; by those who have made the art of war their particular study, and whose knowledge is derived from experience; by those who are present at the scene of action, who see the enemy, who see the advantages that occasions offer, and who, like people embarked on the same ship, are sharers of the danger.

“If, therefore, anyone thinks himself qualified to give advice, respecting the war which I am to conduct, let him not refuse assistance to the state … but come with me to Macedonia.

“He shall be furnished with a ship, a horse, a tent; even his travel charges shall be defrayed, but if he thinks this too much trouble and prefers the repose of the city life to the toils of war, let him not on land assume the office of pilot.”

Then he says if he wants to keep talking, do so at home, but don’t expect us to heed a word of advice from one who “darkens council by uttering words without wisdom.”•

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MacAllister is chairman of MacAllister Machinery Co. Inc. and a longtime leader in Indianapolis Republican politics. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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