In April, I had the chance to go the Newseum in Washington D.C. This place is really quite remarkable. I could have spent several more hours there. It is, among other things, a shrine to the 1st Amendment, and has some excellent displays relating to this critical area.
However, in my mind, the whole experience was summed up very quickly in one exhibit. They have a chunk of the Berlin Wall there. One side is clean--pristine. All you can see are the numbers that indicate the order of the panels. The East German government kept it that way. Of course, they did it with guns, watchtowers, barbed wire, attack dogs, and secret police that turned ordinary citizens into spies and informants. But hey, the wall is nice and clean.
The other side is the same panels, but these were on the West German side. It is messy and ugly. Covered with graffiti, it has been painted on and abused.
These panels are a stark reminder. Freedom is messy. Of necessity, free people will hear and see things that might upset and offend--even hurt--them. Freedom might seem ugly and disorganized, but the sterile, sanitized alternative is terrible. Not only because it prohibits the free expression of a human soul, but because that only happens through the application of force and fear.
Next time I hear of a campaign to ban a word or a censor a book or whatever, I will remember these images.
Which do you prefer? The pristine, clean order of tyranny? Or the messy, chaotic graffiti of freedom? They both come with a cost.
Photo credit: Tonyzeoli.com
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