Why Start Trouble?
Some people think I stir up trouble just for the hell of it. But the truth is, I never looked for controversy for controversy’s sake. There’s always been a principle at stake.
Twenty-five years ago I was in major-league trouble. I had picked a fight with preacher Jerry Falwell by making fun of him in a 1983 parody ad in this magazine. He claimed libel, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Did anybody think I could win it? Hell no. But in 1988 I did—and by unanimous decision.
I learned a few things back then. One: Free speech is not something you can take for granted. Two: Starting trouble is worth it if your cause is just. And three: The bigger the enemy, the messier the fight.
I’m proud of what I did, but I know you don’t always win. Will Wall Street stop being driven by greed because thousands of troublemakers occupied it? No, but they showed that even in our cynical time, people still give a damn. Are you more likely to win your case if you flip off the judge? No, but it shows that the independent human spirit is alive and kicking. That, ultimately, is what justice in our country is measured against: the independent human spirit striving for freedom.
Keep in mind that starting trouble can be a lonely business. When I took my free-speech case to the Supreme Court, I was on my own. Now everyone’s reaping the benefits of my victory. Sometimes it may seem like you don’t have a chance of winning, but you sure as hell won’t if you don’t try.
Not a lot of people have gone looking for trouble as much as I have, and I have the scars to prove it. Everything I know I learned the hard way. Why didn’t I ever learn my lesson and shut the hell up? Because life may be a bitch when you’re fighting for freedom, but the other option is worse.
My greatest hope is that the next generation will look at what I’ve done and realize that sometimes there’s no greater honor than being a righteous pain in the ass.