Millennials' Push To Ban Free Speech
It isn't just millennials, of course, but I perceive the notion that speech should not be free to be the strongest amongst millennials.
Eloquent and smart piece by the UK writer Nick Cohen -- who happens to be on the left.
In the piece, he explains John Stuart Mill's "harm principle," Mill's notion that stopping speech is only permissible when it incites violence -- actual physical violence.
Yet now, students -- using thinking out of the academic left -- conflate emotional safety and physical safety. They use this conflation to call for bans on speech they dislike or disagree with, because it fails to conform to what is considered correct -- correct in terms of what the rational quicksand that is po-mo academia says is correct.
A bit from his piece:
To a woman struggling to be treated equally and taken seriously, Mill's permissiveness must appear next to useless. All around her society shows women as lumps of meat for men to drool over and prod. They challenge her sense of who she is and what she may become. But according to the old liberalism, she cannot censor unless she can prove that pornography and sexualised films and advertising are causing rape or promoting prejudice. Why should she accept a bar raised so high she can never jump it? Why should she spend years arguing for men to change, when experience has taught her that men don't change? State power could spare her from hard and unsatisfactory argument and give her what she wanted in a moment.
The same applies to a black man confronted with the everyday racism of parts of the Right, or a Jew confronted with the everyday racism of Islamists and parts of the Left, or a gay man worried about homophobia or a Muslim frightened of Islamophobia. They don't want to be told they can ban speech only if a speaker whips his audience into such a state they are ready to attack a mosque or a gay bar or a synagogue. They feel the urgent hurt of prejudice now, and they want it stopped. A failure to demand that newsagents take sex magazines off the shelves, or that the police arrest a racist on Twitter, or that the government pass laws against "hate speech" is a kind of betrayal. Defeating your opponents in argument is not enough, when argument contains an admission that they at least have a case that is worth arguing against. Only silencing them can show your commitment to the cause, and provide an authentic measure of your disgust. Anything else is a collaboration with those who hate you.
...Go into the modern university and you won't hear much from Mill, John Milton, George Orwell, or from the millions around the world who have had to learn the hard way why freedom of speech matters. Instead, academics promote philosophers far less rigorous than Feinberg. Jeremy Waldron, for instance, suggests speech which attacks the dignity of others should be banned. Rae Langton of Cambridge University puts the arguments of the anti-pornography campaigners of the 1980s into obscure - and therefore academically respectable - prose. Pornography silences women, she argues, not by actually silencing them, but by making their protestations harder to believe.
...When I argue for freedom of speech at student unions, I am greeted with incomprehension as much as outrage. It's not only that they don't believe in it, they don't understand how anyone could believe in it unless they were a racist or rapist. The politicians, bureaucrats, chief police officers and corporate leaders of tomorrow are at universities, which teach that open debate and persuasion by argument are ideas so dangerous they must be banned as a threat to health and safety. Unless we challenge them in the most robust manner imaginable, whatever kind of country they grow up to preside over is unlikely to be a very free one.
There was a bit of an argument on Twitter yesterday, in response to cognitive scientist Christopher Chabris' tweeting of the op-ed from the Wellesley paper. The thing merely said that "hostility" could be warranted, not "violence." But Chabris took it to mean "violence" -- a coded way of saying violence -- and I think Cohen's piece makes a good argument that Chabris is right.
A frightening document: student *journalists* endorse violence against speakers who "refuse to adapt their beliefs" pic.twitter.com/dpedkBCQUg— Christopher Chabris (@cfchabris) April 16, 2017
@hardsci The "hostility" they say "may be warranted" is more than mere debate or discussion--so it must include physical blocking of speakers etc.— Christopher Chabris (@cfchabris) April 16, 2017
Chabris, on his blog, posts his version of what a college president should say to people demanding that a speaker invited to campus be disinvited:
To those who say the speaker may make them feel unsafe, I must point out that higher education is not designed to make people safe. Instead, it is our society's designated "safe space" for disruptive intellectual activity. It's a space that has been created and set apart specifically for the incubation of knowledge, by both students and faculty. Ideas that may seem dangerous or repugnant can be expressed here--even if nowhere else--so that they can be analyzed, discussed, and understood as dispassionately as possible. Many of humanity's greatest achievements originated as ideas that were suppressed from the public sphere. Some, like the theory of evolution by natural selection, equal rights for women and minorities, trade unions, democracy, and even the right to free speech and expression, are still seen as dangerous decades and centuries later.
If you are against this speaker coming here, please also consider this: Some members of our community--some of your friends and colleagues--do want him to visit. By asking me to disinvite him, you are implicitly claiming that your concerns and preferences are more important than those of the people who invited him. Are you really sure that you are so right and they are so wrong? Psychologists have found that people tend to be overconfident in their beliefs, and poor at taking the perspective of others. That might be the case here.
...Note that it's especially important for us to be open to viewpoints not already well-represented among our faculty. The professors here are a diverse group, but many studies have shown that professors tend to be more politically left-wing than the population at large. Even the most conscientious instructor may inadvertently slant his teaching and assignments towards his own political viewpoint. Of course, this applies more in the social sciences and humanities than in math or physics, but it does happen. Giving campus organizations wide latitude to invite the speakers they wish helps to increase the range of thoughts that are aired and discussed here.
If you feel that this speaker's talk might upset you, I offer this advice: Go. Yes, go to the talk, listen to it, record it--if the speaker and hosts give permission--and think about it. Expose yourself to ideas that trouble you, because avoiding sources of anxiety is not the best way to cope with them.
But don't try to interrupt or shout the speaker down. Take this golden opportunity to train yourself to respond to speech that upsets you by analyzing it, looking up its sources, developing reasoned counterarguments, and considering why people agree with it and whether it might not be as contemptible as you have been told. These are the skills that all members of our community are committed to building.