Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Bryan W. Van Norden: "The Ignorant Do Not Have A Right To An Audience"

Wow this is awful.
And whatever you do: don't look at the comments. You will fall into a pit of despair. The almost-uniform enthusiasm for a barely-concealed anti-free-speech argument is depressing as hell.
   Norden is tangentially right about some things--and the title is, in a certain important sense, true: of course some views are more deserving of an audience. After all, some are truer than others. But most of the post is just, as you might expect, a variation on now-familiar PC-left arguments for silencing conservatives...and liberals.
   He specifically chooses terrible righties (e.g. Anne Coulter) and juxtaposes them with lefty heroes (e.g. Ta-Nahisi Coates) to conflate (i) truer views are more worth listening to with (ii) leftier views are more wroth listening to. And, though (again) there's a clear sense in which the title's true, it's also clear that what Van Norden really wants is for institutions to favor the left over the right. All the views allegedly not worth listening to are on the right.

   There's also no mention of the crucial fact that government institutions can't favor people on the basis of political views. Universities being one of the most important cases: if students are allowed to bring in speakers, the university can't veto their decisions on the basis of the political content of their views.
   And a crucial general point: one reason the left can never be allowed to decide who can and who can't speak is that their conception of ignorant and intolerable speech immediately expands/explodes rightward. Charles Murray, for example, is alleged to be a paradigm example of racist "junk science." And that's what we're looking at if institutions take Van Norden's advice: the suppression of huge swaths of un-PC speech. Imagine what Van Norden & co. would say were we to point out that huge swaths of contemporary feminism, transgender theory, critical race theory, etc. on the left are pseudoscientific nonsense... I agree that people shouldn't waste their time on such things...but I understand that that should be a matter of individual judgment. To give institutions the power to make such decisions would be disastrous. The point is that we simply aren't good enough at separating the wheat from the chaff to allow ourselves to decide on what can and can't be heard. Which, make no mistake about it, is what's being suggested. We especially know that the PC left can't be allowed to decide. (Why, after all, do you think they have discovered that institutions like universities should be allowed to filter speech? Surely it has nothing to do with the fact that they control those institutions...)
   Absolutely, positively: some views are more worthwhile than others. But what Van Norden and the rest of the PC left are up to here is a matter of sidling up as close to censorship as they can get.


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