Friday, October 23, 2015

Catherine Rampell: Free Speech Is Flunking Out On College Campuses


Weslayan student newspaper prints an op-ed moderately critical of the "black lives matter" movement.
Within 24 hours of publication, students were stealing and reportedly destroying newspapers around campus. In a school cafe, a student screamed at Stascavage through tears, declaring that he had “stripped all agency away from her, made her feel like not a human anymore,” Stascavage told me in a phone interview. Over the following days, he said, others muttered “racist” under their breath as he passed by. 
The Argus’s editors published a groveling apology on the paper’s front page. They said they’d “failed the community” by publishing Stascavage’s op-ed without a counterpoint, and said that it “twist[ed] facts.” They promised to make the paper “a safe space for the student of color community.” This self-flagellation proved insufficient; students circulated a petition to defund the newspaper.
Ultimately, the student government halved funding for the paper and will distribute its funding among other publications--presumably ones with more politically correct editorial policies.
   So...contrary to liberal defenses of this insanity:
Political correctness is not merely being nice to people.
It is not a liberal movement
It is certainly not innocuous
The bit of this I'd most like to highlight is this bit from above:
In a school cafe, a student screamed at Stascavage through tears, declaring that he had “stripped all agency away from her, made her feel like not a human anymore,”
That is insanity. It's not mere falsehood. It goes far beyond that. It's not the kind of bullshit that most people think up on their own. This is classic far-left/PC cant. It's downright formulaic. It's a species of crazy that people catch from other people. It's what the PCs infect naive college students with. If your intellectual immune system is weakened, you can actually fall for this nonsense. Remember what's being said here: the fact that A wrote something critical of B's political view (a) robbed B of all agency and (b) made B feel non-human.
   Utter, unmitigated bullshit.
   The point of this shrill, hyperbolic nonsense, of course, is to (i) shut down all criticism of far-left views and (ii) justify shutting it down on the grounds that it is causing actual harm to people. 
   Briefly, the liberal view is often expressed like so: your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. Implied is: short of that, my rights allow me to do as I please. And speech that genuinely aims at the discussion of ideas is never like swinging a fist. Slander and libel are; shouting "fire!" in a crowded theater is; discussing ideas is not. The illiberal left denies this; speech is always like a fist, and--at least when it suits them--it should always be evaluated purely in terms of who gets punched and how much it hurts. "Punching up" (i.e. at whites, males, etc.) is always permissible (it's impossible to hurt the "privileged"...also, they deserve to be hurt...). "Punching down," never. 
   There's always been a kind of weird naturalism/materialism woven through the left that rejects the very ideas of truth, reason and justice. That's the element of the left that wants to reject that idea that objectivity is possible, that science gives us knowledge of the universe, that law should strive for justice. That strand of the left rejects all those bourgeoisie, enlightenment ideas in favor of a view according to which e.g. everything is class struggle. It's all about power, and any appeal to truth, reason, and justice is a quasi-superstitious smokescreen aimed at concealing mere competing interest. Thus the liberal view that dispassionate scientific inquiry and rational discussion of political and policy are not like swinging a fist...that view is rejected by the far left. Sure, we get some appeals to agency (as above)...but that's a different strand of an incoherent mish-mash of theories.
   People--especially liberals--need to be much, much more concerned about this stuff than they seem to be. This sort of thing is happening at universities across the country (and, less importantly, on "social media"). It's being allowed to happen not only by students and administrations but by faculty. Many liberals refrain from criticizing the illiberal left. Many go so far as to defend them. Those things have to stop.


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