Freeze peaches at Berkeley and beyond.


[CONTENT NOTE: violent bigotry. lots of it.]

I am ashamed to report to readers that The Washington Post lured me into a time-wasting, life-sucking vortex with a clickbait headline:

I invited Ann Coulter to speak at UC Berkeley. Here’s why.
My group doesn’t agree with her, but we believe in free speech.

Ugh why. Because I AM WEAK, people, that’s why. Coulter’s appearance at Berkeley is not even happening, and yet still I could not just let this shit stand. The gist is that the writer, some 19-year-old UC Berkeley freshman d00d named Pranav Jandhyala, is a man on a mission: freeze peaches for everyone! Civil dialogues! Respectful discussions! We just need to better understaaaand the viewpoints of our adversaries! We can alleviate all this icky polarization, but only if we come to the table to taaaaaaaalk! Bridge the terrible political divide at UC Berkeley!

Needless to say, everything is wrong with this article. Every. Thing. For instance, let us solemnly contemplate for a moment this “political divide” at UC Berkeley that Jandhyala and his “BridgeCal” student organization wish to bridge.

Point the first: Since the Milo Yiannopoulos shitshow on February 1, the Berkeley College Republicans student group says its regular meeting attendance has almost tripled. TRIPLED! I hope you’re sitting down, because these numbers are scary: meeting attendance went from 20 to almost 60 people! MY. GOD.

Point the second: The University of California at Berkeley has a total undergraduate student enrollment of 27,496.

I know, right? How can students learn anything on this hopelessly riven campus?

Jandhyala’s whole piece is shot through with demonstrably false assumptions and wildly fallacious nonsense right from the start:

I am the founder of BridgeUSA [sic], the nonpartisan organization that invited Ann Coulter to the University of California at Berkeley’s campus. Our organization hopes to create a future in which our campus and our country are venues for free and fair political discussion and debate from all sides.

All sides, huh? Well I for one look forward to a full and fair hearing of holocaust deniers at Berkeley. Oh, that’s a BridgeCal too far, is it? Well why not the KKK? Eugenicists? Human traffickers of women and children who enslave them in the sex trade? Perhaps Jandhyala himself would be more interested in a civil and respectful conversation with some “Dotbusters,” the violent hate group dedicated to brutally beating and killing immigrants and anyone else with ties to the Indian subcontinent. You know: people with names like Jandhyala.

See, I doubt Jandhyala really advocates respectful engagement with speech from “all sides” on the Berkeley campus. And if he does? Then he fucking shouldn’t, for reasons that are obvious with a moment’s consideration.

First, there are debates that we do not need to have, anywhere, ever (again)—especially not on college campuses—because they are not legitimate subjects of debate. I’m not just talking about debating whether the Earth is flat, although that kind of wankery should never be given an academic platform, either. I’m talking about debating whether queer people deserve the death penalty because Jeezus. Or whether Native Americans, black people and Jews reeeeeeally deserve the same human rights as Caucasian Christians of European ancestry.

Second, context fucking matters. Per the classic cliché, we are not free to falsely shout “fire!” in a dark and crowded movie theater, although suddenly screaming “fire!” to your friends around a campfire is legal and also kind of hilarious. We have decided as a society that the right to free speech is not absolute, because some speech in some contexts is unacceptably dangerous and harmful. Of course people are free to have pointlessly harmful “debates” on college campuses. And by the same token, others are also free to attempt to shut that shit down, with uncivil (gasp!) speech, vociferous outrage, vehement protest and unrelenting civil disobedience—especially on college campuses, and even more especially on a college campus as diverse as Berkeley. In fact, it’s a goddamn civic duty, is what it is.

To insist that the targets of cavalier bigotry, outright hatred and systemic violence endure (respectfully!) the presence of horrible human beings who see fit to terrorize, dehumanize, oppress and exterminate them—on their own college campuses, with the tacit support of their fellow students and faculty sponsors—is unconscionable. Jandhyala and his college Republican BFFs are perfectly free to debate, for example, whether black slavery is the Bestest Idea Ever. But to host this discussion at a legitimate college forum, to advertise it in the student newspaper, to encourage fellow students to attend and seriously engage with it, to broadcast that the university community believes this to be a legitimate subject of debate? FUCK NO. That shit needs to be shut down, hard. Debating the pros and cons of black slavery at a university sanctioned event debases and delegitimizes not only black students and community members, but the very concept of academic inquiry itself—and for exactly same reason physics departments do not host debates with palm readers: because palm reading is and has long been thoroughly debunked bullshit with neither moral justification nor basis in reality. Just like conservative ideas.

I wonder whether Jandhyala and his merry band of freeze peachers would demand that students at historically black colleges host “respectful debates” with violent white supremacists. They need to bridge that divide, amirite? Understaaaaaand the other side!

Jeezus. I hope not. Context fucking matters.

And conservative ideas are not just thoroughly debunked bullshit with neither moral justification nor basis in reality, although they are demonstrably that. Conservative ideas and policies are also harmful to individuals and communities where they proliferate. They perpetuate and legitimize oppression and violence against some people, and perpetuate unearned privilege and an entitlement to harm and unjustly discriminate for others. Further, conservative policies fail (and fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail…), often for the constituents who vote for conservatives. I repeat: conservative policies are unmitigated, abject failures for everyone but a tiny fraction of the population.

But lest we misunderstaaaaaand these facts, everyone at Berkeley and beyond must engage respectfully with people like Ann Coulter, who say things like this:

I think the government should be spying on all Arabs, engaging in torture as a televised spectator sport, dropping daisy cutters wantonly throughout the Middle East and sending liberals to Guantanamo.

I don’t really like to think of it as a murder. It was terminating [Kansas abortion doctor George] Tiller in the 203rd trimester. … I am personally opposed to shooting abortionists, but I don’t want to impose my moral values on others.

If I’m going to say anything about John Edwards in the future, I’ll just wish he had been killed in a terrorist assassination plot.

We need to execute people like (John Walker Lindh) in order to physically intimidate liberals.

My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building.

We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity.

My libertarian friends are probably getting a little upset now but I think that’s because they never appreciate the benefits of local fascism.

Waaaaah! I don’t understaaaaaand! What could she possibly mean by these inscrutable words?

Guess what? The people who are the targets of violence and systemic oppression understand their oppressors perfectly well (as does anyone who bothers to pay attention). It is an astonishingly ignorant presumption that people at Berkeley (and across the nation) are unfamiliar with the views of poor, misunderstood, violent right-wing conservatives. That might be true for Jandhyala; I cannot say. (Although now that I think about it, it would explain his awful essay.) But even if it’s true, let’s just say I remain skeptical that the other 27,495 Berkeley undergrads are blissfully unaware of the 2016 Republican nominee’s successful campaign for president. The level of arrogance required to believe Berkeley students would never understand violent right-wing conservatives were it not for such noble endeavors as Jandhyala’s BridgeFail, is so jaw-droppingly staggering it belongs in a Freeze Peach museum. A freshman class that is less than 30% white would know a thing or two about the views of violent right-wing conservatives like Coulter and her ilk, because their fucking lives depend on it.

Moreover, a belief that violent right-wing conservatives will suddenly discover basic human empathy for their fellow citizens as a result of respectful dialogue is embarrassingly naive. They do not give a fuck about anyone who is not, at least superficially, exactly like them. They are unapologetic about this fact in their speech and actions. One cannot discuss or debate people who do not give a fuck into empathy for those they irrationally hate and blame for their own and the country’s misfortunes. The very idea is ludicrous on its face. The source of all this misery is staring right back at them in their own mirrors, and they will never, ever accept that. Conservatives can never be wrong you see; they can only be wronged. (See also the mother of all conservative logical fallacies: “Conservatism can never fail. It can only be failed by weak-minded souls who refuse to properly follow its tenets.”)

But forget about debating people into discovering empathy for a minute. Engaging in respectful, rational, fact-based discourse with conservatives to get them to accept reality is an utterly failed hypothesis: in fact, it’s counterproductive. At best, the entire exercise is pointless. It is much more likely to be pointlessly destructive and divisive—the very problem Jandhyala says he seeks and expects to solve by respectfully airing “better views.” Citation desperately fucking needed, d00d. That’s not how any of this works.

Speaking of pointless: just as the targets of violent right-wing ideology are all too familiar with the views of their oppressors, so too are conservative assholes familiar with the views of their more reality-based adversaries. Take single-payer universal healthcare, for one painfully obvious example. Does anyone believe the conservative deficit hawks in Congress who run around screeching about the cost of US healthcare bankrupting the republic are somehow unaware that we pay far more for far worse health outcomes than any economically developed nation on Earth? That a single-payer system would be better, cheaper and cover everyone? Even Donald Trump(!) knows this. Yet these are the same congresscritters who block Medicare from negotiating drug prices (free markets, everyone!) and deem the ACA “socialist.” They know. They understand. They just do not give a fuck.

That is not all I have to say about Jandhyala’s first two sentences. (See? “Time-wasting, life-sucking vortex.”) But if you’ve come this far, we may as well look at the third:

We stand for the preservation of spaces where political ideas can be shared and challenged without fear of violence.

That is adorable. The problem for Jandhyala and his Freeze Peach Brigades is that they want to give a prominent platform and academic legitimacy to far-right political ideas that are inherently and often explicitly violent. We already have Fox News and Breitbart pumping out that shit 24/7/365. I expect better from public universities.

How wonderful for Jandhyala that he wasn’t targeted (or raised) by violent, abusive, hateful, conservative bigots. I mean that sincerely. But many others who were will never, ever wish to (re)bridge that gap. He is asking these very people to “come to the table to talk” with their unapologetic oppressors who cannot be persuaded by reality or reason. Yet this, he avows, is the only “constructive way forward” to alleviate the terrible, terrible tragedy of political polarization.

Well. Speaking for myself, I am, and most emphatically desire to remain, at the opposite pole from violent right-wing conservative “thinking.” It’s not because I don’t understand these views. It’s because I do. They deserve to be dismissed, unequivocally. They deserve to be mocked, mercilessly. They deserve to be unceremoniously ignored, and their purveyors deserve to be driven into the shadows of society. They should be perfectly content there, frankly, seeing how they so fulsomely embrace every aspect of the Dark Ages.

It’s not like The Washington Post or CNN or the “liberal” The New York Times or any other prominent media outlet is going to banish conservative crap effectively. On the contrary, they fully legitimize it even when (respectfully!) arguing against it. This is precisely why shitty, wrong-headed conservative views are ubiquitous, pervading every aspect of US culture. Can we not expect better from prestigious public institutions of higher learning? Really?

I mentioned at the start every single goddamn thing is wrong with Jandhayala’s screed, and we’re only three sentences in. Unfortunately for myself and my dedicated readers, I CANNOT SEEM TO STOP MYSELF. But to salvage what’s left of our day (week? month? year?) I promise I will address—and briefly!—only a few more egregiously appalling sentences.

Fundamentally, though, the system of political dialogue and debate is broken, not just on this campus, but across the nation.

Now I’m just spitballin’ here, but perhaps this much-touted “system of political dialogue and debate is broken” because there is no benefit whatsoever to anyone from debating violent right-wing conservatives? Well, except to benefit the violent right-wing conservatives themselves. Maybe, just maybe, a big part of the problem is that odious, reality-detached conservative views are relentlessly legitimized by our stellar media, with eager assistance from a seemingly endless parade of tools like Jandhyala who think they also need a boost of academic respectability. And for what? To prove to everyone that you loooooove frozen peaches more than anything else? Please. Just STFU.

Our goal since then has been to facilitate dialogue between political opposites, allowing everyone to engage with and understand opposing viewpoints.

Do uppity women and gender nonconforming people require corrective rape? DISCUSS.

We’ve hosted five events in about two months. Many students were immediately interested in our mission, and our membership has expanded rapidly — we have 40 officers and about 150 to 200 members.

Go BridgeFail! Only 27,256 to go!

Coulter was the choice of conservative groups on campus to represent their perspective in a larger campus debate about illegal immigration we were hosting. Liberal groups on campus had chosen Maria Echaveste, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton.

That’s right: unnamed “liberal groups” invited Maria Echaveste. Her resume includes deputy White House chief of staff who oversaw immigration reform during the Clinton administration, administrator in the U.S. Department of Labor, UC Berkeley law school graduate and lecturer, and daughter of Mexican immigrants.

The college Republicans invited…Ann Coulter. (“There’s a cultural acceptance of child rape in Latino culture that doesn’t exist in even the most dysfunctional American ghettos. When it comes to child rape, the whole family gets involved.” This is who represents their perspective on immigration.)

Free speech isn’t about provocation, violence, publicity stunts, selling books or testing limits.

Yes it fucking is when you invite Ann fucking Coulter to speak on your campus.

Yiannopoulos himself announced that he would be organizing a “free speech week” on Sproul Plaza where he and his supporters would attack a new perceived “enemy of free speech” every day. It pains me to see our campus being used as a pulpit for bad actors, people whose goal is to elevate themselves by inciting violence, without a thought for the safety of students who live and attend school here.

Do any working irony meters exist on planet Earth any more?

What’s disheartening to me is seeing the words “free speech” being used as a tool to garner headlines and publicity.

Seriously, can I borrow a working one if you have one handy?

What’s happening on our campus is no longer about advancing discourse anymore. It’s no longer an attempt to reach a larger truth and understanding about policy issues so that better decisions can be made. It’s just a furious chase to get in front of the news cameras and be trending on Twitter and Facebook.

And published in The Washington Post.

I WILL PAY CA$H MONEY FOR A WORKING IRONY METER.

The true issue here…is the fact that this trade-off between student safety and free speech even exists in the first place.

Yeah, fuck student safety! Because the most important thing IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE EVER is clearly… freeze peaches! And again, why isn’t BridgeFail demanding historically black college campuses politely host civil and respectful debates with violent white supremacists?

We refuse to meet speech with violence and oppression.

Yes, yes, you absolutely refuse to meet violent and oppressive speech with anything but respect and civility. How’s that working out for the country?

We refuse to invoke the right to free speech to inflame, attack and generate publicity.

And that is why you invite Ann Coulter to speak at your campus event. Riiiight.

Never mind the working irony meter request. I can see why they’ve gone extinct on this planet.

The ultimate irony (IF there still is any such thing as irony) is that Jandhyala wants to police speech at least as much as those he perceives as the enemies of free speech. He prances around insisting on civility and respectful discourse with people who have enjoyed the benefits of civility and respect for far too long. The demand for civility and respect toward violent right-wing conservatives is nothing less than a demand to endure and maintain an ugly, violent and deeply oppressive status quo. If civil debate worked so “better views” prevailed, we would not have the society, culture, media or government we do.

One final point (I promise!). I don’t know about you, but my respect must be earned. Even though I might initially grant someone respect as a default, the minute someone speaks like Coulter, Yiannopoulos, Trump, Pence, Paul Ryan or any other banal run-of-the-mill conservative politician or pundit, they no longer deserve my respect. They deserve nothing but my unyielding contempt, for their rhetoric and for the despicable policies they support and enact.

Pranav Jandhyala, that bridge is burnt. As it damn well should be. Pick a side, motherfucker.

Comments

  1. says

    Damn it, I thought they invited her to speak hoping that someone would punch her in the face. Berkeley students aren’t made of the same stuff they were in the 60s. Bring back the weathermen!

  2. chigau (違う) says

    Our organization hopes to create a future in which our campus and our country are venues for free and fair political discussion and debate from all sides.

    I wonder why no one has thought of this until now.
    What a bright lad.

  3. Raucous Indignation says

    That’s not how this works. “That’s not how any of this works.” Ah, sweet delicious nectar of intelligent snark and vitriol.
    “They deserve to be dismissed, unequivocally. They deserve to be mocked, mercilessly.” Aaaahh … oh dear sweet sublime satisfaction. Thank you Cousin, thank you so very much.

  4. says

    (I haven’t posted in this blog before, so apologies in advance if this isn’t meant to be a space for disagreement and debate. I’m fine with that.)

    Was it okay that her speech was shut down through violence? Is that a legitimate tactic? And would it still be legitimate if the shoe were on the other foot and right-wingers were using it to intimidate a liberal speaker?

    UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks:

    “In relation to the invitation made by a student group for Ann Coulter to speak at Berkeley this week, we have therefore to take seriously the intelligence UCPD has regarding threats of violence that could endanger our students, our community, and perhaps even Ms. Coulter herself. It is specific, significant and real. Yet, despite those threats, we have — and will remain — ready to welcome her to campus, and assume the risks, challenges and expenses that will attend her visit. That is demanded by our commitment to Free Speech.”

    http://news.berkeley.edu/2017/04/26/new-message-from-the-chancellor-about-possible-coulter-visit/?utm_content=bufferfa415&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

  5. Raucous Indignation says

    @6 chigau Read? You presume much about the foaming pile of sulfurous excrement @5 that couldn’t possibly be true. I will use Iris’ own sweet delicious discourse to refute. (I would embed the paragraph en bloc if I knew how.) It applies equally well to the hateful ignorance of @5 JF as to the subject of the post.

    “The ultimate irony (IF there still is any such thing as irony) is that Jandhyala wants to police speech at least as much as those he perceives as the enemies of free speech. He prances around insisting on civility and respectful discourse with people who have enjoyed the benefits of civility and respect for far too long. The demand for civility and respect toward violent right-wing conservatives is nothing less than a demand to endure and maintain an ugly, violent and deeply oppressive status quo. If civil debate worked so “better views” prevailed, we would not have the society, culture, media or government we do.”

  6. says

    @chigau
    Yeah, and throughout the post there was not one mention of the violence which was used to shut her down. Whether Ann Coulter’s visit would have been productive or not is a secondary issue to the violent suppression of free speech.

  7. says

    @Raucous Indignation
    I don’t care about being civil and respectful to Coulter. But there’s a difference between not being civil and respectful to her and being VIOLENT.

  8. Parse says

    I keep coming back to MLK’s quote about riots being the language of the unheard. For the most part, people resort to tactics that fall into ethical grey areas because other tactics are unavailable or have already failed. I’m sure that there are people who do so despite having better options, just as there are always people who act unethically in other ways.

    But unfortunately, for an outside observer with no skin in the game, it’s very hard to tell whether or not that’s the case. I saw so many posts patronizingly chiding Berkeley students for not trying other tactics before protesting and/or destroying property (although most did not destroy property, and the oft-used phrase “violent protest” implies much more than that). They had no idea of the lengths to which the protesters went to utilize “appropriate” means to keep themselves and their community safe. It didn’t work. They remained unheard.

    Exceprted from Brute Reason, emphasis mine.
    Inviting hate on campus – hate in the form of Ann Coulter or other right-wing demagogues – is inviting violence. Or don’t you see the violence implied, suggested, supported in the quotes that Iris pulled in her post? How would you have suggested that the people who Coulter is threatening defend themselves? And how do you know they haven’t already been trying those tactics?

    If liberal speakers were saying the same sort of crap about conservatives or alt-righters that Coulter has said about liberals, I’d support shutting them down as well. The challenge for you, or anybody else who wants to draw this sort of parallel, is to identify a liberal speaker who’s as high-profile as Coulter, says equally vile things about conservatives as Coulter does about liberals, and is invited to speak on college campuses.

  9. says

    @Parse
    I don’t think the pre-civil rights black community is in any way comparable to the UC Berkeley student body. If you’re attending an elite institution like Berkeley you’re in a much better place than the vast majority of the world’s population, and you’re certainly in a better place than the pre-civil rights black community.

    They had no idea of the lengths to which the protesters went to utilize “appropriate” means to keep themselves and their community safe.

    What danger did Ann Coulter represent? Let’s say she gives her speech. What happens next?

    How would you have suggested that the people who Coulter is threatening defend themselves?

    Don’t attend the speech. Protest it if you want.

  10. says

    Anyone looking for an unequivocal condemnation of violence as a political tool in all circumstances from me will be sorely disappointed. My views are more informed and nuanced than that. And I am in good company.

    Nelson Mandela’s legacy: As a leader, he was willing to use violence.

    Ta-Nehisi Coates:

    [V]iolence and nonviolence are tools, [and] violence—like nonviolence—sometimes works.

    In 1851, when Shadrach Minkins was snatched off the streets of Boston under the authority of the Fugitive Slave Law, abolitionists “stormed the courtroom” and “overpowered the federal guards” to set Minkins free. That same year, when slaveholders came to Christiana, Pennsylvania, to reclaim their property under the same law, they were not greeted with prayer and hymnals but with gunfire.

    The Civil Rights Bill of 1964 is inseparable from the threat of riots. The housing bill of 1968—the most proactive civil-rights legislation on the books—is a direct response to the riots that swept American cities after King was killed. Violence, lingering on the outside, often backed nonviolence during the civil-rights movement. “We could go into meetings and say, ‘Well, either deal with us or you will have Malcolm X coming into here,'” said SNCC organizer Gloria Richardson. “They would get just hysterical. The police chief would say, ‘Oh no!'”

    Violence in self-defense or in defense of others who cannot defend themselves is not immoral. Violence that punches down is less moral than violence that punches up.

    Wait! I forgot! I am under no obligation to discuss my views on political violence generally or violent threats against Ann Coulter’s freeze peach specifically on my own blog!

  11. says

    @Iris
    And sometimes violence doesn’t work. Historically, fascist regimes have used left-wing violence as an excuse to further consolidate their power.

    In the case of Ann Coulter, the threat of violence made her the center of a national discussion and magnified her voice and her message far beyond the meager audience she would have received speaking at UC Berkeley.

    This is the exact same thing that happened with Milo. These people and their ideas are immediately launched into the mainstream when you violently shut them down.

    Violence in self-defense or in defense of others who cannot defend themselves is not immoral.

    The problem is that Ann Coulter isn’t a danger to anyone. She doesn’t own any slaves. She isn’t violating anyone’s human rights. You don’t need to defend yourself against her through violence.

    And if you do believe her message will lead to harm or violence, then your only two options are to argue/protest against that message or to murder her. Internet and television ensure that it is impossible to silence her completely and prevent her message from getting out.

    Violence that punches down is less moral than violence that punches up.

    Inherently? Is it more moral for a homeless guy to rob a millionaire in an alley than it is for that millionaire to use violence to defend himself?

    I am under no obligation to discuss my views on political violence generally or violent threats against Ann Coulter’s freeze peach specifically on my own blog!

    I understand, and I appreciate the response.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *