So tired of the false accusations…as someone who works on a college campus, ground zero for the PC wars, I have to tell you it’s about as bogus as the War on Christmas. No, college students aren’t trying to silence conservatives, because a lot of college students are conservatives. Conservatives are pouring cash into like-minded student organizations, paying to bring in reactionary fools as speakers, handing out free posters endorsing idiocies, like Turning Point USA, and you can’t turn around without seeing reactionary clods whining about The Gays or The Trans Creeping Into Muh Bathroom, and surprise–no one sets them on fire or kicks them off campus. The crusade to slander universities for being oppressive bastions of PC thought is a load of nonsense invented by people with stupid ideas who didn’t like the fact they’d get their rhetorical asses kicked in any environment that wasn’t packed with their ideological allies.
Martha Gill gets it. The the threat to free speech is an invented pseudo-controversy. The usual suspects promote it as a way to pretend that a goddamned majority is somehow an oppressed class.
This sort of argument is everywhere. It often seems like the first line of defence when a notable figure has overstepped the mark. And just this month the academic Jordan Peterson launched a website, Thinkspot, to protect users from all the “censorship” that is around right now.
The argument that you can’t say anything was given a boost when, in 2015, the Atlantic magazine published The Coddling of the American Mind, an article by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff suggesting that young people, particularly students, were attempting to shut down discussions about topics they disagreed with. Universities, they argued, were sacrificing knowledge on the altar of hurt student feelings.
Then, the explosion. Thousands of articles were written defending free speech against the undergraduates, along with a slew of books – from Mike Hume’s Trigger Warning to Claire Fox’s I Find That Offensive! to Haidt’s 2018 book borrowing the title of the original Atlantic article. There has been the phenomenon of Jordan Peterson, who says the unsayable but is still somehow a bestselling author. (Almost every piece on spiked-online.com has an argument defending free speech.)
She cites chapter and verse of counter-examples, and they jibe with my experience on a liberal college campus. It’s not that my environment has been sanitized of views I find disagreeable; I assure you, I am regularly rolling my eyes at the nonsense that gets promoted here. We had Ben Shapiro give a talk at UMM, and if that dishonest twerp can get a platform here, you’ve got no grounds to claim that conservatives are censored. Don’t worry, though: even as they rake in the cash from obliging conservative think tanks, they’ll keep on whining that they get no respect at the universities.
There’s a reason for that lack of respect, too.
Free speech advocates also misunderstand the motivation of those who might want to shut down a debate: they see this as a surefire mark of intolerance. But some debates should be shut down. For public dialogue to make any progress, it is important to recognise when a particular debate has been won and leave it there.
Even the most passionate free speech advocate might not wish to reopen the debate into whether women should be tried for witchcraft, or whether ethnic minorities should be allowed to go to university, or whether the Earth is flat. No-platformers are not scared – they simply think certain debates are over. You may disagree, but it does not mean they are against free speech.
There is also the problem of self-awareness. The trouble with the free speech defence is that it works to shut down any argument against it. You want to say something boring, or irrelevant, or malicious? Claim someone is trying to ban you from saying it. Dissent isn’t merely dissent then, it’s censure. (And censorship should be banned.)
Your opponents are against free discussion (and shouldn’t be allowed to engage in it). You can tack free speech on to any crackpot prejudice you have and suddenly you’re a lone truth-teller standing up to the hordes. It’s a clever rhetorical trick, the free speech defence. But it shouldn’t be taken much more seriously than that.
You want to go on a college campus and argue for a white ethno-state, or that trans people are perverts, or that life begins at conception, or that evolution is Satan’s religion, you can do that — I’ve heard all of that. You don’t get to say it without pushback from better informed people, though, and you’re not going to get the university administration to actively endorse those views, as they do the ideas that America is a pluralist nation with a diverse population that must be served by the educational system, or that human identities are complex and don’t fit into your limited bins, or that biology is a legitimate scientific discipline that tells us that your ideas are bullshit, and that they don’t deserve to be taken seriously.
That’s not censorship. That’s just us turning our backs on your foolishness.