The Real Reason We Need to Stop Trying to Protect Everyone’s Feeling:
There’s that saying: The road to hell is paved with good intentions. When it comes to censorship, one might say that the road to thought and speech control is paved by people trying to protect other people’s feelings.
Of course, the real and fair solution is much less politically correct but effective. It’s to stop trying to protect people’s feelings. Your feelings are your problem, not mine—and vice versa.
Real empowerment and respect is to see our fellow citizens—victims and privileged, religious and agnostic, conservative and liberal—as adults. Human beings are not automatons—ruled by drives and triggers they cannot control. On the contrary, we have the ability to decide not to be offended. We have the ability to discern intent. We have the ability to separate someone else’s actions or provocation or ignorance from our own. This is the great evolution of consciousness—it’s what separates us from the animals.
College Campuses should be amongst the friendliest places in support of the free exchange of ideas. However, they are failing miserably in that role:
Crippling the delivery of unpopular views is a terrible lesson to send to impressionable minds and future leaders, at Wesleyan and elsewhere.
This is simply the latest proof that colleges and universities in this nation are turning from bastions of free speech and academic freedom to institutions that are enabling and enforcing “speech codes” that student activists demand. The result is the death of “robust intellectual debate” on campus.
The campus speech police at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee just declared “politically correct” to be taboo.
There seems to be growing awareness of the problem. Organizations like FIRE are fighting the good fight in trying to rectify the situation.
George Will had some terrific remarks on the matter delivered last April (excerpts):
What I want to talk to you about tonight is the amount of intellectual ingenuity that is now devoted to rationalizing the disappearance of free speech. For forty years now, every bit of jurisprudential thinking about the First Amendment has been devoted to explaining how we can balance First Amendment freedoms against other competing and superior, we’re told, values, balancing away the First Amendment one bit at a time.
…Today’s attack is different. It’s an attack on the theory of freedom of speech. It is an attack on the desirability of free speech, and indeed, if listened to carefully and plumbed fully, what we have today is an attack on the very possibility of free speech. The belief is that the First Amendment is a mistake.
...The longer I live around politics, and I’m now in the second half of my fifth decade in Washington, the more I believe that only ideas have large and lasting consequences. We are living today with the consequences of two bad 19th century ideas that were imported like much of progressivism from Germany.
…Of course free speech zones are now common around the country. Some of us thought that James Madison of the great class of 1771 of Princeton University, that James Madison established a free speech zone coast to coast.…Because our minds are made up in a social context, we really have no minds of our own. The minds are social constructs. This is a kind of totalizing way of looking at the world and it leads, as night to day, to totalitarian impulses.…The Declaration in the light of which the Constitution being construed is a charter of limited government, limiting the government to protecting natural rights.
Well that was not good enough for Woodrow Wilson. Progress for him meant progress up from the founders. Science was in the air at the time: Edison, Ford, Marconi, the Wright Brothers. And political science had its own day. He was present at creation, indeed he was the creator, of the academic study of administration, which represented his worship from afar of Bismarck’s Prussian bureaucracy. In 1912 during the campaign, Woodrow Wilson said the history of liberty is the history of limits on government power. Ah yes, he meant the history of liberty, not the future of liberty.
…Yesterday, as I said, we saw the Democratic’s probable presidential nominee say that one of the four most important things she wants to do in the world is end Citizens United and end the First Amendment as we have known it, to empower the government to protect the American people from money in politics, all of which is spent to disseminate political advocacy. For four and a half decades in Washington I’ve seen many bad laws passed, and none as bad, none as ominous, none as symptomatic as the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. A lot of people say, refer to the campaign finance laws, they say well they’re to prevent corruption or the appearance thereof and they always refer to them as the post-Watergate campaign finance laws. Not true. Yeah, they came after that. The impulse to regulate campaign spending in a serious way was not because of the 1972 Watergate break-in it was because of the 1968 Gene McCarthy campaign. The Democratic Party was appalled that Gene McCarthy was able to mount a serious insurgency against an incumbent president because he got Stewart Mott and about 8 other wealthy people to give what then was serious money, a hundred thousand dollars apiece, to empower his campaign. And the Democratic Party set out on all campaign finance regulations since then traces its pedigree to this impulse. They must stop this from ever happening again, to allow a small group of dedicated supporters from enabling an insurgent campaign to challenge the incumbent orthodoxy of a party.
…What we see in this comprehensive, metastasizing attack on freedom of speech, an attack on what Jonathan Rauch, in his wonderful 1993 book, Kindly Inquisitors, about this subject, called an attack on the three pillars of an open society. One is an attack on democracy itself, on how we decide who will exercise power. Second an attack on capitalism, which is how we allocate wealth and opportunity through impersonal markets. And third an attack on science itself because science exists to unsettle things. Science is how we decide what is true. And instead today we are constantly plied and belabored with the assertion that science about this, that, and the other thing is settled. Solved. Cholesterol, climate change, you name it. Well, if the electorate is not sovereign, if the electorate’s mind is passive to the touch of advertising, then democracy is a ruse and a sham. If markets never reflect the real desires of people, then there’s no need to respect capitalism. And if science is not to be allowed to unsettle things, if science is to be a series of closed arguments, then the way we discover the truth is closed.
This is why what you tonight are supporting here goes to the very heart of the American experience, and is part of continuing resistance to the bad ideas that came from abroad in the 19th century when Americans went to Germany because we did not have graduate schools. I leave it to you to decide whether we’ve progressed in that regard.
What is happening on our campuses is contributing to the marginalization of the academy, and that’s an excellent thing. If the academy is going to be taken over by people adopting an adversarial stance to American culture, the American past, and the American founding, then let it be marginalized and made ridiculous.
…Second, we are learning things. My idea of heaven is endless learning, and we’re learning a lot because of what’s happening on campus. We’re learning who are the cowards and who has spine. And there are more people with spines out there than we might have thought, and the William F. Buckley Program and others are finding them, nurturing them, supporting them, and giving them additional courage.
Third, the current nonsense on and about campuses, really does, if you stand back and let it, add to the public stock of harmless amusement. For example, we have learned that there are 93 members of the California state legislature who have never had sex. How do I know that? I know that because they passed the affirmative consent law, which says, this is the guidance to these hormonal young men and women on campuses, it says there must be affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement at every stage of a sexual activity. The authors of that do not know what they’re talking about.
…We’re not such a fragile people. In 1859, Abraham Lincoln gave a talk at the precursor of what became the Wisconsin State Fair. At the close of his remarks, he told the story about the oriental despot who summoned his wise men and gave them an assignment. He said, I want you to go away and don’t come back, until you have found a proposition to be carved in stone, to be forever in view, and forever true. Some while later the wise men came back and proposition they had was this too shall pass away. How can consoling in times of grief, said Lincoln, how chastening in times of pride, and yet, said Lincoln, it may not be true. If the American people, he said, cultivate the moral and intellectual world within them as assiduously and prodigiously as they cultivate the physical world around them, we shall endure.
It’s true of the idea of the American founding, which is what we’re all here to talk about tonight. We are not a fragile people and we are certainly not going to be defeated by tenured radicals.
Let's hope so!