The following video is about a single case, but it is not atypical to what is happening on many college campuses at the moment. Students disagreeing with the views of other students do not engage in an argument about the issue. Instead they attack their “enemy” personally. Often this occurs via the ubiquitous name calling: racist, sexist, homophobe, rapist, bigot, reactionary and so on, but sometimes it also involves the use of physical/violent means such as the interruption of events or direct physical attacks on another person.
This anti-free speech movement on campuses has become so noisy that it has, finally, started to trigger some push-back. Janet Napolitano, president of UC-Berkeley writes in the Boston Globe that “Years later, the sanctity of free speech in our country is hardly guaranteed — at least not on our college campuses, where freedom of expression and the free flow of ideas should incubate discovery and learning. This is an irony that gives me pause even as I write this.” Jay Ellison, dean of students at the University of Chicago sent a letter to the incoming class stating that “Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn, without fear of censorship. Civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us, and freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others. You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement. At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.”
By their nature, colleges and universities should be bastions of free speech. They are supposed to train students for life and work in the real world. Via research and inquiry they are meant to broaden human knowledge. Many roads to increasing this knowledge have to be taken. Most will turn out to be wrong. But they have to be taken nevertheless, because the “correct” way is as of yet unknown. This means that in order to be able to progress, one must be willing to accept the existence of different arguments, different theories, different ideas and one must accept and be prepared to be proven wrong in the process.
It is not difficult to hinder the described process. Take Europe around 1000 AD as one example. Radical religious doctrine prevented inquiry and doubt. The Earth was the center of the Universe, it was flat, the Pope infallible. Doubters often ended up on the stake to be burned there, though they were not called doubters, but were name-called heretics, devil-worshipers, witches and the like. As a result Europe was basically stagnant, without much technological progress, without improvement to the lives of its people. A reformation was needed and it eventually led to a blossoming of freedom and the flourishing of science, technology, culture and art. There are modern examples of this as well. Communism, still not fully defeated, makes life horrible for its people. North Korea’s citizens basically live in a pre-industralized bondage society. They cannot leave the country, the dear leader is not to be questioned, electricity is hardly available and the country runs gigantic labor/concentration camp complexes to punish dissenters with forced labor, torture, starvation and death. Dissenters are are named-called traitors, enemies of the revolution and the like. As a result North Koreans have little food and grow to 2 or 3 inches shorter than their ethnically identical South Koreans brethren. In a fairly free society South Koreans on the other hand have grown to be prosperous and wealthy, able to contribute to the world with arts, science and culture as well as the production of electronics, cars and many more goods and services. Parts of the modern Middle East keeps it women caged at home or in head-to-toe garments, does not allow them to drive, stones them to death for supposed adultery. Homosexuals fare no better. These parts of the Middle East create virtually no technology of benefit to mankind. Israel on the other hand, the only democracy in the Middle East, is host to a plethora of tech companies and a number of excellent Universities that expand human wealth and progress.
Only where freedom exists can there be progress because only freedom and free speech permit the exchange of ideas and their trial in the real world. This is why the splitting of the atom, the polio vaccine, the integrated circuit, the discovery and sequencing of DNA, motorized flight, penicillin, chemotherapy, calculus, the assembly line, the personal computer, the motorcar, solar cells and many more discoveries, innovations and improvements were accomplished in societies that offer its citizens at least some degree of freedom. A liberal, libertarian philosophy recognizes that it is hard to answer questions definitively. It allows for dissent even on issues that seem more or less settled, at the same time allowing for a large diversity of ideas. Even serious engineers and scientists once believed powered flight to be physically impossible. Relativity and quantum mechanics, both widely accepted and practically used today, do not agree with each other. Is Buddhism inherently violent? Is National socialism inherently violent? Are free societies rich because of the suppression of others, or are they rich because they are, well, free? Do we need to make America great again? There is always room for doubt, inquiry and the expansion of knowledge, but only if thought and speech are free of censorship and penalties.
The current campus movement against free speech is only at its very surface aimed at what it claims: equality, social justice, etc. Its true goal is the accumulation of political power and the silencing of dissent, even if the cost is a stop of human progress. One of its weapons is the assumption of infallibility and automatic moral superiority. It is focused on creating a monolithic and static society in which one and only one dogma is acceptable and everything else deplorable, racist, sexist, bigoted, stupid, hateful, confused, inflammatory and reactionary which must be eradicated via re-education, banishment and penalties. To conserve our free societies action must be taken. Where the anti-freedom campus movement uses violence it should be fought with the tools of law and order. Where it spreads its ideas via the press, the internet, social media, politics and the institutions it should be countered with ideas and arguments for free thought and speech and their free exchange without the fear of reprisals. It’s worth noting that a free society guarantees anti-freedom campus activists the right to agitate against freedom, while they on the other hand work actively against the right to voice ideas contrary to their own. Today such activists steal red hats, engage in personal insults and ridicule of their enemies and chase speakers they don’t like off college campuses. Tomorrow they may head organizations with large budgets and great power to make live miserable for far more people than their fellow students who disagree with them.
- Janet Napolitano – It’s time to free speech on campus again
- University Of Chicago Sends The Acceptance Letter Every College Should
- I Was Disinvited on Campus
- North Korea: ‘We were forced to eat grass and soil’