Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Of snowflakes and free speech
It’s happened again. Ann Coulter, well-known conservative author and speaker, she of quick wit, caustic tongue and disdain for progressive totalitarianism, has been denied the ability to speak at the University of California at Berkeley. Or maybe university administrators will allow her to speak somewhere other than the original venue. Or maybe they will be cowed by the mindless campus enragés into disinviting her once again — until she seeks legal recourse in support of free speech, a stated value of this and other institutions of higher learning in this, a country whose foundational principles included the freedom to speak one’s mind.
Not “the freedom to speak one’s mind unless a student feels upset.” Not “the freedom to speak one’s mind unless the Vanguard of the Masses disagrees.” Not “the freedom to speak one’s mind unless it contradicts the dogmas of the academy.” Those are marks of another sort of regime altogether — a type humanity has seen far too much of over its checkered history, and one we do not need here.
Nevertheless, we have it. Consider Milo Yiannopoulos’ treatment at Berkeley last February, or Gavin MacInnes’ at New York University the same month. Or Dr. Charles Murray’s at Middlebury College in March. Or the violence against Manhattan Institute Fellow Heather MacDonald at California’s Claremont McKenna College Friday last.
Yes, the first two are people of questionable beliefs and odious tricks of argument. But longstanding American tradition and laws up to and including the Constitution protect the right to voice unpopular opinions. These must be defeated not by fists, screams and riots, but by well-crafted counterargument.
The latter two tell a darker story. Dr. Murray received a Ph.D. from M.I.T. and is a well-known political scientist with a nasty habit of speaking inconvenient truths. For this he has been excoriated for decades as a racist by the belligerent Southern Poverty Law Center, whose characterization he eviscerated in the wake of the Middlebury unpleasantness. Read his commentary at bit.ly/2peGFj3 and decide if this is a man who must be silenced for his dangerous views, or if others pose more of a threat to discourse.
Ms. MacDonald’s thought crime was to suggest that police departments might function better if they worked more on community relations and understood the areas they patrolled better. But she did not utter the approved Shibboleths, and suggested the heresy that police work in some neighborhoods because they believe “black lives matter” as much as anyone’s. So her appearance was met with riotous violence, featuring protesters chanting “From Oakland to Greece, F*** the police.”
The problem is growing. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, there were six incidents of violence directed at speakers on college campuses in 2000; in 2016, there were 43. Brookings Institution studies placed most at “progressive” institutions with predominantly upper-middle class student bodies.
One problem behind this cancerous anarchy is college administrators who refuse to confront student violence with threats of expulsion or arrests and prosecutions; rather, they embrace the movement toward a single viewpoint. Professor Dennis Gouws was fired this year from Springfield College in Massachusetts for wanting to continue his popular and long-lived course “Men in Literature.” But his dean had no problem with continuing “Women in Literature.” Professor Nathaniel Bork was fired from Colorado’s very own Aurora Community College when he balked at drastically reducing course requirements and refused to direct 30 percent of course content at “minority and woman philosophers.” And there are others. I know.
The result of it all is a student body not being educated, but indoctrinated. Not being exposed to challenging thoughts and uncomfortable beliefs, which the word “diversity” suggests, but instead being stuffed with rigid orthodoxies. Being taught that the only important differences are on the outside: race, sexual preference, religion, national origin. That one’s intellectual competence is meaningless, because opportunities to test one’s beliefs should never occur. That unfamiliar ideas are to be feared and denounced and the people embracing them hounded out of the academy. That violence and fire are appropriate when the purity of “progressive” truth is endangered. The poisonous cherry on top is that we pay the lion’s share of the bills for this fraud.
Humanity’s seen this all before ad nauseam. It doesn’t end well. Ever. In a rational world, we would halt the charade, but in modern America reason doesn’t get much traction; burning, shouting and wrecking are more attractive. So we continue our progress toward the cliff. Perhaps we should stop instead.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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