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Monday
Jul012019

Intolerance Threatens Democracy

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times recently wrote a column he titled, “Stop the Knee-jerk Liberalism that Hurts its Own Cause.” He described several cases of liberal student intolerance, often supported by university administrations, such as the removal of a Harvard Law professor from his secondary job as House Dean, because he provided legal representation to Harvey Weinstein. Kristof mentioned the case of Canadian psychologist and university professor Jordan Peterson, who is critical of political correctness, particularly with regard to gender, and who was given a fellowship at Cambridge University, which was later rescinded after student protests, and a bakery in Oberlin, Ohio where a black man stole a bottle of wine and was pursued by a white clerk, who was then attacked by a mob of students who called the clerk and the store “racist,” and afterward mounted student protests against the bakery. Oberlin College then suspended purchases from the bakery. Later the black man pleaded guilty to the theft and the bakery won a $44 million lawsuit against the university. 

Kristof was cherry-picking cases, but the pattern he examined is real. Data from FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, on campus attempted “disinvitations” to speak, when student or faculty protest threatened to disinvite a speaker or candidate for a teaching position from speaking or teaching over the last two and one half years substantiates that pattern. FIRE lists 71 such attempted disinvitations in from 2017 to mid 2019, 39 of which were successful (the speaker was not allowed to speak) and 32 of which were not. Fifty-five (77%) of those disinvitations were instigated by students on the left and 16 (23%) by students on the right. Students attempted to prevent 5 commencement speakers from speaking, 62 speakers from engaging in a debate or giving a speech, three faculty members from teaching and one  speaker from an undisclosed, “other” activity. Thirty of the attempted disinvitations occurred at public universities, and 41 at private colleges or universities. 

Universities used to be bastions of free speech and the locations of lively political and social debate. This is no longer the case. Students seem to feel that speakers who don’t share their point of view have no right to speak, teach, or participate in debate at their schools. This is demonstrably truer of left-leaning students than right-leaning students and it bodes ill for free speech and open minds in our younger generation.

Over this last weekend, Antifa again reared its ugly head in Portland, Oregon and attacked “Patriot Prayer” marchers, who included some “Proud Boy” members and beat up a right-wing blogger who was reporting on the march, sending him to the hospital with multiple injuries. The right-wing marchers, numbering about 30, did not have a permit and many of them came prepared for a confrontation. The Antifa members, who wore black clothing, facemasks and sometimes helmets, some carrying shields and bats, claimed that they were “combating hatred” and “stopping violence,” which they said was being promoted by the far-right marchers. The anti-protest group, of which the Antifa were a small number of the members, numbered in the hundreds.

Far-right groups, which are similar to or include neo-Nazis, preach an evil message. But in America, everyone, even those whose message is evil, is allowed to speak. Silencing one’s opponents with violence is something that our country was founded on stopping. We can agree with the sentiment of Antifa regarding the evil of those it opposes, despite its message of stopping hatred and violence by attacking those who speak it being hypocritical, but anyone who decides that he or she will use force to stop another from exercising free speech is a danger to our democracy.

All attempts to silence those we disagree with are a threat to our democracy. The modern claim that some comments are too dangerous or too hurtful to others and can’t be allowed to be spoken is basically a suppression of free speech. The judge of what is too dangerous or hurtful is popular opinion, which differs depending on whose opinion is being expressed. If the principle of silencing those whose speech we think is harmful becomes the norm, then when a majority dislikes what any of us are saying, including in essays such as this one, then we are in danger of being silenced. That is not what America is about, and, in fact, it is a principle that was opposed by those who founded our country and wrote our constitution. 

We need to stand up for free speech. It doesn’t take courage to stand up for speech we and our peers agree with, it takes courage to stand up for the right to speak what we, and perhaps even the majority, don’t agree with. To protect our freedom, that’s what each of us need to do and we should be afraid that many of those in our younger generation do not understand this.

Reader Comments (1)

Thank you for an excellent post.

Sad to also note that the preferance for property rights over human rights also condones a media censorship that besides controlling who/what can advertise or be published as the newspapers and book publishers long done is now expanding to baring or shadowing people from social media and search engines....ie expanding beyond personal to corporate choice/censorship.

BTW --I am active in the peace and nonviolence movements and know several close friends that have had invitations withdrawn and more where invitations were not offered...Very sad to think that nonviolence and peace are controversial subjects not just at colleges but even churches.

July 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDariel Garner

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