Yesterday I read about an editorial pronouncement published in the Wellesley College student newspaper that tried to enunciate an official policy of suppressing free speech. The document came out incoherent at several points, not surprisingly (though the reasons for its incoherence were sometimes surprising: the editors literally wrote the opposite of what they had intended in a couple of crucial places). The case, as presented by these Keystone Cops of monitored speech and others of their brigade, amounts to the following.
Some expressions move people to anger, hatred, and hence—potentially—to violence. Violence hurts people. Therefore, any speech that stirs the audience up is subject to instant suppression (depending on whether the arbiters deem that the audience is right or wrong to get stirred up about a given issue).
This argument is self-annihilating. I think any adolescent of average intelligence would quickly ask, “So who judges the judges? How can we know that their right and wrong isn’t just the way they happen to feel that day?”
Yes, exactly. But beyond that, think about what the argument implies with regard to people generally. They can’t think for themselves. They have no natural power of reason—no inborn ability to join claims logically nor any common humanity that alerts them to unfairness or outrage. All such faculties are myths, according to today’s academy. Logic is simply programming pounded into the masses by a patriarchal establishment. “Decency” is the same thing. Both are given highfalutin names to cloak them in respectability… but they’re mere brainwash. If some firebrand orator pushes your buttons and you are a member of the great unwashed, you will fall prey to his manipulation. You can’t do otherwise: you’re defenseless.
Well, not quite. Your defense is that the forward-thinking opponents of the establishment will shut down the firebrand before he assembles a crowd (which manifestation of power, of course, requires that they themselves be the de facto establishment, if I may be forgiven a lapse into logic). And since reason of both the logical sort (inner consistency) and the intuitive sort (moral imperatives) is all illusion, those who stage the protective intervention and bundle the would-be speaker off to Siberia don’t have to justify themselves in any sane manner. All they have to say, by their account, is that they’re shielding our ears from hateful speech and our eyes from hateful publications. This overweening nannyism-gone-berserk could cover up tracks of the most horrendous kind, naturally. The self-elected components of “society’s conscience” could be euthanizing their critics left and right, and the masses could be persuaded to go back to their video games and smartphones as long as whistle-blowers didn’t stir up “hatred”. No whistle, no foul.
I suppose that my last two paragraphs amount to the same thing as, “Who will judge the judges?” But I wanted to emphasize that advocates of selective suppression are, in fact, advocates of arbitrary suppression, and hence of suppression without practical limit—categorical suppression. You either have the freedom to speak your mind… or you don’t. If a redneck anti-intellectual Hotspur were to exhort his hearers to round up all academics in Humanities programs and put them in a concentration camp, I would want him to speak his fill. Then I, in my turn, could point out to him that he’s doing the very thing for which he so detests academics in Humanities programs. If our hearers are too dense to understand my point… well, then, we’re all dead, anyway. But I’m fully convinced that if they hear my side and my opponent’s, they will recognize themselves and the children they hope to rear in my world that allows discussion of ideas, compromise, recognition of errors, insight, and—in a word—growth. The permanent infantilism of those wretches who live under Him Who Would Be God is not what any “decent” person hopes for his or her babies.
The protophobe (“First-Amendment Fearing”) Left of our more insane campuses is nothing less than the new KKK. I don’t like lynching, no matter who does it. I’ll bet you don’t, either.