Delving even deeper into the recent spate of conservative speakers either being cancelled by liberal colleges or winding up being attacked if they show up, a few truths emerge. One of them is that everyone in the media is obligated to play the same game, putting on a stern face, clucking their tongues and saying of course we don’t want these speakers shut out. Yes, everyone believes in free speech to a point – or at least claims to – but many of them then go on to explain why the events just can’t take place. It’s for the safety of the speakers, don’t you know. Or the safety of the students. Or the protesters. Or… somebody. It’s not that we don’t want them to speak, you see, but you have to think about the children.
This tiresome trend may finally be breaking thanks to Ulrich Baer at the New York Times. This brave soul is ready to break cover and come out and say what so many liberal journalists are afraid to utter. No… we don’t want conservative speakers showing up at these schools and we’ve even got a rationalization as to why this is a perfectly acceptable approach. You see, if there’s a class of snowflakes who have been insufficiently represented in the past, then they don’t need to be exposed to contrary thoughts. Besides, the views of the conservatives are available online if anyone wants to read them so there’s no need to come to our school and blather on about it.
Some things are unmentionable and undebatable, but not because they offend the sensibilities of the sheltered young. Some topics, such as claims that some human beings are by definition inferior to others, or illegal or unworthy of legal standing, are not open to debate because such people cannot debate them on the same terms.
The recent student demonstrations at Auburn against Spencer’s visit — as well as protests on other campuses against Charles Murray, Milo Yiannopoulos and others — should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people, rather than censorship. Liberal free-speech advocates rush to point out that the views of these individuals must be heard first to be rejected. But this is not the case. Universities invite speakers not chiefly to present otherwise unavailable discoveries, but to present to the public views they have presented elsewhere. When those views invalidate the humanity of some people, they restrict speech as a public good.
If you read this verbal dancing through a minefield of self-validation for too long your head will be spinning. The essence of it is that certain groups of individuals who are more deserving of protection should not be exposed to contrary opinions because those opinions are inherently false and do nothing to add to the discussion, while causing harm of some sort to the listener. The obvious pitfall in that “logic” is that someone has to make the determination as to which opinions are not open to debate because they are harmful.
Wesley Smith picks up on this obvious logical fallacy at National Review and runs with it.
The tremendous peril here can’t be missed. Who gets to decide which view has what “inherent value?” Those in power.
This means, as we see on college campuses today, that minority views are not only suppressed, but suppressed by threats of, or actual violence–as we have seen at UC Berkeley and Middlebury College…
So, First Amendment-protected political speech is a clear and present threat to democracy. No, Uhlrich is.
Moreover, he misses the obvious point that the power to squelch speech that conflicts with progressive social advocacy could be similarly used to punish those who call Donald Trump a fascist, if the government ever attained the power to punish disfavored views.
In virtually every one of these SJW discussions which most inflame the debate on college campuses, the subjects are so far afield from anything which can be tested in a laboratory that they are little more than debates on values or social constructs. You could be talking about transgenderism, the limits of racism, wealth inequality, gay marriage or a host of others. These are almost entirely in the realm of people’s opinions, values and beliefs. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a set of topics more suited to public debate than these. If you begin assigning someone to make the call as to which opinions need to be restricted “as a public good,” then you’re going to find yourself in hot water when they begin lumping your speech into that category.
But we should still offer some props to Ulrich Baer. It takes some serious intestinal fortitude to stand up and actually admit that you want to silence the free speech of others, even if you find it “harmful.” It is perhaps less shocking that the New York Times was the venue where he was invited to air this opinion.