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November 15, 2017

Letter to the Editor: Stifling free speech

(Robert Rigo/ Daily Collegian)

(Robert Rigo/ Daily Collegian)

To the Editor:

The premise of the editorial “It’s time to join the conversation” was that there is a strong undercurrent of racism, cisheterosexism and ableism running through the supposedly progressive town of Amherst, and that we must acknowledge and combat this threat. Bigotry in any form is indeed appalling, and it ought to be confronted when it appears. However, anybody who claims that the insidious threat of ableism is a major concern for society is either dangerously out of touch with reality or intentionally obfuscating the truth.

It seems to me that progressives and liberals, amongst whom I count myself, have a supply-and-demand problem when it comes to bigotry in America. The demand for misogynists, racists, ableists, etc., from the left is apparently insatiable, and the supply is often contrived. The editorial references an “incident” in which somebody changed a “Black Lives Matter” display to “All Lives Matter.” Was this a racist who hates African Americans or a 19-year-old who did something stupid?

By no means am I claiming that bigotry in its many forms does not exist. It always has and it always will. But this quest for social justice has devolved into what is little more than a witch hunt that Joseph McCarthy himself would be proud of. I believe that this social crusade is largely borne of legitimate concern for the oppressed, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The most dangerous instantiation of the mindset demonstrated by the Massachusetts Daily Collegian editorial board occurs when it has permeated to public discourse and the exchange of ideas. When we are overly eager to label and persecute offensive “bigotry,” we soon become willing to persecute ideas we find distasteful. This may sound far-fetched, but illustrative examples abound from campuses across the country, ranging from the merely comical to the unbelievable.

Milo Yiannopoulos, known for his highly provocative critiques of feminism, was disrupted and shouted down by Black Lives Matter protestors and feminists during a talk at Rutgers University. A student movement at the University of California Berkeley (the home of the free speech movement) tried to disinvite Bill Maher from giving a commencement speech after he discussed Islam on his television show.

The most striking example, however, was a movement at Brown University to stop Janet Mock, a black transgender woman, from speaking just last month. In case that didn’t register, Brown University students petitioned to stop a black transgender woman from speaking at their school, and they succeeded. Their rationale? The event she intended to speak at was connected to Brown’s Hillel chapter, which some students apparently found objectionable. My utter disdain for these student movements in no way represents a disagreement with the students’ ideological objections to these speakers. It is more fundamental than that.

The foolishness on display in these stories ought to be obvious, but apparently that is not the case. College is not intended to support our preexisting and comforting notions of how the world works, nor should college be tailored to make each and every student feel intellectually safe. We must not react to distasteful ideas by shouting down people who disagree with us or by crying racism, ableism, cisheterosexism, sexism, xenophobia or Islamophobia. This is absolutely critical, and it is why we must be careful when assessing the state of bigotry on campus and in society at large. I am concerned that the same mindset which generates much of today’s social justice campaign is also stifling free speech and the exchange of ideas in the very place where those attributes ought to be cherished above all else.

Hank Simon

13 Responses to “Letter to the Editor: Stifling free speech”
  1. Nick Pappas says:

    Well done.

    For those interested, one of the names mentioned above will be speaking here at UMass on the 25th, with two other speakers who have faced censorship before as well.

  2. Pio says:

    Great work, Hank! I hope your carefully constructed piece can open up a very nessary dialogue at UMass and beyond. However I find that sometimes, social progressives can be just as closed minded and hateful as some of the individuals they work to silence.

  3. David Hunt 1990 says:

    “Free speech for me, not for thee.”

    Calls for shutting down the speech of others can, and will, backfire. The very same laws enacted can rebound. For example, some years ago Canada passed – to the cheer of feminists – a strict law against pornography. What was the first application of that law? Prosecuting a lesbian bookstore.

    Ultimately, short of calls for violence or doing harm, if you do not protect the right of those with whom you disagree to speak, you do not really believe in free speech – or freedom itself.

  4. Red Rocket says:

    Political correctness is inherently authoritarian. There is one correct way to speak and act and WE shall assign it to YOU. None of you waving those dumb signs and shrieking about heteronormative blah-blah have any interest in justice or equality. By any I mean none. Zip Zero. You are all just jockeying for POWER over others.

  5. The_Chairman says:

    First of all, people like Milo Yiannopoulos and Bill Maher are so far to the right of international sane belief that they’re off the spectrum. They’re basically extreme advocates of total tyranny, so it isn’t surprising that a few people might not be receptive to their message. What is surprising, however, is that there aren’t protests in the streets against mainstream power brokers who consistently act against public opinion in major ways.

    The so-called speech codes phenomenon coming from certain corners of the left is incredibly marginal; much more prevalent and dangerous is the control of major news media by concentrated private capital. That is a far more meaningful constraint on free speech.

  6. Kris says:

    Chairboy, You just called Bill Maher a right winger. Do you have any opinions that are based in reality?

  7. KJ says:

    Chairman you are clearly missing the point; it has nothing to do with what these figures believe. The problem is the infantile behavior of students who want to shop the from speaking instead of having a rational debate, regardless of how objectionable they find the ideas of people like Yiannopoulos.

    Claiming that Bill Maher and Milo Yiannopoulos promote tyranny demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of this issue.

  8. The_Chairman says:

    @Kris Bill Maher’s opinions on national security issues, foreign policy, surveillance, etc. are, I’m afraid, far to the right of the population of U.S. and the population of the world.

    @KJ I get the point, but it is pretty inconsequential. Like I said, people like Yiannopoulos and Maher are way off the spectrum, so it shouldn’t be of any concern that people are protesting against them. To take an extreme example, if the KKK came to speak on a campus today, people would rightly protest.

    Again, this behavior is incredibly marginal compared to the vast and pervasive censorship performed by the mainstream media.

  9. KJ says:

    If you think that Maher’s views on foreign policy are far-right then you are completely disconnected from reality, presuming that by “right” you mean he is hawkish. Bill Maher is one of the most strident public figures when it comes to getting ourselves out of foreign countries!

    There is a distinction. Protest ideas that you do not like, but do not try to stop somebody from speaking because you disagree with them. That is infantile and destructive. If the KKK came to speak, we should let them talk while recognizing that they are spewing nonsense.

  10. The_Chairman says:

    @KJ The man is also one of the most strident racists in the media. How is violent and delusional rhetoric against Muslims and open support for Israeli war crimes not right wing?

    If you look at the reasons why Maher says we shouldn’t be in the Middle East, they’re quite interesting. Apparently he is against that kind of involvement for strategic reasons, i.e. the Iraq War wasn’t in our interest. That is in striking contrast to the opinion of much the world population, who believe that such aggression is a moral crime, not merely a strategic blunder. Aggression, after all, was the main grounds for prosecuting the Nazis at Nuremberg. Nobody in the mainstream talks about that.

    Personally, I’m usually not in favor of this behavior. But it does depend on the event and who is hosting it. If the Republican club wants to invite Karl Rove, which they did a few years ago, then I don’t think other people have a right to spoil their event. Same thing with this Yiannopoulos character.

    On the other hand, inviting Bill Maher to speak at commencement is typically seen as an honor bestowed on behalf of the university, so that decision should be subject to input by the students. It is a privilege, not a right, to speak at commencement.

  11. David Hunt 1990 says:

    I find it amusing that Chairman is critical of the KKK, considering the KKK was founded by Democrats.

  12. The_Chairman says:

    I find it amusing that you seem to think I am a Democrat or support the Democratic Party

  13. Edwin P. Knihnicki says:

    The Democrat party itself did not promote the KKK Democrats individually did so.

    Also the Republican Party was in the forefront of the effort that resulted in the passage of the civil rights bill.

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