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Free Speech is costly

(Benno Kraehe / Daily Collegian)

Historical precedent involving racial mistreatment should not be grounds for restricting the speech of others. Unless there is unequivocal certainty that violence will break out, the line for state restrictions is rather fine. In a recent piece for “The New York Review of Books,” David Cole acknowledges the multifaceted arguments concerning freedom of speech. Using the events at Charlottesville and their forthcoming responses—including speech as offensive as divisive, Cole communicates that speech is seldom atop an equal playing field. He argues that crossing this line opens the floodgates for government regulation of individuals’ constitutional rights.

“There is no doubt that Donald Trump’s appeals to white supremacists after Charlottesville have emboldened many racists,” Cole argues. “But at least in the public arena, none of these unfortunate truths supports authorizing the state to suppress speech that advocates ideas antithetical to egalitarian values.”

When white nationalists took their protests to Boston following the events in Charlottesville, they weren’t met with bans or restrictions but, to put it bluntly, more speech. This is not the climate of many college campuses. While speech isn’t sanctioned, collegiate lines differ from legal ones.

The behavior of college students at Middlebury College last spring regarding a speech by Charles Murray turned violent when over 60 students were reprimanded by campus security after leaving professor Alison Sanger with a concussion.

Similar behavior took place at Evergreen State College, only this time, instead of attacking a speaker, students targeted a professor. Bret Weinstein, a self-identifying progressive and professor of evolutionary biology, voiced objections to Evergreen’s “Day of Absence,” an annual tradition at the school. This year, it would be the white students and scholars that would be asked to leave the campus for the day. Weinstein outlined his views on the matter for the Wall Street Journal. His objections were not to the day itself, but to the role reversal behind the long-standing tradition, one that dates back to the 1970s. Weinstein was protesting the institutional implementation of forced segregation. Instead of being touted as a champion of change, he was branded a white supremacist that encourages the speech of neo-Nazis.

None of these issues are limited to these universities. Chaotic incidents have occurred at Claremont McKenna, Berkeley and elsewhere. Simply put, students on college campuses have grabbed the free speech microphone from those who disagree with them politically. What has historically been a right for all students has, for some, turned into an opportunity for students to exercise their right to take away the rights of others.

When Vice covered the incident at Evergreen, one of the students interviewed, Hadley, discussed the campus climate at Evergreen. “Although Bret has not said go and attack these students, go and threaten these students, that has been the result of his actions…I don’t think that should be protected by free speech,” Hadley said. However, just because students like Hadley disagree with certain opinions, doesn’t give her or anyone else the right to sanction them. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that Weinstein ever “validated” white nationalists, nor suggested that students such as Hadley should police the lives of others who differ with them politically.

Jamil, another student took to mocking the very notion of free speech saying, “When we’re dead, when people die, and you’re sitting here like ‘well at least they got to practice their free speech, I’m so sorry but your speech is not more important than the lives of Blacks, trans, fems and students on this campus.”

Evergreen students put forth no evidence suggesting that anyone was killed or put in danger following Weinstein’s appearance on Fox News. Moreover, the situation never suggested that speech was more important than someone’s life, in part because none of this speech is leading to the deaths of students at Evergreen.

Such situations help reflect how polarizing rhetoric can be. Disagreements—which in this case reflect differences in messaging and not the movement—have created hostile situations where faculty who value diversity and equality are deemed racists because they disagree with certain policies.

There is irony here. The very faction of college students that use free speech as a tool to hold others hostage are doing nothing more than exercising their First Amendment rights in the first place. If speech is only speech that one agrees with, then nothing about it is free.

Those who disagree with this are labeled and ostracized when the simple crime committed is independence of thought. Cole continues, “But the power of our First Amendment advocacy turns on our commitment to a principle of viewpoint neutrality that requires protection for proponents and opponents of our own best view of racial justice. If we defended speech only when we agreed with it, on what ground would we ask others to tolerate speech they oppose?”

If we make conscious decisions to champion diversity in all realms of academia, then diversity of opinion should be as sacrosanct as skin color.

Isaac Simon is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at isimon@umass.edu.

Comments
3 Responses to “Free Speech is costly”
  1. SittingBull says:

    The things that have been happening and tearing at the fabric of our society this past generation really only proves one thing: the idea that diversity for the sake of diversity is not actually a valuable goal in and of itself. Diversity of skin color and ethnicity for the sake of proving to ourselves we are an actual multicultural melting pot has done nothing but tear our society apart little by little. Had progressivism advanced diversity of thought, experience, and TALENT, this country would be in a much better state.

    The only thing we are proving for the history books is that we are turning our nation into a modern day Tower of Babel. Name a nation on earth that has successfully integrated so many people from so many cultures and kept its identity. There are none. And we won’t be the first. The goal of making America more “diverse” for the sake of diluting its largely caucasian Judeo-Christian foundations, morals, customs, culture and achievements is actually an inherently evil goal in itself. It is revolution first and foremost. That movement is on the cusp of being successful. So bravo. Soon, the United States will not at all resemble the greatest and most free nation in the history of mankind.

    This is not to say that our black citizens haven’t been mistreated and don’t deserve more. It isn’t to say we shouldn’t welcome the best and brightest from other lands. What it does mean is that tearing down the pillars of the society for ills whether real and perceived will leave us with a different (and not better) place entirely. As we already see, there are so many groups with so many competing agendas and value systems trying to occupy the vacuum of what used to be the great majority center, that we have devolved into an unwieldy coalition of humans existing in one place just lurching from one cultural crisis to another.

    Americans have a way of blaming their politicians for everything, but the truth is they are a reflection of who we are now. And that is a nation of people of so many people from so many places speaking so many languages eating so many different foods listening to so many different kinds of music with so many different ideas of their utopia and so many schemes of how to increase their own influence and power that we are at a standstill. And it will remain that way. As the European descendants become an ever shrinking portion of society, another group will eventually come to dominate. Make no mistake, liberal white people, that is the goal. And when that happens, the country will be fully and forever changed. And you and your ideals will be on the outside looking in. There will be no equality, no perfect utopia where every meritorious person gets what they deserve and where everyone grows up with an equal opportunity to do anything they ever wanted.

    This European style soft-socialism that people like the UMASS community seem to want is an illusion. That system is falling apart where it is being practiced and those are places with 90% homogeneous populations. Here, such change is nothing more than a pretext for power. The day will come when you all get what you want. The tide has already turned. Just beware of what happens when you get what you thought you wanted.

  2. Nitzakhon says:

    Yup, nothing says “free speech” like shouting down people, physically assaulting them, cutting off their web pages, etc.

    Scratch a liberal, find a fascist.

  3. Ed Cutting says:

    The issue I had with Boston involved throwing urine at cops.

    That’s not free speech — it”s actually rather disgusting…

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