Sunday, January 05, 2014

It's Meaningless, Mindlessness; I Beg to Differ

Greg Lukianoff:

Why is it odd that a liberal should fight for free speech rights? Isn't freedom of speech a quintessentially liberal issue? Some members of the baby boomer generation may be horrified to learn that campus administrators and the media alike often dismiss those of us who defend free speech for all on campus as members of the conservative fringe. While I was once hissed at during a libertarian conference for being a Democrat, it is far more common that I am vilified as an evil conservative for defending free speech on campus. I remember telling a New York university film student that I worked for free speech on campus and being shocked by his response: "Oh, so you're like those people who want the KKK on campus." In his mind, protecting free speech was apparently synonymous with advocating hatred. He somehow missed the glaring fact that the content of his student film could have been banned from public display if not for the progress of the free speech movement.

The transformation of free speech on campus to a conservative niche issue is a method of dismissing its importance. Sadly, we live in a society where simply labeling something an evil conservative idea (or, for that matter, an evil liberal one) is accepted by far too many people as a legitimate reason to dismiss it. This is just one of the many cheap tactics for shutting down debate that have been perfected on our campuses and are now a common part of everyday life.

...And here is one of the great truths about censorship: whatever reason is offered to justify a speech code, such as the prevention of bullying or harassment, time and time again the school administration ends up using the code to insulate itself from mockery or criticism. People in power bamboozle the public (in this case, parents and students) into supporting rules that will ultimately be used to protect the sensibilities (or sensitivities) of those in power.

Quoted for truth, as the kids say these days. It's an excellent yet shocking book — shocking not because of its novelty, but rather its incredible familiarity. From the broad themes to the specific jargon, from the details of the University of Delaware's Residence Life program to those of the Antioch Sexual Assault Policy, it seems like every piece of lunacy I've encountered in the twitosphere over the last couple years is in here. Additionally, it helps confirm a hypothesis I'm beginning to favor — the millennial generation is supposed to have started in, what, 1980-82? So the oldest of them are in their early thirties. That puts the bulk of them in their mid-to-late twenties. Now, my anecdotal observation could obviously be wrong, but it seems to me, as a long-time observer of the blogosphere (and now, with the growing emphasis on the mobile web and social media, what I call the twitosphere), that there are an awful lot more of these "social justice" obsessions sucking up all the oxygen on the web than there were even a few short years ago. Maybe I just didn't take notice of it before; maybe I was too politically sympathetic to it to see it clearly. But assuming I'm correct, I suspect that the reason would be that we have this mini-baby-boom going on in which the bulk of its members have graduated from college but have yet to settle down with families and full-time careers, leaving them with a lot of free time to waste on the web sharing the pearls of their undergrad wisdom about privilege, rape culture, intersectionality, kyriarchy, and genderfluidity. Maybe there's hope they'll outgrow it in the next five years or so! That's me, the eternal optimist.

But yes, free speech on campus. Shamefully, I have to admit that not all that long ago, I, too, would have probably dismissed such issues as primarily a concern for right-wingers, artificially inflated by Fox News-type ideologues. When my reactionary relatives would bring up the latest story about campus idiocy, I would respond with something to the effect of, Yeah, of course that's ridiculous, but these are just naïve, powerless college kids, and once they get into the real world, they'll forget all about their Women's Studies or Critical Theory horseshit in their desperate search for a job. The inevitable prioritizing of partisan tribalism — sure, these people are stupid, but at least they're not Republicans/Christians/MRAs/etc. It wasn't until I watched the online New Atheist environment get taken over by the kind of hyper-politically-correct fanatics I had formerly assumed to be largely mythical that I started to realize how there never will be a "convenient" time to oppose them. There will always be a greater enemy to fight, but that's no excuse for letting rot spread in your own territory.

It's not that the prioritizing view is incorrect; it's just that it's not the whole picture either. Actual politics — the kind performed by real politicians with power — certainly requires compromises, strategic alliances and eleven-dimensional chess. For ordinary people, though, especially irrelevant bloggers, there's no reason to make excuses for such a lack of intellectual integrity on behalf of a supposed "ally". A liberal/left movement built on such rickety ideological foundations is nothing I'd want to be a part of. And my personal belief, though it's not anything I could argue or prove to anyone's satisfaction, is that taking such shortcuts out of an "ends justify the means" philosophy will eventually bring about unintended consequences. I have absolutely no idea what steps are necessary to bring about an ideal society, and I'm as close to certain as I can be that anyone who does claim to know is full of shit and not to be trusted. Clairvoyance doesn't exist. No one knows exactly which sacrifices made now will lead to which greater benefits at which time. All I can do as a powerless individual is seek the truth of things as diligently as I can and not shrink away from whatever conclusions I arrive at.