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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Progressive Views of Speech


Two trends at modern American universities are the disinvitation or disruption of non- (or merely insufficiently) Progressive speakers and the campaign against micro-aggressions. Both of these are Progressive projects and both concern campus speech. But the Progressive’s idea about speech in the two context are rather different.

In recent years, the spectacle of non-Progressive speakers on university campuses being disinvited, shouted down, or physically assaulted has become quite commonplace. A common Progressive response to such reports runs as follows:

Freedom of speech does not imply freedom from criticism or counter-speech. So what if Progressive activists accuses anyone who invites a talk by a non-Progressive of having blood on their hands? So what if these activists organize the grab as many of the tickets as possible to any talks they failed to cancel? So what if the activists then proceed to disrupt these talks by choreographed group chants heavily rhyming bigot, racist, and murderer and drowning out the speaker? So what if whenever one group of activists is escorted out, the next one begins the same chant? The speaker is always free to continue the talk an hour later to an empty lecture hall. As long as there is no actual physical violence, there is nothing to worry or complain about. And, really, even dousing the speaker with unidentified liquids is not really violence; it’s not like the speaker died. This is all just part of the glorious mosaic of the free marketplace of ideas!

Switching to a completely different subject, though also concerning speech at the university: One currently popular explanation for the lack of proportional representation of women and certain ethnic groups among the students and teachers of scientific fields in particular is the ubiquity of micro-aggressions:

Heterosexual, able-bodied, white, male students and teachers of these fields use micro-aggressions to exclude anybody else. They freely use words like American with the hurtful and false implication that there was any person in the history of the world to whom this adjective was not proper. They mispronounce or stumble over lengthy and unfamiliar surnames, expressing murderous hatred as plainly as a burning a cross on the victim’s front lawn would. They colloquially refer to feeble efforts, even by the able-bodied, as lame, rendering it clear to any differently-abled person in earshot that they are not welcome on campus. The list is endless, though heroic university administrations make valiant efforts to compile indices of forbidden words.

Now one would concede that either of these positions is defensible, even if one would argue incorrect, but to hold both of these views at the same time indicates the absence of a strong need for intellectual consistency.