The Left’s War on Free Speech

But what was strange was that although Goldstein was hated and despised by everybody, although every day and a thousand times a day, on platforms, on the telescreen, in newspapers, in books, his theories were refuted, smashed, ridiculed, held up to the general gaze for the pitiful rubbish that they were — in spite of all this, his influence never seemed to grow less. –from Orwell’s 1984.

Thank goodness for the First Amendment that grants us the right to free speech in America, and yet each year books are banned, censored or challenged simply because they express views contrary to usually a political, religious or ethnic constituency.

Just today comes news that Muslim news website The Muslim Vibe is demanding that Amazon pull Raheem Kassam’s pending book, No Go Zones: How Sharia Law is Coming to a Neighborhood Near You from its inventory, calling it “Islamophobic hate.”

If you tell me not to read a book I promise you I’ll read it. That’s why I just read conservative media troll Milo Yiannopoulis’ best selling Dangerous, a book he had to self publish because Simon and Schuster cowered after a $250,000 advance, withdrawing its publication following vociferous threats of the Chicago Review of Books not to review any more of their books, then bullied by a pile-on of 100 writers who said they’d find another publisher if Simon and Schuster followed through.

Normally, we’d associate book banning and repressions of free speech with the extreme right. Think Hitler and the infamous public conflagration of books on May 10, 1933 shortly after his election to Chancelor.

Or Chile in 1973 when the fascist Pinochet government burned hundreds of books.

Unfortunately, limitations on free speech have taken a ubiquitous turn in America, with the Left and many progressives championing repression of conservatives whom they’re fond of labeling as hate mongers. Ironically, the arena for their incendiary assaults are college campuses, supposedly citadels of free inquiry.

On February 1, 2017, Milo had been scheduled for an interview by conservative political commentator Anne Coulter on the Berkeley campus of the University of California, when the university reneged following a gathering of 1500 protestors outside the Student Union building, some dressed in black and wearing masks, throwing rocks at police, smashing windows, and physically assaulting people before moving on to vandalize downtown Berkeley, resulting an estimated $300,000 damage.

How weird for a campus famous for the genesis of the Leftist free speech movement of the 1960s.

Today, the tables have turned and it’s conservatism that’s the counter-culture, the Left its pursuers, given to violence, censorship, ridicule, and ostracism. Media has lent a helping hand, often by sheer omission of news events counter to liberals and progressives, or pursuing advocacy journalism.

Nowadays, even moderate conservative intellectual columnists such as George Will find themselves banned from print or college campuses.

Banning extends even to Berkeley radio station KPFA, which cancelled its planned event with distinguished Oxford scientist and fervent atheist, Richard Dawkins, after receiving complaints alleging hate speech targeting Muslims.

But as Dawkins subsequently explained afterwards, “I have indeed strongly condemned the misogyny, homophobia, and violence of Islamism, of which Muslim–particularly Muslim women–are the prime victims. I make no apologies for denouncing those oppressive cruelties, and I will continue to do so. Why do you give Islam a free pass?  Why is it fine to criticize Christianity but not Islam?”  Thus far, KPFA hasn’t responded.

I won’t go into what happened to Charles Monk, author of the controversial The Bell Curve, when he was met with violence at Middlebury College in Vermont.

I can’t say I’m a devotee of Milo; for example, he adores Donald Trump, who’s anathema to me. I’m for environmentalism, women’s rights, gay rights, single payer health care, increased taxation of the wealthy, etc., none of which Milo’s keen about.

Truth be told, however, Milo’s iniquities have been grossly exaggerated. He’s been wrongly, and repeatedly associated with the nationalist alt.right which media outlets like CNN just can’t seem to get right.  Funny, but both Left and right political wings find him odious.

He’s been called a Nazi and Fascist, deemed Islamophobic, transphobic, white supremacist, and even a pedophile advocate, but better read his book first, since politics can be a very dirty game, but then I don’t think I have to tell you that.

Anyway, we do have the First Amendment with its affirmation of five fundamental freedoms, among them, free speech.

Me, I’m sympathetic when Milo writes that “one day, while attending Manchester I was told I couldn’t read Atlas Shrugged, I thought, this is poppycock. Fuck anyone who tells me what I can and cannot read. I finished it three days later.”

Milo’s early experience with would-be censorship brought back a painful memory of how as a 16-year old, I had been reading Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, only to be told by my adult evangelical cousin and guardian that I was indulging in trash. Two weeks later, I was shipped back to my violent, alcoholic father.

Maybe why the Left really doesn’t want you to read or hear Milo is they fear his persuasive verbiage, and just maybe they should. I think Milo’s scores when he says Democrats forfeited victory in 2016 because they focused more on identity politics than everyday workers in flyover America, forgetting their traditional blue collar ties.

You can’t simply drive him off the stage as some kind of dimwit. Nimble in his velocity, delivering repeated right uppercuts, he grievously shreds stereotypical notions of the politics of a man with a Jewish mother and out-of-the closet gay with a black lover. The bottomline is that Milo jars you into awareness there’s another viewpoint to be had.

I taught argumentative writing on college campuses for more than three decades, always endeavoring to inculcate in my students the rudiments of sound persuasion, listening to the opposition’s point of view, subsequently refuting it point by point with both sound reasoning and empirical evidence. You don’t win a boxing bout by refusing to exchange punches.

I bring this up because I want to practice what I’ve preached to my students. In 2012, Jeremy Waldron, a distinguished scholar and professor of law and philosophy at NYU, penned his landmark book for the Left, The Limits of Hate Speech, arguing that it’s wrong to allow speech that denigrates the dignity of minorities. It’s after all, contributory to social alienation, or tool to ostracism.

But though this view is obviously humane, what often falls under the canopy of Leftist notions of hate speech is simply a refusal to acknowledge the shibboleths of identity politics, better known as political correctness. I’ve already noted its predilection to insult and violence, ostracism and shaming. Are conservatives less deserving of dignified assessment? It’s not a one way street.

In 2015, a guest speaker at a Des Moines high school told his audience, “I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, you have to be coddled and protected from different points of view…You shouldn’t silence them by saying, ‘You can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.’ That’s not the way we learn either.”  The speaker was President Obama.

I tire of preachments about being a white male, as though being a white male confers privilege.

Or that white males are the seminal source of systemic evil.

Or Yale students moaning that they have to read the literary works of dead white men. Take care, Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Dickens!

Why isn’t this racism, seeing race has been brought into the equation?

Ask the impoverished white miners in my state of Kentucky or unemployed steelworkers in Ohio or drought-stricken farmers in Kansas about white privilege!

And you wonder how Democrats lost the election?

Waldron says we shouldn’t get hung up on the First Amendment. Well, he’s a New Zealander. I think the First Amendment encapsulates what ideally America is all about. I shudder to think of an America without it.

And then there’s the horrid history of banning hugely associated with totalitarian regimes like today’s Republic of China, with their self-appointed oligarchy prescribed tenets, and harsh penalization of violators.

You and I aren’t bugs on the ground, but individuals endowed with reasoning capacity. Treat us as such. Respect our right to think for ourselves. There’s your human dignity!

Historically, oppressed minorities haven’t found emancipation through banning the raucous, despicable sentiments of their oppressors, but through reasoned discourse and legislative enactment.

But as I’ve said, many universities have become increasingly radicalized and intolerant of conservatives, reneging on liberal values that encourage intellectual freedom and toleration.

As I write, the exemplar of professor Jordan Peterson sweeps into my purview. Seems he’s been refusing to buckle before the identity politics crowd in not using gender neutral pronouns. It’s his way of protesting Bill C-16 introduced in the Canadian parliament last May as an amendment to the Human Rights Act, calling for the prohibition of language specifying “gender identity” and “gender expression” and a human resource initiative by the university. For Peterson, it all comes down to a freedom of speech issue.

Here at home, GPS host Fared Zakakria recently commented that “American universities these days seem to be committed to every kind of diversity except intellectual diversity. Conservative voices and views, already a besieged minority, are being silenced entirely. Freedom of speech is not just for warm, fuzzy ideas that we find comfortable. It’s for ideas that we find offensive.”

Among American universities, the University of Chicago gets it right:

The University of Chicago is an institution fully committed to the creation of knowledge across the spectrum of disciplines and professions, firm in its belief that a culture of intense inquiry and informed argument generates lasting ideas, and that the members of its community have a responsibility both to challenge and to listen (Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law and former Provost of the University).

If you really think about it, people like Milo serve democracy well. As one of my favorites, John Stuart Mill, often called ‘the saint of rationalism,” pointed out in On Liberty,

In this age, the mere example of non-conformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom is itself a service. Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable. That is, few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of our time.

I won’t apologize for reading Milo. Like so many in the true liberal tradition, I am opposed to the banning of books.

–rj

MILO SAMPLINGS

I’m no hypocrite. I tell the truth, always. That’s my whole fucking problem.

The Left is filled with hypocrites who choose their targets of outrage based solely on their politics.

Young conservatives respond and libertarians respond to me because I say the things they wish they could.

Social taboos for the past fifteen years have all come from the progressive left. They’ re a ridiculously ugly army of scolds who wish to tell you how to behave. Libertarians and conservatives are the new counter-culture.

For the New Left, white men are the cultural counterpart to the economic bourgeoisie in classicist Marxist theory.

I’d prefer a world with no identity politics. I’d prefer we judged people according to reason, logic, and evidence instead of barmy left-wing theories about “oppressors.

Feminism describes itself merely as a movement for female equality. But it behaves like something quite different: a vindictive, spiteful, mean-spirited festival of man-hating.

In the two months following the election, social media analytics discovered more than 12,000 tweets calling for the death of Donald Trump–tweets that remain on the platform.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About RJ

Retired English prof (Ph. D., UNC), who likes to garden, blog, pursue languages (especially Spanish) and to share in serious discussion on vital issues such as global warming, the role of government, energy alternatives, etc. Am a vegan and, yes, a tree hugger enthusiastically. If you write me, I'll answer.
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