by Judith Curry
If free speech is only for polite persons of mild temperament within government-policed parameters, it isn’t free at all. So screw that. – Mark Steyn
Mark Steyn has written a remarkable defense of free speech: The slow death of free speech. Excerpts:
Of course, we all believe in free speech, but it’s a question of how you ‘strike the balance’, where you ‘draw the line’. But in reality the point of free speech is for the stuff that’s over the line, and strikingly unbalanced.
But I don’t really think that many people these days are genuinely interested in ‘striking the balance’; they’ve drawn the line and they’re increasingly unashamed about which side of it they stand. One side has cheerfully swapped that apocryphal Voltaire quote about disagreeing with what you say but defending to the death your right to say it for the pithier Ring Lardner line: ‘“Shut up,” he explained.’
A generation ago, progressive opinion at least felt obliged to pay lip service to the Voltaire shtick. These days, nobody’s asking you to defend yourself to the death: a mildly supportive retweet would do. But even that’s further than most of those in the academy, the arts, the media are prepared to go. As Erin Ching, a student at 60-grand-a-year Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, put it in her college newspaper the other day: ‘What really bothered me is the whole idea that at a liberal arts college we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion.’ Yeah, who needs that? There speaks the voice of a generation: celebrate diversity by enforcing conformity.
This is the aging of the dawn of Aquarius: new blasphemy laws for progressive pieties. But, once you get a taste for shutting people up, it’s hard to stop. Why bother winning the debate when it’s easier to close it down?
Free speech is essential to a free society because, when you deny people ‘an opportunity to act like normal political parties’, there’s nothing left for them to do but punch your lights out. Free speech, wrote the Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson last week, ‘buttresses the political system’s legitimacy. It helps losers, in the struggle for public opinion and electoral success, to accept their fates. It helps keep them loyal to the system, even though it has disappointed them. They will accept the outcomes, because they believe they’ve had a fair opportunity to express and advance their views. There’s always the next election. Free speech underpins our larger concept of freedom.’
I’m opposed to the notion of official ideology — not just fascism, Communism and Baathism, but the fluffier ones, too, like ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘climate change’ and ‘marriage equality’. Because the more topics you rule out of discussion — immigration, Islam, ‘gender fluidity’ — the more you delegitimise the political system. . . a world where real, primal, universal rights — like freedom of expression — come a distant second to the new tribalism of identity-group rights.
Young Erin Ching at Swarthmore College has grasped the essential idea: it is not merely that, as the Big Climate enforcers say, ‘the science is settled’, but so is everything else, from abortion to gay marriage. So what’s to talk about? Universities are no longer institutions of inquiry but ‘safe spaces’ where delicate flowers of diversity of race, sex, orientation, ‘gender fluidity’ and everything else except diversity of thought have to be protected from exposure to any unsafe ideas.
A culture that can’t bear a dissenting word on race or religion or gender fluidity or carbon offsets is a society that will cease to innovate, and then stagnate, and then decline, very fast.
The Age has published an essay by George Brandis (Australia’s Attorney General) entitled Climate change proponents using ‘mediaeval tactics. Excerpts:
George Brandis has compared himself to Voltaire and derided proponents of climate change action as “believers” who do not listen to opposing views and have reduced debate to a mediaeval and ignorant level.
Senator Brandis describes the climate change debate as one of the “catalysing moments” in his views on freedom of speech.
While he says he believes in man-made climate change, the Queensland senator tells the magazine he is shocked by the “authoritarianism” with which some proponents of climate change exclude alternative viewpoints.
“In other words, ‘I am not even going to engage in a debate with you.’ It was ignorant, it was mediaeval, the approach of these true believers in climate change,” he said.
“I don’t regret saying that because in this debate, sooner or later somebody had to make the Voltaire point; somebody had to make the point [about] defending the right to free speech of people with whom you profoundly disagree.”
Rapper Kilez Moore
Pierre Gosselin reports that Austrian social critic and rap musician Kilez More produced and posted a climate science skeptic video. Excerpts:
The video, watched mainly by young people, has surpassed the 100,000 views milestone. Congratulations to a musician who is surely reaping lots of scorn for getting young people to question what they are told.
Really unbelievable how the massive propaganda works on people’s mind – and especially with this topic the mass media does its best to manipulate the thinking.
It’s always the same story – try to discredit the speaker to prevent people from listening to the message.
Stephen Hayward at the University of Colorado
The University of Colorado-Boulder has a three year pilot program to support The Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy . More than 20 donors have raised $1 million to support the program. The scholar that was selected was Steven Hayward. Presumably, the idea behind this is as a counter to the extreme liberal bias at the university. In the past month the following drama has been playing out.
The student leaders pointed to a post Hayward wrote on the blog PowerLine in October titled “Off on a gender-bender,” in which he described his discomfort and confusion after attending an orientation for new faculty members about gender identity.
Hayward poked fun at members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the same blog by writing: “LGBTQRSTUW (or whatever letters have been added lately).”
In a follow on article: Stephen Hayward’s comments border on hate speech. Excerpts:
Faculty group supports student criticism of scholar. “I found this offensive, bordering on what I think most people would say is hate speech,” Chairman Paul Chinowsky told the group during a meeting Thursday. “If any (other) faculty member said this, we would find ourselves in a dean’s office or possibly on suspension for writing this. I applaud the students for having the nerve to stand up to this. The question is, are we going to allow this or condone this from someone in our own faculty?”
Hayward, who was not present at the meeting Thursday, has said that he did not feel he has ever made a student feel uncomfortable or unsafe in his classroom.
Will Hauptman, who is enrolled in “Constitutional Law II” with Hayward, said the professor maintains a respectful and professional classroom environment.
Hauptman added that Hayward does not promote a political agenda in class and has included the university’s suggested statement about preferred gender pronouns in his syllabus for the class.
“He treats students with respect and courtesy,” Hauptman said. “He has never belittled anyone’s ideas or statements. Students participate frequently in class, and I think that speaks to their comfort with Hayward.”
CU law professor Aya Gruber said while she disagreed with the substance of Hayward’s comments, she didn’t want the faculty to become the “free speech police.”
“I don’t like what he said, but I want the right to say that I don’t like what he said,” Gruber said. “He has an absolute right to say what he wants, but along with that right, he has to expect this kind of backlash when you say things that are deliberately provocative and not very well thought out.”
The assembly ultimately decided to vote on a resolution at a future meeting to voice its support for the students, but speaking for himself, Chinowsky said he didn’t think that measure will go far enough.
He said if the university expects its students to respect diversity, the faculty members need to show their support for inclusion and a welcoming, safe campus.
“I don’t think we should allow that behavior, even if somebody is doing it for effect,” he said. “It’s offensive, and there’s no place for that in this community.
“We have an obligation to really support all members of the community here, and if we’re not, then what are we saying to the students?”
While in Boulder at the Conference on World Affairs, Stephen Hayward introduced himself to me. One comment that I recall, humorously stated, was something like this: “We need to add a ‘C’ to LGBTQRSTUW regarding university discrimination policies.”
I am broadly concerned about the slow death of free speech, but particularly in universities and also with regards to the climate change debate.
The Stephen Hayward issue bothered me in particular. It seems clear that he is treating all students with respect, and does not discriminate against anyone in his classroom that is LGBT or whatever. The furore is over what he wrote on a blog and said in a radio interview. Presumably he was hired to provide exactly such diversity of opinion?
With regards to climate change, I agree with George Brandis who is shocked by the “authoritarianism” with which some proponents of climate change exclude alternative viewpoints. While the skeptical climate blogosphere is alive and well in terms of discussing alternative viewpoints, this caters primarily to an older population. I am particularly pleased to see the apparent birth of resistance to climate change authoritarianism by younger people, as reflected by the young Austrian rapper.
Climate change ideology, and attempts to enforce it in the media, by politicians and by the cultural practices of academia, leads us down a slippery slope:
Because the more topics you rule out of discussion — immigration, Islam, ‘gender fluidity’ — the more you delegitimise the political system. . . A culture that can’t bear a dissenting word on race or religion or gender fluidity or carbon offsets is a society that will cease to innovate, and then stagnate, and then decline, very fast. – Mark Steyn