Saturday, January 30, 2010

Killing Speech Softly

The Daily Dish links to this exhaustive examination of political correctness on college campuses.

I was dubious when first reading it, as I think PC hype is almost always overblown. Since Fox News, right-wing talk radio and blogs almost universally brand "political correctness" as some sort of "attack" by the liberal elite on aw-shucks folks who were just doing their jobs the way things have always been done, I straight-up view any "PC" charge as lacking in credibility. Think "War on Christmas," and you'll remember what I'm talking about.

No right-wingers seemed interested when Bush protesters were herded into "free speech zones" at UGA, or were denied access to St. Simons Island during the G8 in 2004. I have often argued with conservative friends that most of these "PC" rules are no different from actions taken in small towns across America to keep people like me from bothering the good, church-going baby darlins with heavy metal, rap music and library books like Huckleberry Finn.

As I kept reading this article, however, some of these concerns were addressed:

Because America’s universities tend to tilt left, and because many targets of P.C. censorship are socially conservative, campus censorship has too often come to be understood as a niche issue for the conservative media and blogosphere. This is a bizarre development, not only because free speech was once a central liberal cause but because liberals are by no means immune from campus censorship.
The perception that free speech on campus is primarily a conservative issue ultimately enables campus censors. Free speech zones, for example, are often tiny, out-of-the-way areas where some campuses quarantine protest activities. Obtaining permission to use even these limited spaces often involves waiting periods and registration requirements. In my experience the zones disproportionately affect left-wing protests.
The reason for P.C. censorship often has nothing to do with left or right. Sensitivity is often a cynical excuse to squelch speech that administrators don’t like for purely self-interested reasons.

Free speech still is a liberal cause; I would argue that free speech, respectful discourse, and free inquiries make up one of the central pillars of individual liberty. But anyone can be a bully regardless of political belief; anyone can abuse power once they have some. This is as true on a college campus as it is anywhere else in the world.



DADvocate said...

I don't buy the guy's argument. He playing word games to exonerate the liberals. "Sensitivity" - the excuse he indentifies, is a popular liberal ideal. Obama showed us in his SOTUS what he thinks of free speech.

patsbrother said...

Some thoughts.

Fantastic article.

Considering you cut and paste damn near every comment on political parties in order to claim this as a liberal issue (somewhat negating the universality of the argument), did you realize this came from a libertarian magazine?

The reason no one cared about the restrictions at the 2004 G8, I believe, stemmed directly from the chaos, mayhem, and needless destruction caused by the "protesters" at the 1999 G8 "Battle in Seattle." (In which a close friend participated. He recounts it as a veteran recalls a war.) Having the 2004 G8 on an island accessible only through another island was an ingenious, logistical WIN.

I refer you also to the idiocy of the 2008 "protests" outside the Republican National Convention.

The reason the "free-speech zones" might affect liberal protests more often than they do conservative ones: there are a disproportionate number of liberal protests. Other than anti-abortion events, conservatives don't generally protest speeches or other events. I suppose this is why the Tea Party movement is notable. Liberals, on the other hand, will protest themselves if they have nothing else to decry.

While I do not like that the "free-speech zones" are as isolated as they are or are subject to prior request in some places, I do think there is now a necessity for such segregation. I refer back to the Battle in Seattle. No matter how well-trained, a small number of security personnel will not be able to prevent a large mob from rushing a stage. Unfortunately, we've gotten to the point that, for certain events, we can't just hope for respectful dissent.