In American academia today, it is perversely common for student journalists to spend time devising arguments to try to justify shutting down speech.
Even more curious, they do this on the basis of protecting the marginalized. One would think that those who have traditionally lacked a voice would not be terribly thrilled with the idea of free speech being curtailed.
But such concerns do not hinder these idea-averse student editorialists who, in their own inimitable, paternalistic, left-wing way, are determined to protect people from ideas save those propounded by, well, paternalistic, condescending leftists.
A recent example of this phenomenon is an attempt by an opinion editor at The Cavalier Daily, the daily news publication at the University of Virginia, to try to justify the paper’s call to ban Mike Pence from addressing students there. This display of intolerance by, of all things, a student newspaper, is explained away by the writer in a clumsy retreat into victimhood once the paper received criticism for trying to shut down speech:
While I do not support the talk, I’m also a student, not a high-level administrator. I have no power to cancel the event, and I find it comical that numerous responses to the editorial fear a group of six 20-year olds could.
But that is exactly what those six students tried to do. Why else publish the editorial? Are we not supposed to have taken seriously what he and his comrades wrote? Would he have preferred that Pence had been quietly banned with nary a peep of protest against the paper’s intolerant stand?
But logic is not this student’s strong suit.
Also, speaking as a woman, I would just point out that the male (of course) writer presumes to speak for women by calling Pence, among other things, a misogynist. The writer seems to think that being a male conservative automatically means that that person is a misogynist. This is one of the default slurs of progressives and it is particularly irritating when it comes from a male progressive in a position of power—like you know, an opinion editor at the student newspaper of one of the most prestigious universities in the country.
But moving right along, what else does this writer say about free speech?
He refers to:
a common tactic of over-glorifying free speech
This is a particularly ill-timed statement given that people are fighting and dying for such freedoms in Ukraine right now and free speech is one of the brightest beacons the US has offered the rest of the world since its founding.
It is also quite strange for an opinion editor of all people to use the term “over-glorifying” the very core of what opinion writing is. But, as noted above, this boy is logic-challenged.
He also seems not to understand that one of the best arguments for inviting a wide range of speakers to one’s campus is to foster friendships and in-person opportunities for amicable interactions among people of diverse views and backgrounds. He wants everything filtered through search engines (which, incidentally are controlled by, you guessed it, leftists in Big Tech) and does not want his peers to actually see or hear each other or Mr. Pence in person. He wants to Google to determine what people will be allowed read about Pence:
If you need to hear Pence to diversify your range of thoughts, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Go online. It’s easy. Read everything he’s done and has said. Pence does not need to speak here for us to know who he is.
It used to be that student journalists would cover the news as it happened and not urge everyone to stay at home and read canned, mostly left-wing material, on the Internet. What a cramped, incurious mindset. Why this young man is attending a university at all is beyond me. Why doesn’t he just stay at home and scroll through Google results and then ask for a diploma afterwards?
The writer engages in the usual diatribe about the fact that some of the founders were slaveholders (not bothering to mention that others of the founders were fiercely opposed to slavery, such as Gouverneur Morris) as if everything connected with those with odious views should be dismissed. If that is the case, then everything about the birth control movement and modern feminism should be cast aside given that people like Margaret Sanger were noted eugenicists and some of the suffragettes were racist. Should I be forced to give up my right to vote because some of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s statements on racial issues would cause outage today?
And it is rich that a student benefitting from one of Thomas Jefferson’s proudest creations, the University of Virginia, is gung-ho on denouncing him, all the while enjoying the freedoms that Jefferson secured for all Americans, not just the favored groups of the writer.
It is rich, too, that a male writer at, again, the student newspaper of a top-ranked institution of higher education pontificates against, you know, privilege—while attempting to prevent other people from listening to someone else.
And the writer seems oblivious to the contradiction in his own article in that he warns of the supposed dangers of so-called hate speech here:
Speech is often only the beginning of hatred’s rise, and allowing the spread of hateful speech only results in harmful contestations of human rights.
For such an authority figure as Pence, his words will always be more than words — they will be a means to stir up bigotry in people’s hearts — the very bigotry that leads to challenges to the human rights of historically marginalized people.
Arguments rooted only in free speech — as outlined by slaveholders in the First Amendment — do not have real substance or sway. They fail to recognize the power speech can have and often facilitate speech that undermines the human rights of specific populations.
even as he directs inflammatory rhetoric against those of his peers who want to hear Pence in person:
They suckle at the chance to be in the company of a famous racist, homophobe, transphobe and misogynist.
No hatred or bigotry expressed there, I suppose.
And what is one of the weapons that the poor and oppressed (e.g., dissidents like Eugene V. Debs and leaders of the Civil Rights Movement) have fought for and wielded when they lacked any other method of fighting oppression? Freedom of speech—and of the press. Many of them founded and ran newspapers. They would have recoiled at the idea that a college newspaper would editorialize against the free flow of information because its staffers want to decide whom audiences can listen to and rebut in person. If this thinking had prevailed in the last two centuries, most of the social change that the left swoons over would not have happened:
Put simply, free speech arguments made by those with wholehearted faith in the First Amendment no longer cut it.
Really—the writer himself is benefitting from such a faith and it is not his place to assume that people he deems marginalized are so spiritless and weak-minded that they will dissolve in tears in the very presence of Mike Pence. Free speech is for everyone—not just long-dead slaveholders and not just those who get to write opinion pieces.