Evidence that the human race is not yet won, as a former colleague used to say, is coming in the windows. From murder in the name of religion, to widespread crime, greed, and violence, to the bottoming of popular culture, it’s pretty clear that this is not mankind’s finest hour. But enough about mankind, generally speaking.
The subject of today’s tutorial is that little slice of homo erectus living in the USA, and practicing the politics of proto-fascism. And who are such people, you wonder? Well, they’re to be found among activists, journalists, college professors; wherever, in other words, “progressives” congregate in especially large numbers.
It is these worthies who have foisted upon us the deeply undemocratic and freedom-busting protocols of political correctness. Think about it: We have now arrived as a nation at a time when people who say anything that gives (or could give) offense to any minority – with the exception of white, Christian, heterosexual and Republican men, about whom no amount of criticism or ridicule is sufficient – may find themselves expelled or unemployed, if not under arrest, the constitutional guarantee of free speech notwithstanding.
It is a time when certain taxpayer-funded colleges and universities allow free speech on campus only within designated “free speech zones,” and sometimes not even there. A time when textbooks must come with “trigger warnings,” lest a reader feel threatened or uncomfortable with the contents therein.
It’s a time when colleges are routinely the site of “disinvitation” campaigns aimed at preventing speakers from appearing on campuses, and when colleges formulate so-called campus speech codes.
It’s because of his concern with this cultural void that Greg Lukianoff, head of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), has written a new book titled Freedom from Speech. Published just recently by Encounter Books, this slim volume is must reading for anyone who senses that things are going badly wrong on campuses and beyond, and wants to know what to do about it.
What Lukianoff is doing, in addition to writing books, is challenging colleges with litigation, aided by Bob Corn-Revere, the terrific First Amendment lawyer at Davis Wright Tremaine. (It should be noted, in the interest of full disclosure and a measure of chest-thumping, that both Lukianoff and Corn-Revere are members of The Media Institute’s First Amendment Advisory Council.)
A justly flattering review of Lukianoff’s book, written by Ronald Collins in Concurring Opinions, provides this telling quote: “This is a surreal time for freedom of speech. While the legal protections of the First Amendment remain strong, the culture is obsessed with punishing individuals for allegedly offensive speech utterances.”
And it’s this dichotomy: strong legal protections, undermined by weak and/or contradictory applications of the law in the culture generally, that goes to the heart of the problem, and its seeming intractability.
If this situation is to improve, two things need to come to pass: First, some of the colleges being challenged with lawsuits need to defend their positions in court (rather than just buckling under at the threat of litigation) and then lose decisively and painfully; and second, there needs to be some measure of genuine opprobrium attached to the practices, on campuses and everywhere else, of the speech police.
In the meantime, there are a few things people troubled by all this can do. They can (1) buy Lukianoff’s book; (2) make a tax-deductible contribution to FIRE; and (3) contact Bob Corn-Revere whenever you think you’ve spotted an actionable offense in this area.
The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.