Free Speech On Campus, Attacked By The Right And The Left – Which Somehow Gets Reported As A Near-Exclusive Threat From The Left

free speech conditions apply

(Although she may not agree with everything I wrote here, I want to acknowledge that this post was improved by a discussion I had with Jaz Twersky. Thanks, Jaz!)

Four stories that I’ve run across recently:

1. Attacks on Tenure. (Coming from elected Republicans.)

Judge José A. Cabranes, in the Washington Post, writes:

Academic tenure is essential to democracy itself. A free society “depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition,” as the American Association of University Professors noted in 1940. Tenure allows professors to pursue the truth and teach it without fear of retaliation.

Until recently, attacks on tenure came mostly from the political right. […] The tables have turned. Academic freedom now attracts opposition largely from the left…

Cabranes is right to say that tenure is essential to academic freedom – but wrong to imply that tenure is no longer under attack from the right. Like so many  of our current free speech defenders, Cabranes gives right-wing attacks on free speech – even attacks on tenure, which Cabranes claims to be especially concerned about – a pass.

Lawmakers in two states this week introduced legislation that would eliminate tenure for public college and university professors. A bill in Missouri would end tenure for all new faculty hires starting in 2018 and require more student access to information about the job market for majors. Legislation in Iowa would end tenure even for those who already have it.

The bills, along with the recent gutting of tenure in Wisconsin and other events, have some worrying about a trend.

The Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin legislatures are all controlled by Republicans. As far as I know, there is not a single example of a Democratic legislature trying to destroy tenure.

2. Legislators censoring courses and classes they don’t like. (Coming from elected Republicans).

At least three times in the past six months, state legislators have threatened to cut the budget of the University of Wisconsin at Madison for teaching about homosexuality, gender and race.”[…]

A state representative heading a committee that oversees higher education asked for the cancellation of a course that examined white identity called “The Problem of Whiteness” and the dismissal of its instructor. The representative, Dave Murphy, said the course was “adding to the polarization of the races in our state.” If the university “stands with this professor, I don’t know how the university can expect the taxpayers to stand with U.W.-Madison.” Mr. Murphy also promised to direct his staff to screen courses in the humanities “to make sure there’s legitimate education going on.”

Meanwhile in Arizona: “Rep. Bob Thorpe, is proposing a far-reaching law in Arizona, House Bill 2120, banning virtually every college event, activity or course which discusses social justice, skin privilege, or racial equality.” Thorpe’s bill could become Arizona law – as an earlier law banning Mexican-American studies in Arizona public schools did.

There is no more problematic and extreme form of censorship than the government literally telling academics what they can or cannot teach. But those people who claim to be concerned about free speech on campus rarely focus on legislative censors – for example, they were for the most part silent when South Carolina Republicans attempted to punish a university for teaching Alison Bechdel’s lesbian coming-of-age memoir Fun Home. They seem so wedded to the “left wing censors” narrative that they’re essentially given Republican lawmakers a free pass to censor as much as they want without facing sustained criticism.

3. Physically preventing a lecture at UC Davis by blocking the entrances. (Coming from lefty student activists.)

This just happened at UC Davis, where professional loathsome bigot scumbag (cw: transphobia) Milos Yiannopoulos was prevented from speaking.

I’ve written that “no-platforming” is not censorship. Students have a free speech right to give their opinions on who invited speakers should be, including asking that some speakers’ invitations be rescinded. But preventing a lecture by physically blocking the entrances to a hall is another matter entirely; that’s the use of force to prevent speech. It may not be coming from the government, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s censorship.

To tell the truth, I don’t give a fuck about Milo Yiannopoulos’ speech rights, beyond favoring them as a matter of principle. The fact is, nothing campus protestors do will change that Yiannopoulos has a platform that gives him far more ability to speak and be heard than anyone short of the most famous celebrities and politicians.

But nor do I trust lefties – not even myself – to never make mistakes in their judgements of whose speech does and does not have value. Remember when NOW tried to exclude lesbians? Being a progressive activists is not a guarantee against being wrong. Today’s campus activists aren’t going to make that specific mistake, but they’ll make others (see below).

In addition to being ethically wrong, this is tactically awful; the UC Davis activists essentially gave a huge gift to the alt-right, in exchange for which they’ve gained nothing of substance. Yiannopoulos benefits more from leftist students blocking his speech, than he would from delivering the speech; he will receive more news coverage (and look more sympathetic) compared to if he had simply given his speech. There are other forms of protest and resistance that wouldn’t have helped Yiannopoulos this much, that should have been used instead.

(BTW, the protesters have also been accused of more extreme forms of violence, including using hammers and breaking windows, but campus police say those reports are not true.)

Some folks argued that the UC Davis students were acting in defense of local trans students; Milo recently used a campus appearance as a forum for singling out and verbally attacking a local trans student, which led to her dropping out of college. Her access to free speech was injured in a much more meaningful way than Yiannopoulos’ has been. But where have any of the well-known critics of campus misbehavior condemned Yiannopoulos’ disgusting behavior? (Conor? Christina? Jonathan? Get on that any time now.)

I have a lot of sympathy for the argument that the UC Davis activists were acting in defense. But I think it’s still bad tactics, because I don’t see how it can work. Yiannopoulos is not dependent on speaking at UC-Davis to have a platform; on the contrary, the few hundred students he might have spoken to there are a tiny fraction of his actual audience. If he decides to continue using his platform to single out trans students for attacks, unfortunately neither blocking this speech, nor any other action I can think of, can stop him. And in the long run, actions like what happened at UC-Davis make Yiannopoulos’ platform even bigger, enabling him to do more harm in the future.

4. Using misogyny to attack a groundbreaking queer filmmaker. (Coming from lefty student activists)

And a local story: “Reed students protested a talk by the director of Boys Don’t Cry by putting up posters stating ‘Fuck this cis white bitch.'”

This is the most marginal form of censorship on this list; I wouldn’t call it censorship at all, really. The protest was not intended to stop Kimberly Peirce from speaking at all, and she did speak, and also did a Q&A with students afterwards. But it’s still disheartening (as one Reed student wrote); the Reed activists, by and large, come off as intellectually rigid and uninterested in hearing Peirce’s point of view. That some (not all) of them embraced crass misogyny is a pretty clear example of why we shouldn’t assume campus activists won’t screw up.

Nigel Nicholson, dean of faculty at Reed, noted, I think correctly, that this sort of activism has a chilling effect on speech:

The actions that I saw were not animated by the spirit of inquiry or the desire to learn that usually animates Reed audiences. The students had already decided what they thought, and came to the question-and-answer session to make their judgments known, not to listen and engage. Some brought posters bearing judgments and accusations. Others asked questions, that, while grammatically questions (that is, they ended with question marks), were not animated by a genuine desire to explore a question, but rather sought to indict the speaker. It felt like a courtroom, not a college.[…]

What happened that night will undoubtedly reduce intellectual traffic and exchange on this campus for the future unless we can swiftly repair the community’s confidence that our guests will be treated well. Outside speakers may or may not learn about what happened, but people within the community will rightly think twice about inviting speakers, given what this speaker was subjected to. People will surely particularly avoid speakers who engage with identity politics and other topics and questions that are especially politically charged.

Speaking of chilled speech, a genderqueer Reed student, writing anonymously in the student newspaper, described feeling silenced by the activists:

I believe that what transpired last Thursday was disheartening. I feel silenced by the very people who I thought I could turn to against the backdrop of a horrifying national climate, and know that if I addressed this with my name attached I would either have to declare my gender identity or have my opinion tossed aside as another unsympathetic cis person.

There are legitimate criticisms to be made of Boys Don’t Cry; but the approach of some Reed activists was misogynistic, bullying, and deeply unhelpful. And it silences people – including some of the people these actions are supposed to help.

* * *

Here are some more examples right-wing attacks on academic freedom, that many free-speech writers like Judge Cabranes are bizarrely unwilling to acknowledge.  This isn’t even close to a comprehensive list:

  1. Professor Watchlist Is Seen as Threat to Academic Freedom – The New York Times
  2. Science under Attack: Legal Harassment of Climate Scientist Michael Mann by the Attorney General of Virginia | Union of Concerned Scientists
  3. Top scientists accuse House panel of harassing climate researchers | Science | The Guardian
  4. Settlement Reached in Case of Professor Fired for “Uncivil” Tweets | Center for Constitutional Rights
  5. Right-Wing Media Misquoted a Gay University Official and Tried to Get Him Fired – WATCH – Towleroad
  6. Thousands of People Sign Petition Trying to Get Professor Fired After His Husband Confronted Ivanka

That’s quite a list. And most of it isn’t coming from teenage activists or online petitions; it’s mostly coming from powerful, wealthy people, and even from elected politicians. It’s plausible that the government harassment of academic speech is going to get worse during a Trump administration.

And yet most pundits who write about campus speech – even putative liberals like Jonathan Chait – routinely ignore right-wing attacks on campus speech, or only mention them in a CYA manner before going back to their real concern, which is attacking left-wing campus activists. And of course, a disproportionate number of those activists are from marginalized communities; many are black, many are trans. An enormous discourse machine of well-placed individuals like Chait and Judge Cabranes seem convinced that campus activism is the only threat to campus speech worth responding to. Or even acknowledging.

In some cases – such as the claim that trans activists at Southwestern caused the cancellation of a production of the Vagina Monologues canceled – the alleged left-wing censorship turns out to be a complete fabrication. But I still see that story uncritically brought up again and again, in significant outlets like the National Review. In other cases, a trivial incident – like a handful of Oberlin students complaining about the inauthenticity of Asian food in Oberlin’s dining hall – becomes, bizarrely, national news.

Meanwhile, a far more serious and frightening form of censorship – censorship by legislators, who are using their governmental powers to get rid of books and classes they have ideological disagreements with, and often specifically targeting lgbt and minority subject matter – is all but ignored. That’s very out of balance.

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29 Responses to Free Speech On Campus, Attacked By The Right And The Left – Which Somehow Gets Reported As A Near-Exclusive Threat From The Left

  1. 1
    LTL FTC says:

    I think the right has won the publicity battle here because they are operating under an established procedure with the color of law behind them. People still respect that, especially if they voted for the party taking the action.

    Campus activists are generally self-appointed and they pop up when you least expect it. Plenty of op-eds get published and speakers make speeches uneventfully. But every now and then, the mob comes. Unlike a published law, there is no clear line at which action will be taken. Things like the Boys Don’t Cry controversy show that the language moves fast and everyone leaves a trail of land mines from a time when the vocabulary was different. You can comply with bad laws, but with campus activists, you’re probably already guilty.

  2. Amp,

    I have not read this whole thing yet, but I wanted to say thanks. You’ve saved me a little bit of leg work, since this is something I plan to be blogging about for my union. (Starting this semester, and assuming I get reelected as secretary, I’ll be doing a good bit of education blogging over there. Once those posts start to go up, I might link to them here, since we’ve had some interesting discussions here about those issues in the past.)

  3. 3
    Pete Patriot says:

    .

  4. 4
    Sebastian H says:

    This is a current case relevant to the attacks from the left. It highlights a typical difficulty in translating harassment from an academic discussion to a legal discussion. If we want harassment to mean ‘something worth getting fired over’ it has to be something very strong and very targeted.

  5. 5
    desipis says:

    Meanwhile, a far more serious and frightening form of censorship – censorship by legislators, who are using their governmental powers to get rid of books and classes they have ideological disagreements with, and often specifically targeting lgbt and minority subject matter – is all but ignored.

    I agree with this, and am actually quite surprised to learn that any state legislators are actually moving in this direction.

    There does seem to be an interesting pattern though, where threats from the right come from outside the academy, while threats from the left seem to come from within it. Perhaps the focus on the threats from the left comes as a result of the depth of ideological support for those threats, and the more complex and involved discussions that can come as a result. Is there anything more than simple anti-intellectual populism driving the threats from the right?

    I’m not sure your point 2 “Legislators censoring courses and classes they don’t like” is that much of a free speech issue though. I do think that when it comes to spending public money, that legislators have some role in judging whether there is public benefit from teaching certain areas. It would be quite a different issue if the legislators attempted to control what the academics could research or write about as part of their non-teaching duties though.

    As an opposite to “The Problem of Whiteness”, if a public university were teaching a course title “The Virtues of Eugenics”, would you have a problem in the state legislators intervening?

  6. 6
    kate says:

    There does seem to be an interesting pattern though, where threats from the right come from outside the academy, while threats from the left seem to come from within it.

    Actually, the “threats” from the left which Amp cites (which appear to amount to occasionally shutting down a talk) come from students who are not part of the academic power structure, but, for the most part, are only transient members, and among the least powerful members. Sometimes they may be supported by a few faculty members. It is rare, indeed, for the administration (those with true power in the academy) to be on their side.

    As an opposite to “The Problem of Whiteness”, if a public university were teaching a course title “The Virtues of Eugenics”, would you have a problem in the state legislators intervening?

    Studying the virtues of eliminating whole ethnic groups and races through selective breeding (eugenics) is not the “opposite” of studying the problematic legacy of white supremacy (whiteness).*
    Even so, I think that universities are capable of dealing with both cases without legislatures getting involved. Legislatures micromanaging universities is much, much worse than the occasional faculty member teaching an offensive course.

    *Although it is in keeping with other “both sides do it” false equivalencies.

  7. 7
    Sam Cole says:

    Re: UC Davis, I thought this article was exactly right in tone and conclusion:

    http://www.latimes.com/local/abcarian/la-me-abcarian-milo-20170115-story.html

    While the free speech culture issues are different when it’s students shouting someone down (as opposed to censorship, either government or school), I still think it’s a bad idea because it’s a bad strategy. Even for the most detestable constitutionally protected speech imaginable, I think it would be preferable to respond with a counter-speech or a peaceful protest. Or to just ignore it completely if that option is on the table. Assuming we’re in a place like the U.S., I guess.

  8. 8
    Fibi says:

    I see a little blurring between the concepts of free speech and academic freedom in this post. Arguably, all 10 links are about threats to academic freedom and not threats to free speech rights under the First Amendment.

    As the AAUP Senior Counsel, Rachel Levinson wrote:

    As a legal matter, it can be extremely difficult to determine where faculty members’ rights under academic freedom and the First Amendment begin and end. It can also be difficult to explain the distinction between “academic freedom” and “free speech rights under the First Amendment”—two related but analytically distinct legal concepts. Academic freedom rights are not coextensive with First Amendment rights, although courts have recognized a relationship between the two.

    Editing after ten minutes because I wanted to make clear that I, too, see academic freedom rights as an extension of First Amendment rights. We traditionally protect professors’ free speech rights even more strenuously than we protect everyone else’s and there are good reasons for this.

    But infringements on this zone of enhanced protection don’t concern me as much as infringements on the core First Amendment protections of students.

    Conservative students on campuses today are experiencing the “chilling effect” of campus policies that make “Trump 2016” or “Build the Wall” into a bias incident.

  9. 9
    Ampersand says:

    If we want harassment to mean ‘something worth getting fired over’ it has to be something very strong and very targeted.

    I’m not certain I do want that, any more than I want (for example) theft to mean “something worth getting fired over.” I mean, sure, if an employee is caught stealing, in some cases they should be fired (if, for example, they stole the company car and sold it on ebay); but in other cases (getting caught stealing a couple of reams of paper) maybe it would be more proportionate to give them a talking to, or ask them to get counseling.

    Defining it as you suggest sounds a lot like “zero tolerance” policies at schools. But I oppose those policies. Looking at context should not be forbidden; forgiving people for mistakes, in many cases, should be a possibility.

    As for Professor Schurtz, I think people are right to object to a white professor inviting her students (including students of color) to her house for a costume party in which she wears blackface and an afro wig. That obviously is insulting to her Black students, in a way that’s unprofessional and that reasonable people should object to.

    Schurtz’s defense, which is so incredible that might be true, is that she’s so clueless that she had no idea that blackface is ever seen as offensive, and she only meant it as anti-racist commentary. In other words, she’s claiming to be incredibly ignorant about subjects she feels qualified to issue commentary on.

    Nonetheless, I agree that she shouldn’t be fired for this one incident (nor was she). Whether or not what she does counts as “harassment” depends, as far as I can tell, on whether or not you think what she did is “sufficiently severe” enough to create “an intimidating, hostile, or degrading working or university environment” for a “reasonable person.”

    The fact that some white libertarians, like Eugene Volokh, have responded in part by saying (paraphrased) “I just don’t see why well-intentioned blackface should be offensive” does not make them seem like credible commentators who actually understand the issues at play here. (Ken at Popeface leans towards this a bit, although he doesn’t say so as explicitly.)

    {Edited to make the phrasings clearer about 10 minutes after I posted this.]

  10. 10
    pillsy says:

    The fact that some white libertarians, like Eugene Volokh, have responded in part by saying (paraphrased) “I just don’t see why well-intentioned blackface should be offensive” does not make them seem like credible commentators who actually understand the issues at play here. (Ken at Popeface leans towards this a bit, although he doesn’t say so as explicitly.)

    This is a general failure mode that I see in a lot of free speech activism around issues like this, where the push is less to ensure a robust sort of free speech that encompasses genuinely revolting speech, and instead tries to minimize the awfulness of the speech in question to make the attacks on it unfair. You see this even with principled defenders of free speech like Volokh and Popehat, and it gets worse from there.

    To take an example from another controversy, I would have been a lot more receptive to free speech-based arguments that bakers and photographers should be exempted from anti-discrimination law requirements that provide their services to same-sex weddings if they had been more willing to concede that the discrimination they want to engage in, while it may be a corollary of the First Amendment, is still revolting behavior undertaken by people who are using their Constitutional right to act like assholes to actually act like assholes.

    Instead, a lot of the time it comes off like, “I’m going to use ‘free speech’ as an attempt to gloss over the awful behavior of someone who is on ‘my side’ in some way.” When it’s coupled with exaggerated handwringing about student behavior that is also, at least debatably, encompassed by free speech, it starts looking a lot like a proxy for plain old culture warring and a lot less like commitment to (broadly) liberal values, with a bit of moral panic over the Kids Today thrown in for seasoning.

  11. 11
    Ben Lehman says:

    This is a general failure mode that I see in a lot of free speech activism around issues like this, where the push is less to ensure a robust sort of free speech that encompasses genuinely revolting speech, and instead tries to minimize the awfulness of the speech in question to make the attacks on it unfair. You see this even with principled defenders of free speech like Volokh and Popehat, and it gets worse from there.

    I think this is very insightful. Thanks.

  12. 12
    Sebastian H says:

    “The fact that some white libertarians, like Eugene Volokh, have responded in part by saying (paraphrased) “I just don’t see why well-intentioned blackface should be offensive” does not make them seem like credible commentators who actually understand the issues at play here.”

    This seems like an example of seizing on an aside to avoid the thrust of their argument. As someone who escaped from a communist country during the height of the cold war, it seems to me understandable that he might have a higher threshold for what counts as actionably offensive. He grew up in an environment where offending the wrong people could get you killed by the government. From our perspective perhaps that makes him hypersensitive to the dangers of inappropriate offense. He also exhibits a number of what we used to call Asperger tendencies. If you think those environmental factors make him oversensitive to the dangers of offense that isn’t meant to be given, that shouldn’t discredit him in some general way. He then goes on for thousands of words about incredibly important free speech issues operating under the assumption that it was offensive.

    Popehat’s post is even more important. It specifically investigates the way the legal issues intersect with each other and why characterizing her conduct as “Racial Harassment” is dangerous to free speech.

    “Whether or not what she does counts as “harassment” depends, as far as I can tell, on whether or not you think what she did is “sufficiently severe” enough to create “an intimidating, hostile, or degrading working or university environment” for a “reasonable person.””

    By “what she did” we mean a single incident of wearing an offensive costume. In almost all normal cases of interpreting “hostile environment” harassment you show a pattern of behavior. (That is why it is a hostile environment, not just a code punishing isolated acts). Now in theory there may be single acts which could lead to a hostile environment (for example telling an employee that she has to sleep with her boss to get ahead, or telling a student that ‘their kind’ should try another major). But those kind of cases explicitly show that the person saying them is intending to harm the recipient of the communications. They self-prove the harassment.

    “Nonetheless, I agree that she shouldn’t be fired for this one incident (nor was she).”

    Has the incident been resolved yet? All the reports I see (current as of Jan 7th is as good as I can get) talk about her being suspended but none of them mention her being reinstated. The investigative report found her guilty of “Discriminatory Harassment” AND that it was “significant enough to outweigh Nancy Shurtz’s interests in academic freedom and free speech”. That is specifically language which sets up a professor to be fired despite tenure protections.

    Have they walked back the official report somewhere? Have they taken her off suspension? I haven’t seen any of that. I’d be glad to see it if they have.

  13. 13
    kate says:

    Conservative students on campuses today are experiencing the “chilling effect” of campus policies that make “Trump 2016” or “Build the Wall” into a bias incident.

    Putting up signs, having rallies, passing out fliers in public places should always be protected. But, for some other forms of speech, context matters. In an environment of a marked increase in hate crimes – men feeling empowered to “grab her pussy”; or pulling hijabs off the heads of Muslim women, people are going to feel threatened by speech which would not be threatening in other contexts. The incidents that I’ve seen referred to as bias incidents have an element of targeting individual members or groups.
    For example, screaming “build the wall” at individual Latino students just trying to go from one class to another is harassment, and should be “chilled”.
    Another example is, scrawling graffiti on the dorms of minority students – particularly when that graffiti is on the doors to their rooms, indicating that conservative activists “know where they live”. Yes, that constitutes harassment. (I also think that scrawling Hillary 2016 on the door of a known Trump supporter could be harassment under some circumstances).
    I would argue that the swasitka incidents covered by Richard here, constitute harassment on their own due to the strength of that symbol and the fact that in some cases the offices of individual Jewish professors were targeted.
    Targeting minority student centers, women’s centers, etc. with graffiti on its own, I think, should be treated as defacement of property. But multiple incidents, especially when individual students belonging to those groups have been targeted in a way similar to the ones described above, may be evidence of a larger pattern of harassment.

  14. 14
    desipis says:

    if they had been more willing to concede that the discrimination they want to engage in … is still revolting behavior undertaken by people who are using their Constitutional right to act like assholes to actually act like assholes.

    This is a good example of the threat the current politics of the left poses to free speech (and yes, there have been similar threats from the right). There seems to be this desperate need for everyone to, at least externally, declare compliance with a homogeneous “progressive” value system. It’s not considered acceptable for people to have different perspectives on morality, there can only be the righteous and the assholes.

    This runs contrary to one of the functions of free speech: to enable people with significantly different value system to coexist peacefully in society. If someone is not willing to coexist along side, say conservative Christians, and allow them to express conservative Christian values in the same way they want other groups to be able to do, then it’s probably not surprising that their intolerance leads them to devaluing freedom of speech.

  15. 15
    pillsy says:

    There seems to be this desperate need for everyone to, at least externally, declare compliance with a homogeneous “progressive” value system. It’s not considered acceptable for people to have different perspectives on morality, there can only be the righteous and the assholes.

    This is, to be blunt, a stupid objection.

    Free speech is the right to say what you want. It very much includes the right to say things that are revolting, but it is very much excludes the right to have people pretend the revolting things you are saying are anything but revolting. Those are the terms for free speech, and it includes the speech of conservative Christians.

    I am willing to consider that baking a wedding cake is a matter of free speech. I refuse to pretend that discriminating against people on account of their sexual orientation is a decent thing to do. Trying to conflate the two issues indicates that, at best, you are horribly confused.

  16. 16
    Sebastian H says:

    “I am willing to consider that baking a wedding cake is a matter of free speech. I refuse to pretend that discriminating against people on account of their sexual orientation is a decent thing to do. ”

    You don’t have to think it is decent to live in a pluralistic society. You just have to think it is indecent and then move on.

  17. 17
    pillsy says:

    You don’t have to think it is decent to live in a pluralistic society. You just have to think it is indecent and then move on.

    This is virtually self-refuting.

    If discriminating against people on the basis of their sexual orientation is compatible with living in a pluralistic society, so is excoriating people engage in such for their gross indecency.

    Defenses of social conservatives would be a lot more credible if they didn’t so routinely boil down to an insistence that social conservatives are the only ones who have a right to make moral determinations about people, and the rest of us should simply smile and nod in response.

  18. 18
    Sebastian H says:

    You are moving from “doesn’t want to bake a cake for the gay wedding” to ‘discriminating’ as if that resolves the issue.

    A pluralistic society has to be able to discriminate between serious problems and non-serious problems. An ER doctor wants to not help gay people? We can’t allow that. A county clerk want to keep her government agency from issuing marriage licenses? We can’t allow that. Those are serious problems.

    A wedding decorator or photographer doesn’t want to make my cake or photograph my wedding? Not they kind of problem that the government should slap around with the force of law.

    Winning equal rights for marriage is serious enough that our pluralistic society can’t allow it to be messed with.

    Equal wedding cake access isn’t.

    Part of a functioning pluralistic society is figuring out what issues are important enough that we have to all get to the same place and what one’s aren’t. The wedding cake/photography thing is about ramming it down their throats, not ‘non-discrimination’.

  19. 19
    pillsy says:

    A wedding decorator or photographer doesn’t want to make my cake or photograph my wedding? Not they kind of problem that the government should slap around with the force of law.

    Like I said, I’m open to this argument.

    What I am not open to is you and desipis, like pretty much everyone else who I’ve seen raise this argument, use the argument that the government should’t involve itself in the decision as a springboard for saying individuals shouldn’t judge it harshly, or if they do, they should keep their opinions to themselves.

  20. 20
    Sebastian H says:

    I’m not saying you can’t judge it harshly. I’m saying you shouldn’t suppress them over it. You shouldn’t try to drive them out of the city over it.

    I think the Amish are rather silly but I won’t take any action against them.

    I think lots of hip hop culture is rather terrible and I’ll speak up against its treatment of women, but I won’t condemn it wholesale.

    I’m gay and into leather, but think the whole contest scene has grown into a side fetish that I think is silly. I’ll resist it taking over the whole rest of things, but I won’t try to shut it down even though I think it has quite a few bad aspects.

    By all means think they are acting poorly, or boorishly, or like assholes. Just don’t try to sue them over it. Just don’t try to get the government to shut them down over it. The need to totalize the culture wars is bad for the country. And I don’t care if “they do it too”. They do lots of things that if everyone did would hurt the country.

    If they try to totalize against us on important issues, we fight back. But if they want to be petty on stupid issues, so what?

    The analogy I use is that it is similar to my best friend who went through horrible trauma as an incest survivor. One of his survival instincts was to not have a dimmer switch on people. He either loved them or hated them. He would love you at first (because he needed someone to help him survive) but at the first misstep he would hate you (because it so often signaled that you were going to abuse him). He literally would not have survived to twenty without those defenses. But at forty those same defenses were ruining his ability to have a life. It turns out every person makes missteps. It turns out every person is imperfect. It turns out that you have to be able to like someone somewhat, or dislike someone somewhat in order to have a healthy life.

    Similarly if we want a pluralistic nation to survive we need to differentiate between important problems and unimportant ones. Fight the important ones. Live with the unimportant ones. If we can’t do that, we will have had an unwitting hand in the destruction of this nation. We can’t waste too many people on that when so many are already willing to have an intentional hand in its destruction.

  21. 21
    desipis says:

    pillsy:

    What I am not open to is you and desipis, like pretty much everyone else who I’ve seen raise this argument, use the argument that the government should’t involve itself in the decision as a springboard for saying individuals shouldn’t judge it harshly,

    I obviously need to be better at including context in my quotes because the critical context to my comment was this:

    I would have been a lot more receptive to free speech-based arguments that bakers and photographers should be exempted from anti-discrimination law requirements that provide their services to same-sex weddings if they had been more willing to concede that the discrimination they want to engage in, while it may be a corollary of the First Amendment, is still revolting behavior undertaken by people who are using their Constitutional right to act like assholes to actually act like assholes.

    Essentially I read that as you’re only willing to consider free speech for those who already share your values (i.e. agree with your judgement that their actions would make them assholes), implying that you would deem it appropriate to have the government interfere with the free speech of those with different values. You can call them assholes all you want, but if you want to be for free speech you need to accept the free speech of people whom you consider assholes too.

  22. 22
    Ampersand says:

    I’m fairly sure that’s a bad misreading of what Pillsy meant. But hopefully Pillsy will clarify.

  23. 23
    pillsy says:

    I’m fairly sure that’s a bad misreading of what Pillsy meant. But hopefully Pillsy will clarify.

    It is indeed. I am much more willing to accept arguments for free speech that aren’t implicitly or explicitly couched as demands that I abandon my values. First Amendment rights cover the right to say and do some really awful things, so I tend to suspect that people insisting the “free speech” involved isn’t so bad are using “free speech” as a stalking horse for something else.

  24. 24
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    The fight about tenure is not inherently a fight over free speech. We had free speech prior to tenure; we have plenty of free speech now from non-tenured folks (most of the best and loudest public voices on both sides are outside the academy) and we have no reason to believe the claim that academics in particular are a bastion of freedom these days. They’re just people, who have a great gig, and are trying hard to keep it. Neither are schools serving the same role they once did.

    I know that the AAUP says as much, but I don’t really care what the AAUP says. They are not good arbiters of this issue, and to put it mildly they are non-neutral parties. (Seriously, what the heck would you expect a group of elite tenured professors to say? “We conclude that our valuable protections and benefits which we have fought tooth and nail to attain should be given up voluntarily” is the position of nobody, ever.)

    Moreover, tenure is one of those rights-balancing things, where you have the right of the professors to teach** what they want, and the right of the school and trustees to present the school as they want, and so on. Tenure or the much-vaunted “academic freedom**” don’t create any rights. Rather they transfer power over the allocation of rights-balancing, to a highly elite and largely self-selected group of people.

    The question “what gets taught here at our school” needs to be decided somehow. And there are lots of ways. You could have students vote; you could have appointed committees; you could have elected officials who were beholden to local voters; or anything else. Or you could have a rule that gave the decision largely to a bunch of professors, who can’t usually be fired or replaced (or these days, turned down for hiring) no matter what they decide. This may be a holdover from traditional times–but it is not inherently the best solution, nor inherently more protective of free speech.

    **I use the word “teach” lightly. I don’t know if you agree, but it seems like the umbrella of “academic freedom” has significantly expanded over the decades. It arguably began as an ability to teach or research controversial things within your own expertise, but has expanded into something approaching “everything the professoriate does.” This would be unsurprising, since professors are greedy humans like all of us, and we all have tendencies to overuse any power we can grab.

  25. 25
    kate says:

    Equal wedding cake access isn’t.

    That depends. If we’re talking customized cakes made to order, I’m with you. And I’m with you on the photographers as well. Both would be dictating what commissions artists or artisans must accept. That’s a clear violation of their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association.
    But, if we’re talking standard issue cakes (the places that I looked at had binders of photographs of different types of cakes, and you just picked which standard design you wanted), we’re talking about the right to buy any food that is publicly on sale – rights don’t get much more basic than that.

  26. 26
    Michael says:

    @pillsy#10- but liberals do the same thing. Look at discussions of the Red Scare during the 1950s- very few liberals are willing to acknowledge that a lot of the people involved really DID make excuses for Stalin’s and Mao’s crimes. (If you want a recent example, look at the movie “Trumbo”.) Or if you want more recent examples, look at some of the defenses of Mapplethorpe’s “Piss Christ” or Biddle’s “Bring Back Bullying” or that Drexel professor’s “White Genocide” tweet- people refused to acknowledge that they were offensive.

  27. 27
    Michael says:

    I’m not buying that the professors’ Watch List was any more (or less) coercive than the SPLC Hate List, which included people that merely said repugnant things (as well as actual groups like the KKK.) And yes, I know some of the people behind the list are associated with the Trump administration but the SPLC was associated with the FBI during the Obama administration. In both cases, you have lists of people that said arguably offensive things drawn up by organizations with connections to the government but that don’t technically work for the government.

  28. 28
    kate says:

    Maplethorpe’s “Piss Christ” is a beautiful image, and the materials used are deeply symbolic on many levels. Provoking offense and disgust were just a few levels of the work. But, in that case, the issue was not free speech, it was government funding of the arts. So addressing the issue of offense was relevant.

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