When I wrote yesterday about the notion of "safe spaces" being used to annex public spaces and dictate what may be spoken within them, I didn't imagine that modern academia would provide me with another example so swiftly. The place is the University of Missouri, where students accused the administration of indifference to overt racism. Activists demanded, and got, some high-level resignations over the matter. (They didn't get everything they wanted: as far as I can tell their distinctly Maoist demand for a handwritten confession and acknowledgement of ideological tenets was not met.) Agree with them or not, the Mizzou activists engaged in classic protected speech, at least to this point.
The safe-space-as-sword came during the victory celebration. The proposition was wantonly naked: the university's public spaces that activists had chosen to occupy were a no-dissent zone, where activists were entitled to be free from differing interpretations of events:
The "parameters" in question were the public university's quad, one of the most quintessentially public spaces in American law and tradition. This sentiment — that students could take over a public space, use it to express their views on a public issue, and shut other views out of it in the name of emotional safety — was vigorously enforced by a crowd threatening a photographer and a communications professor shouting for "muscle" to help her expel media.
All of this — engendered by accusations of racism against African-Americans — comes within living memory of people asserting their right to make public venues culturally "safe spaces" free of African-Americans. Of course, those safety-minded citizens were somewhat less sophisticated in their jargon. They had signs too.
Some people look on this sentiment and despair. I don't. It's a good thing for America to see how mainstream the spirit of censorship is. Some people say the censorship discredits the substantive values the students are fighting for. I don't. The protest about racism rises or falls on its own merits; the anti-dissent sentiment is so banal and common in academia now, and students aren't taught any different. It would be like saying that t-shirts and bad hair discredit the ideas the protesters are fighting for. Some people suggest that these students (and professors) deserve to face the censorship they encourage. I don't. Deserve's got nothing to do with it. We routinely protect the freedoms of people who scorn freedom: Nazis marching at Skokie, Westboro Baptist Church members protesting at funerals, and other assorted nitwits who dream of an America where their whims are law. That's the deal. We're not going to change because some academics and students are thuggish louts. We're not them. The sentiment "only people we agree with deserve rights" is theirs, not ours.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- On Punching Nazis - January 21st, 2017
- How To Read News Like A Search Warrant Application - January 19th, 2017
- The Latest Defamation Case Against Donald Trump, and the "Trump Defense" - January 18th, 2017
- The Selma March In Some Rare Photos, And The Obligation To Speak - January 16th, 2017
- "Clock Boy" Gets His Clock Cleaned with Texas' Anti-SLAPP Statute - January 11th, 2017