October 16, 2006

"The occasion was not itself academic; it was theatrical."

Stanley Fish scrutinizes the Columbia incident where students rushed the stage and shut down the speech of Minuteman leader Jim Gilchrist.
Any education that might have transpired had Mr. Gilchrist been allowed to give his talk would have been incidental to the shock value of his appearance before an audience known in advance to be hostile to his message. That was why he was invited, not to impart instruction but to provoke a response (and it is the response rather than the content that is always focused on in media reports), although in this instance those who brought him to campus got more than they bargained for. The spirit presiding over this occasion from the beginning was more Jerry Springer than Socrates. Jeers, catcalls, insults and (verbal) brickbats were not intrusions on the performance, but predictable ingredients of it; had they been absent, organizers and audience alike would have gone away disappointed because they would not have gotten their student-fees worth. It’s just that things got a little out of hand....

At most, the students are guilty of being impolite, bumptious and rowdy, but again, this is the kind of behavior that the event – more akin to a keg party than to a reasoned discussion – was designed to elicit.
Fish calls attention to "the distinction between curricular and extracurricular activities." The norms of the classroom do not apply -- even on campus -- outside the classroom. This is a message I'd like the perpetrators of the UW's "Think. Respect." program to take very seriously. (Too bad you have to subscribe to the NYT to read the whole thing!) When it comes to the extracurricular:
The question to be asked is not did it further free speech or contribute to a robust democratic culture or provide a genuine educational experience? Rather the questions to be asked are: Did it rock? Was it a blast? Was a good time had by all?
It's not going to rock if everyone's supposed to be classroom-polite. Worried about the First Amendment? Which way are you worried? The students aren't the government, Fish notes. They can't violate Free Speech rights. And they were speaking too, in a vigorous marketplace of ideas. Sure, they went too far. But not all that far.

67 comments:

Eli Blake said...

You're right on target Ann when you point out that the students are not the government.

I've always been opposed to institutional (government) censorship of ideas. I think one of the mistakes that was made in the early days of Holocaust denial was the attempt to stamp it out via censorship. This didn't stamp it out, but gave it the pseudo-ring of truth that comes from 'If they think it's all baloney, why are they going to such great lengths to not let us talk about it?' that works with underground movements. In fact, Holocaust denial is a much bigger problem in Europe where it is against the law to even say it, than it is in America.

Far better to let this stuff out in the light of day, but then make no move when the audience itself starts to ridicule what is being said. Why not laugh ideas like the proposal to literally build a wall around the country (which not all that long ago WAS rhetorically a term of ridicule) or Professor Barrett's 9/11 revisionism to scorn?

Sure, respect the right of nuts like these to speak. That doesn't imply having to respect what they are saying.

JorgXMcKie said...

The very essence of tyranny is inequal application of laws. When one person or group has to obey laws that others don't, or when one person or group does not have to obey laws that others do, it's tyranny, plain and simple.

Instead of obfuscating and begging the question, I'd like those who favor such tyranny take a whack at defending the actual practice.

George said...

"Bumptious," says the good Dr. Fish.

Oh, my gracious!

The word means 'pushy.'

Heavens.

Zeb Quinn said...

Yeah, I agree, the kids aren't the state, and governmental inaction to quell the disruption is not violative of freedom of speech rights, but in that fact pattern there may be other constitutional protections it does violate. Like equal protection under the law for one. I could make that argument.

Henry said...

those who brought him to campus got more than they bargained for...

And to their advantage.

Henry said...

p.s. The vigorous marketplace of ideas -- is this metaphor really working anymore? How about the vigorous scrum of ideas? Or the vigorous scrum of stupidity, for that matter.

Joan of Arc said...

Here's a different view of the same event.

Paul Zrimsek said...

No big deal. It's not like a professor got shouted down.

Goesh said...

There is a visceral thrill in booing and catcalling a Public speaker. I always liked the idea of convicted criminals being hauled off in carts, subjected to pelting by the Public with vegetable rinds and offal. We can expend alot of verbage on why we aren't like that anymore and why we shouldn't be but as a species, we don't evolve very quickly. We really aren't much beyond throwing rotted fruit at felons.

The Berg said...

I obviously can't read the full article, but when Mr. Fish says:

Any education ... would have been incidental to the shock value of his appearance before an audience known in advance to be hostile to his message.

I think he steps over the line in blaming the victim here for this situation, as well as strengthening the arguments of those who violently shut down his speech.

I think it is reasonable to assume the College Republicans or Conservate Union would be happy to hear about immigation reform and policy from someone they see as on the front lines of the American immigration issue.

To place Gilchrist so far outside the mainstream so as not to be a credible speaker worth listening to, emboldens those who say he shouldn't have a voice in this debate. And by doing so, he can treat this issue as banal and not worth the ire it is raising.

I highly doubt Mr. Fish would come down on the side of impoliteness if Noam Chomsky was shouted down by students rushing the stage, cheering and getting into fights. The violent and pre-meditated crushing of dissent, accompanied with the lack of institutional protection for that dissent, is a threat to everyone's speech.

Additionally, are we too sassume there is only one place where rowdiness isn't tolerated and that's in the classroom? Has college devolved so far as to be Animal House everywhere but English 101? Can we not ask for politeness and an attempt at reasoned debate during hosted speaches or presentations?

jeff_d said...

Fish is of course correct that the Columbia event wasn't about censorship. But the claim that it is somehow within the accepted norms applicable to extracurricular events for an invited speaker to be shouted down (much less assaulted and driven off the stage) is way off. Fish's view betrays disrespect not just for the views of that speaker as for reasoned debate and the marketplace of ideas generally. It is thuggish and anti-intellectual.

Maybe this shouldn't be a surprise given that the guiding principle of the critical studies crowd is the notion that truth and objectivity don't exist. Why engage opposing views respectfully when we can smugly pre-judge them as unworthy of consideration.

Sloanasaurus said...

What the Columbia students did is no different that the government using force to suppress speech. The students are using mob violence to suppress speech. The government needs to come in and put down the mob. All of the students who took the stage should be fined and thrown in jail to think about their uncivil outburst. At the very least they should be expelled.

If the government fails at putting down the mob, then speakers will start bringing their own protection and then we will have thugs vs. mobs. That is something we should try to avoid.

Al Maviva said...

Somebody should kick Fish's @ss for being that stupid, and encouraging further decay in public discourse and civility.

Assault? Heavens to betsy, of course not. Just ask Professor Fish: such a beatdown would simply be a vigorously expressed dissenting opinion.

Derve said...

And how about that Miami-FIU brawl game?

Fitz said...

IN AN EARLIRE THREADON THE THINK RESPECT PROGRAM
5:58 PM, OCTOBER 12, 2006 , Elton J. Crim Jr. Ph.D. the
Interim Associate Dean of Students wrote this letter to Ann Blog.
I think It highlights the mindset about speech on our college campuses and so I reproduced it here (comments in bold are mine}



“I would first just like to clear up a few facts which have been misrepresented in the press. The THINK campaign and the Bias reporting mechanism are two separate and not linked programs. The THINK campaign is a student idea, developed by students who were concerned about the type of discourse being used on campus in some instances and more importantly on it's impact on communities here on campus. It's purpose is not to stifle anyone's ideas, thoughts or speech but to encourage university community members to try and find ways to articulate those ideas in ways that take into consideration their impact and if at all possible to say them in ways that respect the dignity of all. There is no code or any mechanism of enforcement or anything but students using their right to free speech to encourage people to think before they speak. I find it odd that the discourse being espoused in support of free speech would like to shut down free speech because you don't like it or because you fee afraid about it's connotations. I may or may not agree with it but those students have a right to ask this community to speak respectfully and you have the right to reject that idea.

I work in the Dean of Students Office and just for the record would like to say that we whole heartedly support free speech. These are not just words, last year when many were upset about the cartoons in the Badger Herald that many thought were racist, Dean Berquam organized a forum of free speech to discuss the issue. In general we encourage students to utilize their rights to free speech to respond to speech they don't like and we believe that one of the ways in which we support the academic mission of the institution is to encourage students to take personal responsibility by using their rights to free speech to respond and to teach them the mechanisms appropriate for a university culture.

Now regarding the bias reporting mechanism. That is our idea. We developed largely because we are in unusual times right now. With the elections around the corner, and issues such as gay marriage, illigal immigration, the war in iraq, the threat from North Korea etc and just the general culture of fear that surrounds all of this. We anticipate that the time is ripe for the chaneling of emotions around these issues targeted toward people believed to be members of the group discussed.{Politically protected groups (designated so by the campus left)}Since most of you probably don't have to deal with having to respond to these issues, this isn't a problem for you, {White Males}
but our office is one of the offices that responds when incidents occur. For us it is helful to have the information sooner rather than later and to be able to gather more information if we need to and then to see how we need to respond. {We are the information hub for collection & dissemination of Anti-P.C. crimes.}
It may be that we need to have a meeting with LGBT students to talk about the attack a student just had (Hypothetically) and about safety in the community in general. Or we may need to meet with them to encourage them to respond using their right to free speech as well. The main point for us is finding out what happened and then seeing what needs to be done. {We decide to take our dogs off the leash.} We are not interested in a speech code and frankly I think that people need to be allowed to say some of the dumb things they say and deal with the consequences. {How ominous is that. (bark, bark)}
I'm sure that nothing I say will persuede those of you that are operating from a purely ideological perspective. But the realities of administration are that institutions often have to respond to events when they occur or they spin out of control. This is simply a tool to help us do so faster.


Elton J. Crim Jr. Ph.D.
Interim Associate Dean of Students

Balfegor said...

Any education that might have transpired had Mr. Gilchrist been allowed to give his talk would have been incidental to the shock value of his appearance before an audience known in advance to be hostile to his message. That was why he was invited, not to impart instruction but to provoke a response.

This is a kind of jaundiced way of looking at attempts at dialogue between people who disagree passionately. Although I suppose it may well be accurate.

Richard Dolan said...

OK, so think of the event as theatrical rather than academic. The metaphor doesn't change anything. How do you think the audience would react at a theatrical event if a bunch of rowdies decided that they didn't like the show, and so decided to storm the stage to stop it? It would certainly make for a truncated theatrical season at Columbia, what with every campus nutjob being free to rush the stage if he disapproved of the show, or just thought that the show was so bad that "being impolite, bumptious and rowdy ... [was] the kind of behavior that the [play] ... was designed to elicit."

Fish is an entertaining provocateur but this essay (at least the snippet Ann features, since I won't pay for access behind the NYT's subscription wall) doesn't offer much more than provocation for its own sake. Maybe he seems himself as a version of Milton's Satan here, since Milton is his main academic interest and he's written that Satan if far and away the most attractive character in Paradise Lost. Or it could just be a penumbra from the approaching inner darkness of the approaching Halloween festivities.

Walter said...

Ok,

But if a speaker from Planned Parenthood came to Columbia, would he still sing the same tune if the stage was rushed by people saying "Baby Killers." What if they then hung a giant photo of a fetus that read "Don't kill me!"

I agree with the others on this thread that said this piece is just a round about way of blaming the victim.

Bleepless said...

If the Columbia vermin cannot violate freedom of speech because they are got the government, then the Ku Klux Klan cannot (and never has).

Pogo said...

Fish uses the very same argument that Islamists use when quelling speech they disagree with. Threats of violence are very successful at keeping others from being heard.

The Left was like this in the 60s and early 70s, and they're doing it again. "Our violence is justified because we're right, and we can't learn nothin' new from nobody no-how."

It's called Fascism. And that's exactly how it's meant to work. And Fish is for it.

Old Dad said...

College kids often act lke idiots--I know I did. Learning how to match behavior to the situation in an adult setting is certainly one of the lessons.

Maybe the event was billed as a circus and everyone got what they wanted. Maybe the kids who rushed the stage were just acting out. I don't know. I wouldn't string them up, but I'd certainly impose some kind of penalty. Even shouting matches have a certain etiquette.

Fish's argument is clever, and maybe even correct, but it's a little too slick. The next time a speaker gets shouted down, the perps can use the Fish Defense. They were begging for it. It's what they wanted, etc.

Christy said...

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Guess we are lacking Voltaires (or Friends of Voltaire) at Columbia, eh?

Okay, so the behavior was intolerant, inflexible, and boorish, but not illegal. Still, I think the names of those students should be published somewhere Googleable. Future employers might want to know. Or is is illegal to discriminate against the hiring of such?

Cedarford said...

Stanley Fish is an old-time Leftist from a family with a past in communist causes. He famously wrote a book a dozen years ago titled "There is No Such Thing As Free Speech; And It's A Good Thing, Too."

Fish is a distinguished scholar, but he is also known as the Godfather of campus speech codes that were enacted all over the country then rolled back by free speech lawsuits.

Fish neglects to credit the influence of Herbert Marcuse on Stanley Fish and other so-called liberal thinkers. Marcuse felt that some utterances must be kept from the marketplace of ideas to protect society from hearing both sides of arguments for which he and his followers held the monopoly on the truth. He did not specify who would be the judges of what could and could not be discussed, but one presumes that it would be only those whose exact latitude and longitude of political and social viewpoint coincided with his own.

Fish buys into Marcuse's seminal treatise "Repressive Tolerance"...that speech of the Oppressor must be repressed by a wide range of actions,,from covert blackballing, threatened legal action, to the famous "Politics of Confrontation" which of course toatally supplanted the Berkeley Free Speech Movement idea. Fish likes to compare the prohibition of "hate speech" to other limits on expression, such as those on obscenity. In Fish's world, that means absolute sanctity of the right of "Oppressed" people and Leftists who claim to be "voices of the speechless Oppressed (Noam Chomsky, etc.) to be heard. But anti-progressive voices must be censored, because they only create "hate" -and, of course, just as Marcuse said, tolerance only enables further repression if Oppressor classes are allowed to dispense their views.

Which of course leads to Pals welcomed on campus to talk about the nobility of taking up Jew-killing with barely a peep of protest, while a decorated US General invited in to campus to discuss Latin American narco trafficking is harassed continuously.

Fish's excusing the Columbia campus disruptors is totally expected. He's been playing the same post-Marcuse game for decades.

Balfegor said...

Okay, so the behavior was intolerant, inflexible, and boorish, but not illegal.

I'm pretty sure at least some of the thugs committed assault and battery. It would have been intolerant, inflexible, and boorish had they just tried to heckle him down. They didn't stop there, but rushed the stage, apparently knocking the Minutemen representative down and breaking his glasses. Or something like that.

Cedarford said...

Christy on Voltaire- "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Unfortunately, Voltaire never said his most famous quote...nor, in many circumstances given his ascerbic nature....would he have lifted a dainty finger, let alone risk his life to defend what he thought was dangerous and reckless speech (given the times in his era in Europe - where words had consequences of penalties of sedition or breech of honor).

The quote was made up by a Philly Matron named Edna, I think, in the early 1900's. A big admirer of Voltaire, head of a literary society, she said that is what Voltaire would have said if he lived in the new, modern 20th Century...

It's a great quote.
Just as Yogi Berra is credited with quotes he never said but commented: "Well, I was thinking of saying it, so it's as good as said."

altoids1306 said...

I respect Stanley Fish, his article on university endowments was excellent. But to blow a huge hole in his argument, just imagine if the situation had been reversed. Cindy Sheehan, or Rev. Jackson on stage, rushed by College Republicans. I doubt he would be comparing it to rock concerts.

It doesn't matter how you frame it, the students were entirely hypocritical, claiming to be merely exercising their free speech, while interrupting other's ability to exercise that same right. Their behavior cannot be justified or even rationally explained, and no amount of rhetoric will suffice.

reader_iam said...

Here's a nutshell recounting of the Voltaire thing:

These words were first used by [Evelyn Beatrice] Hall, writing under the pseudonym of Stephen G. Tallentyre in The Friends of Voltaire (1906). They were not a quote, but a paraphrase of Voltaire's attitudes, based on his Essay on Tolerance where he asserts: "Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too". Its ultimate origin may lie in a letter to M. le Riche (February 6, 1770): "Monsieur l'abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write."

For what that's worth ... .

rightwingprof said...

I disagree with Fish on his assertion that this talk was staged to produce a theatrical result -- only because (believe it or not) precisely because of incidents like this, other large universities have cracked down, and yes, one can go see, oh, Ann Coulter speak at a university campus without being shouted down. Disrupters and hecklers were immediately ejected, and nobody rushed the stage (then, in addition to campus police, she has her own football team of body guards on stage behind her). It was a civil and civilized presentation.

I think he's being overly cynical.

As for whether the students violated the speakers' 1A rights, of course, they didn't, because you point out that they are not the government. They did, and this, I feel is the point, demonstrate through their words and overt statements that they have nothing but scorn for free speech unless it follows their party line.

And that, my friends, is the LEAST appropriate attitude at a university, or should be.

Freder Frederson said...

I'm pretty sure at least some of the thugs committed assault and battery. It would have been intolerant, inflexible, and boorish had they just tried to heckle him down. They didn't stop there, but rushed the stage, apparently knocking the Minutemen representative down and breaking his glasses. Or something like that.

From all the videos I've seen, its pretty unclear who physically assaulted whom. The initial protestors certainly rushed the stage and tried to unfurl a banner (and the girls who appeared on Hannity didn't look like they could knock anyone down). And there was certainly a guy who was shouting and verbally assaulting Gilcrest. But up to that point, it doesn't look like anyone is getting physical. The security guards are just standing there.

Then things get real confusing as there is a second rush at the stage. That is when the pushing and shoving starts. The protest leaders claim that the physical altercation started when they were assaulted by audience members who were supporters of the minutemen. That certainly seems like a not unreasonable account. It is far from clear who actually started the fight, and until that first punch is thrown, the behavior might have been boorish, immature, and out of line, but hardly criminal or some great assault on free speech.

Harkonnendog said...

Ann, you disappoint me.

The students CAN violate free speech rights. The students can't violate the 1st Amendment. I'm sorry to point out the obvious, but apparently it is necessary.

COERCION determines wehther or not someone's right to free speech is being violated or not. It is a violation of the 1st amendment if the government does it, it is a violation of free speech if the government or individuals do it.

rightwingprof said...

Let's be fair here. Yes, what some of the commenters have said about Fish is quite true. However, he has over the last couple of years been back away from his earlier stances, even taking on the postmodernist academic establishment.

Just for the record.

Abraham said...

It is far from clear who actually started the fight, and until that first punch is thrown, the behavior might have been boorish, immature, and out of line, but hardly criminal or some great assault on free speech.

I disagree. Even without any physical confrontation, it would have been an assault on the principles of free speech - namely, the goal of exchange of ideas. Even if it is not required by criminal statute, it demonstrates respect for the very validity of a "marketplace of ideas" to simply allow speakers to say what they wish to say. One need not even listen. It was obvious that the protestors and audience members were really only interested in preventing some speech from being heard. They went beyond simply declining to listen to deciding that nobody shall listen. What moral right do they have to make that decision on behalf of others? To the extent that they were successful in obstructing listeners from hearing a speaker, that is an assault on free speech.

Balfegor said...

Then things get real confusing as there is a second rush at the stage. That is when the pushing and shoving starts. The protest leaders claim that the physical altercation started when they were assaulted by audience members who were supporters of the minutemen.

That kind of blows a hole in Fish's pat little account here, doesn't it?

Any education that might have transpired had Mr. Gilchrist been allowed to give his talk would have been incidental to the shock value of his appearance before an audience known in advance to be hostile to his message.

Instead, it seems to be a mixed audience of supporters and opponents. Which seems reasonable, actually. But there's a lot less "shock value" when your community (the audience) already has people who share the views of the speaker.

Roger Sweeny said...

Fish is right. The organizers knew that people might get up and stop the speech, even cause some physical violence. They wanted a specatacle and didn't care if it got out of hand.

It's just like women who dress slutty. They know they're going to get hit on, maybe even raped but they were just asking for it (and, of course, the rapist gets to decide when she's "dressing slutty").

Kirby Olson said...

Fish spoke at a little village near here this summer. He does indeed appear to have changed his former belief that only leftist academics that he agrees with should be able to speak at universities.

In fact he argues that academics should keep their politics to themselves in the classroom, and "academicize" the text under scrutiny.

This means to look at it objectively, from an aesthetic distance, rather than to use it as agit-prop to convert students to their cause (which generally backfires anyway).

In this instance, he seems to be arguing that the passionate stance of the promoters (engaged stance) met the passionate stance of the audience (engaged stance) and no learning could happen, as it did in the classroom.

And what it did do was create a field day for Fox News which has been seeking to show precisely such footage of our campus environments.

The hate speech in evidence in the auditorium would certainly be actionable, however, using the very speech codes the Columbia Campus has written up to use against right-wingers. But I suppose in this case it doesn't apply. That IS hypocritical.

The African American militia man said on several news channels for the whole week that he had been called the N word, for instance.

But it's clear in this case Columbia will turn a deaf ear even though it's clear from the videotapes who said it, and how many times.

Selective enforcement?

Freder Frederson said...

Even without any physical confrontation, it would have been an assault on the principles of free speech - namely, the goal of exchange of ideas. Even if it is not required by criminal statute, it demonstrates respect for the very validity of a "marketplace of ideas" to simply allow speakers to say what they wish to say.

What if the speaker's ideas are so repugnant and vile. Is one supposed to just stand by and let spewers of hate spout their message. Should Klan rallies be allowed to proceed without a whimper of protest and the speakers be allowed to speak unmolested. Ann Coulter always complains about how she is treated so badly by the liberals on college campuses (although she has advocated violence against hecklers and fantasized about the people who throw cream pies at her getting raped in prison). Why should such a vile woman get to spew her hatred and accuse liberals of treason, sexual deviancy, and a myriad of other crimes, collect a huge paycheck (paid with student fees) and expect nothing but an adoring audience?

Abraham said...

What if the speaker's ideas are so repugnant and vile. Is one supposed to just stand by and let spewers of hate spout their message.

Surely all of us have opinions that are repugnant and vile to somebody. If respect for free speech extends only to inoffensive speech, then it really is quite useless. I don't mean to argue that all speakers must be respected - but there are many ways an audience can express its disapproval without actually silencing the speaker, wouldn't you agree? Booing, hissing, silent protest (e.g., with signs), pointed questions, and heckling all spring to mind.

The Mechanical Eye said...

What if the speaker's ideas are so repugnant and vile. Is one supposed to just stand by and let spewers of hate spout their message.

Yes, I know Columbia isn't a government actor under the First Amendment, but aren't you giving students a "heckler's veto" to bully anyone who disagrees with them? Who gets to decide what's "so repugnant and vile," a mob? If I were a university dean I'd have a problem teaching that particular lesson to the supposedly high-quality undergraduates.

I'm not an especially big fan of Mr. Gilchrist and his populist band of happy warriors. But calling the Minutemen (or even the shock-value heavy Ann Coulter) the Klan doens't fly. Its the intellectual equivalent of covering your years and going la-la-la-la-la-la-la until the bad man stops speaking.

Brent said...

Why should such a vile woman get to spew her hatred and accuse liberals of treason, sexual deviancy, and a myriad of other crimes, collect a huge paycheck (paid with student fees) and expect nothing but an adoring audience?

For the same reason that someone such as Khatami, who advocates the removal of Israel from the middle East, should not be disrupted. Let them speak their hatred.

The left's hypocrital standard:


Parents: "Please don't put that stuff on TV"

Liberals: Just turn it off if you don't want to see it. Stop protesting.

______________________


Parents: "Please put restraints on library internet access to keep children from possibly viewing unacceptable things"

Liberals: "Shut up. Police your own kids".

_______________________


If you know a speaker you aren't going to agree with comes - don't go.

If no one goes, what are you afraid of? The stupidity of your fellow students/academics/brethren to be so quickly brainwashed? Is everyone that stupid? Do they need you to rescue them?

Revenant said...

The students aren't the government, Fish notes. They can't violate Free Speech rights.

The government does have a duty to protect speakers against assault by people who don't like what they're hearing, though.

Free speech rights aside, though, it is simply bad manners to shout somebody down in a public forum.

Cedarford said...

Kirby Olson said...
Fish spoke at a little village near here this summer. He does indeed appear to have changed his former belief that only leftist academics that he agrees with should be able to speak at universities.


Interesting. Thanks, Kirby. I will try and pay attention to see if Fish has had a change of heart after his endorsement of Marcusian confrontational tactics of non-progressives has been seen as counterproductive and after the Courts shot down all the campus speech codes he pushed.

Though his reaction to the Columbia incident is typical of his past pronouncements on the virtue of suppressing politically incorrect speech.

Michael Wade said...

I find the feeble attempts to justify the thuggish silencing of speakers to be more offensive than the silencing itself. If the students wanted to protest outside the auditorium, more power to them, but disruption to the point of shutting down a speech is way over the line. "Theater" is a genteel term for stormtrooper tactics.

Synova said...

"OK, so think of the event as theatrical rather than academic. The metaphor doesn't change anything. How do you think the audience would react at a theatrical event if a bunch of rowdies decided that they didn't like the show, and so decided to storm the stage to stop it?"

Vagina Dialog?

That's theatrical, right?

Kirby Olson said...

Cedarford, I wrote what was considered by many to be a very clear summation of Stanley Fish's summer talk in the village of Andes in the Catskills on my blog. I would repost it here but it is quite long and I don't want to wear out my welcome.

If you want to access it go to

http://www.lutheransurrealism.blogspot.com

And then you would have to go to the archives for August 3, 2006.

Fish himself didn't visit my blog but the presenter of the forum and hundreds of other people did, and there were 68 comments (unusual for such a rarely visted esoteric blog on the possibilities of a Lutheran art movement based in surrealism).

But in short Fish appears to have done a 180 and in MANY RESPECTS now agrees with David Horowitz. In fact he cited Horowitz on several occasions in the 1.5 hour talk, and said at one point that he considers Horowitz to be a personal friend.

Fish and Horowitz are both Jewish: and the link may partially have been formed by their mutual abhorrence of anti-Semites but I wouldn't know, I'm just hazarding a guess.

It may also simply be that Horowitz, in principle, is on the same page with Fish. In that they both want clear principles that make sense.

I was riveted by Fish throughout his talk, and he didn't make one single point that I thought was fishy (excuse the pun).

http://www.lutheransurrealism.blogspot.com

August 3, 2006 (archives)

Synova said...

freder,

"What if the speaker's ideas are so repugnant and vile. Is one supposed to just stand by and let spewers of hate spout their message. Should Klan rallies be allowed to proceed without a whimper of protest and the speakers be allowed to speak unmolested."

Fred Phelps.

Is he "molested?" Are his daughters shoved? Are their signs defaced or broken?

Is anything more vile than attending a funeral to shout "God hates fags" within the sign and hearing of the mourners?

The most people have done is block the view and drown out the shouts so that the family who is there to bury the person they love won't hear or see them. But they can't not know they are there and exactly what they are saying because they know why all they can hear is roaring motorcycles.

So... a controversal, even hateful, speaker at a college campus doesn't even get treated as well as Fred Phelps? No one is being forced to listen to anything they don't want to hear, unlike Phelps protests. But it's still understandable to shut up hateful speech?

Revenant said...

What if the speaker's ideas are so repugnant and vile. Is one supposed to just stand by and let spewers of hate spout their message.

If the speaker's ideas are, in fact, "so repugnant and vile", then the surest way to deal with the speaker is to let him speak freely without interruption. That way everybody will see the speaker as a proponent of vile ideas, rather than as a person being shouted down by people with no manners.

If you need to shout somebody down to prevent them from being heard, that says that deep down you lack confidence that their ideas are really "so repugnant and vile" -- you fear that maybe they're only repugnant to *you*, and other people might find them appealing. The thing is, it isn't your place to decide what is too vile for other people to hear.

Brian said...

If I commit an act of violence against someone, while calling that person "nigger," it's little comfort to the victim that I all I did were standard crimes and torts, not civil rights violations, because I'm not an agent of the government.

Althouse, I think you granted yourself a special dispensation to say somehting pretty stupid, because, after all, you were just parroting Fish, renowned academic and utterly worthless pompous blowhard.

About the whole free speech thing: before law school - before high school for that matter - I knew that only the governmenment can violate a provision of the Bill of Rights. Newsflash: Pretty much everyone knows that. When pople call violent and disruptive behavior a violation of free speech, that's shorthand for saying that such conduct is contrary to the basic civic values that also give rise to the protection of free speech in the 1st Amendment: Reason, debate, tolerance, etc., the kind of stuff that John Stuart Mill wrote about.

That's the first truly dumb post I've seen on your blog.

Ann Althouse said...

Brian: I've attacked Fish in the past, so I'm no sucker for his views. What I care about here is not being repressive toward the students.

Brian said...

OK. But I think you'll agree that if the videotape evidence shows the laying of hands on the speaker, i.e., battery, then it won't be the too repressive - it won't be the dark night of fascism or whatever - to expel the little bastard that does it.

I'm showing too much emotion - and you show greater class by responding so civillity - but it does get to me that a lot of working-class kids show more respect for the educational opportunity they get at community college than do these privileged kids at Columbia.

Brent said...

The "privileged kids" at Columbia are the future "leaders of this society".

Shudder.

Brent said...

Revenant,

Once again you have boiled the entire discussion down to it's only real point:

If you need to shout somebody down to prevent them from being heard, that says that deep down you lack confidence that their ideas are really "so repugnant and vile" -- you fear that maybe they're only repugnant to *you*, and other people might find them appealing.

It is the liberal mind in this country that deeply desires fascism.

The Mechanical Eye said...

What I care about here is not being repressive toward the students.

Fair enough. Political speech in college is usually theatrical - I remember it fondly and I wouldn't want to kill that tradition.

But it's not asking much for a gesture by a university administration condemning phyiscal altercation. There's a difference between booing, shouting, and mocking Gilchrist, and giving him the bum's rush.

JorgXMcKie said...

"What if the speaker's ideas are so repugnant and vile. Is one supposed to just stand by and let spewers of hate spout their message."

Freder, I find your postings so repugnant and vile. I cannot rush your stage, so I suggest that Ann ban you. Don't worry though. I'm not trying to suppress your free speech rights because I'm not a government.

dick said...

I just wonder what you would define as being repressive to the students who rushed the stage as opposed to the students who sponsored the speech. It seems that be not being repressive to the ones disrupting the speech you are being repressive to the ones sponsoring the speech. Just how do you balance the two so as not to be repressive to one or the other. It appears that Fish is supporting being repressive to the ones sponsoring the speech but since they played by all the rules shouldn't they be supported primarily? By not repressing the disrupters are you not saying that it is OK to disrupt the speech you disagree with? And is that not a terrible lesson to the disrupters that tell them that if they choose to disrupt the speech that they don't like the university will support them all the way? When are they going to learn that actions have consequences and that they have to take responsibility for that which they do? When are they supposed to learn that other people have rights to listen to speech as well? Apparently not in this venue.

Derve said...

When are they going to learn that actions have consequences and that they have to take responsibility for that which they do?

If they are monied, never.
That is America today.
The kids see it.

Justice only to those who can afford it; money brings merit.

Freder Frederson said...

It is the liberal mind in this country that deeply desires fascism.

Yeah right. I brought up Ann Coulter earlier because she is a perfect example of right-wing fascism. When she had that pie thrown at her she made a comment that she hoped the pie throwers would get raped in prison--that is just vile. At another speech she encouraged some burly college republicans to go beat up some hecklers (who were not rushing the stage, just heckling from their seats). The guys started to leave their seats but were told to stay put by security guards.

Do you ever watch Hannity or O'Reilly? The only reason he has people on the show that don't agree with him is so he can shout them down and tell them to shut up. Hannity was especially hilarious when he had those two girls from Columbia on. He told them he wasn't going to let them speak.

And all the fascists are on the left.

As far as I can tell, in this case, the security guards should have politely but firmly moved these protesters off the stage. Isn't that what they are supposed to do? Look at the video. They just stand there like lumps, even when the fighting starts.

AJ Lynch said...

Synova asked:

"Vagina Dialog?"

I thought it was Vagina Monologue? Can anyone tell me If they have expanded the cast of characters. If so, I have to go and see the expanded version.

Brent said...

Freder,

I agree with you about the security. They should have done as you said.

The fact that many other provocative speakers have better security makes this incident a little suspect. Was there sympathy to one side by the Columbia security? Was this whole thing staged by one side or the other?

Although I defend conservative causes and the rights of the Minutemen (though I question some of their more extreme statements), I'm wondering if this time it wasn't hoped by Gilchrist that something like this would happen . . .

Pogo said...

Actually, because of various lawsuits and pressure from under-represented minorities at prior Vag. Monologue events, the Dacron Community Theater production is now the Vagina Dodecalogue, in which a dozen women of diverse backgrounds perform the text simultaneously, as if in a Greek chorus.

For the math oriented, each character is rotated every performance, giving 12! (factorial) actress combinations.

These plans are somewhat in abeyance pending talks to placate the transgendered actresses (including the FTMs, who want to be in the production as boys, and the MTFs, who insist on using the ladies room) and those who speak only Kurdu or Klingon.

Harkonnendog said...

This entire argument is ridiculous. Free speech is protected so that people can express things other people find utterly vile and reprehensible. You can't say a person has the right to free speech up until someone REALLY doesn't like what they're saying, lol.

Those students violated the speakers God given and government-protected right to free speech. They used force to shut him up because they didn't like what he was saying. They should be severely punished.

Otherwise the university is exposed. It is a place that values free speech less than sensitivy towards the feelings of Mexican illegal immigrants.

Freder Frederson said...

Those students violated the speakers God given and government-protected right to free speech. They used force to shut him up because they didn't like what he was saying. They should be severely punished.

So, the speaker had superior free speech rights because he was, what, being paid to speak? a guest of the university? According to the protesters, they expected to be quickly hustled off the stage by security. They didn't plan to resist. They were shocked and surprised when security did nothing and people started rushing the stage and the whole thing turned into a melee. They may be lying, but their story sounds as reasonable as any other and is not contradicted by the audio and video evidence.

Harkonnendog said...

There is no such thing as superior free speech rights. The students used coercion- force, and/or the threat of force, to shut the speaker up.

They didn't just yell or jeer him into silence, which would have been borderline. They rushed the stage.

Their claim that they thought they'd be pulled off the stage is a lie, imho... Nobody forced them to stay on stage, first of all. They could have left without help from security, the same way they got up there without help from security.

If things really did get out of hand, they are still responsible for what happened. They created the situation. They deserve the consequence.

Anyway it is a friggin' university. Free speech shouldn't be the bar. The bar should be open and free debate, done respectfully. Those students are neo-fascists.

Synova said...

Argh... yes, monologue.

I was just imagining the wonderful expression of theatrical free speech it would be when the stage is overtaken by a couple dozen young men in penis costumes. Particularly if they pushed the monologuist.

That would be free speech right? It seemed a real obvious comparison to make, if a planned event with people talking on a stage is rushed by those opposed to what is being said... then there can't be anything wrong with those dozen guys in the penis costumes shutting down a production of the Vagina MONOLOGUE, right?

The element that really and truely gets me about this, and what seems to utterly obvious, is that NO ONE had to be subject to this "offensive" speech if they didn't want to be. No one frog-marched them into the auditorium and chained them to the chairs.

Yet I get the idea that a protestor, so long as it was the right sort of protestor, could intrude on people walking around the campus and yell out their message, so long as they were yelling the right thing, and have the right to do so, even if students didn't have a choice to avoid the message.

I find it difficult to believe that Ann seriously thinks what the protestors did was just lovely. I find it hard to believe that freder really thinks that free speech only counts when you like what is being said.

And this... "Hannity was especially hilarious when he had those two girls from Columbia on. He told them he wasn't going to let them speak."

Do you suppose, just maybe, that was meant to be an object lesson?

Kirby Olson said...

On Fox it said that the students who rushed the stage belonged to a socialist students' outfit.

They had Che t-shirts and stuff.

Does Fish mention this?

Harkonnendog said...

"I find it difficult to believe that Ann seriously thinks what the protestors did was just lovely."

I don't think she said that- but she did say they can't violate anyone's Free Speech 'cause they're not the government. (Or at the least she said Fish said that and didn't correct him.)

For some people Free Speech is not a sacred idea. Look at McCain/Feingold. I think it is like air- you don't miss it until it is gone. The US has a creeping case of freedom of speech emphysema. Universities are more the cause than the cure.

Revenant said...

"They used force to shut him up because they didn't like what he was saying. They should be severely punished."

So, the speaker had superior free speech rights because he was, what, being paid to speak?

So you're arguing that using force to prevent other people from being heard constitutes free speech? This isn't about one person's right to free speech being "superior" to another's. It is about one person's right to free speech being superior to other peoples' desire -- not right -- to prevent him from speaking.

According to the protesters, they expected to be quickly hustled off the stage by security. They didn't plan to resist.

Ah, so in your world it is ok to use force to prevent people from speaking so long as you're expecting *other* people to forcibly make you stop. And if the authorities fail to stop you, then you're free to go ahead silencing your opponents until they do.

Interesting.

The Berg said...

In honor of the university's utter lack of respect for dialog and free speech, I propose some free speech loving students bring a pack of air horns to every left of center speaker or event and simply blare the horn every time anyone tries to speak. Since that is objectively a less disruptive act, and endangers no one, I assume the authorities will allow these students to do this for the entire event from their seats.

After all, combatting speech with 'speech' is a fair way to behave in on a college campus or in society for that matter.

Freder, I assume you're in favor of that plan?