November 11, 2006

"How have students become these self-righteous ‘young authoritarians’? "

Wendy Kaminer talks about free speech on campus (via A&L Daily):
Far from being a site of free thinking and free exchange of ideas, the university seems to have become a laboratory for new forms of censorship and conformism. ‘Kids come to college, and for the first couple of weeks of freshman year they’re in a sensitivity course, where they’re told what they’re allowed to say and what they’re not allowed to say’, says Kaminer. ‘They are subjected to thought-control programmes the minute they arrive. That is not a very good start.’...

How have students become these self-righteous ‘young authoritarians’? For Kaminer, ‘it is partly because they have been brought up in today’s victimised, intolerant culture’. She argues that restrictions on free speech are made not only by the right seeking to quell dissent among their left-leaning or liberal critics, but also by liberals themselves, who have bought into ideas of ‘hate speech’ and ‘harmful speech’....

Kaminer traces it back to the American feminist anti-porn movement of the 1980s, to authors such as Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin. They, and others, were among the first, says Kaminer, to articulate the idea that ‘you have a civil right not to be offended or “arguably harmed”, even metaphorically, by somebody else’s speech’. Indeed, Kaminer points out that some of these feminist theorists made little distinction between words and actions: they argued that porn is violence, that to watch porn is to commit a violent act and that watching porn often directly encourages men to commit violent acts. According to Kaminer, this idea has spread widely, so that many more forms of hate speech – from racist speech to anti-Semitic speech, misogynist speech to xenophobic speech – are now seen as being potentially harmful, as encouraging listeners to hate and act violently towards others.
It's been my impression that the MacKinnon/Dworkin way of thinking fell out of favor when the need to support Bill Clinton conflicted with the interest in heightening awareness of things that fell under the rubric "sexual harassment." But there is still a core group of students that shops ideas like this to university administrators, and there are university administrators who feel they need to cater to them.
‘Words have power, of course they do. If they didn’t, why be a writer? Why be an activist? But words don’t cast spells over people. When feminists argue that giving a man porn is like saying “kill” to an attack dog, it implies that men are just dogs on short leashes...
Or cats...
...that they have a Pavlovian response that they cannot control. It ignores the fact that speech is a two-way exchange. The speaker is not Svengali: the audience hears what he says, interprets it, and they make their minds up. The way you combat bad speech is with good speech. You don’t combat it with censorship. That just doesn’t work, and it demeans debate.’
This should be such dogma -- or catma -- by now that it should seem too tedious to mention, but, sadly enough, it's not.

23 comments:

Sissy Willis said...

The Marxist feminists are only one of many derivative threads of the older and more insidious, Gramscian thought-control movement directed at our elite institutions last century:

Chomsky, Moore, Fisk: Pathetic memebots running the program of a dead tyrant

Balfegor said...

When feminists argue that giving a man porn is like saying “kill” to an attack dog, it implies that men are just dogs on short leashes...

Pah! Everyone knows the appropriate analogy is cats and uncovered meat!

Balfegor said...

Oh hello, it's already in the post. Hah!

Pogo said...

Sissy Willis is wholly correct. The left has largely won the ideology battle in this country. Alternative beliefs are simply not tolerated. An Orwellian definition of free speech exists, where one is free only to say what the Party permits. In the University, there is no need to take people away in the middle of the night, they take themselves away for their sins.

It's become increasingly clear to me that the US is hellbent on national suicide. I mean by this that our 275-year-old experiment in self-rule is going to fail, and cede to authoritarian rule of some kind.

Your newer posters here will ignore or eviscerate this comment, or call me alarmist or crazy. But the evidence is all around them. It appears to me we lost the Cold War, the ideological one. Marxist-Leninist thought rules in Europe and across the world. Here too, soon enough. Look how narrow the Party is defined: it even rejected Lieberman (yes, he won, that's not the point).

It was a hell of a ride. Let's hope there is a small band of new monks able to hide the truth inside their monastery somewhere, waiting for this Dark Age to pass.

Peter Burnet said...

Kudos to the ever-thoughful Ms Kaminer for avoiding the shibboleth about how Truth will always emerge from unrestricted debate, but the "cats" quote in your post is simply wrong and shows why the classical liberal case for free speech has become so feckless and enervated in the face of the new barbarians. Of course censorship works--that's why the kids are emerging brainwashed. And on what basis does a philosophy grounded in the notion that truth is relative pronounce on the distinction between good speech and bad speech with any persuasion. This reminds me of those who defend democracy on the basis that "the people are always right". The cases for free speech and democracy lie in fear of the consequences of their absence, not the superior wisdom and enlightenment they guarantee us. Like it or not, a culture of free speech and civilized argument is built on certain underlying (and quite conservative) notions of acceptable ranges of diversity and rules of civility. Perhaps it would be a more robust response to explore these frankly rather than simply repeat rote absolutes that have been disproven many times in history.

As for misogynist Muslim leaders, again you can't fight that abomination effectively through shibboleths that don't correspond to the reality most folks experience. The offence is his contempt for, and blame of, women with the implied conclusion their access to public life should be restricted. Aux Barricades, but to be offended by any suggestion there is a male predatory instinct women should be taught about or pretend that "natural" human sexuality is gloriously androgynous and interchangeable is simply conceding him points. Tell that to all those teenage single mothers.

reader_iam said...

This is a predictable result of redefining actions as "symbolic" speech, and redefining "speech" "symbolic" actions. (Of course, the "freedom for me, but not for thee" crowd refused to see that, and still do.)

Unfortunately, the fallout from that includes an overweening, even intoxicating, compulsion to want to control the speech and actions of others more, not less.

Hangovers are a bitch.

Roger Sweeny said...

I wish I could agree.

In 1974, Ronald Coase, who got his much delayed Nobel Prize in 1991, gave a talk at the American Economic Association convention called, "The Market for Goods and the Market for Ideas." (published, American Economic Review, May, 1975).

Coase stole (with attribution) a remark of Aaron Director's: free speech is "the only area where laissez-faire is still respectable." That was, he thought, something in need of explanation. For after, speech could be helpful or harmful, certainly a lot more of either than many of the things that government regulates.

Traditionally, much speech was supressed by manners and social pressure, but in 1974 a remarkably large amount of this had cracked and crumbled.

Coase asserted that all the reasons that are given for placing limits on people's behavior could also be applied to placing limits on people's speech (and listening; just as it is illegal to buy products that are unsafe, so it could be argued, you should not be allowed to hear ideas that are unsafe.) Why, Coase asked, if governments are competent and benevolent enough to regulate in the "market for goods" are they suddenly incompetent or non-benevolent when it comes to the "market for ideas"?

His impled answer was a libertarian one. They are often neither competent nor benevolent in either, and there should be significant limits to their power.

The answer of many Americans has been the opposite. Governments should have great powers in both.

As should the mini-governments of a university--who should also try to create an atmosphere where manners and social pressure assure that people do not think or express wrong and/or hurtful things.

Internet Ronin said...

Well said, reader_iam. Well said.

Roger Sweeny said...

Oops, I got the Coase date wrong. The citation should be American Economic Review, v. 64 # 2 (Papers and Proceedings, May, 1974) 384-391. I think the article was also reprinted in his 1994 Essays on Economics and Economists.

Internet Ronin said...

Roger: Do you seriously advocate universities should actively engage in policing private thought, or have I misunderstood your post?

who should also try to create an atmosphere where manners and social pressure assure that people do not think or express wrong and/or hurtful things.

Joe Baby said...

Some gutsy lefty on campus should do an experiment: pick a smokin' hot topic, truly learn the opposing views and advocate them publicly for a month...and sit back and feel the tolerance.

Roger Sweeny said...

I was trying to say that was the attitude of "many Americans."

Who, if they were honest, might answer "yes" for two reasons.

One: universities shape character, and that means making sure people don't want the wrong things. After all, nobody would complain if a university taught, in word and deed, that it was very, very wrong to rape children, and no civilized person would even think it was a good thing.

Two: private thoughts have public consequences. If a bad private thought is going to have bad public consequences, why shouldn't "the public" try to stop it, by all means necessary?

PatCA said...

I see many students who are hopelessly brainwashed. OTOH many students now are viewing these old leftist fogeys as just that. The drive towards truth is driven by refugees from actual, not imagined, totalitarian states--they know what is truth and what real oppression looks like. My hope is that there are enough of them to lead us out of this suicide.

rightwingprof said...

"Some gutsy lefty on campus should do an experiment: pick a smokin' hot topic, truly learn the opposing views and advocate them publicly for a month...and sit back and feel the tolerance."

Lo, these many years ago in the Dark Ages when I was a student I had a class in which the instructor first solicited our stances on issues, then made us debate the other side. It was an excellent exercise, though I doubt it would be tolerated on campus now.

"Two: private thoughts have public consequences. If a bad private thought is going to have bad public consequences, why shouldn't "the public" try to stop it, by all means necessary?"

I'm having a difficult time thinking of an example of a thought that has a bad public consequence. Could you please give an example?

Roger Sweeny said...

I'm having a difficult time thinking of an example of a thought that has a bad public consequence. Could you please give an example?

I'm sure every university administrator would agree that the following thought has bad public consequences, "Black people are inferior."

I would suggest that much evil has followed from the thought, "The major problems of the world will be solved by giving all power to the vanguard party of the proletariat."

Slac said...

Wasn't it Kant who said that a position of tolerance was arrogant?

Kant... yes, if I recall, the paper in which he wrote that was instrumental in defining something called the "Age of Enlightenment," where people began to come out of their "self-imposed immaturity" and "use their own reason."

Have college campuses ever heard of Kant?

Elizabeth said...

It's been my impression that the MacKinnon/Dworkin way of thinking fell out of favor when the need to support Bill Clinton conflicted with the interest in heightening awareness of things that fell under the rubric "sexual harassment."

It's been my impression that they fell out of favor long before that. Maybe it's peculiar to the program I studied in, and the culture I live in, but 1st Amendment, free speech feminism has always been a much stronger force in my community than the anti-porn, anti-speech group. As an undergrad, I was dismayed by the MacKinnon/Dworkin approach, and as a lesbian, absolutely convinced that any attempts to regulate speech would be turned toward marginal groups long before they had any effect on the porn industry. I see no essential connection between heightening awareness of, and making effective policies against sexual harassment, assault and domestic violence, and the anti-porn statute crowd.

Elizabeth said...

It was an excellent exercise, though I doubt it would be tolerated on campus now.

I do that in my freshman comp classes; the thought police have yet to break down the classroom door. Perhaps you're being a bit alarmist?

Cedarford said...

The feminist thinkers of the 1960s-80s were heavily Jewish, from communist family backgrounds and drew heavily on Jewish Bolshevik tactics, particularly Trotsky's. As Red Diaper babies, Marxist cant and organizing feminism as their parents once did communist cells with nearly identical rules came quite naturally to them from growing up in such homes.

And feminists were normally Leftists anyways even if they weren't 3rd generation Bolshevik-Stalinist organizers like Freidan - they also easily drew on latter day Marxist thinkers like Herbert Marcuse on the need to repress counter-revolutionary thought. Which outside feminism, had already become the "Lefty Norm" from the behavior of the Commies of 1966 Italy mass marches, 1968 Paris/Mexico City riots.

Marcuse's 1965 essay "Repressive Tolerance" which argued that the Left should engage in politics of confrontation and not be tolerant but seek to stifle "repressive thought and individuals" - formed the template of university and feminist protest. Not to just protest, but seek speech codes, laws, and confrontations to shut down the expression of their opposition.

Even without the Freidans and Dworkins and Allreds and Steinhams - and the McKinnons and Greers at work in other countries - even without feminism - the pattern of Bolshevik-Stalist totalitarian suppression of thought was already well-recognized. Orwell feasted on criticizing it, (correct-speak, groupthink) after initially being a true believer immersed in it.

It is one of the strengths of conservativism other than the blind Religious Right kind. A conservative will be happy to have a Calderon come to campus to listen to his spin on US-Mexico relations from a Center-Left position, or even to Obragon's recycled Marxist perspective. A liberal, on the other hand, will seek to not only deny themselves a chance to hear a Le Pen speak on European affairs - but will agitate to silence them so others cannot listen and consider their views.
Which gives the conservative the advantage of having their view shaped with true debate, not being locked into a growingly obsolete 60s orthodoxy and world-view.

Kirk Parker said...

Cedarford,

Always the Joooos. How I long for the day blogspot adds a twit filter!

Wickedpinto said...

If teachers don't bother teaching and just yell without any validation, then why shouldn't the students?

reap sow and all that jazz.

Anonymous said...

Reading many of these posts, i am struck by how articulate and competant many of the posters seem.. and i think that is part of why they don't get the left-wing critique of unfettered speech.

Free speech is great is you are a confident, articulate indivdual with economic and social security. Not surpringly, this fits the definition of many libertarians.
For people like that, a rough-and-tumble "marketplace of ideas" is great. Let people argue it out, and may the best idea win.

The problem is there are a lot of people who are not so mental robust- especially young people. For insecure, vunerable individuals, speech can be very damging. When a gay teen hears some comment about how homosexuals are degenrates, or some young women hears a comment about how women shouldn't be in the public sphere, i can be very affecting.
(Never mind the effect of racial or ethnic slurs!)

Some speech is hurtful, essentially. And it was the recognition of the very real harm that was being caused that led to the impulse to prohibit some particular agressive and/or forms of expression.

I know most posters are going to rip on this as bleeding heart mushy-headedness. But, I just don't think many libertarians really understand what its like to be insecure about one's identitity.

The whole "PC language" movement is basically just a call for some empathy.

Roger Sweeny said...

SLCbearcat is absolutely right. Words can hurt, and good manners say don't hurt unnecessarily. But to require that one never give offense is to say that one can never disagree with a person who takes offense (and when there are punishments for giving offense, there is a big incentive for people who want to shut others up to take offense).

No doubt it hurts some women to hear, "women shouldn't be in the public sphere." No doubt some religious people are hurt even more to hear "there is no God" or "life has evolved over the course of billions of years."

If some sentiments are off limits, some views are privileged over others, e.g., religion is an okay target but homosexuality isn't.

Then people can fight over what is and isn't allowed to be said.

Alternatively, one can adopt the attitude most parents preach when a child comes crying, "Johny said I'm stupid." What does he know? That's Johny's problem. You don't have to make it your's.

Admittedly, easier to preach than to practise.