The definition of “liberal” must have changed while I wasn’t paying attention. Back when I was in college, I distinctly remember those on the Left being the fiery defenders of free speech. The ACLU would inevitably be suing some wannabe-censor and liberal columnists would be quoting Voltaire, saying “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
Perhaps I was just naïve. Back then the Iraq war was being debated and the big fight on the Left was against those who threw around the word “patriotism” like it was somehow the end of the discussion. Maybe the war was the only issue and freedom of speech was an afterthought. Regardless of whether it was a principled stand or not, it appears that a sizeable portion of the Left has traded freedom of speech for 30 pieces of Social Justice Warrior censorship.
Last year, Brendan O’Neill was supposed to take part in a debate on abortion at Oxford. O’Neill is a man of the Left and was actually going to make the pro-choice argument. One would think he would have been welcomed, but instead he was “attacked by a swarm of Stepford students.” You see, men aren’t supposed to have an opinion on abortion even if they are in favor of keeping it legal. Or something.
The mass of protesters successfully defeated free speech and got the debate cancelled. O’Neill wasn’t as bewildered by this affair as one might suspect as he had previous experience with what he calls “The Stepford students.” In a debate he had earlier at Cambridge, he described his conversations with the free minds of today’s youth as follows,
“When I told them that at the fag-end of the last millennium I had spent my student days arguing against the very ideas they were now spouting — against the claim that gangsta rap turned black men into murderers or that Tarantino flicks made teens go wild and criminal — not so much as a flicker of reflection crossed their faces. ‘Back then, the people who were making those censorious, misanthropic arguments about culture determining behaviour weren’t youngsters like you,’ I said. ‘They were older, more conservative people, with blue rinses.’ A moment’s silence. Then one of the Stepfords piped up. ‘Maybe those people were right,’ he said.”
God help us if we have to rely on conservatives to defend free speech.
A list of such censorship is basically endless, so I will have to suffice with a not-so-brief list of some of the more egregious examples:
- A student at Purdue was found guilty of “racial harassment” for reading a book called Notre Dame Vs the Klan. (The Klan is the bad guy in the book.)
- A candidate in the European elections was arrested in Britain for quoting a passage from Winston Churchill about Islam.
- Gert Wilders, a politician in the Netherlands, was tried on five counts including “criminally insulting Muslims because of their religion.”
- Both Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant were dragged in front of the Canadian Human Rights Commission for being Islamophobic.
- Conservative radio host Michael Savage was banned in Britain.
- The group Women, Action and Media convinced Twitter to allow them help report and censor harassment and hate speech. Twitter subsequently suspended the accounts of the anti-feminist Youtubers Thunderfoot and Mykeru (they were later reinstated). Both of them are liberals, by the way.
- Adam Weinstein at Gawker wants to “Arrest Climate-Change Deniers.”
- Brendan Eich was forced to resign as CEO of Mozilla for opposing gay marriage. Another guy was fired because someone eaves dropped on his joke about dongles.
- A group called Color of Change was able to get Patrick Buchanan fired from MSNBC for expressing his incorrect opinions (that have been pretty consistent for the last 50 years) in his book Suicide of a Superpower.
- Allegedly, a man was banned from an Oregon college campus for “resembling a rapist.”
- The “Pickup Artist” Julien Blanc was barred from entering the UK for making sexist comments.
- The mayor of Massachusetts banned the word “illegal” when referring to, umm, immigrants who came into the United States without going through the proper, legal channels. The Associated Press did the same for their reporters.
- Feminist activists first boycotted and then pulled the fire alarm to stop a speech by Men’s Rights Activists Paul Nathanson and Katherne Young at the University of Toronto. Other feminists were also able to shut down a speech by Janice Fiamengo at the University of Oregon.
- Sheryl Sandberg, the vice president of Facebook, wants to–quite ironically–ban the word “bossy.” And back in 2007, a New York City councilwoman introduced legislation to ban the words “bitch” and “ho.”
I thought it was conservatives who made sure there were seven words you couldn’t say while blacklisting communists and what not. Did the Red Scare give way a bunch of “isms” and “obes?” I mean, what the Hell happened?
All of this nonsense goes hand in hand with hypersensitivity, which has also produced plenty of insanity itself. For example, a seventh grader was suspended for playing with an airsoft gun in his own yard, a student was suspended a full year for hugging his teacher, another autistic student was suspended for hugging and giving a kiss on the forehead to a girl he thought he knew, a New York school banned balls and tag during recess because reasons or whatever, and an eight-year old boy was suspended for making a gun shape with his fingers. The consequences of this hypersensitivity are not always so mundane. Recently, a 15 year old boy committed suicide for facing expulsion and being put on the sex offender registry for nothing more than streaking during a football game.
The justifications for this petty tyranny usually come in two forms: 1) to eliminate hate speech and make a “welcome environment” for everyone and 2) to combat harassment.
The first justification is the excuse of every tyrant. Freedom of speech is what a free society is built upon. It’s not a right or wrong thing, it’s more fundamental than that. Freedom of speech is how we determine what’s right or wrong. Stopping hate is great and all, but define exactly what is and what is not “hate.” It’s not so easy. Luckily, I know a great way to do it; it’s called freedom of speech.
If we dispense with the open market place of ideas being the foundation of a free society, the flood gates open. For example, Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law is only wrong because of who it targets, not because it targets a group in the first place. Free speech is a crucial layer of defense FOR minorities of any variety.
And if we use the logic that bad ideas (however you define them) should be banned, conservatives should try and ban pro-abortion messages, anti-American rhetoric, anti-military rhetoric, support for socialism, blasphemy and what have you. Do you think Christians aren’t offended when Bill Maher mocks them or some “artist” covers a painting of the Virgin Mary in feces? Well, I guess they should just ban it. Ban it all! Socrates is corrupting the youth! Let’s live in a nation so afraid to have an opinion that we just stop talking to each other entirely. And forget reading too, it’s time for a good old fashion book burning!
On the other hand, the second issue certainly merits concern. Harassment, especially in the age of Internet, is undoubtedly a serious problem, especially after the recent suicide of a bullied transgender boy and the almost incomprehensible harassment of baseball legend Curt Schilling’s daughter.
That being said, criticism is not harassment. Thunderfoot and Mykeru made some very harsh criticisms of Anita Sarkesian and other Social Justice Warriors, but it wasn’t harassment (unless you literally define criticism as harassment). And while it’s true that men make up most of the Internet’s trolls, it is a myth that women or feminists or Social Justice Warriors are the sole recipients of it.
A study by Pew found that 51 percent of men and 50 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 24 were called an offensive name online. Men were also more likely to be “purposefully embarrassed” (38 to 36 percent) and “physically threatened” (26 to 23 percent). Women were much more likely to be stalked (26 percent to 7 percent) and sexually harassed (25 to 13 percent). But overall, sustained harassment was about the same for both genders (18 percent of women and 16 percent of men). And as Cathy Young notes, “…a [different] Pew Internet use survey last year found men and women to be at virtually equal risk for the most severe consequences of online conflict” and “13 percent of female respondents and 11 percent of male respondents said they had been harassed or stalked online.”
Furthermore, a study by the Think Tank Demos found that those infamous mean tweets were sent to male celebrities, politicians and journalists 150 percent more often than to women in similar positions. Finally, a survey by McAfee Security Technology found that “… men get threatened to have their [sexy or romantic photos sent to their partners] exposed online more than women (12% vs. 8%) and often have the threats carried out more than women (63% vs. 50%).”
I’m sure Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkesian have been harassed and received death threats (the email to Utah State University threatening a mass shooting if Sarkesian spoke there is certainly proof of this). At the same time, this is not exclusive to women. The previous big critic of video games, Jack Thompson (a crusty, old white guy), said he received many death threats as well.
It would seem that “I’m being harassed” is the new “that’s anti-America.” It’s like a weird badge of honor that means you win the argument by default. So much so that one student at the University of Wyoming went so far as to send a rape threat to herself. And that is by no means the only incident of such behavior.
That’s not to say harassment doesn’t happen. But it certainly doesn’t just happen to one side. Pro-Gamer Gate journalist Milo Yiannopoulous had his home address posted online and received a padded envelope in the mail with a syringe. The Youtuber Total Biscuit also received a long string of online abuse for his mildly pro-Gamer Gate stance. Unscrupulous members of both sides have used “swatting” (phony emergency calls that lead to SWAT teams being dispatched). Students at the University of Oregon grabbed an anti-gay preacher’s sign, tore it up and stomped on it in front of him. Does that count as harassment? How about when a pro-choice professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara physically attacked a 16-year old pro-life advocate?
You could even argue some forms of boycotting and Social Justice Warrioring are harassment. Is it harassment to label someone a “rape apologist” because he thinks the Department of Justice is correct about the prevalence of rape on college campuses and the Center for Disease Control is wrong?
Let me illustrate this with an example. Resident Internet asshole Matt Forney wrote a particularly assholeish piece titled “5 Reasons Why Women With Tattoos and Piercings Are Broken.” The article went viral and he received a (well deserved?) string of abuse, including some death threats. He supposedly even left his house and went to an undisclosed location for fear of his safety.
Now, did he deserve this? Well, as stated above, he’s obviously a complete asshole. So maybe? But then again, feminist writer Samantha Allen (who says she quit journalism because of harassment) wrote “I’m a misandrist. That means I hate men. I’m not a cute misandrist. I don’t have a fridge magnet that says, ‘boys are stupid, throw rocks at them.’ My loathing cannot be contained by a fridge magnet.” And no, it’s not satire. Is that really any better than Matt Forney’s piece?
So, what’s your answer?
I don’t mean to cheapen the effects of harassment. And I would even concede that it’s worse for women. While men may be just as frequently, women have to deal with the worst types more often. And whereas I would probably just laugh if I received an online rape threat, women don’t have that luxury.
That being said, harassment is not a black and white issue, nor is it limited to one gender or ideology. And it’s no excuse to take an axe to free speech. Most of the examples cited at the beginning of this article couldn’t possibly be construed as harassment of any one individual as they were just people giving their opinions. And a believer in freedom of speech doesn’t care if those opinions are correct or not.
Indeed, if you say something like “I’m a supporter of free speech, but…” you are almost certainly not a supporter of free speech. As the famous leftwing intellectual Noam Chomsky noted,
“Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech.”