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George Orwell said, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Admittedly I tend to have a slightly dour outlook on the current state of the culture and politics, the side effect of being sucked into my own personal negative news cycle. My husband calls me a Negative Nellie, I tell him I’m simply a realist, which makes him laugh. Starting with an Orwell quote may not dissuade anyone from agreeing I have negative tendencies, but what if this quote is a signal of the impending doom of liberty in America, not in 1984, but now?
In universities and on college campuses across America, a recent and growing trend of suppression of speech is making headlines. The Heckler’s Veto (a situation in which a person who disagrees with a speaker’s message is able to unilaterally silence that speaker) has become the main tool of this suppression. The students leading the protests and interruptions claim people such as Ben Shapiro, Christina Hoff Summers, and Charles Murray are fascists spewing hate speech. Students are unwilling to hear any idea that strays from their leftist viewpoint; they cannot afford the opportunity for anyone to hear the speakers’ words. If you don’t have the right opinion, you aren’t entitled to an opinion- or worse, your opinion is wrong or hateful. This results in a serious problem in the intellectual development of our youth. A person who travels through life insulated from different ideas and perspectives than their own will never have the ability to articulate his own thoughts and beliefs. John Stuart Mill writes in his 1859 work, “On Liberty”, “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.” The longer this behavior is allowed to continue, the more we will see the end of free speech and free exchange of ideas on our college campuses. We will graduate a generation of young people not only unwilling to listen to different ideas, but find them offensive. In his March 10 essay, “The Psychology of Progressive Hostility” Matthew Blackwell writes “People get angry at what they don’t understand, and an all-progressive education ensures that they don’t understand.” Anger in response to disagreement is not discourse. Self-reflection and intellectual curiosity may be difficult. It is human nature to dislike admitting one is wrong (speaking of arguments between me and my husband). But growing pains beget growth- intellectually, spiritually, and psychologically. We learn from our mistakes when we admit them.
We see this resistance tactic used by college students and it is no surprise it shows up in other aspects of society. The left is increasingly entrenched in its political beliefs and any challenge is met with a mob mentality fueled by emotion instead of reason. It is partly why the left’s basis for defending illegal immigrants on the’ ideal of America’s strength lies in its diversity’ is odd. Diversity is a strength, true, but for the left it is diversity of skin color that holds importance instead of a diversity of ideas which comes from life experiences, background, upbringing, socioeconomic status, etc. It brings out the best ideas from all corners of the world, not to satisfy a color quota. But if you point that out, you must be a racist. Karol Markowicz wrote about the feminist movement being anathema to diversity of opinion in her January 29th New York Post column exposing the “feminist” thought police. The feminist club is only open for women, and the men who tag along, if they uphold a particular narrative. Ms. Markowicz states it perfectly, “It turns out women thinking whatever they want is not good for feminism.”
While we wait to see how this will play out in America, our European and Canadian allies are in the midst of their own speech battles, and it appears freedom is losing. Recently in the UK, a Scottish YouTube comedian was found guilty at Glasgow Sherrif Court of a hate crime and could face two months of prison for posting a video of his girlfriend’s dog, ironically named Buddha, doing what appears to be Nazi salutes to receive treats. While certainly tasteless, does it rise to the level of incarceration? Apparently, the Glasgow court has found the answer to the everlasting question of what defines ‘Hate Speech’ and it involves bad comedy. In Canada, an interesting situation revolving around the world of CanLit (it’s a thing, look it up). In his article for Quillette on March 15, “Why They Hate Margaret Atwood”, Jonathan Kay details the feminist attacks on poet and novelist Margaret Atwood, who arguably created a Canadian movement based on satires of gender inequality, the oppressiveness of marriage and most notably wrote the The Handmaid’s Tale-the basis for the Netflix hit series. She recently was the subject of feminist ire from University of Alberta English professor Dr. Julie Rak who labeled her a “bad feminist.” Atwood’s offense? She signed a letter demanding clarity in the handling of a sexual assault case involving acclaimed Canadian writer Steven Galloway. Atwood and the signers of the letter did not pass judgment on the guilt or innocence of Galloway, they simply questioned the due process and procedures in a case that ruined the reputation and career of a literary giant. But to those entrenched in identity politics and the ‘convict first, maybe retract later’ wing of radical feminists such as Rak, Atwood’s actions were high treason. By coming together and forming a mob, the lesser poets and writers making up the CanLit circle could achieve a sort of fame and power they never could on the merit of their own writing. Refusing to accept there should be an open forum for examining Galloway’s case solidifies the idea there is only room for certain feminist views. The open-minded need not apply.
Eric Hoffer wrote in his book, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, “The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world.” University students and administrators are setting the parameters of hate speech, and it appears conservatives are bearing the brunt. This is what we must fight against. It is related to what the philosopher John Stuart Mill described and warned against this in his 1859 work On Liberty that unpopular ideas help determine the truth in that it encourages new perspectives and critical thought. Conservatives are strengthened by the marketplace of ideas, by being forced to argue policies and views in a usually hostile environment. The left will appeal to emotion, to stir up a mob-mentality along a sort of tyranny-of-the-majority mold to suppress dissidents.
America is strengthened when we can have conversations and rational dialogue between people of differing views. The path to change minds and persuading people to our side is through rational argument, not shouting matches and intimidation. We can’t win the fight for freedom with less freedom. If we value liberty, we allow everyone to be heard, and the best ideas and policies will (hopefully) rise to the top. And here is my response to my skeptical husband on the flip side of my realism: the silver lining to the impending storm cloud is the hope that conservatives continue to value the free exchange of ideas; that the best rise to the top, and America continues on its path forward as a beacon of liberty and freedom.